Tuesday, February 02, 2016

The Cracked Man Video Diaries

It's coming up to 2 years since we formed The Cracked Man, and not far off a year since we released our EP. So now we're working on an album.

One of the core aspects of The Cracked Man is every song we create, and every arrangement we produce, has to be something we both approve of. If one brings in a riff the other dislikes, or suggests an alteration that doesn't appeal to both, then it is discarded. This means no song has a sound completely dictated by either me or Marcus - every output is a collaboration.

As Marcus once said, "We're not a democracy, we're a dual dictatorship..."

Although we're pretty satisfied with the arrangements of our songs for our live performances, the album is turning into quite a different beast - not least because we don't have to be restricted to to a maximum of 2 instruments and 1 voice.

Marcus is a producer and sound engineer by trade, which gives us the wonderful luxury of being able to play, record, listen back, tweak, add, adjust, rearrange, experiment, delete and start again until we're both satisfied.

And what we've discovered is every time we start recording one of our songs, something new happens that we couldn't have predicted before we began. It could be the addition of an instrument, a different way of producing a sound or even a change of rhythm.

So what we've decided to do, for anyone who is at all vaguely interested in how songs develop, is create a series of short, bite size video diaries (usually around 2 to 3 minutes long), documenting some of these changes on the very evening they've occurred.

This means the videos are not rehearsed, highly produced or polished - they are just 2 blokes talking or playing to the camera to illustrate a particular alteration. We hope this means that what might be lost in slickness is more than made up for in a sense of authenticity.

At the moment, we are unsure how often these video diaries will be put up online - anything from weekly to monthly is our best guess - but over time they should accumulate into a collection that gives an insight into our creative process.

Here are our first three. If you have headphones or decent speakers it's worth using them.

#1 Zero Energy

#2 Moving On

#3 Moving on (again)

For more about The Cracked Man, visit our website or follow us on Facebook:

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Is there a word for that feeling?

For Christmas, we bought Meg a Hudl - a sort of downmarket iPad - which she seems to mostly use for watching old episodes of Strictly Come Dancing.

With this new way of accessing the Internet, her big sister helped her set up a new email address, and one of the first things Meg did was send me an email.

It never arrived.

I meant to look into it, but was distracted, then forgot, until yesterday when she mentioned it again.

So I sat with her as she opened up her email account and I told her to go to the Sent folder and find the email. I then got her to pull up the properties to see what email address she had used. Although my name is not too long, it's easy enough to put a couple of letters the wrong was round. However, it wasn't any strange combination of Kim and Ayres, instead she'd sent it to:


I experienced a really strange mixed emotional response. The feeling was so unusual I'm not sure I've actually had it before so it's a little difficult to describe.

On the one hand it seemed incredibly cute, but at the same time, Meg will be 18 in a few weeks.

Me and Meg last year on her 17th birthday

There are so many times I forget she has Down's Syndrome. Of course it's a part of who she it, but it's not the defining part by a long way. Every day I interact with my daughter on so many different levels where the DS is completely irrelevant. Meg is, first and foremost, Meg.

There are many times I love the quirky way Meg can see the world, but every now and then I'm reminded that part of it is due to a lack of understanding.

It was the most strange of feelings, but I have no idea if there's a simple word to describe it.

Any suggestions?

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Zero Energy - The Cracked Man

I've come to realise one of the things I enjoy the most is standing on stage with my bouzouki, which is plugged through a delay pedal and distortion box, while I'm using a bottle-neck slide.

Photo courtesy of Mark Robinson

I don't do this nearly enough for true satisfaction with my life, but it's great fun when The Cracked Man gets to do a full set, plugged in.

One such time was when we played at "Stereo" in Glasgow, and in a rare stroke of fortune, it was actually videoed from 2 different angles. I was sent the footage, but unfortunately the sound quality was crap, so it got shelved.

However, Marcus and I are slowly putting an album together and a few weeks ago we were working on the track, "Zero Energy", which is one of our songs where I get to use the magic combination of delay, distortion and slide.

Although the recorded version of this song is still being developed, I decided to see if I could construct a video using the footage from Glasgow and one of our more recent recordings.

It took a little while to line up the music with the video, because it turned out we played it live at a slightly different speed to our recorded version. However, changing the video angle each time it started to drift, helped a bit.

I also raided the freely available video archives of The Hubble Telescope to throw in some images of planets and exploding stars, to add a bit of texture to the visuals.

