Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Moon, Mars and Torchlight Ghosts

I got an email on Friday from my stepdaughter pointing me to a news item about Mars being very close to the Moon in the sky that evening. So after dinner I took the telescope, the camera and the kids up to the back of the garden to see what we could see.

Sure enough Mars was clearly visible to the left of the moon.

Although I did find it with the telescope, I couldn’t make out any detail – it was just a slightly larger dot in the sky. I’m not an expert with the telescope and to be honest it took me the best part of 10 minutes just to be able to line it up with the moon.

Despite my varied attempts last night, and in the past, I have never yet managed to figure out how to rig the camera up to the telescope, so in the end I have no decent photos to show for the half hour we were freezing our toes off out there.

However, it did cross my mind that we could have a bit of fun with the torchlight and long exposure images.

The way it works is by setting up the camera on the tripod for a 25 second exposure – so the shutter is actually open for that amount of time. Usually, photos are taken with a shutter speed more like 1/125th of a second . Then, by moving around with a torch, the person holding it is so blurred they don’t actually show up, but the torchlight creates wee trails that are burnt into the final image.

This one was created by Rogan dancing around with the torch pointing in the general direction of the camera. The result is you can see the light trails, but not him

Once we’d established this worked we tried variations on the theme. So in this one, I sat as still as I could, while Meg moved the torch around on one side of me, leaving this ghost-like figure leaning over me.

Rogan thought he might be able to hold a particular expression for the full 25 seconds, so once he was ready I got Meg to click the camera, then circled the torch around him, looping it back and forth.

Finally we decided to have a go at writing in light, which is far harder than you think it’s going to be. Not only can you not see where you had the torch previously, but in order for it to come out the right way for the camera, I had to stand behind and over Rogan and write his name out backwards.

By the time we went in, everyone’s fingers and toes were completely numb, but Maggie made us all a hot chocolate, which we supped as I downloaded the images onto the computer for us to look at.

I also think my Dad rating improved very slightly...

As always, you can click on the images for larger versions

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

A Foggy January Afternoon

On the face of it, going out with the camera on a foggy day might seem like a bit of an odd thing to do. How can we possibly photograph landscapes when we can barely see 50 feet in front of us?

However, fog has properties that allow us to capture objects and effects not usually possible under any other lighting conditions.

Take, for example, the sun. We’re always told it’s as dangerous and foolhardy to point our cameras at it, as it is for magnifying glasses, telescopes and people with ginger hair.

But as the sun struggles to cut through the fog, we can catch a rare glimpse without risking permanent damage to our eyes

Part of the mystery of fog is it seems to muddle the distinction between light and dark. It’s not night, and yet we still struggle to see clearly. Suddenly the ordinary takes on an extraordinary, ethereal quality.

A tree in a field is now silhouetted and soft, while the farmhouse behind it is barely visible at all

But where it comes into its own, to create effects like nothing else on earth, is when fog meets still water.

Out at Loch Ken – the same place Rogan, Meg and I were standing on 8 inches of ice only a couple of weeks ago - see Winter Snow and Ice - I felt I was on a border between worlds. All the old tales, myths and legends crowded in with the fog, and if I’d seen faerie folk coming out of the mist, somehow it wouldn’t have felt out of place.

The absolute stillness of the loch, creating mirror like reflections, when combined with the fog meant it was impossible to tell where the water finished and the mist began

Dead reeds and grasses appeared to float in mid air, strange shapes defying definition as the mind kept doing mental flips trying to make sense of what it was seeing

And isolated from their surrounds, the most beautiful shapes and patterns were formed. No longer recognisable objects, their forms had become abstracted.

Click on any of the images for larger versions

With apologies to Australian Katie who is still on dial-up. I hope it was worth the wait

Thursday, January 21, 2010

That time of year

January is the Lost Month in terms of creativity, action and getting on with life. Instead it is the month of stress, despair, and much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Yes, Christmas and New Year celebrations are now past, and the house returns to looking duller without the twinkly lights.

But that’s not it.

Bank accounts tend to look rather overdrawn as the cost of Christmas becomes all too apparent.

But that’s not it.

The weather is usually dull, wet, cold and grey.

But that’s not it.

Spring, sun, flowers and warmth are still many months away.

But that’s not it.

Coughs, colds, flu and a whole multitude of illnesses are flying about.

But that’s not it.

No one I know has any birthdays or other reasons to party or celebrate.

But that’s not it.

No one’s looking to have their photo taken as they are in hibernation mode, and grumpy from the lack of sunlight, excess weight, sugar withdrawal, illnesses and empty back account.

But that’s not it.

Of course none of these things exactly helps, but there is something else far worse than all these things.

Something so dominating it obscures everything else.

Something that churns the guts and suggests suicide or skipping the country as a possible avoidance strategy.

Something we swear every year we will make damn sure will be less painful in future.

Our Self Assessment Tax Returns are due NO LATER THAN JANUARY 31ST!

Every year the whole of January is lost to a combination of :

trying to find receipts, bank statements and cheque books
trying to sort receipts, bank statements and cheque books into some kind of order
trying to match receipts, bank statements and cheque books so they all tally up
trying to enter all the information into a spreadsheet
trying to make sense of the Self Assessment Tax Return forms
spending hours on the phone in queues for the Self Assessment Tax Return Helpline while all the “operators are busy”
trying to figure out how to get online and logged in to submit the Self Assessment Tax Return
trying to find a way to submit the Self Assessment Partnership Tax Return figures as Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs doesn’t supply an online submission option for this particular form.
trying to decide which figures go into which boxes once we have tracked down, paid for and downloaded a pay-for Self Assessment Partnership Tax Return that can be submitted online to Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs
trying to interpret how to submit the downloaded software so Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs recognises and accepts the figures we’ve inputted

All the while cursing, and overflowing with self-loathing, for not being more organised and leaving everything to the last minute. Again.

Of course, next year will be different…

Monday, January 18, 2010

Guest Blogging

Gillian, from A Peek Into Our Lives, has lived in South Africa since she was 10 years old, but she originally came from Scotland.

Although her blog is fun, honest and well written, she was aware the vast majority of her readers were female, so decided to introduce some male perspective.

Thus Gillian has recently started a series of posts called "Monday Male" in which she selects a male blogging pal and subjects them to various questions, like 'what's the correct response to "Does my arse look fat in this?"'

This week she's featured me. To read the results of my guest appearance, pop over to A Peek Into Our Lives and say hello.

Have a look around, read some backposts, and you may well find yourself adding her to your blog list.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

This is for you - Audio


A few people suggested I record this so they could listen to it or download it.

So here you are: this is for you, too

I've also placed this on the rarely used, but still there, Storytellers Blog

And if you wish to download it as an MP3 file you can do so by clicking here

Thursday, January 14, 2010

This is for you

You know, you can do it.

Yes, I mean you. You reading this. Stop thinking for a moment that I’ve written this for someone else. I haven’t. This is for you.*

I know you have your doubts. I know you think the time probably isn’t right. But when is the time ever right? It’s just an excuse anyway. It’s just your fears talking, not the real, wonderful, incredible you.

There’s a quote by Woody Allen, which I always loved, where he says, “The only thing standing between me and greatness... is me.” And there’s a real truth in that.

You can be more. You don’t have to hold back, living in fear of all the things that might go wrong.

The biggest battles you’ll ever face are not with the problems and obstacles in your way, but with yourself – your own fear is all that is truly stopping you.

You can do it. You are a warm and wonderful human being. And you are far more capable than you think you are.

And you know what?

I believe in you.

Yes I do.

I know underneath all those insecurities, those worries, those fears, lies someone who is capable of creating the world they really want.

OK, you have that darker side to you, the one you try to keep hidden. And you fear if people knew who you really were they couldn’t like you, couldn’t love you.

But that’s not what defines you. You are so much more than that. Sure it’s one aspect of who you are, but it is by no means the only aspect, and certainly not the defining one.

We are multiple and complex beings with many different sides to our personalities.

What is important is not that we have these aspects to us, but how we decide to use them; which ones dominate in a given situation.

Yes, you have these parts of yourself you don’t like, but you also have parts other people love. And these are just as important. More important.

And you are loved.

Whether you believe you deserve it or not.

And you do deserve it.

You are wonderful.

And I believe in you.

Feel it.

Know it.

You are worthy.

And you can make a difference.

So go ahead and make it happen!

