The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Photographing a Blacksmith

A few days ago I was photographing Adam Booth as part of a project about the River Urr, which runs not too far from here. I was recruited by Davie who, along with a couple of others, is looking at the history and the people of the land surrounding the river.

Adam is an artist blacksmith with a forge in nearby Kirkpatrick Durham, where he heats, hammers and shapes metal into decorative, organic shapes. Some of his gates have become listed as soon as they have been installed. A warm and friendly guy, he talks with great enthusiasm about his passion for his work, and the alchemy of how the properties of metal change from completely solid to a clay-like malleability when exposed to the right level of heat.

I have to admit, there's something quite primal watching metal being thrust into blazing coals, glowing red and golden and hearing the sounds of it being hammered on an anvil. Trying to figure out how to photograph it, however, was not easy.

The fluorescent strip lights were designed for him to be able to see his tools, not to cast interesting shadows or create an atmospheric environment. But introducing more light would have its own problems - too much and the glow of the metal would be lost; not enough and the shutter speed would be too slow and everything would blur.

The solution was to have a slow shutter speed (about half a second) to allow the ambient glow to be felt, but also to use an off-camera flash to capture the action. The resulting effect was to freeze part of the image, but ghostly echoes sometimes followed any movement.

Below are a selection of images - feel free to click on any of them for slightly larger versions.


Aoife.Troxel said...

Very timely post as I just read Seamus Heaney's "The Forge" for the first time a few weeks ago.

Anonymous said...

I like the "ghostly echos," recording a craftsman such as this is quite an honor!

hope said...

Fascinating! During my family tree search I learned that a great grandfather was a blacksmith at one time. I could feel the heat coming off a couple of those shots. :)

Pat said...

It's a treat to read about the difficulties of the session and then see the results.
The first is my favourite. Great!

Anonymous said...

Love these, Kim!

Rab said...

Fantastic images Kim. It great to see people at work in he old trades. Similar to what Hope said I found for genealogy research that I had a lot of Coppersmiths and Brass Founders in my old line. There are somethings in life we will always need.

Kim Ayres said...

Aoife - love a bit of serendipity :)

Theanne - thank you - and thanks for letting me know via FB this was your comment :)

Hope - wish I could have felt a bit more heat - the workshop was freezing - it was sleeting outside when I arrived... :)

Pat - I'm glad the writing satisfies as well as the images :)

Allen - thank you :)

Rab - thanks for your kind words. Given that "Smith" is one of the most common British surnames, I guess most of us will have a smith as an ancestor if we go back far enough :)

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