The result was this:

Hope you liked it

Tuesday, January 05, 2016

2015 in Photographs

It's become a tradition at the beginning of January to post my favourite photos of the previous year. And who am I to fly in the face of tradition, especially when it's one of my own?

You can find previous ones here: 2014, 2013, 2012, 2011, 2010, 2009

There's a varied selection, so hopefully something for everyone. I'm always interested in feedback, so if you'd care to leave a comment about which one(s) are your favourite, or any personal observations, it would be warmly appreciated.

As always, you can click on the images to see larger versions.

Le Haggis

One of the highlights of the annual "Big Burns Supper" event in Dumfries every year is "Le Haggis." And one of the highlights of this cabaret style show was aerial acrobat, Justine Squire. This photo seemed to capture some of the mood, movement and lines of the performance.
For more about this and other photos from the event, click through to:

Woodland Fog

Fog does wonderful things to light, and if you want to capture the effect with a camera you need a scene with layers disappearing into it. Sometimes, if you're lucky, you get a bit of sunshine too - not too much to overpower the scene, but enough to strengthen the silhouettes. This felt like a whole bunch of elements lining up at the right time, and I was fortunate enough to be in the right place.

The Cracked Man

The Cracked Man is the band I'm in with fellow musician, Marcus Wright. The songs we create are very much a collaboration and for many it would be almost impossible to say where one contribution separates from another. I decided to reflect this thought in our EP cover where I blended our faces together in Photoshop. Mostly the left side (as you look at it) is me, and the right is Marcus, although my beard stretches across and it's his upper lip. My head, however, is considerably larger than his, which you can deduce if you look at how snug the hat is on my side, whereas we had to stick a box under it when Marcus put the hat on, to stop it dropping over his face. Bonus points if you noticed the reflection in the glasses is a mirror version of the whole image.
For more about our EP launch, including a video of us playing, click through to this post:

Solar Eclipse and Crows

I discovered pretty quickly that a photo of the partial solar eclipse on its own was quite uninteresting - just a crescent of light and that was it. What would make it more interesting would be to have it next to something, such as a tree. From the back garden, our chimney seemed a likely option, but I was incredibly fortunate that while I was taking the photos, some crows decided to move around it, which lifted the atmosphere to a whole new level.
For more about photographing the solar eclipse, click through to this blog post:

April Beech

A zoom lens with a wide aperture creates a shallow depth of field. For the non-photographers, what that means is very little of what you point your camera at will be in focus, and the background can often have a beautiful blurred quality (known as bokeh in camera-speak), allowing you to isolate small details - in this case a few bits of beech.

Robyn Stapleton

Robyn is a highly talented, award winning singer of traditional Scots and Irish songs. When she asked me to help her create the cover for her debut album, Fickle Fortune, we decided to capitalise on her Celtic looks - pale skin, red hair and piercing blue eyes. The result was an image that looks like a painted miniature a lover might have in their locket.
For more about the story this image click through to this blog post:

Status Quo

As a headbanging teenager, Status Quo were one of the band names scribbled on my school bag, but at the height of their fame there was never any chance of getting to see them live. Imagine my delight then when they came to play at Palmerston football ground in Dumfries, AND I managed to get a press pass from Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, allowing me to get up close with my camera! Teenage heaven, even if it was delayed by about 35 years...
For more about this shoot, click through to this blog post:


Alexandra retired as a professional ballet dancer when she was 40, and went on to become a fitness instructor. Now aged 66 she still had a honed and supple body that would be the envy of someone several decades her junior. We met up to do a shoot for a different project I'm working on, but I felt I couldn't pass on the opportunity to explore a particular kind of lighting I'd been wanting to try out with someone who had a deep understanding of how to create beautiful lines with their body. At some point I will do something with the full set of images I have. For now, they have been entered into the LensCulture Exposure Awards competition to see how they are received.
You can find the entry here:

Finding Albert

Finding Albert are one of more well known and popular bands from this corner of Scotland, and they managed to secure the use of Springkell Castle for this shoot. Makes a change from 5 blokes in front of a garage door...
For more about this shoot, click through to this blog post:

