Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Frank weather...

"It's so cosy," says Maggie, "when the wind and rain are lashing against the window and I can just coorie under the covers. I fall asleep much quicker."

And once again, as storm "Frank" batters our shores, I'm struck by another fundamental difference between me and my wife.

For when I hear the wild winds and torrential downpours pounding at the windows, I'm waiting for slates to come off the roof or for water to start dripping through the ceiling or run down the walls. It's anything but cosy...

However, if the roof survives, this kind of weather can bring interesting photo opportunities. Widespread flooding has been rife across Dumfries and Galloway (it seems the "200 year floods" appear to be happening every 2 or 3 years these days) and when Loch Ken bursts its banks it can sometimes make for some beautiful images, even if several houses have to be evacuated.

Although the winds were still high, the rain eased off this afternoon so I headed out with the camera.

Unfortunately my plans were scuppered when it turned out that pretty much every route I wanted to take was impassable.

Still, it became a fairly sociable occasion. At the edge of this stretch of water I chatted to a guy who says he's lived here 50 years and never seen the water so high; I met a friend who was also out with his camera; and had a discussion with a woman who was trying to get home what alternative routes might be possible.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Festive photos

The festive season is upon us and because I'm a photographer there's always a little pressure to come up with some kind of suitably seasonal image.

Needless to say the constant wind, rain, dull overcast grey skies, and complete lack of snow haven't helped much.

However, a little over a week ago we did get one rare cold and crispy morning with actual frost, so I dutifully went out with my camera and managed to capture a couple of likely images of ferns and oak leaves looking as though they'd been dipped in icing sugar.

(As always, click on the images for larger versions)

An appropriate seasonal message written over the top of one of them and that was my newsletter sorted.

Facebook, on the other hand, required a different approach. It's a while since I last updated my avatar but I had an idea to use some Christmas lights and the top hat I wear when I perform with The Cracked Man.

If I wasn't a professional photographer, a quick selfie with my phone would have been perfectly adequate. Unfortunately, with a reputation to uphold, a bit more work was required using speedlites, coloured gels and playing with textured overlays in Photoshop afterwards.

For a bit of fun and silliness I was quite amazed at the response - it has garnered over 200 "likes", making it my most popular avatar to date, by quite some distance.

Still, I don't doubt that if I'd stuck the hat on a kitten instead, it would probably have gone viral and broken the Internet...

Whatever your cultural or religious beliefs and practices, and whatever the weather is like where you are, I wish you all the very best over the festive season and for the year ahead!

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Mad Hatter's Tea Party

Each year, Castle Douglas High School final year pupils have the chance to be part of an Enterprise Group, where they design and create products, which they then have to market and sell.

This year's group have created, among other things, cake stands from recycled vintage china. I was asked by Andrea Thompson, commissioning editor of Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, if I would take some photos they could use for publicity and she could put in a magazine article about the group.

A Mad Hatter's Tea Party theme was decided on and I met up with a few of the group for a hot chocolate to discuss ideas, strategies and potential venues for the shoot. A little over a week later we all met up at Cally Palace Hotel in Gatehouse of Fleet, with the full team in action. It was like one of those high production shoots with lots of different people in charge of hair, makeup, props and outfits, and there were even a couple of them recording the experience with cameras and video.

I have to say I was extremely impressed with the level of organisation and cooperation, which meant the shoot ran much smoother than some I've been involved in.

And this was reflected in the result. Because I was able to focus my time and energy into getting the lighting and composition right, rather than having to chase everyone and see they were all doing their jobs correctly, I was able to get some great pictures.

However, the point I go click is only one step on the journey to the final images. Once I have the photos on the computer there are a thousand directions I can go in.

In this instance I decided to try and create an illustrated feel by creating an effect so as the image moves out towards the edges it becomes increasingly like a drawing. This has the effect of the characters coming to life out of the pages of a storybook, which I felt tied in with the whole Alice in Wonderland theme.

I then gave the whole thing a slightly desaturated, sepia tone, which creates the look of old hand-tinted photographs. This, I felt, tied in with the Victorian/Edwardian setting of the Lewis Carroll story and the retro crockery you are using for the cake stands - harking back to days gone by.

