Monday, 14 August 2017

Allan Wright - Having a go at time-lapse photography

We have all seen those spectacular time-lapse sequences; you know the ones with powerful light effects careering across incredible foregrounds under extraordinarily energetic skies. They offer a concentrated and breathtaking appreciation of the dynamism of landscape and cityscape. Maybe you have thought I’d like to have a go at that but hesitate because it all looks a bit too techy.

Although have dabbled a bit over the years with just a modicum of success I still think I am still more or less a beginner. Because mostly I tend to shoot “on the hoof” time-lapse sessions are for me a departure from the norm, but I do keep an eye out for opportunities when they present.

One such occasion was during the Photo Collective’s trip to Moroccoo last year. This particular shoot took a little forethought and planning. In Marrakech I found the right cafe that had a suitable terrace looking on to The Square, Jamma El-Fna. Sundown was about 20 minutes away as I sat with my Nikon D500 clicking away whilst I drank coffee with my good mate Kim Ayres watching the seething ambience of street life transform through all the shades of dusk. The Square is an extraordinary place throbbing with the both the “ancient” and the “here and now”.

Most modern DSLR’s and high spec compact cameras will have a time-lapse function. Also your iphone or Android offer apps for this function. I recommend having a go yourself and the basic technique goes something like this;
Tripod is ideal but no problem if you can find a wall or table to use.

Compose - taking account of moving elements that might contribute. Consider where the sun or main light source is at present and how it might look 10 - 20 mins later.

Choose shutter priority mode and set to approx 1/8 h second, a slower speed like this offers a smoother moving image effect. Camera will choose the correct aperture for you (If the light is insufficient you may have to choose a higher ISO or select auto ISO).

Best focus on the scene then switch to manual focus as sometime during the sequence the auto focus will start searching and create minor focus issues.

Choose a shutter interval that relates to the probable duration. For say a 15 minute event a 2-3 second interval would give a reasonable result. Giving you about 4-600 frames in total, in general the sorter the interval the longer the final duration.

To save memory you could control the image size to say 1080 pixels on the short edge which is suitable for an HD video as an end product but don’t worry if you cannot as finishing software will subsequently do this for you.

You can shoot as a normal jpeg and the results will be ok but of you want optimum quality then shooting Raw is a great choice. In this instance you can bulk process all the frames to alter exposure and balance skies with foreground etc. If you have dabbled with or regularly use raw files then time- lapse work benefits enormously from raw controls and will help produce a much professional looking result.

When you have your finished set of images you can create an mp4 video in Lightroom or Photoshop. There are many other apps/programs out there as alternatives some are free and I am sure they will work reasonably well. Adding graphics and music enhancement is also fun.

If you would like to see more Moroccan imagery then pop along to the Lever Gallery in Dalbeattie tomorrow night 18.00 hrs for the launch of Fondouk – impressions of Morocco by the Galloway Photo Collective. Exhibition runs from 16th to the 29th August.

Allan Wright

Monday, 31 July 2017

Kim Ayres - Butlers, Castles and Tea on the Lawn

Simeon Rosset is a freelance butler - the real kind, not the strippergram, although he says he periodically gets enquiries about it. He served his time as head butler at Leeds Castle and now hires out his services for events such as exclusive gatherings, weddings, and shooting parties, and can be found butlering anywhere from Scottish castles to European palaces to Super yachts.

Our paths crossed when he was looking for a photographer for a particular event, and although I was unable to help him on that occasion, we subsequently met up for morning coffee, which merged into lunch. What was going to be a general introduction to each other turned into a few hours of questions, storytelling and idea swapping. It wasn't long before we started talking about creating a butler-in-action shot.

And so last summer later I found myself out at Craufurdland Castle near Kilmarnock.

Although this castle was built in the 18th century, the land has been in the family for nearly 800 years. The current descendants/owners/custodians are Simon and Adity Houison Craufurd and their two daughters, Indra and Manisha.