Zoe and her Matrix Coat

Zoe Bestel is a young, talented, singer-songwriter who lives in this corner of Scotland. One day I have no doubt she will be extremely famous and my claim to fame will be the photos I took of her before her rise to superstardom. In the meantime, however, she is also full of life and fun and treats me like a kindly uncle. At Eden Festival she turned up in a wonderful leather coat she'd acquired for a bargain so we decided I should photograph her doing a twirl in it.
For more photos from the Eden Festival, click through to this blog post:

Inside the Softbox

I was photographing Isabell for the same "other project" I'd originally been photographing Alexandra (see above) for. I was using my large softbox for lighting when Isabell suddenly asked what it would be like if she was inside it. There was only one way to find out...
For more about this shoot, click through to this blog post:

The Storyteller

Tony Bonning is a musician, author, storyteller, singer and children's entertainer, but it was his Storyteller persona we wanted to capture. The mysterious traveller in the woods is one which is at the heart of many old folk tales, so we went out to Carstramon Woods shortly before sunset to get the light streaming low through the trees.
For more about this shoot, click through to this blog post:

Mist and Stars

Out at 2am, chasing the "blood moon" of the lunar eclipse, I had to get above the fog to see anything. In the end my photos of the moon itself were nothing special, but when I pointed the camera in the other direction it was much more rewarding. Bonus points if you spotted the sheep in the bottom right corner...
For more about this shoot, click through to this blog post:

Geese in The Mist

Another misty Autumn day and I was out exploring photo opportunities with landscape photographer, Allan Wright. Hearing the unmistakable sound of geese honking as they flew overhead, I pointed my camera upwards. I love the simplicity of the silhouettes against the grey sky. Feels quite Zen...

I don't Know The Address

My friend, the poet David Mark Williams, had his first collection - The Odd Sock Exchange - published and released in the autumn. To help promote it we did a few short videos of him reading to camera, using different filming styles each time. This was shot in the back his car while preparing for "I don't know the address" and has an intensity to it I love.
For more about this shoot, and the video of his performance, click through to this blog post:

Autumn Waterfall

This waterfall I have been out to on many occasions, but have always struggled to create a photo that does it justice. This time, however, I felt I'd got as close as I ever had - you can almost smell the damp leaves.

Silk Kimonos

This felt like one of the most colourful shoots I'd ever done, with the striking patterns on the silk kimonos, designed by Morag Macpherson, the use of coloured gels in the lighting, the boudoir setting in The Yellow Door gallery and the wonderful models, Jessica and Alamnesh. There was a rich sumptuousness to the whole thing.
For more about this shootand other photos from the collection, click through to this blog post:

Cafe Largo

Cafe Largo responded to my Givember offer for a band photo shoot. Ideas were bounced back and forth, but I loved their willingness and enthusiasm to dress up and go for it. A beach scene with a nod towards a Jack Vettriano picture was decided on. Despite the heavy, overcast day, it didn't actually rain on us. However, I'm not sure Ruth's shoes ever recovered from the wet sands...
For more about this shoot, including a behind-the-scenes video, click through to this blog post:

Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Senior pupils from Castle Douglas High School have been creating cake stands using vintage crockery, and I was called in to do some promotional photos. I was seriously impressed at the lengths they went to getting costumes, makeup and location all sorted out. It ended up being a more professional shoot than several I've been on. They were a delight to work with.
For more about this shoot, click through to this blog post:

Festive Selfie

For most people, a quick selfie with their phone would perfectly adequate for a seasonal avatar. However, as a professional photographer standards are expected to be a bit higher. In this case it required speedlites, coloured gels and playing with textured overlays in Photoshop afterwards. For a bit of fun and silliness I was quite amazed at the response when I put it on Facebook - it gathered over 200 "likes" making it by far and away my most popular avatar to date.

I hope you've enjoyed my selection - please leave a comment below with any thoughts or observations, and let me know your favourite!

Wishing each and every one of you all the very best for 2016

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Happy New Year

Wishing you all lots of live, love and adventure in 2016!

PS. Slight layout change to the blog to allow future photos to appear bigger.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Frank weather...

"It's so cosy," says Maggie, "when the wind and rain are lashing against the window and I can just coorie under the covers. I fall asleep much quicker."

And once again, as storm "Frank" batters our shores, I'm struck by another fundamental difference between me and my wife.

For when I hear the wild winds and torrential downpours pounding at the windows, I'm waiting for slates to come off the roof or for water to start dripping through the ceiling or run down the walls. It's anything but cosy...

