Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Naked choice

I’ve never been a fashionista. If clothes more or less fit and have pockets where it’s useful to have them, then that’s tended to be good enough for me.

I’m not bothered about the latest designs or colour schemes, and I have no idea whether I look better in blue or brown. Given a preference I will probably choose black because it is less likely to clash with anything.

Periodically clothes will wear out, become too large or too small depending on weight changes, or just get so stained it begins to get a bit embarrassing, so I have to traipse wearily around high street shops that were never designed for me.

Whether it's shirts or trousers or jackets or an extra layer to keep me warm, each time I discover it’s impossible to find anything I might feel remotely comfortable in. Do plain, heavy cotton shirts without logos on them actually exist any more, or are they just too unfashionable to contemplate making?

A depressing trawl round Dumfries today revealed I have 2 options only. I can either go for the Metrosexual or Retired Pensioner look: clothes for slightly effeminate 20-somethings, or attire my septuagenarian father is comfortable in. Understated practical clothing for a bearded 40-something is unavailable.

I suppose I could mix and match and end up looking like a gay granddad, but somehow it doesn’t appeal...

Friday, March 22, 2013

Last of the Snowhicans...

This winter has been a disappointment where snow is concerned.

In this corner of South-West Scotland we’ve never had enough to build a decent snowman and the kids haven’t had a single day off school. All over the rest of the country there have been several days of chaos caused by the fluffy stuff. But here, even when we’ve woken up to a white blanket, but lunchtime it’s turned to rain, and slush has dominated the day.

Until today.

The school was closed, roads were closed, few people braved heading out onto the high street.

Castle Douglas high street

My son, Rogan, and I walked up to the supermarket to buy some bread and a few essentials, heads down against the constant blast of snow against our faces. At times I wondered whether we should have been roped together for safety. Until he threw a snowball at me...

It’s been several years since we last built a snowman of any size. In fact I suspect it might be as far back as 2006 when I wrote this post – Snow has arrived in Castle Douglas. Even in the really cold winters a couple of years back when the lochs froze over, the snow was powdery and not suitable for moulding and sculpting.

But today’s snow was perfect: thick, slightly damp and plenty of it

Several inches of the right kind of snow

"How about we create one with a Mohawk?" said Rogan, as we looked out at the garden from the kitchen window.

"You mean a Snowhican," said Maggie.

Well, how could we not attempt to create something as wonderful sounding as a Snowhican?

Last of the Snowhicans

Rogan compares it with his own...

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

After a combination of a further 24 hours of snow, and the temperature sometimes rising above freezing, the following day the Snowhican was covered in more white fluffy stuff and was leaning like he'd had a few drinks too many...

All day we've been waiting for him to topple, but he just keeps seeming to lean further and further into a gravity defying angle

The Snowhican has continued his leaning, yet not completely toppling, to the point where we are beginning to doubt the laws of physics apply in our garden...

Day 3 and we do a doubletake everytime we look out the window

Amazingly, this morning the Snowhican had still not toppled over, but remained barely an inch or two above the snow.

Day 4 and we kept having to return for another look. However, by late afternoon he finally touched the snow underneath

UPDATE 4 - Day 15
2 weeks later and no further snow yet still the Snowhican maintains some of its shape.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

World Down Syndrome Day

March 21st is World Down Syndrome Day.

Down’s Syndrome is a genetic disorder. Human beings have over 25,000 genes, organised into 23 pairs of chromosomes (46 chromosomes in total). People with Down’s Syndrome have a 3rd chromosome attached to their 21st pair (making 47 chromosomes in total). It is this chromosomal difference that defines the condition.

With this 3rd chromosome being attached to the 21st pair, DS is sometimes referred to as Trisomy 21 (there are other conditions known as Trisomy 13 and Trisomy 18 where the 3rd chromosome is attached to a different pair, and this causes a different set of complications).

And so, because 3 and 21 are significant numbers, the 21st day of the 3rd month each year has been adopted as World Down Syndrome Day.

Those who know us personally, or have been following this blog for any length of time, will be aware that my 15-year-old daughter, Meg, has Down’s Syndrome.

This week Meg has been off school with quite a horrible cold. She’s on the mend, but I don’t think she’ll be back there this week.

However, on the plus side it meant she was available for me to take her photo this morning for this blog post

For those interested, you can find my DS related posts by clicking here or by selecting Down’s Syndrome from the Find your favourite topics list on the side bar.

And for those who would like to see some exquisitely beautiful, smiling faces of children with DS, then pop over to Conny Wenk’s site and look at the wee video she has put up today in celebration of World Down Syndrome Day:

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Drunk Man Dances with a Lamppost

With the renaming of this site from Ramblings of the Bearded One to Painting With Shadows (see last post), it seems appropriate that my first post under the new header should feature my good friend, the poet David Mark Williams.

Mark (as he’s known to his friends) was the subject of one of the major turning points in my journey towards becoming a photographer. It was this photo of him that changed everything for me

The Poet

At the time it was light years ahead of anything I’d done before, and I remember being shocked, but very, very excited I’d managed to produce something so attention grabbing, moody and textural. In that moment I knew photography was never going to be the same again for me. Pretty flowers, rolling landscapes and sleeping kittens were all very well, but none of them spoke to my soul like the intense gaze of a shadowed face.

Fast forward a few years and I’ve decided one direction I wish to move in is to do more in the way of, for want of a better phrase, narrative photography. Not images captured, describing what happened, but images created, telling a story. The photos I’ve been doing for the Authors as Characters project could be described as such – the stage is set, the costumes are found, borrowed or created, and the story is at the heart of the image.

Collaborating with other people is also at the core of this. Again, it is not product photography – input of the people involved on both sides of the camera is fundamental.

During one of our many regular chats, Mark and I started talking about doing a photo of one of his poems. Ideas bounced back and forth and we eventually decided to have a go at "A Drunk Man Dances With A Lamppost" – a poem he’d submitted to, and been accepted by, Envoi, a poetry magazine (Issue 164).

As with all grand ideas, few things were straightforward or went smoothly. One of the first things I discovered while location scouting was that lampposts tend to be far taller than I’d thought. Even with short ones, if I was to fit the entire post in, the figure standing under it would be so small as to be virtually insignificant. Then there was the fact the light was so low I had to have the camera on a very slow shutter speed, which meant the slightest movement and the figure became blurred. Not to mention it was close to, or slightly below freezing, so fingers and toes were steadily getting colder and more numb with each passing attempt.

However, persistence and determination paid off and eventually we ended up with an image we were both pleased with.

So now, ladies, gentlemen and people who don’t feel comfortable being labelled in either of those categories, may I present to you…

A Drunk Man Dances with a Lamppost

He’s overwhelmed with sweet silver notes,
music only he can hear,
the still night air, a ceiling of stars,
and no more to say than the lamppost
while they try out who knows
a foxtrot, a quick step, a Viennese waltz.
They are of the same cast, ungainly, rigid,
veering from a dead slump to spells
of freeze-frame lunges and leans.
His hold on the lamppost alone is constant
as he winds down in clockwork spasms,
legs snapping at the knees,
shoes clattering on the pavement.
However long it takes, he’ll keep it up
until they get it right,
take to the floor, step out together.

David Mark Williams

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

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Painting With Shadows

It’s time for a name change.

When I started this blog back in 2005, it was to be a vehicle for my writing. I had sold my web design business, moved to the South-West corner of Scotland and had every intention of starting a new career as a writer. Short stories, novels, perhaps comic books and maybe the odd bit of freelance stuff was all ahead of me. I knew I would need an area to practice in, and a blog seemed like an ideal solution. I could try out different styles and explore different topics, and at the same time connect with other people online to build camaraderie and gauge response levels to my scribblings.

I didn’t have a specific theme or direction, so I called my blog, Ramblings of The Bearded One, making a mocking nod to a title I was sometimes referred to back in my days at University when I studied philosophy.

But my writing career never took off. The onset of ME/CFS helped put an end to that, although I was able to continue with the blog, albeit at a slightly less frequent pace.

A few years ago, as I started doing much more with my camera, I found my ability to think and react to the world in terms of blog posts had diminished. Instead I realised that far more often I would see people and events in terms of photography. And this has fed into my blog. Over the past 12 months, more than two-thirds of all my blog posts have been photography related on one level or another, and since the turn of this year, ten out of twelve have been.