We decided to do the shoot in the library, as a wall full of books would make a timeless backdrop. Many of those tomes dated back hundreds of years.

Simeon also runs a Butler School service, training potential butlers to the high standards required. On this day he was completing the training of Alistair, which gave us a 2nd butler to include in the shots.

The shoot went well. Everyone adopted their roles and got into the part, and it wasn't long before I managed to get a couple of photos I was really pleased with.

Don't be fooled into thinking this was a well behaved dog. This was the only shot where he sat still for a moment. Every other shot had him rolling on his back, nuzzling the girls dresses, clambering under the table, until eventually he had to be put out of the room.

And what better way to end the day than butler-served tea on the lawn?

Kim Ayres

Monday, 24 July 2017

Roger Lever - Revisiting past experiences

I came face-to-face with Maasai warriors on a fundraising charity trek through the African wilderness.

The ancient tribe were our guides as myself and 26 other trekkers hiked through the Rift Valley in Tanzania, raising more than £50,000 in total to help fight poverty in the developing world.

Over 5 days we trekked approximately 90km (or 101,003 steps, according to our pedometer), camped near the tribe’s villages and visited an Action Aid project that works with people living with HIV and Aids.

My diary (Part One)

I gazed with a sinking feeling in my stomach at the growing pile of things I had to take. My eyes then moved down from the bed, on which my kit was strewn, to the smallish looking rucksack waiting to be packed. My son, conveniently dismissing the fact that his old man was about to undertake an unforgettable trek into the African bush, had nabbed the bigger rucksack the week before.

The kit didn’t fit. My wife, and packing expert, Judy had earlier sneaked off to bed, leaving me alone to deal with my packing dilemma. I tried again. And again. By ten past midnight I finally fastened the straps and fell into bed with my alarm set for 5.30 am.

When the clock rang it felt like I had only been asleep for about 5 minutes. It was time to leave the comforts of our old home in Dumfries and Galloway and head first to London and then on to Africa.

By 2pm I had arrived at Heathrow airport. Clad in a mandatory bright red ActionAid T-shirt and feeling somewhat conspicuous, I sat myself down in a little corner of one of the airport cafeterias and started tucking into a burger, chips and pint of Heineken.

I thought of Africa where I know so many people are struggling to find the most basic food. The big burger, such an easily identified symbol of our fast track consumer society, suddenly didn’t taste so good. I met my fellow trekkers at Terminal 4. It was like a bunch of primary children. Twenty-six of us gathered together, some a little nervous, some a little shy but very quickly we were all chatting away.

All of us, hailing from the length and breadth of this easy land, had spent the last year fundraising for ActionAid in exchange for sharing in the privilege of following in 'The Footsteps of the Maasai'.

The eight-hour flight passed quickly as we ate slept and chatted to our fellow passengers. I was lucky enough to get a lesson in Swahili. As we approached JK airport Nairobi it was not yet daylight and the horizon started to change colour through yellow, orange and crimson.

We barely had time to settle in our hotel before we were bused to the Kenwa (Kenya Network of Women with Aids) offices in Pangani, and then on to Kiandutu slum on the outskirts of Nairobi.

We arrived in the dusty village still weary and still registering a certain disbelief that we were actually here – all the months of preparation, fundraising and packing were over.

But a colourful all singing, all dancing throng of locals waiting to welcome us instantly knocked us out of our restful weariness.

Everyone who could be there was there. There were women, little children and youth groups and before we knew it we found ourselves in the thick of it all. Our little group of kaki clad backsides, doing our best to keep up with our African hosts and shake off the inhibitions of our western culture.

Their warmth and brightness was incredible. It was an unforgettable experience.

We were then led slowly through the village, which consisted of an array of makeshift homes built from anything that was available such as sacking material or corrugated iron.

Tiny brown hands found ours and held them tightly as they trotted along by our sides. Now and again they would look up and smile trustingly, eager to show us around.

