Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Trying out the big lens while listening to some great music

Saturday night found me in Gatehouse of Fleet at the Midsummer Music Festival Fundraiser event, featuring local singers and bands – from the foot-stomping rocking blues of Steve Dowling and the Obliviates, to the sweet tones of the incredibly talented (and at 15 is young enough to make you feel really old) Zoë Bestel, via the melodious tunes of Susi Woodmass and Steve’s brother, Huey, with The Belted Blues Band.

It also gave me my first chance to try out my 70-200mm lens in a performance situation.

I’ve been using it in most of the woodland photos I’ve been posting on the blog (see A Bit of Snow and Twigs and Droplets), but I’ve been itching to use it to photograph musicians and bands in action, so this seemed like a good opportunity. Unfortunately the light was crap – overhead strip lights (possibly the least flattering of all light set ups), but dropping the images into black and white and playing with the editing a bit was able to offset some of that.

Overall I was really pleased with the lens coped. I’ve posted a couple of photos below, but for the full set from that evening, please visit the album on my Photography Facebook Page

Al Price playing a wicked moothie

Melodious Susi

Huey Dowling of The Belted Blues Band

Steve Dowling watching his brother

Intimidatingly talented Zoë

In a couple of weeks, Zoë will be supporting the band I'm in, Scruffy Buzzards, when we open the new season of The Mill Sessions (see - https://www.facebook.com/events/326511140783412/)

Saturday, February 23, 2013


When my stepson, Rory, was 14½ years old, he asked if he could get a Mohawk haircut. Maggie and I had only married a week or two before and were still feeling relatively benevolent towards the world, so I got out the clippers and obliged.

A few days later when he asked if he could dye it green, we thought that was taking it bit too far at his age and said no. He wasn’t too happy about our decision. Later we found out that he’d won a few quid with a bet about being allowed to get the Mohawk, but had then lost it when we refused to let him colour it.

My stepdaughter, Holly, was 17 years old when she decided she wanted a Mohawk. Once again I brought out the clippers. I think I re-trimmed the sides for her a few times before she eventually let it grow out.

I’ve been cutting Rogan’s hair since he was 3 years old (see the 2nd half of "Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow"), and pretty much every time I’ve brought out the clippers I’ve said, "Do you want a Mohawk then?"

This has always been met with a sigh, a roll of the eyes or a, "Will you stop saying that Dad!"

So when a few days ago Rogan asked me if I would give him a Mohawk this weekend, I thought he was joking. Turned out he wasn’t.

It’s been 10 years since I last created one, but fortunately I still have a steady hand.



Now we just have to wait for the reaction from school and his workplace...

Monday, February 18, 2013

Long hair, a shaft of light, and a deep dark wood

A few days ago, while everyone was either celebrating, or desperately trying to avoid, Valentine’s Day, my wee lass turned 15.

Quite how she got to be 15 already remains a mystery. To me she is still about 6 or 7 years old. But then, I suspect that might be the case for most Dads when they look at their daughters.

Usually I make Meg a birthday card using my Photoshop skills to put her in an image with her favourite character or celebrity of the moment.This year, though, I just went for a non-manipulated photo taken the previous week when we were out for a walk in Dalbeattie Wood.

Admittedly Dalbeattie Wood is hardly a place of wolves, gruffalos or houses made out of candy designed to lure lost children into the witch’s grasp. It has a car park, easy to follow paths and is a pleasant place to go for a stroll. But I always have my camera slung over my shoulder just in case something might grab my attention.

Noticing a shaft of sunlight along the path, we decided to have a bit of fun with her throwing her head back, causing her hair to splay out in the light. Different angles and different shutter-speeds were tried, but in the end this was the one I fell in love with, and so did Meg. It looks like a joyous salutation to the sun.

Click on the image for a larger version

It also planted the idea for the hair shots I did with Shelagh McDonald the following day (see last post)

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Shelagh McDonald

I’ll put my camera on high-speed-continuous-shoot mode, and you flick your head up so your hair flies out…

We’d got the main shot sorted. Now we were just having fun.

A little over four decades ago, Shelagh McDonald was the rising star of the Scottish Folk scene. Her first two albums were widely praised and included support from the likes of Richard Thompson. Then suddenly she mysteriously disappeared and didn’t resurface until a few years ago. And it’s only in the last few months that she’s started taking small steps back into the world of music and potential limelight.

You can read more about her early career and what happened in the intervening years in an article here - http://www.frootsmag.com/content/features/shelagh-mcdonald/page02.html

At the end of next month, Shelagh will be playing at the Mill Sessions in Gatehouse of Fleet, where I’ve been photographing the main performers for the past couple of years. She’s being supported by local band, The Razorbills, who will also be backing her for a couple of songs.

Because Shelagh is still at the early stages of her return to performing, she doesn’t yet have any decent publicity photos. So when she came down to the area to rehearse with The Razorbills a couple of weekends ago, time was set aside and I headed out with my camera.

There was nothing of the Diva about Shelagh – she was warm, friendly and very easy to chat to. In fact we’d been blethering for over half an hour before I remembered I ought to get my camera out.

But there’s also nothing shallow about Shelagh either. She clearly has great depths and great strengths, whatever her self doubts might tell her, and I hoped to capture a touch of them in this photo.