*yes, I do mean you

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Winter snow and ice

According to the weather forecast, this is the longest cold snap in Scotland for 50 years. Not only is it much colder than usual, but it's gone on for much longer than usual too.

Roads are not being cleared, and cars are skidding off them and into each other.

Pavements are not being salted, and there have been record numbers of people taken to hospital with broken legs.

I drove home (carefully) from a folk session the other night and it was -14C. This may be nothing to some of you in Canada and Mid-West USA, but buildings, transport links and pipes and drains were just not designed for these kinds of temperatures here in the UK.

However, if you have an interest in photography, it's been a winter wonderland extravaganza. Although it's also been a bit scary trying to reach some of the more interesting places.

Here are a few images from earler in the week - click on any of them for larger versions.

Frozen Waterfall

Waterfalls just don't freeze in the UK. Moving water requires far lower temperatures to freeze than standing water, and the mild climate of this country doesn't usually allow for it. However, there are small streams tumbling over rocks that have now created the most amazing ice shapes and patterns. This image is defintely worth clicking on for the larger version.

Summoning the Snow Genie

Standing several yards out on Loch Ken, on ice several inches thick, Rogan scooped up a handful of very powdery snow and flung it in the air. This kind of snow is useless for snowballs or snowmen, but ideal for creating ghost-like patterns in the air.

Winter and Summer on Loch Ken

I had the idea to merge 2 photos of Loch Ken - one from earlier this week, and the other from a sunset over the loch I took about 18 months ago (see Sunset. Loch. Midges). It's a strange effect, but I quite like it.

Air Bubbles in the Ice 1

As the loch slowly froze, air bubbles became trapped in the ice, forming at different sizes and different depths. Clearing some of the snow off the ice, this image as taken looking straight down.

Air Bubbles in the Ice 2

These patterns are created by the same kinds of air bubbles, only the image is taken from a cross section of a large piece of broken off ice

Snow Maiden

This is what you call bowing to public pressure. My ratings go up when ever I publish a photo of my daughter, Meg

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Blogger Mourns...

It’s an odd thing when a blogger we know dies. It’s a case of culture not yet caught up with technology. We don’t know how to react. What’s appropriate to say or feel? What’s inappropriate? And unless someone else has access to their passcodes, their blog will now remain there until Google or Wordpress disappears. A ghost of them will forever lurk in the blogosphere.

For 4 months I followed the blog of Sang Lee – Yellow Son. A Korean by birth who moved with his family to the US when he was only a few years old, but an American by language, culture and upbringing. The conflict between who he was, or wanted to be out in the world, who he was expected to be at home, and how the people he met treated him because of his physical heritage, shaped much of his outlook.

And he wrote about it wonderfully.

To me he was one of the great finds of 2009, and we clicked together on many levels. His was one of the very few blogs where I was compelled to go back and read every post he’d written. Each one was a treat; an indulgence.

I always got a little excited when I saw on the sidebar he’d got a new post up.

And now, via mutual blog associates and Facebook I discover he had a heart attack and was found dead in his apartment on January 5th.

I never met Sang in person. I never spoke to him on the phone. I only knew him via his writings – blog posts and comments. He might have been an entirely fictitious character created by a Romanian woman living in Botswana for all I know.

But it didn’t feel like he was. He felt like a full, deep and complex person who I was enjoying getting to know.

And now he’s gone.

And I feel a whole range of emotions.

I feel sorrow for his family and those who were close to him; I feel annoyed I won’t get to read any more of his wonderful writings; I feel the sense of mortality we get when someone the same age as us suddenly dies; I feel it’s a shame I will never get to meet him in person as I’m convinced we would have got on well together; I feel a strong sense of personal loss; I feel I want to honour his memory to show a sense of respect; I feel I want to make some stupid, humorous remark; I feel I don’t know the right protocols – I can’t put on a black tie and attend a funeral service; I feel as I never actually met him it shouldn’t really make a difference.

But it does.

Tonight the world feels a bit less colourful.

A tribute page to Sang Lee has been set up on Facebook by his best friends, and can be found here:

Monday, January 04, 2010

2009 in Photographs

I noticed a photographer friend of mine had created a 12 month gallery on Facebook of pics he was pleased with across 2009.

"Damn fine idea," I thought. "Definitely worth stealing for my blog."

