Thursday, April 30, 2015

The Solace of Cupboards

David Mark Williams is a poet, and we've been good friends since we met nearly 10 years ago, shortly after I moved to this corner of Scotland.

6 years ago, as I was beginning to develop my photography, a photo I took of him had a profound affect on the my approach to portraiture and reset the course of my career. Out went seeking rusty doorhandles, peeling paint and crocuses popping up through the snow, and in came moody portraits with texture, landscape and lots of shadows.

Don't mess with The Poet...

Over the past couple of years I've been dipping in and out of using the video capability of my camera. Although I don't see it replacing my photography any time soon, there is something quite fascinating about the moving image, while trying to keep my photographer's eye.

So it seemed appropriate that Mark (as he's known to his friends) and I should start a project together where I would film him performing his poetry to camera.

We've decided to see if we can create a handful of short films, each one different in filming style, as a way of me to develop my understanding of filming and editing, and for Mark to have a vehicle to expand the number of people exposed to his creations.

Our first venture was "The Solace of Cupboards" - about a man who finds peace away from the busy office, by standing in the stationery cupboard.

By starting with this one, it allowed me to tie in with that original photo, by filming it with a single light coming from the side, giving that feeling of nestling in the shadows.

Hope you enjoy it

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Robyn Stapleton - Fickle Fortune

Robyn Stapleton is an extraordinarily talented singer of traditional Scots and Irish songs.

Last year she won BBC Radio Scotland’s Young Traditional Musician of the Year and next month has her debut album, Fickle Fortune, coming out.

I met Robyn last autumn when took part in the photography I was doing for the MacMath project. Then a couple of months ago I received a phone call from her.

She had completed recording her album but didn't feel she had the right photo for the cover and wondered if I might be able to help.

Initially we talked about a narrative image, perhaps taking inspiration from one of the songs on the album - skipping barefoot through the heather had obvious appeal, but we were at the wrong time of year to make that happen.

We discussed the style of the music and the audience she was hoping to attract, which included keeping one eye on the international market (about 5 million people live in Scotland, but there are about 40 million people who live outwith Scotland who call themselves Scottish, or of Scottish descent).

Robyn has been blessed with striking Celtic looks - pale skin, blue eyes and wonderful curly red hair. In terms of branding for the music she sings, it doesn't get much better - so the more I thought about it, the more a close up headshot seemed to be the way to go. A simple, yet striking portrait.

These things are never as quick and easy as many people think they are, and the shoot took 2 or 3 hours as we played with lighting and expressions - although quite early on we realised a particular lighting style gave a painterly quality we liked. Far more time than the photo shoot was then taken in the editing afterwards as I played with subtle shifts in light, shadow and tone to enhance the effect we were after.

Robyn Stapleton by Kim Ayres

To say I'm pleased with it would be an understatement - it captures everything I set out for, and then some. Fortunately Robyn is delighted with it too.

The official release will be next month, but I received my copy last week.

It's always a little bit odd, to see something I've created on a physical album cover, rather than in the back of the camera or on a computer screen. After it leaves my hands and is sent to the graphic designer, more adjustments are made to the image for style and practical considerations before sending it to print, so it's never identical. But I'm thrilled to see it has worked out so well and has the impact we were seeking.

Fickle Fortune by Robyn Stapleton

I'm also delighted to tell you it sounds amazing too.

For more about Robyn Stapleton, here are her web and Facebook addresses:

Tuesday, April 07, 2015

Return to the Red Kite Feeding Station

The grandchildren are staying with us this week, so I took the boys to the Red Kite Feeding Station, which is only a few miles from here.

Despite, or perhaps because of, all the frustrations trying to get a vaguely decent photo last year (see Photographing Red Kites), I took my camera along with me again, determined to have another go.

As before, the sheer number flying about, and the speed with which they moved, meant I was initially overwhelmed with staring at a mass of gliding and swooping birds.

Stay still, dammit!

It didn't help much either that the guy standing next to me had a lens on his camera the size of a small bus, which felt more than a little intimidating. Additionally he had it set on high-speed burst, which meant eveytime he clicked, it was like a rapid-fire machine gun going off.

Which was kind of necessary.

By the time you've lined up the camera and pressed the shutter release the birds have moved, so the best tactic appears to be - make your best guess anticipating, and then take several thousand shots at once while hoping one of them will work.

Last year I took about 350 photos and was satisfied with only one of them.

This time I took about 240 and felt that about 5 weren't too bad. I would have taken more, but then I remembered I was supposed to be looking after 2 young lads under 10, so I put the camera away and we went for a hot chocolate.

At this rate, give it another 746 years and I might start feeling I've got the hang of it...

Wednesday, April 01, 2015


"It's huntigowk today"


"Aye, huntigowk"

"What on earth is huntigowk?"

"You don't know what huntigowk is?"

I continue with my blank stare

"I can't believe we've been together for 24 years and you don't know what huntigowk is. It's April Fool's Day. When you catch someone out you shout 'huntigowk!' It's an old Scots' word."

"I think you're making it up. This is an April Fool's joke isn't it? You're waiting for me to believe you and they you're going to shout 'April Fool' at me."

"Pfft... go and look it up"

So I turned to my Scots Dictionary - bought for me by my wife many years ago precisely because of the number of times I accused her of making up words.

It wasn't in there!

However, before getting too smug, I thought I'd better check the Internet, and sure enough there are plenty of references. It appears I was wrong once again.

I wonder if there's a word for people who think they've outwitted an April Fool when none was being played on them?

While hunting the word in my Scots Dictionary, I did come across 'hochmagandy' though. I asked Maggie if she knew what that meant and she blushed.

You can look that one up yourself.