Here are a few of the final pics, but you can find the full set on my Facebook page here

Mad Hatter's Tea Party, with emphasis on the cake stands


The Queen of Hearts

The White Rabbit

The Mad Hatter

A couple of weeks later I got a call from Andrea asking if I had a version of one of the photos that wasn't faded at the edges. She wasn't promising, but there was the possibility it might appear on the front cover of the January edition of Dumfries and Galloway Life, and they needed a version that would allow for writing to show up on top of it.

Fortunately I had a cleaned up, edited version that I hadn't done the final illustrated effect to, as that had been a key stage before trying out different post-production techniques. I sent it straight over to her.

This week the January edition has hit the shelves and rather wonderfully we did indeed make the front cover!

Front cover for January 2016 edition of D&G Life

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Café Largo

Café Largo are a fun-loving band with a latin-jazzy feel, who decided to take me up on my Givember offer last month.

Ideas were bounced back and forth and the one that grabbed my attention and enthusiasm the most involved shooting a scene on the beach, with a slight nod towards Jack Vettriano.

Of course outdoor shots are notoriously difficult to set up in Scotland, especially in Winter, and even more so because of the sheer number of wild, wet and stormy days we've been having these past few weeks. So looking for a dry day when everyone would be available had me fearful it could be May next year before we'd be able to go ahead.

However, we provisionally set a date for last Friday and amazingly, in a week full of even wilder, wetter and stormier weather than usual, it turned out to be the only dry day.

We set off for a small beach at Mossyard, near Gatehouse of Fleet, which we had to ourselves for the morning, apart from one woman walking her dog who hurried past and didn't ask what we were up to.

Although it wasn't raining, it wasn't sunny and it wasn't particularly warm either, so I did all the test shots with everyone still wrapped up in coats and scarves, and it was only when I was pretty sure of my composition and lighting set up did we move everything into place and do the actual shoot.

Click on the image for a larger version

Liz, the wife of Alex - the waiter in the photo - very kindly shot some video for me using my old camera, capturing the process of putting the photo shoot together. I've edited down to 2 minute video, overlaid with "La Bamba" performed by Café Largo themselves. It's quite fun and really does give a good sense of the experience of the photo shoot.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Kimonos, Boudoir and Breakfast for Lunch...

Morag Macpherson is a textile pattern designer based in Kirkcudbright, the next town along from where I live, and her studio is in the same building as my Maggie's.

Among her many creations are some amazing kimonos. The shape and cut are based on the Japanese robes, but the patterns and designs are completely Morag's.

We'd been talking for some time about doing a photo shoot, but finding the combination of the right time, the right models and the right idea proved elusive. It wasn't that we were short of ideas - if anything the problem was too many and trying to narrow it down.

However, a couple of weeks ago everything fell into place.

The Yellow Door is a gallery in Dumfries, occupied and run by a collection of artists, with ever changing exhibitions and displays. And last month, the room at the back had been done out like a boudoir, which tied in to one of the ideas we'd been discussing.

Morag's friend, Jessica, was coming down from Glasgow for a weekend and would be available for a shoot. But Morag had also been talking about this captivating lass she'd often seen on the bus from Kirkcudbright. As she described her, I suddenly realised she meant Alamnesh - who had appeared in the Magic Carpet shoot I did last year. A few more calls and texts and we had both models lined up.

As photo shoots go, this had a lot going for it. Not only did I have wonderful models in amazing kimonos in a great location, but the owner, Luke, had been running a breakfast event before we arrived and there was plenty of food left over which we tucked into when we had a break.

Additionally, he gave us the run of the building, which included a run down, decaying attic space that has yet to be done up. This meant we could do a second, very different style of shoot. From sumptious boudoir to urban decay - showing how the kimonos could be used in a variety of settings.

I should also mention, the cushions in the boudoir shots are also Morag's creations.

Below are a few of the photos from the shoot, but click through to my Facebook album (you don't need to be a member to access it) to see the full set.

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