These endearing children were mostly orphans whose parents had died from Aids and many were themselves HIV positive. But just like kids anywhere, they were bright-eyed, bubbly, full of mischief and very excited by this strange old bunch of red t-shirt people.

Some pushed themselves forward to be photographed. Others however stood back and watched us from a distance often holding a smaller child close to them. Their dark un-laughing eyes conveyed a deep unknown sorrow or pain. Holding their gaze, for what must only have been seconds, left me with a sense of heaviness, which will never leave me.

In the village we were able to see for ourselves the work of the ActionAid-funded drop-in centre which included facilities for washing, disinfection, weaving, food supply and pain relief for those living with HIV and Aids.

The very sick were cared for within the community. Often they had to share a makeshift bunk bed. Too weak to move they would lie there, uncomplaining as they awaited their untimely death. A few of us were allowed the privilege of meeting these quietly courageous people. With no language between us they just smiled with us and offered their hand in trust and friendship.

Taking photographs in this situation I felt would not be appropriate so I preserve the feelings and images I experienced at that time in my heart and brain. One young woman lay with her baby safely cradled in her arms. We left quietly, allowing their care to continue unobserved.

Before we left the village, our ActionAid rep, Helen, handed over our gift of a food parcel consisting of sacks of rice, maize flour, sugar, lentils and cooking fat. A small contribution that was received with gentle gratitude.

Our visit over, we piled into our bus feeling overwhelmed by the mix of brightness and fun and the deep sadness, which had drawn all these people together. We were driven back to our hotel, back to our world of comfort and plenty.

Part 2 to follow in 6 weeks.

Roger Lever

Monday, 17 July 2017

Tom Langlands - Getting Down and Dirty

Emerald Damselfly

While there has been a fair bit of rain over the summer months it actually has not been that bad and temperatures have generally been warm. That means it's been good for the insects and bugs that frequent the edges of ponds and streams. That, in turn makes for good macro subject matter for the wildlife photographer.

Banded Demoiselle - female

Many people assume that a decent camera and a good macro lens is all that you need for this type of photography but the reality is a little bit harder than that. Because, you also needs oodles of patience and good fieldcraft skills. Many of the insects that I like to photograph have amazing eyesight and can detect movement from some distance away - usually well outside the range of where you would like to be with you macro lens.

Banded Demoiselle - male

As with many other types of wildlife photography you need to know your location, your subject matter and be very familiar with the equipment that you are going to use. Sometimes the only way to get some of these images is to lie down and get wet and dirty.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Here are a few of my favourite images taken over the last couple of months. For those interested in the technicalities of this type of photography these images were all taken with a hand-held, full-frame camera and a 100mm macro lens in natural light.

Common Darter Dragonfly

Tom Langlands

Monday, 10 July 2017

David Moses - Quick Tip to improve your photography - Work the Scene

One of the easiest and most effective ways to improve your street photography is to work the scene. You see, what most photographers do is hurriedly take one or two photographs and then move on. This can be for any number of reasons such as

1 – they are afraid of being seen

2 – they could be nervous of being confronted

3 – the photographer is afraid of missing something else

4 – don’t understand how to anticipate events

etc etc etc

So how do you work the scene?

Well, it is as easy as it sounds. You just stay where you are and take more pictures. I don’t mean literally stay where you are. I mean stay in the vicinity and concentrate on making that one very good frame. There is a very simple principle at work here, to whit, the more pictures you take, the better chance of there being a good one amongst them.

The thing with street photography is that it’s usually the small details that make the difference. You might see a glance in the other direction or a raise of the eyebrows. Perhaps you may notice a change of direction or someone walking across the frame at the right time. You could get lucky with the sun coming out from behind a cloud... you get the idea.

This advice isn’t just coming from me – it was drilled into me by studying David Alan Harvey who encourages photographers to ‘work the scene forever’.

