The blog of photographer and musician, Kim Ayres

Set in Stone

"Set in Stone" are this year's Young Enterprise Group at Castle Douglas High School who have created a range of candle holders, paperweights, and tree decorations out of concrete and cement.

Every year, the final year pupils get the chance to be a part of a group that has to design and make a product, then market it and sell it, with any profits made going to charity. It's a wonderful opportunity to gain insight into the world of running a business.

For the past couple of years, I've been asked to take publicity photos for the enterprise groups, which have always proved to be fun, but something of a challenge too. These have not been quick press shots, but full on staged narrative promotional photos requiring concepts, planning, venue locating, and attention to props and outfits.

Last year, with "Coast to Home" we did a shoot down on the beach, with a sofa, coffee table and standard lamp half immersed in the sea (see

The previous year had the "High Tea" group dressed up as characters from the Alice in Wonderland (see

This year's group wanted to have a mix of smart entrepreneurial and industrial, and they had the ideal location in mind. One of team, Ella, happened to be the daughter of Adam Booth, an artist blacksmith who was quite happy for us to use his forge as a venue.

I photographed Adam there a few years ago for a project I was involved in (see so was familiar with the space. However, I also recalled that getting the lighting right was particularly tricky. The overhead strip lights weren't conducive to dramatic shadows, but if I used flashes they ran the risk of overpowering the glow of the fire and hot metal.

Fortunately nearly 4 years have passed and I've since discovered the wonder of coloured gels, which enable me to enhance or even completely change the ambient tones.

The plan was to have 5 pupils in suits wearing hard hats and half a boiler suit each, with an anvil in front of them displaying some of their products, and the flames of the forge behind. And if we were lucky, try and get a bit of a cement mixer into the shot too.

It became apparent very quickly that 5 was too many for the space, and the half-in-half-out look of the boiler suits wasn't working, so we dropped to 4 pupils in the shot - 2 with boiler suits, and 2 without.

In addition to my key light, I set up another flash with an orange gel, and a third with a blue – which made the orange feel like an ambient glow, rather than washing out everything.

As suspected though, the use of the flashes destroyed the natural glow of the forge, so Adam used a torch to shoot flames into the corner of the forge that was showing in the photo, while the pupils adopted their best "The Apprentice" style postures and attitude.

Feeling pleased that we had a photo that embodied everything we set out for, Adam suggested we give the pupils some tools to hold – from a big sledgehammer to a circular saw. And this time, Adam shot flames up behind them too.

Although we've managed it the past 2 years, there's never a guarantee of a Dumfries and Galloway Life cover so I didn't want to get anyone's hopes up. However, the March edition is now out and to everyone's delight we made the front cover after all.

Getting a great shot isn't just down to my knowledge of light, composition and storytelling. The kind of photography I do is a collaboration with everyone involved, so if it wasn't for the professionalism and commitment of the pupils we'd never have got a cover-worthy photo.

It was a delight working with them.


Pat said...

That must have been a very difficult shoot. Congrats on making the cover. It all works well but was the missing model driven to tears?

Kim Ayres said...

Thanks Pat :)
No, the missing model volunteered even before I'd made up my mind whether I should persist with 5. She seemed more than happy not to be in the photo

hope said...

I love how very business like they all appear, even with flames dancing in the background. Wish I was close enough to help with their project.

So did the 5th model pout or stand around and offer suggestions? :)

Kim Ayres said...

Hope - they were a really great bunch. Everyone who wasn't in the photo still contributed to the making of it - no tantrums at all :)

Ponita in Real Life said...

Great shots, Kim! I love how you work with the kids every year. The lighting really works, especially the flames dancing in the background. :-)

savannah said...

And a cover to boot? Well done and congratulations to all involved! It's grand to see kids being able to participate in such a positive activity! This generation gives me hope. xoxo

Kim Ayres said...

Ponita - it's great working with enthusiastic and committed students, and helping them to realise the power of good imagery for promoting products. In these days of phone cameras being used everyday, it's easy to forget the difference a good photo can make :)

Savannah - I do seem to come across a lot of the younger generation who seem very clued up and switched on to civil rights, equality and environmentalism. As you say, it gives us hope :)

daisyfae said...

Great shots - and i absolutely love this series! Your have a wealth of experience - but for these shoots, you can only gently suggest, or use that experience to create the vision that the students have provided. i appreciate that you have to sit on your hands a bit and let them drive the concept.

Kim Ayres said...

Daisyfae - an important part of their experience is to learn how to use me to best effect. They had to come up with the concepts themselves, then I would give them advice about what might be easier, or more effective, and things they would have to take into consideration. 3 years in a row now, and each group I've worked with has taken on board everything I've said and together we've managed to create some really fun and effective images :)

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