However, if the roof survives, this kind of weather can bring interesting photo opportunities. Widespread flooding has been rife across Dumfries and Galloway (it seems the "200 year floods" appear to be happening every 2 or 3 years these days) and when Loch Ken bursts its banks it can sometimes make for some beautiful images, even if several houses have to be evacuated.

Although the winds were still high, the rain eased off this afternoon so I headed out with the camera.

Unfortunately my plans were scuppered when it turned out that pretty much every route I wanted to take was impassable.

Still, it became a fairly sociable occasion. At the edge of this stretch of water I chatted to a guy who says he's lived here 50 years and never seen the water so high; I met a friend who was also out with his camera; and had a discussion with a woman who was trying to get home what alternative routes might be possible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Festive photos

The festive season is upon us and because I'm a photographer there's always a little pressure to come up with some kind of suitably seasonal image.

Needless to say the constant wind, rain, dull overcast grey skies, and complete lack of snow haven't helped much.

However, a little over a week ago we did get one rare cold and crispy morning with actual frost, so I dutifully went out with my camera and managed to capture a couple of likely images of ferns and oak leaves looking as though they'd been dipped in icing sugar.

(As always, click on the images for larger versions)

An appropriate seasonal message written over the top of one of them and that was my newsletter sorted.

Facebook, on the other hand, required a different approach. It's a while since I last updated my avatar but I had an idea to use some Christmas lights and the top hat I wear when I perform with The Cracked Man.

If I wasn't a professional photographer, a quick selfie with my phone would have been perfectly adequate. Unfortunately, with a reputation to uphold, a bit more work was required using speedlites, coloured gels and playing with textured overlays in Photoshop afterwards.

For a bit of fun and silliness I was quite amazed at the response - it has garnered over 200 "likes", making it my most popular avatar to date, by quite some distance.

Still, I don't doubt that if I'd stuck the hat on a kitten instead, it would probably have gone viral and broken the Internet...

Whatever your cultural or religious beliefs and practices, and whatever the weather is like where you are, I wish you all the very best over the festive season and for the year ahead!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Each year, Castle Douglas High School final year pupils have the chance to be part of an Enterprise Group, where they design and create products, which they then have to market and sell.

This year's group have created, among other things, cake stands from recycled vintage china. I was asked by Andrea Thompson, commissioning editor of Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, if I would take some photos they could use for publicity and she could put in a magazine article about the group.

A Mad Hatter's Tea Party theme was decided on and I met up with a few of the group for a hot chocolate to discuss ideas, strategies and potential venues for the shoot. A little over a week later we all met up at Cally Palace Hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet, with the full team in action. It was like one of those high production shoots with lots of different people in charge of hair, makeup, props and outfits, and there were even a couple of them recording the experience with cameras and video.

I have to say I was extremely impressed with the level of organisation and cooperation, which meant the shoot ran much smoother than some I've been involved in.

And this was reflected in the result. Because I was able to focus my time and energy into getting the lighting and composition right, rather than having to chase everyone and see they were all doing their jobs correctly, I was able to get some great pictures.

However, the point I go click is only one step on the journey to the final images. Once I have the photos on the computer there are a thousand directions I can go in.

In this instance I decided to try and create an illustrated feel by creating an effect so as the image moves out towards the edges it becomes increasingly like a drawing. This has the effect of the characters coming to life out of the pages of a storybook, which I felt tied in with the whole Alice in Wonderland theme.

I then gave the whole thing a slightly desaturated, sepia tone, which creates the look of old hand-tinted photographs. This, I felt, tied in with the Victorian/Edwardian setting of the Lewis Carroll story and the retro crockery you are using for the cake stands - harking back to days gone by.

Here are a few of the final pics, but you can find the full set on my Facebook page here

Mad Hatter's Tea Party, with emphasis on the cake stands


The Queen of Hearts

The White Rabbit

The Mad Hatter

A couple of weeks later I got a call from Andrea asking if I had a version of one of the photos that wasn't faded at the edges. She wasn't promising, but there was the possibility it might appear on the front cover of the January edition of Dumfries and Galloway Life, and they needed a version that would allow for writing to show up on top of it.

Fortunately I had a cleaned up, edited version that I hadn't done the final illustrated effect to, as that had been a key stage before trying out different post-production techniques. I sent it straight over to her.

This week the January edition has hit the shelves and rather wonderfully we did indeed make the front cover!

Front cover for January 2016 edition of D&G Life