The best way to improve your street photography?

For me, the best way to improve your street photography is to work the scene. It is really easy to do and yields the most results. If you want to learn how to ‘work the scene’ then you can join me for one of my upcoming workshops in either Glasgow, Scotland or Marrakech, Morocco. Click here – for more information.

David Moses

Monday, 3 July 2017

Jesse Beaman - Astrophotography with a Tracker

I have recently purchased an astrophotography tracker - a piece of equipment used to improve the quality of night photography images. In this blog I will describe what a tracker is, how and why it’s used, and also show my progress so far.

So, what’s a tracker? The Earth rotates on it’s axis and as a result the stars appear to move across the sky. Expose a DSLR for over 30 seconds and any stars captured will appear as ‘trails.’ This means as an astrophotographer I’m limited to approximately a 30 second exposure. To compensate for the short exposure I ramp up my ISO to 6400. This can result in very noisy images and limits the amount of detail that can be captured at night.

A tracker overcomes this limited detail issue. Below is a single, 5 minute tracked exposure at ISO 800 of 'The Great Rift' in the Milky Way near the constellation Cygnus.

Earth’s axis points almost directly at the North Star, Polaris. This is why Polaris always stays in the same spot in the sky as all the other stars appears to move. Polaris is the astrophotography trackers’ best friend. The tracker is mounted on a tripod, and here’s the key; the tracker is then manually aligned with Earth’s North celestial pole (right next to Polaris). The tracker then rotates to match Earth’s rotation. Mounting a DSLR on the rotating tracker results in the DSLR tracking any part of the sky it is pointed at.

Providing I get my polar alignment right, I can expose for about 25 minutes before stars become distorted - much better than the previous 30 second limit.! This means I now have the ability to lower my ISO to around 800 and capture far more detail in the sky. In doing so I have increased something called my ‘signal to noise ratio.’ Basically my RAW image now contains more color pixels (signal) and less fuzzy, distorted, hot pixels (noise).

Another 5 minute exposure at ISO 800, this time showing the Winter constellations.

The images that compliment this blog have had a little RAW editing to increase detail, but essentially they represent what comes out of the camera. The key to tracked astrophotography is in the edit, something I have not yet experimented with. Skilled photographers capture hours worth of separate images and then stack them in the edit suite to push the signal to noise ratio as far as they can. Compare this to the 5 minute single exposures featured here and you’ll start to realise how far I have still to go!

Whilst the images here aren’t exactly finished pieces, they represent the next step in astrophotography for me. I’m looking forward to learning how to use these improved RAW files to take my work to the next level. Notice in the tracked image below that the foreground is blurred due to the tracker's rotation. This is another obstacle I'll have to overcome before producing any finished work with the tracker.

For anyone interested in trackers feel free to contact me with any questions.

Jesse Beaman

Monday, 26 June 2017

Tom Langlands - The Poetry of Photography

When I'm not taking photographs I am writing and when I am not writing I am taking photographs. That's pretty much the way life works for me but the division between words and images is far less easily defined.

I love reading and writing poetry and have come to realise that poetry by its nature generates images in the mind and the fact that the subconscious mind has generated the image helps make the poem stick around in the memory for longer than it otherwise might.

I have started to explore this combination of poetry and imagery and have discovered that one can inspire the other. Sometimes I see a scene or an event or a photograph that generates an idea for a poem while at other times I have a poem in my mind and I seek an image that will compliment or raise the profile of the poem. It is a powerful combination.

At the moment it is very much early days for my ideas but one that I am starting to explore more and more.

The following image of a graveyard was taken at a slow shutter speed and with intentional camera movement. It wasn't until I saw the final image on the computer that it made me think of how we create death - not just as images with a camera but also as products of our mind. I then wrote Death by Words and combined image and poem.

