Friday, December 28, 2012

Photographic Inspiration

Last year I’d been toying with ideas for a festive image when I came across a photo by the superb photographer and very wonderful human being, Conny Wenk, of her son wrapped up in Christmas lights.

Conny's delightful photo

Not only is it a lovely image that can’t help but put a smile on our faces, it is also a very Conny Wenk style photo. I defy anyone to visit her blog, scroll through her photos and not end up with a broad grin from ear to ear. Her ability to draw such genuine, heartfelt warmth and smiles from the people she photographs is a skill many portrait photographers would sell their left leg to achieve.

Although I was instantly inspired, I knew there was no way my own son, Rogan, at 16 years old, would ever let me do anything vaguely similar to him. Besides, I wasn’t out to copy, but to put my own spin on the idea.

With no one in the family I could grab, the only option was to turn the camera on myself. Self-portraits are not the easiest thing at the best of times, but when tangled up a string of Christmas lights it adds an extra dimension of trickiness.

After about 64 attempts, I ended up with an image I felt I could work with:

My slightly different interpretation

I had the composition I wanted, but the colours weren't right. Time to start editing.

Photoshop: how many ways do I love thee?

In the end I was quite pleased with it and uploaded it to, who were asking for seasonal submissions. To my delight they accepted it into their gallery.

Fast forward a year to this Christmas and I was gobsmacked to find 1x had decided to use this photo for the main banner on the front page of the site. Given the status of 1x, this is pretty much the equivalent of getting my image on a magazine cover.

Front page of 1x over Christmas 2012

It’s been up since the beginning of the week, but now Christmas day has passed, I don’t know how much longer it will be there. But I have allowed myself a wee *smug* moment, and really just wanted to say thanks to Conny for the inspiration.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Festive wishes

Home Baking treats seem to be the dominant force in the Ayres household at the moment.

I’ve just had one of Meg’s gluten-free "iced gems" biscuits, which she made herself - and very tasty it was too. Maggie’s magical skills with flour, fat and sugar are legendary, and she has passed many of her abilities on to the offspring.

Maggie herself has, of course, been busy making more food that an army could fight its way through, despite the fact there are only 5 of us here for Christmas this year.

Rogan has made some delightful chocolate-chip cookies and the most amazing chocolaty, crumbly peppermint slices.

Even I gave it a go yesterday, making some truffles with dark, 70% chocolate. Inspired by Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s Christmas special I decided to create my own concoction, mixing chilli jam, lemon marmalade and a dash of single-malt whiskey to the melted chocolate. After letting it cool, I rolled the mixture into small balls and dipped them in more melted dark chocolate.

The result is quite an intense hit of flavours but, if I’m honest, it didn’t turn out quite as well as expected. In hindsight, I should probably have used a chilli jam that didn’t have garlic in it, as the lingering aftertaste is just a bit too... lingering.

I could probably have enjoyed 2 or three of them, sharing the rest with the family, however the family have decided my creations should be left entirely to me.

5 down, 11 to go...

Meanwhile, in keeping with the traditions of the blog, you should find below our annual greeting card. There’s been no snow this year, just relentless rain, so I was quite pleased to be able to photograph a robin in a holly tree, which is not too bad where festive images are concerned.

So whatever your beliefs, non beliefs and state of mind, I wish you all the very best over the coming festive season and for the New Year.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Edible Jesus

Occasionally my photography leads me into strange areas I would never have considered venturing. Yesterday, for example, I was photographing gingerbread nativity scenes.

The rather wonderful Renita Boyle is an author, storyteller, minister’s wife and good friend. The day before she’d had 22 people in her kitchen in Wigtown, building assorted stables, donkeys, stars, angels, camels, kings, shepherds, sheep, Marys, Josephs, baby Jesuses, mangers and, because of where we live, Galloway belted cattle – all out of gingerbread, icing sugar, chocolate, biscuits and breakfast cereal.

Next September Renita is bringing out a book, A Tasty Exploration of Advent, complete with recipes, templates, stories and reflections. She needed a photo for the book as well as some images of the other nativity scenes, created by the range of occupants of her kitchen the previous day, for potential publicity or the church magazine. As I already owe her a huge bunch of favours, I was more than happy to head over for the morning, which flowed into half the afternoon and a late lunch.

Despite the inherent edible nature of nativity scene, I wasn’t allowed to tuck into it. Besides, I wasn’t entirely sure whether it would be considered blasphemous if I started nibbling on the baby Jesus.

His manger did look awfully tempting though…

Renita with the gingerbread nativity

Marshmallow sheep

Galloway Beltie with the baby Jesus and a surprisingly tasty looking manger

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Published in the book, No Words

I might have mentioned the website a couple of times in the past. It’s an inspirational site, full of the most amazing photos.

Part of that comes from the high standard of the selection process. On average, they accept only 5% of all the images submitted – and that's despite the fact people are putting forward their best work. In the space of nearly 4 years, I’ve only managed to get 9 of my photos on there -

Around once a year they bring out a book with a selection of the images. This year it’s called “No Words” and they are only printing 2222 copies of it. It contains 220 amazing photos and I’m delighted to say they have included one of mine.

No Words

My photo, "Reflection"

If you are the kind of person who doesn’t mind paying €89 for a beautiful book, then you won’t be disappointed, and you can buy it here:

If the idea of paying €89 for a book threatens to induce a heart attack, then just visit and enjoy the images on display on your computer screen.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Website Updates, Apple, Flash and Frustration

I’ve been spending the last few days updating my website – – not that you’d notice a huge amount of difference.

At first glance the only real change would seem to be a slight shift in emphasis to encourage people to follow my portrait photography page on Facebook, or go off and re-pin some of my photos on Pinterest.

However, the thing that’s been taking up all my time and had me pulling chunks of my beard out in frustration, has been altering the gallery on the front page to make it look more or less like it already did. What it all comes down to is Adobe Flash.

If you are using an ordinary desktop or laptop computer you might periodically have been prompted to download the latest Flash Player to make sure you can continue to enjoy sites and applications using the most up to date versions.

Flash is a system, or platform, that allows all sorts of fancy extras on a web page – video, animation and even sound. As such it has been used for many years by people wanting to create a richer interactive experience with their websites. In fact, some designers have even built entire websites out of it.

It has its downsides – if your entire site is built using it (as many arty sites are), it’s crap for your rankings in the search engine results, and people with visual disabilities using text readers can’t make sense of it. However, used sparingly it can be very effective for things like creating scrolling image galleries, like I had.

Unfortunately Apple, for some reason never adequately explained to me, decided not to support Flash on their iPhones or iPads. So on these devices, when you turn up to a site using Flash, instead of getting any kind of rich, visual, interactive experience, you get a notification that you need to update your Flash player, which you cannot do, thereby rendering that portion of the website inaccessible.

Frustrating for the iPhone and iPad users, but even more maddening for those who work in a very visual medium such as photography, and suddenly realise that because of the widespread success of these Apple devices, a significant percentage of our target audience can no longer see examples of our work on our front page.

I’ve known about this problem for some time, but I’ve also known that trying to find a non-Flash alternative for the way I wanted my front page to look, was going to be time consuming and irritating. Consequently I’ve been ignoring it, hoping the problem would somehow go away. But when Maggie recently got an iPad it really brought home to me just how appalling the effect of this €$%&ing decision by Apple was on my site.

Having lost far too many days trying to find free bits of code that would do what I wanted it to, and investigating areas of programming my head was never designed for, a couple of days ago I eventually gave up and settled on paying £77 for a program called WOW Slider. It’s taken since then to properly work out how to use it and insert it into my site in such a way that it now appears to function whatever browser I use.

Anyway, it’s now done, and I’ve added a few new photos into the gallery while I was at it. If you are so inclined, please feel free to go and take a look and let me know which image you would chose to have as first in the sequence -

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Twigs and Droplets

A few weeks ago, I went wandering out into the Autumn fog with my camera (see A Few Autumn Photos).

It wasn’t foggy today, but it was crisp and cold, as it has been for the past few days. Meg suggested we go out for a walk together, so we headed up to Laurieston Woods, about 15 minutes drive away.

At a latitude of pretty much exactly 55 degrees North, even though it was near noon when we went arrived, the sun wasn’t getting particularly high in the sky. The low sun meant many of the droplets on lightly frosted twigs sparkled as the light passed behind and through them.

Lucky I took my camera then...

As always, feel free to click on them for larger versions.

Do you have a favourite?