As always, feel free to click on the images for larger versions

Shelagh McDonald

As I was clicking way, asking her to move her head this way or that, I was really struck by her wonderful, thick, long hair, which at times seemed to cascade more like a waterfall

Cascading hair

With a couple of good, usable photos in the bag, we decided to play a bit, and this is where we thought it would be fun to capture that hair in mid-flight.

Hair with a life all of its own...

I don’t suppose it will appear on any publicity photos, but we did enjoy ourselves

Sometimes keeping a straight face is just a wee bit too tricky...

Once we’d finished playing, we headed with The Razorbills down to the beach at Ross Bay to get a shot of them all together.

Shelagh McDonald and The Razorbills

So, if you’re in the area, then make sure you book your tickets ahead for the Mill Sessions on March 30th. I guarantee you will be in for a treat.

Friday, February 08, 2013

Graphite & Ink

My wife, Maggie, has created a notebook, which features 10 of her graphite and ink drawings to inspire your own imaginative explorations along with 28 blank unlined pages for sketches and musings – also available for sale at blurb.com:


For the chance to win a free copy then you need to make sure you have "liked" her Maggie Ayres Facebook Page:


and then you need to "share" the post about this draw

The winner will be randomly drawn on Monday 18th Feb.

Good luck!

And if you're interested in how she creates her graphite and ink images, then you can watch the youtube video below

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

Maggie’s website revamp

It’s over 8 years since I sold my web design business, but it’s impossible to escape completely. Sometimes I find myself thinking of Al Pacino in The Godfather III when he says,

However, there are some jobs I can’t avoid – my own website, of course, and my wife’s.

Maggie’s site has been in need of an overhaul for some time now. In fact it caused something of an embarrassed cough when I recently realised the gallery of her images dated back to 2009.

January is traditionally filled with all the fear, panic and general wailing and gnashing of teeth that goes with sorting out the tax returns (see That Time of Year), but with that finally out the way there were no more excuses available. Maggie’s website needed not just new content, but a visual redesign too.

We’ve gone cleaner and simpler – although don’t let that fool you into thinking it’s easier.

Back in the days when I was a professional web designer, I would often get asked to produce something “simple, yet professional”. What they meant was “cheap, yet professional” and that’s not on the menu. Expensive and complicated – easy. Simple and cheap looking – easy. Simple, yet professional, is the holy grail of design. To make something appear effortless, usually requires a massive amount of work.

If you look at world-class ice-skaters, they appear to glide lightly across the ice as though it was the easiest thing in the world. But it has taken them tens of thousands of hours of practice to make it look that natural.

It’s not uncommon to run into exactly the same misconceptions about photography. Why pay a guy a living wage for just pointing a camera and clicking a button? Anyone can do that. Yes, but not everyone has invested tens of thousands of hours to experimenting, learning and creating to improve their skills so they can take really good photos

And this is true of nearly every profession.

However, I digress.

Maggie has a new look website, with a new, up-to-date gallery of beautiful images to buy, or just admire.

Do pop over and take a look – www.maggieayres.co.uk - or you can even read her take on the new site on her blog (which has also been revamped) – maggieayres.blogspot.com

Next on the agenda is updating her Facebook page…

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Miss Scarlett, in the library, with the candlestick

Sara Sheridan is a best-selling historical and crime writer. She campaigns on reading and writing issues and is a self-confessed word nerd and swot. And the photo shoot I did with her as part of the "authors as characters" series of images for Wigtown Book Festival last autumn, was one of the most enjoyable.

We'd chatted on the phone a week or so before the Festival to decide on who she wished to be photographed as: Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, Marguerite from The Scarlet Pimpernel, and 19th century author, Maria Callcott, were bandied about. But though all these had potential, Sara wanted a strong, iconic image and suddenly Miss Scarlett from the game "Cluedo" (or "Clue" as it is usually marketed as in North America) was tossed into the fray. As this was to happen at a book festival, The Library seemed an obvious choice of venue, and the Candlestick seemed a more likely murder weapon to be able to acquire for the shoot.

Initially I'd intended to use a bookshop for the setting, but when I arrived in Wigtown I discovered a room in the County Buildings had been transformed into a sort of Victorian study as part of a project for people to donate various objects to help create a "room of curiosities". With one corner containing bookshelf wallpaper, it felt almost like a purpose-built set.

Sara was great fun and threw herself into the role of femme fatale. She'd even borrowed a stunning red dress from her daughter, knowing it was a size too small so we'd have to use tape at the back to hold it in place. We tried different shots of her looking as though she was about to deliver a killer blow, but in the end settled on an image invoking a sense of an unrepentant, post-murder cigarette. Smoking was forbidden in the building, so I had to add the burning tip and smoke afterwards in Photoshop.

Miss Scarlett, in the library, with the candlestick

For a bit more fun, I also took some shots of the full set with the lights, which ended up with a '70s magazine article look to it.

How to look glamorous with a brass candlestick

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

You can find out more about Sara Sheridan on her website:
www.sarasheridan.com or www.sarasheridan.co.uk
Find her on Facebook here:
And she’s also well into Twitter too: