Friday, January 25, 2013

A bit of snow

Although much of the rest of the country has had a fair bit of snow over the past few weeks (I use the term ‘fair bit’ in relation to typical British winters, not Canadian), in Castle Douglas it’s only been teasing. It snows, but doesn’t settle; or it snows and settles just enough to get your hopes up, but by the time you’ve had breakfast, donned a woolly hat and scarf and a 2nd pair of socks, it’s raining and the white stuff on the ground is already turning to slush.

This morning, however, there was a good inch or two lying on top of the car so I thought I should head out with the camera. Maggie suggested woodland and trees might be a good option, but then I spent another 10 minutes trying to decide whether I should go with a wide-angle lens (good for landscapes) or my 70-200mm zoom lens (good for getting in close). Eventually I headed off for Dalbeattie Woods with my zoom lens, hoping I might see some ducks on the wee loch there.

As I walked through the woods, the soft snow crunching underfoot, I looked at this magical landscape and utterly failed to find a way to capture it on camera.

I’m a faces man; a portrait photographer. I can make anyone look cool and interesting. But when it comes to landscapes, it’s entirely hit or miss (mostly miss) – I don’t understand the language in the way landscape photographers do. So I carried on walking, partly trying to just enjoy the walk, and partly trying to fend off feelings of inadequacy.

I reached the edge of the loch, which was half covered in semi-melted ice and snowy slush, but there wasn’t a duck to be seen. But I did quite like the way a branch was jutting out over the slushy water.

Further along my walk I saw a bench with snow on it and decided to make a wee snowman (only about 9 or 10 inches high)

I then gave him a nose and stuck him on top of a post to glare accusingly at unwary travellers…

Finally, about 150 yards or so from the car I realised I was at the place I took the abstract photo of the birch trees last month (which I posted at the end of my Favourite Photos of 2012 post), so though I would try the same effect of motion blur – deliberately moving the camera as you click the shutter. And that did, finally, give me a photo I was really pleased with

As always, feel free to click on any of the images for a larger version.

And let me know in the comments what kind of photography you like doing the most

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Up In The Air at The Mill Sessions

Back in November, rounding off the year for The Mill Sessions, we were fortunate to get the superb, Up In The Air – a trio of outstanding musicians. Jonny Hardie and Davy Cattanach are probably best known for their roles in the band Old Blind Dogs, while Gavin Marwick also plays in the sublime Bellevue Rendezvous, who I photographed before they played at the Mill back in the summer (see

Because Jonny and Davy live several hundred miles north of here, the only option for the photo shoot was the afternoon before their performance. And as the sun disappears quite early in November, in Scotland, we didn’t have a great deal of time to make the most of the light. Not that there was a great deal of light anyway, because it was a dreich, overcast day. Fortunately the rain held off just long enough, and I took some shots up behind Ruth and Gavin’s place where the skeleton of a barn has been built. With the hills in the background, it seemed as good a place as any to fire off a few photos.

In the end I was really quite pleased with this one

My wife, Maggie, has been a fan of Old Blind Dogs for a long time, and introduced me to their music back in the early 90s – so the prospect of a band mixing musicians from them and Bellevue Rendezvous had us both really excited at seeing them play live in that wonderful, intimate venue at The Mill on the Fleet.

And we weren’t disappointed.

Once again, I sat my camera on my knee and filmed a few songs. I know I usually only post one or two from a session, but when looking back through the selection I had, I couldn’t pare it down any further than these four.

Track 3 is the only one of these with singing – it’s called Twa Corbies, which is an old Scots ballard about 2 crows picking the bones of a dead knight (lyrics here if you’re interested, and is an Old Blind Dogs favourite.

If you like what you hear, then you can download their new album, Moonshine, from all the usual places on the web, or buy the CD from a number of sites like this one:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A poet, a torch and a 30 second exposure

Last night I was out creating a photo of my friend and poet, Mark Williams to fit with a poem of his, "A Drunk Man Dances With a Lamppost" – more on that next month.

On the way home from the shoot it was a cold, clear night and I thought I’d stop and try photographing the stars. I didn’t have much success in capturing anything interesting, but while the camera was out, I figured we could have a go at a bit of light painting.

With the camera sitting on a tripod, I asked Mark to stand as still as he could and set the timer for 30 seconds. After clicking the shutter release, I then moved the torch around the edges of his body – slowly up one leg and arm, over his head and back down the other side. Because the exposure is so long, and I was moving, my presence wasn’t captured, although if you look closely, you’ll see a couple of dark shadows either side of him, which was caused by me standing still for a few seconds while I moved the torch.

With the glow of the town on the horizon and the stars in the sky (you can see Orion’s belt just up and to the right of his head if you look carefully) behind him, it gives a slightly sci-fi feel to the image, like he’s just landed.

We did it a few times, and this was the best one. We might have done a few more, but by then our fingers and toes were going numb, so we packed up, climbed back in the car and set the heater on full blast.

As usual, feel free to click on the image for a larger version.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

Favourite Photos of 2012

As we have entered the New Year over the past three years, I've posted some of my favourite photos from the previous twelve months. I've usually chosen one per month, but this year my photography hasn't been so evenly spread out, so I've just picked a selection of photos that are my personal favourites, regardless of the time of year I took them.

For earlier collections, see 2011, 2010 and 2009

As always, feel free to click on any of them for larger versions. And comments are always appreciated, so do let me know if you have any particular favourites.

