Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Dr Megaphone

Dear Kim

I'd like to have an interesting headshot for professional purposes and I'd like to get a non-boring portrait of my ten year old son.

Would these be things you could do?

I love emails like this!

We met up for hot chocolate to discuss what non-boring might look like, and during the discussion it turned out Dr Ian Johnston also has a touring show of science, music and entertainment, along with his son, Sandy, and local musican and songwriter, Alan McClure. So a publicity shot for “Dr Megaphone” would also be required.

Ideas were bounced around and we settled on the concept of the three of them standing at a table with various bits of science equipment on it, possibly with smoke or bubbles coming out of jars.

Shortly before the shoot, another email exchange:

IAN: I have just ordered 20kg of dry ice which will arrive with me on Friday and add eerie mysticism to our get-together on Saturday.

ME: I hope you know how to use it - I never have…

IAN: How hard can it be? I used to use liquid nitrogen in work, by the gallon. Dry ice is warm!

I also invited make-up artist, Jade Jamieson, who worked with me on the Manga and Comlongon Castle shoots last year. She set about applying a blackened face look on Sandy to imply he’d been exposed to explosive experiments.

It was a lot of fun. Bottles were filled with water and food colouring and then a few seconds before each shot, cubes of dry ice were poured into them, with an extra large scoop into a cauldron of water up on the shelf behind them to add an extra bit of atmosphere.

Once the photos were edited, I alerted Andrea Thompson of Dumfries and Galloway Life magazine, who then arranged an interview which has now appeared in the April edition:

It's shoots like this when I'm reminded why I decided to become a photographer.

Tuesday, March 07, 2017

Northumbrian Stars

I was hoping to get some big night sky shots. I wasn’t expecting the Northern Lights.

Maggie and I had a rare 4 whole nights away on our own. So rare, in fact, we realised it we hadn’t had that much time together on our own since before our kids were born - so 22 years, more or less.

A favourite area for us to visit is the Northumbrian coast, over on the far North East of England. It’s a little over 3 hours’ drive, so far enough to feel like we’re away from home, but not so far we would lose too much of the break to driving.

This time, Maggie had found us a wee flat in Seahouses, a couple of miles down the road from the landscape-dominating Bamburgh Castle, where the beaches run unbroken for 2 or 3 miles, and the tides go out quite far, leaving this huge expanse of sky and sand.

The flat was only 50m from the beach, so we went for walks along it every day, sometimes twice. One evening the tide was quite far in and as the sun was setting, the last rays were hitting the tips of the waves.

We were also blessed with blue skies and sunshine, which also meant plenty of stars at night, punctuated at regular intervals by the lighthouses on the Farne Islands.

On our 3rd night I went down to the beach with the camera. I hadn’t brought a tripod, so rested it on a plastic sandwich box to keep it off the wet sand. In the dark of the night I needed 20 to 30 second exposures to be able to record anything.

I was aware of a barely perceptible glow on the horizon, but just assumed it might be lights from oil rigs reflecting off thin clouds, but to my amazement, as I looked in the back of the camera, there was the unmistakable green and purple colouring of the aurora borealis. I then noticed it was not only in the sky, but reflecting off the wet sand too!

With frozen fingertips, I spent the next hour or so firing off images, in the hope of catching something that would show up and look vaguely interesting.

These were my best shots. The lights on the right are the lighthouses of the Farne Islands, and you can see the milky way too.

When I could take the cold no more, I returned to the flat like an excited puppy, desperate to look at the images and show Maggie.

Aware the faint glow visible to the human eye was still on the horizon, I put the lights out in the flat and Maggie and I spent several minutes looking out the window as the glow occasionally got brighter, or had patches moving within it.

The colours in the images above are only there because the camera was allowing up to half a minute for the light to hit the sensor. Here’s what it looked like to us out of the window.

Of course it was nothing like the brightly glowing streaks you see on TV or in photos taken by people up nearer the polar regions, but it was exciting for us who have never really seen it “live” before.