Hebridean Lament started as a photograph that I had taken and it conjured a dark, sombre mood that was both literally the end of the day but also a metaphor for the end of life. It was several months later when I found the words to express how I felt about the image.

Message in the Sand was also a case of finding the image first. I stumbled across this dead gannet on a remote beach on Harris in the Outer Hebrides. I have no idea how it died but the way its body lay on the sand made me think of how we treat this planet and the price that life pays for putting profit first. The poem came several weeks later on the back of the image.

But sometimes it is the other way around. I was contemplating the birth of our first grandchild and was considering how a baby would regard its impending birth and what the lottery of life would throw at it - both before its arrival into the world and immediately afterwards. These thoughts found form in The Big Lottery. I then got my hands on a scan of an unborn baby - not my image - and combined the poem and scan. For me when viewed together they are each greater than the sum of the parts.

Therapy came about when my daughter was making paper origami table decorations and I happened to contemplate this ancient asian art-form. It seemed like good therapy and that was the inspiration behind this piece. The image was snapped on a phone in the fish section of a garden centre.

For me there is always a fine line between different art-forms and just as artists create works in 'various media' I like to work with words and images. After all a picture is not just worth a thousand words it can also be a thousand words.

Tom Langlands

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Allan Wright - The Duskmeister

Early last year I was idly looking at new cameras in my favourite camera shop. I was happy enough with what I had, but, creatively I guess I was a little bit in the doldrums. Good salesmanship was applied to this lost soul as I was gently introduced to a new Nikon D500. The principle selling point that caught my interest was its excellent low-light capability. At the time I was approaching a book project which would involve a fair bit of street work, a handy little idea to help justify the purchase.

I have never really been obsessive about equipment relying more on observation and planning to get results. There was a surprise in store therefore when after some early sessions it started to dawn on me that this little piece of technological hardware could take me to low light places hitherto unthinkable, a dawning of the power of dusk hah ha.

I experienced a liberation in terms of what subjects started became fair game. In effect I realised there were no limits, if you could see it you, could capture it. I found I was using the ISO setting (sensor sensitivity) right across the range occasionally up to the maximum of 52,000, always hand held with handling ease and accuracy that really impressed me. Furthermore when the resultant images were tidied up in the Camera Raw app I was completely sold, the image had a look about it and had rendered the kind of shadow detail I had only dreamed about.

As my affection for it grew (sad I know!!) I subsequently nicknamed it The Duskmeister. Ultimately it has been responsible for 60 % or so of the new images in my forthcoming book “Now Glasgow” co-authored with locally based fellow Glaswegian Des Dillon.

Dusk view up the Clyde from Albert Bridge in moonlight – 6,400 ISO

People Make Glasgow – Girls stepping out – by George Square 52,000 ISO

Mural under the Kingston Bridge 3,200 ISO

See you Jimmy – Argyle St - 10,000 ISO

Moral of my story – technology and creativity can jive.

Allan Wright

Monday, 12 June 2017

Kim Ayres - Fashion Shoot at the Rural Mural

"A fashion shoot in front of bold, colourful, urban graffiti," said Morag MacPherson as we bounced ideas around on how to photograph her textile designs.

"Sounds cool - do we know anywhere around here that has something like that on the walls?"


And so that idea was put on hold and instead we grabbed the opportunity to photograph her silk kimonos in a boudoir-style display at The Yellow Door Gallery (see Colourful Kimonos).

However, last year Morag was involved in the Spring Fling Rural Mural project, which saw her teaming up with Tellas to paint the side of a large barn which mixed both of their artistic styles.

This in turn led to the realisation it would be the perfect backdrop to photograph her outfits.

I had the idea of creating a spotlight effect with the models in a circle of light, casting shadows on the walls behind, but that would require an evening shoot.

Jessica, one of the models from the previous shoot, was available, and I'd recently met Katarina, who was completing a photography course at the college. She was also a model and happy to take part.