For a couple of months now, I’ve been toying with the idea of changing the name of this blog to something more in keeping with its content.

The term "photography" was coined in 1834 (according to Wikipedia) and comes from the Greek terms photos, meaning light, and graphos meaning drawing. Thus, in certain circles, the phrase "painting with light" is often used as a poetic description of the process.

But in a conversation I was having with my father towards the end of last year, I found myself using the phrase, painting with shadows for what I saw as a more accurate description of my approach to photography, and part of me thought "oh, I like that phrase – I should try and remember it."

When I started thinking about renaming this blog, that phrase popped back into my mind and it felt right. And not only from a photographic point of view. A fair bit of my writing over the years has veered into the darker, moodier, edgier areas of life and mental health. Somehow it all seemed to fit together.

So, sometime in the next few days I will be renaming this blog. I thought I’d better warn you just in case you feared my blog had disappeared altogether.

At one point I thought about dramatically naming this post, "The End of the Ramblings of The Bearded One", but it’s not strictly true. I will still put up non-photography posts, discussing different ideas, thoughts and events, but the name change will now more accurately express the content.

This blog has evolved – it has been for the past couple of years – and the new name reflects that.

I hope you will continue with me on my journey.

Saturday, March 02, 2013

Dark Skies in Galloway

Low-light photography comes with its own particular set of challenges, night time photography even more so. So when I decided I was going to have a go at photographing the stars, I knew it wasn’t going to be easy.

Large parts of the world are so full of light pollution, at night you can barely see the brightest stars, even on the clearest of evenings. However, there are parts of this corner of Scotland which have achieved “Dark Skies” status – where you have the chance of seeing far more of the thousands of stars potentially visible by the naked eye.

Last week I drove up into the hills above Gatehouse, camera, tripod and wide-angle lens at the ready.

Unfortunately, photos of the stars on their own just aren’t that interesting (as always, feel free to click on any of the images for larger versions).

Recognisable stars, but with no real reference point

If you know what you’re looking for, you can see Orion’s belt (the 3 stars in a row in the bottom 1/3 of the left of the photo), and if you follow the line of it you can also make out Jupiter (the bright star), and the Seven Sisters (small clump that looks like a tiny saucepan). But you need a telescope attached to your camera be able to take amazing photos of something like the Horsehead Nebula.

So the reason for a wide-angle lens is to get in some of the landscape – this helps to give the stars a context. Rather than being a random set of white dots on a dark background, we can see it is a night sky and immediately imagine we are the ones standing there in the silence, with the cold air on our skins and the smell of heather and bracken in our nostrils.

Orion and Jupiter above Gatehouse of Fleet

However, the moon was out and that started to cause light pollution of its own, making the number of stars visible, much fewer. So I decided I’d try again the following night, before the moon rose.

The next evening I headed into the Galloway Forest to Clatteringshaws Loch, figuring that water and stars might make a good combination. And it was, breathtakingly beautiful – far more than I know how to capture with a camera – after all, portraits are my speciality, not landscapes.

But the biggest problem faced with taking photos by starlight is, that in order to let as much light into the camera as possible, you have to have the shutter open for a much longer time. Normal, daytime photos, are taken with shutter speeds like 1/250th of a second, but those photos above required a 30 second exposure.

And once you start getting to those times, the problem is the rotation of the Earth starts to interfere with the photography. From the time you open the shutter to the time it closes, the stars have moved, relative to us – so instead of being sharp dots, they create trails.

So if you look at the two images below. In the first, the shutter has been open for 57 seconds, and the trail effect is just starting to happen (exaggerated further at the sides of the image because of the effects of a wide-angle lens).

In the second, the shutter has been open for over 3½ minutes, but although this allows for far more of the stars to show, the star-trail effect becomes far more noticeable. It also means the orange glow of light pollution from small villages in the distance becomes more prominent – a glow usually so faint you don’t see with the naked eye.

Clatteringshaws Loch - 57 second exposure

Clatteringshaws Loch - 3½ minute exposure

Eventually, after trying various combinations, the moon rose and started to create too much light pollution again. So I decided to drive round to the side of the loch and see if I could get a shot of it reflecting on the loch, and this was the result.

Moon over Clatteringshaws Loch

Do you live in place where you can see the stars clearly at night?