Sean Taylor

Sean Taylor is an amazing blues guitarist and singer. In 2011 I photographed him before his gig at The Mill Sessions. That photo ended up on the over of his latest album, Love Against Death. He came back for another gig in 2012 and I photographed him in the afternoon before the gig. I did a few set up shots, but he was most relaxed when he was just playing his guitar, so I told him to just start playing. The shots where you can see the backdrop and lights in the background ended up with a more authentic feel to them. And it felt like I was being treated to my own personal gig.

Ruby Shoes

I returned to the Scottish Tattoo Convention in 2012, only this time I had a stall to take photos of people with their tattoos. Unfortunately it wasn't as successful as I'd hoped and much of my time was spent twiddling my thumbs. Although it was frustrating financially, what was worse, was there were all these amazingly decorated people moving about I couldn't photograph. This one, however, I took from my stall as she walked past.

Bellevue Rendezvous

Bellevue Rendezvous are a trio of musicians who play the most amazing music. Ruth's Nickelharpa has to be heard to be believed - it has a rich resonant sound that conjures up other worlds (for a couple of videos of them playing live, see my post Bellevue Rendezvous at The Mill Sessions). I took this photo of them in the afternoon before they played at The Mill Sessions

Hollywood Meg

I had a photo shoot lined up with a former model during a trip down to the South-West of England in the summer. We'd been discussing themes and had settled on the idea of doing a Hollywood style shot. I was really excited about doing the shoot with this amazing woman, and didn't want to mess it up. This meant I had to start learning how to do the lighting and post-processing to get that classic Hollywood feel - and get some practice in. My daughter, Meg, was my guinea pig, and I was rather pleased with this one.

Hollywood Pat

The former model I was practising for was of course the wonderful blogger, Pat, from Past Imperfect. I wrote more about the experience in my post, Photographing a Legend.

Tor Surfing

As well as Pat, England's South-West corner also contains Dartmoor, with its granite tors jutting out of the landscape. The day my son, Rogan, and I went to Haytor and climbed up, it was particularly windy. Rogan decided to have fun leaning back into the wind and "surfing".

Scruffy Buzzards

One of the most fun things of 2012 for me has been playing the bouzouki in the band, Scruffy Buzzards. It's the closest I've ever come to being the rock guitar god I knew I was destined to be back when I was a teenager. Of course, as a photographer, it's down to me to create the promo shots for the band, which can be particularly tricky when you have to not only set up the shot, but be in it yourself. This one I called "Musical Harmony..."

Eleanor McEvoy

Eleanor McEvoy is probably one of the biggest names we've had play at The Mill Sessions. Her album, A Woman's Heart, was the best selling Irish album in Irish history. I did a photo session with her in the afternoon before her gig and was really pleased with this one. I wasn't entirely sure what she would think of it though, as it is less flattering and more characterful than nearly every other photo you will ever see of her. However, she seemed happy with it and even used it as her Facebook profile pic for a few weeks - which is about as big an endorsement as you can hope for.

Refuge Hut

Holy Island is on the Northumbrian coast in the North-East of England, and is separated from the mainland by a tidal causeway. Every month at least one car doesn't check the tide times and ends up being washed off the road. The causeway does have a couple of "refuge huts" for walkers who find themselves caught by the tide, where they can wait for a few hours until it is safe to continue the journey. Maggie and I weren't in any such danger when we visited, but I couldn't resist taking this photo when the sun was getting lower and the cloud formations were quite spectacular.

John Hegley as Keats

John Hegley is a poet and comedian and signed up for a series of photos I was doing for Wigtown Book Festival of authors as characters. He decided to he wanted to be photographed as the early 19th century poet, John Keats. More of that experience can be found in my post - John Hegley, John Keats and a Stick of Celery.

Debi Gliori - The Cat and The Fiddle

Debi Gliori is a children's author and illustrator who also got involved with the authors as characters project. She wanted a reference to The Cat and The Fiddle to tie in with her latest book. More can be found on that tale/tail in my post - Debi Gliori, Tobermory, Cats, Controversy and Photography.

Sara Sheridan - Miss Scarlet in the Library with the Candlestick

Another of my favourites from the same series is the author Sara Sheridan. The reference here is to the game "Cluedo". More will be written about this photo shoot in a future blog.

Sunset at Pittenweem

During the October break, we had a family holiday in the Fife coastal town of Pittenweem. One evening I went wandering down to the breakwater to take some photos of the glorious sunset, looking back along the coast towards St Monans. But it was the bird next to the harbour light that kept grabbing my attention.


A twig, a droplet of water and a few strands of spiders web. With a wide aperture on a zoom lens, the background became so blurred it was possible to isolate this little universe. It gives me a welcome sense of peace when looking at it.

Jupiter's Moons

A little over a month ago, Jupiter was in the sky close to the moon. I took a few photos with my 200mm zoom lens, but it was only when I was able to blow the images up large on my computer screen did I notice the couple of tiny dots next to Jupiter, which are its own moons. It's difficult to say why exactly, but this thrilled me no end - the idea that I was able to see the sun reflecting off the moons of a planet over a billion miles away was one of those slightly mind-blowing moments.

Birch Trees

Out for a walk in Dalbeattie woods with my daughter we rounded a corner and saw the low winter sun reflecting off a patch of birch trees all standing upright. I decided to experiment with a technique where you create a deliberate motion blur by moving the camera at the point you click the shutter. If you do it in the same direction as some existing strong lines you can get some quite interesting effects. I've been trying it without much success all year. This was the first one I took where I really liked the results.

I hope you've liked some of these images. Do you have a favourite?