The blog of photographer Kim Ayres

Artists at The Nail Factory

"I lit the woodburner to warm the place up," said Peter as we headed up to the Nail Factory.

He opened the door and smoke began pouring out. I couldn't see the back wall for it. "Aw, not again..." he muttered, disappearing into the thick cloud to open all the windows.

The Nail Factory in Dalbeattie is a very small building that has been turned into a gallery and art space. The intimacy of the place, the pleasant surrounds and the warmth and friendliness of owners Rupinder and Peter, make it a favourite venue for many local, and even not so local, artists.

It was the last day of November: with the closing of the exhibition season, and several of the artists arriving to collect their work, Rupinder was putting on a spread of food, turning it into a social gathering.

Wanting to make the most of a rare moment when so many artists would be in the one place at the same time, Rupinder and I had met up the previous month to discuss how we might create a photo to reflect that sense of artistic camaraderie.

Bouncing ideas about, we settled on the notion of having them gathered around a table, with some art and tools of the trade, in conversation with each other, perhaps with some light food – fruit, bread and cheese: hinting at a feel of a Dutch "Old Master" painting.

Key to this was going to be getting the light right.

Looking at the classic paintings of Rembrandt, Vermeer and Hals, I realised most of them tended to be lit by single window and/or a central candle. The challenge would be how I could replicate something similar in a small space with white walls (that would reflect the light and make shadows more difficult to create), on a winter's evening when it would be dark outside.

Warning: the next couple of paragraphs contain lighting set up descriptions that might be of little interest to non-photographers so feel free to skip ahead to just past the next image.

I set up an octagonal softbox above and to one side, which gave me a soft overall light, as though coming from a skylight window. A grid on the front prevented too much light spilling onto the upper parts of the walls, but a few places at the table were still too much in shadow. I set up another, smaller softbox just to my right, with a lower light setting, which brought just enough extra light onto the scene without interfering with the shadows I wanted.

Finally, I placed another off-camera flash with an orange gel, just behind the fruit bowl, under the candlestick, to give the look of candlelight illumination on the faces.

Here's an early test shot, before we moved the large softbox further back so as to be out of the photo, and changed the picture on the back wall on the right, which was catching a reflection of the 2nd softbox.

The lighting set up

In a lovely bit of serendipity, I happened to know all the artists who turned up for the shoot – in fact a couple of them I had photographed before (see Fitch and McAndrew - Slipware Potters for Douglas and Hannah, and Baskets on a Beach for Geoff Forrest)

On one level it was a little intimidating trying to be creative in front of a group of creatives, but this was counteracted by the fact they were all really warm and friendly, and happy to get into the spirit of things.

When I say warm, I am talking emotionally. Physically, we were all wrapped up in several layers because opening the windows earlier to clear the smoke, had also dispersed any remaining heat: it was only 4 degrees Celsius outside.

The final image - click on it for a larger version

Rupinder did a wonderful job dressing the table, which has several details I love. The open pomegranate and peel coming off the orange were ideas we lifted from the Lost Chronicles of Gallovidia shoot I did last year; the pheasant-feather quill in a glass inkpot represent the fact a writer's group often use the space; and just next to the cheese and chestnuts is a small note which says, "may contain nuts".

If you would like to know more about the artists involved, left to right we have:
Caro Barlow who works with glass
Erwin van t'Hoff – a silversmith
Hannah and Doug Fitch (and baby Fred) – slipware potters
Phil Crennell – painter and furniture maker
Rupinder Dulay and Peter Dowden of The Nail Factory
and Geoff Forrest – willow weaver

When the shoot was over and I was packing away, the table was carried back into Rupinder's kitchen and an amazing spread of food was laid out for us to tuck in to.

One of the things I love about working in this corner of Scotland is it's not uncommon to be fed, watered and treated like one of the family when I'm out on a shoot.

It's never taken for granted, and it's always appreciated.


Viji said...

The warning part is what I truly enjoyed. Actually I always used to wonder about the lights and shadows of your photos. So much warmt, one cannot imagine the place being cold until you mentioned. I could recognize the potters and their lovely kid from a previous photo shoot of yours. A treat it is, all the 3Ps. Your photography, people, the place. The name Rupinder sounds very much like a name from our part of country. Have more such fun and treat us with many more such photographs.

Kim Ayres said...

Viji - Thank you for your kind words!
When I was reading it to my wife just before publishing (I've found this to be very useful), as I reached the part of " feel free to skip ahead to just past the next image." she said "yes, do that!" So it was clearly worth putting in :)

Viji said...

Good pointers for beginners like me. 😊

neena maiya said...

What I get from your photos here (as with all of them) is your attention to detail. And your passion for your craft. No apathy here. I really like that.

These photos are works of art (like all the others)!

Kim Ayres said...

Neena - when creating a photo like this, my desire is to create the best version of it I can. If I can look at the image afterwards and wish I'd added this, or removed that, or light something in a different way, then I will always be disappointed with it. However, there's a great deal of satisfaction to be had looking at the final image and feeling that it works on as many levels as I wanted - and on rare occasions, even better than I'd hoped :)

daisyfae said...

Agree with Viji above - your ability to share the 'behind the scenes' is a reminder that capturing beautiful photographs requires multi-disciplinary expertise! It's not just "What kind of camera did you use?"

Kim Ayres said...

Daisyfae - the "What kind of camera do you use?" question is the same as asking a painter what kind of brush s/he uses, as though it is that alone that dictates the level of skill and creativity.
There's a saying in photography that the beginner thinks it's about equipment, the more advanced think it's about technique, but the master knows it's about light.
However, I always felt this stopped too soon, because ultimately it's about story. Once you know the story you wish to tell, the light, the techniques and the equipment you use all need to help the story happen. :)

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