I'd also been in conversation with Ralph Yates-Lee, hairdresser extraordinaire and owner of Dumfries hair salon, Basement 20 who was willing to come on board and bring with him Jody, another hairdresser, and Jojo the makeup artist.

With a growing team of professionals involved in the shoot, I figured this would be a good thing to video. But because it would involve night time shooting, it would need someone who knew what they were doing.

Enter fellow GPC members, Helen and Jesse of Stargazing Scotland who specialise in astrophotography and Dark Sky tours and workshops.

And so it came to pass that on a Tuesday evening we all descended on Morag's studio to introduce everyone to everyone else and get the models ready.

Katarina gets her hair done by Ralph

Jody and Jojo work on Jessica

Jesse filming

Action man

It was time to head out to the location for the photo shoot. Even allowing for things running later than expected, I assumed we'd all be home by midnight. As it was, I didn't finish packing up until 1.30am.

Once on site, tea, coffee and home made flapjack from a hamper, courtesy of my wife Maggie, went down extremely well, then the shoot began.

With models, hair, makeup and video going on, there were 9 of us on site in total, making it was one of the largest shoots I'd done up until that point. Although it was all extra pressure, I found part of me thrived in the situation. Of course it helped that everyone was extremely professional and engaged in the project.

Here are a selection of some of the final images.

We might have finished later than hoped, but it all worked out in the end.

As an added bonus, here's the short video (under 2 mins) I put together using the footage shot by Jesse and Helen of Viridian Skies. The music is comes from my band, The Cracked Man, where we took our song, Zero Energy, and added a dance beat. I was surprised at just how well that worked.

Textile Design - Morag Macpherson - -
Models - Jessica Lee -
and Katarina Marie Kositzki - -
Hair and Makeup - Basement 20, Dumfries - Ralph Yates-Lee, Jody Crossan, Jojo Patterson -
Photo shoot took place at - Meiklewood Farm, Ringford, Castle Douglas, DG7 2AL
Rural Mural backdrop - Morag Macpherson and Tellas - - -
Video footage - Jesse Beaman and Helen Cockburn - Stargazing Scotland
Photography and Video editing - me -
Music for video - The Cracked Man - -

Kim Ayres

Monday, 5 June 2017

Roger Lever - This Earth is Precious

This Springtime has been one of the most lingering and exquisite that I can remember since coming to live in Dumfries and Galloway.

On my daily walk with my dog Rosie I am constantly in awe of the quiet inevitability of signs of the newly emerging season.

The dramatic change from the dormant hidden life during the wintertime to the vibrant colours and sounds of Spring is perhaps the most magnificent.

I watch the bluebells develop from the earlier signs of life reemerging way back in February to the sea of blue that carpets the whole wood during early May. Coupled with that the birds start singing and building pair bonds. They become less aware of my human presence and more aware of their mates and possible rivals impinging on there little patch of wood. There are at least half a dozen pairs of black birds, numerous pairs of blue and great tits.

The wren blasts out its shrill penetrating call. Amazing for such a small bird. The wood pigeons cooing constantly and doing there courtship display on some high branches of an old oak tree. The woodpeckers rattle away as they look for insect life in those high branches. I can never tell just where they are sometimes as the hammering sound against the bark seems echo and moves in all directions. They nest each year here and it can sometimes be quite difficult to spot just which tree they have decided to make their nest.

Sadly however the hole they have made in the tree seems to lead to its eventual demise once it becomes deserted and infected with fungus. After a few years it is easy to spot all the trees that have had woodpeckers nests in them because often the trunk snaps off during the autumn and winter gales. Meanwhile 6 Carrion Crows patrol the canopy every day 24/7 expressing their displeasure if you happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What often comes to mind at this time of year with this splendour that nature provides is probably the most profound and beautiful statement ever made on the environment. Chief Seattle in 1854 made a reply to the GREAT WHITE CHIEF in Washington who made him an offer for a large area of Indian land.

Roger Lever