Consequently I've spent most of the day rummaging through the files on my computer to pick out photos from each month. But rather than just being a random collection of images, once I'd chosen the ones I wanted, I noticed many of them did in fact reflect aspects of this past year quite well. Indeed, some of these you may well have seen before on this blog.

So without further ado, and with apologies to Australian Kate who only has dial-up internet access, here is my pick of the pics, 2009.

Click on any of them to view a larger version

January - Burns Light Festival

Friend and willow sculptor, Trevor Leat, was commissioned to create a giant figure of Tam O'Shanter as part of the 250th anniversary celebrations of the birth of the Scottish poet, Robert Burns. Floating on the River Nith in Dumfries, this was the moment the flares went off and the figure was set on fire.

February - A Walk on the Beach

Out for a walk on the beach with Meg in her stripey, woolly hat, how could I not take a photo of that beautiful, smiling face?

March - The Willow Harvester

Trevor again, this time harvesting willow for other sculptures. I went our with him on a cold winter morning to do a photo shoot and knew when I took this one, it was something special. I entered it into a competition and actually won quite a decent camera with it.

April - Three on a Hill

Some people don't seem to like wind turbines. Personally I think they look a great deal nicer than nuclear or fossil-fuel fired power stations.

May - Blue Poppy

I noticed a couple of blue poppies in the garden and was captivated by the intensity of the colour

June - Caught in the Act

This quartet of singers were doing a fund raiser for Broughton House in Kirkcudbright and needed some photos for the poster. It was a fun shoot and we played with several different ideas. This one, however, I love. I asked them to all look dead serious and the result was, when looking at this photo you get the feeling you have stumbled into something you really shouldn't have and in a matter of moments the guards will be called and your body will be disposed of. You can see a larger selection of images from this shoot on my photography website here - Broughton House Quartet

July -Vertical Stripes

At the Galloway Children's Fayre, Rogan was selling cakes from his stall. Not being allowed to eat the stock I wandered off with my camera and found a Storyteller friend of mine. John is a man of many talents, one of which is being able to stay upright on a unicycle.

August - Bea Last

I was doing a photoshoot with artist Bea Last who was sitting up against one of the only clear areas of wall in her studio while I was taking some head shots. I pulled back with the camera and saw this composition. With the figure in the middle of the image, and the revealing of the reflected light on the left, I would never have considered setting up such a scene, and yet somehow it worked. And once we did selective colour on the paintings, the tubes and the paint splatters on the skirting board, Bea was delighted with the outcome, as was I.You can see more photos from this shoot on my photography website here: Bea Last

September - The Lost Wedding

Our favourite Kitchen Bitch, Eryl, is one of my favourite people to photograph. Not only does she have a wonderful bone structure, she's also game for trying out different ideas. I can't remember exactly where this idea came from now, but we ended up in a burned out old hotel she knew of, with her wearing a wedding dress she'd got from a charity shop. We did a whole series of photos, and this was one of my favourites. For those who were following the crisis before Christmas, she is now back home recovering from her operation and is on the mend

October - Swan in the Mist at Sunrise

After dropping my son off early in the morning to go on a school trip, I became aware that the combination of sunrise and fog might make for some good shots down at the local loch, so grabbed my camera. This image has probably received more oohs and aahs from different people than any other I've taken.

November - Floods

Torrential rains, rivers and lochs bursting their banks, and floods in general are not much fun if you are directly affected by them. However, they can be a dream for photographers. This lorry was trapped as the dip just behind the rise it's parked on was also flooded and just as deep as the one in front. The driver must have been there for a least 36 hours until the waters receded enough.

December - Balmaghie Church

This one was actually taken on Christmas Day. I was heading up to Crossmichael to pick up friends who were having Christmas Dinner with us, when I decided to take a slight detour to look at Loch Ken, which I knew would be frozen. But I wasn't expecting to have my breath taken away by the beauty of the church across the water in the sparkly, snowy landscape. Fortunately I had my camera with me.

January 2010 - Bonus Pic

On New Year's Day the kids and I went for a walk down to Rascarrel. If you click on the image for the larger version, do take a look at the tree  in the top right corner. It looks like it's been a victim of a topiary enthusiast, but it's completely natural, shaped purely by the wind and the weather.

If I remember, I might make this an annual blog event.