The past year has been a somewhat chaotic period in the Prescott household, mainly due to the construction of an extension to our house in the form of a Granny flat for my wife’s mother. I had no physical dealings with the construction – my DIY skills rank very high on the “Totally Inept” scale – but the disruption to the normal routine of domestic activities was considerable. From the latter part of last year to the present, we seem to have been doing nothing but shifting and rearranging furniture, painting and decorating and generally trying to get back to normal. This, of course, meant that the diary entries to my web page have been severely neglected.
Time to put this right! .......
Towards the end of last year I was fortunate enough to be part of a joint exhibition at Gallimaufry, a Gallery at Blaimore in Argyll (www.tcweb.co.uk). The other exhibitor was James O’Neill who makes jewellery and spectacular pewter mirrors. To follow the mirror theme the exhibition was called “Reflections”, and was influential in making me look at other subjects to compliment this. It’s surprising how much a difference a specific theme will promote new ideas and approaches.
I spend quite a lot of time at traditional music events – a passion I have had since my college days many years ago. These days I get the dual pleasure of enjoying the music and capturing the atmosphere through photography. As a result I have had several commissions from musicians for CD covers, and one recently featured an incredible traditional pianist – James Ross. I spent the day in Edinburgh where we visited the home of a friend of James who owned a beautiful grand piano. We took a great number of shots trying to capture the essence of James as a pianist. This was James’s first CD (it won’t be the last, I’m certain) and the music publishers requested that the cover should illustrate James at the piano. Perhaps my personal favourite was a shot of his hands reflected in the highly polished surface of the piano, so I was very pleased to see that this was chosen as one of the images to be used.
Weddings have been the mainstay of my work and these have taken me to some distant locations, ranging from Golspie in Sutherland, to Inverness to Dumfries in the south long with Ayrshire, Fife, Clackmannanshire, Argyll where I live and, most recently, to Edinburgh Castle. More of these later.
However, my photographic work occasionally includes some unusual commissions. In December of 2005 I was contacted by a company from America who supply Persian carpets. They needed photographs of specific carpets for their brochure. I was excited at the prospect of travel to exotic lands to get the shots they wanted – would it be America, Turkey, mysterious ancient Persia – sadly no! The carpets were in Helensburgh, about 30 mile from where I live. However, the commission was not as easy as I originally anticipated. As with most photography, good lighting conditions are essential for the best results. My first visit presented problems with poor, rather dark weather which provided insufficient natural light. This had to be supplemented with a couple of flash units which helped, but wasn’t really the effect I was looking for. The results were not too bad at all, but were not what the client was looking for. A misunderstanding on the brief led to me move all the furniture to reveal the design of the carpets. They really wanted a more natural appearance, and so I had to do a re-shoot to make the room look as it would be normally. The second visit was on a very bright sunny day which presented even worse lighting problems – very dark shadows from the window frames with over bright, streaming sunlight on the floors. What sounded like a simple job proved to be a lot more tricky than expected.
Lighting can make or break shots and this is one of the dilemmas when shooting in almost every situation. I prefer not to use flash if can possibly avoid it but sometimes it means the difference between getting the shot and not getting it. This is often the case at weddings. Some buildings have lovely natural light, but others are far too dark and shadowy. I can sympathise with some ministers in church as I suspect they have endured great disruption to their services by over zealous photographers, and recently I covered a wedding where this must have been the case. His instruction were emphatic! Take only two photographs! One as the bride walks up the isle with her father at the beginning of the ceremony and one signing the register after the ceremony. And no flash! I always abide by the requirements of the minister or registrar, but on this occasion I was able to take a couple of shots from outside the main chapel through two doors showing the bride and groom at the exchange of their wedding rings - without using flash - and felt justified in getting a better record of the event for the bride and groom. I was somewhat taken by surprise when the minister accosted me whilst I was taking shots outside the chapel after the wedding. In no uncertain terms he said that I had deliberately disobeyed his demands, completely ruining his concentration at the service! He then left saying that he would see to it that I would never be allowed to cover a wedding in his chapel in the future, at which point, he walked away. I found this very distressing as I am very proud of the usual comments from wedding clients that they hardy noticed my presence at the wedding and how little disruption I create on the day. No-one, apart from the minister, would have been aware that I had taken any photographs. There was no flash and no-one would have even heard the shutter fire – I was not in the chapel where the ceremony was taking place
I felt I needed to discuss this further with the minister and phoned him a few days later. After a long discussion it appears that he had experienced many problems with photographers in the past who had severely disrupted the event by moving around and taking too many liberties throughout the service. Having seen some wedding photographers in action I can sympathise with his attitude, but felt his reaction to my two shots from out with the chapel was a little severe!
I seem to be cornering the market as far as very small intimate weddings are concerned. In earlier pages of this diary I mentioned a really cosy wedding by Loch Lomond where I was one of the witnesses and had arranged for a friend to be the other witness. Exactly the same happened again recently when I travelled up to a lovely little chapel – The Temple at Belladrum – near Inverness. The South African couple, who both worked and met each other in England, wanted a quiet wedding here in Scotland and I was delighted to travel up to Inverness to cover their special occasion.
I stayed with and old friend, Colin Campbell (that’s where to go if you need a very special wedding ring – he’s an exceptionally good jeweller), and he and I were the witnesses. As with the Loch Lomond couple I offered to take some additional material to supplement the ceremony – it does seem a long way just to take pictures a wedding ceremony which lasts about fifteen minutes! I took photos around the area and we spent some time on the morning of the wedding travelling to a local beauty spot. Sadly, the glorious blue skies of the previous day exposing snow-topped hills had not materialised, but we did get a few shots which will help them to remember their special day in the Highlands. After the wedding we went on to the restaurant where they were to have their reception (for two). I finished off the day with a series of informal shots as they sat chatting. All far removed from the pressures of a covering a large wedding with lots of guests, but in some ways more challenging to make it a memorable photo record of the day.
Following the long journey home from Inverness, I had just one day to get organised to travel the slightly shorter distance to Castle Campbell in Clackmannanshire. Another very romantic venue in the form of an ancient Campbell stronghold, now mainly in ruins. On this occasion many of the guests had travelled from Ireland, so good weather would be a great bonus. There are lovely grounds to the castle with the spectacular backdrop of the old battlements adding splendour to the scene. Well, that was the idea. Cold winds, rain and driving sleet took the edge off the plans, with everyone scurrying into the castle as quickly as possible. The wedding took place in a magnificent vaulted room, lit solely by candles with two tiny windows letting in just enough light to read the hymn sheets. Just lovely – but not for the photographer. The dilemma here was to capture the atmosphere of the romantic low light and this would be very tricky if the bride and groom were to be recognisable! The recent upgrade to my digital camera (I now have a 12 million pixel EOS 5D) saved the day. I could get shots with and without flash and check the results instantly. I still use film as well but seeing the images “live” give the ability to assess tricky lighting there and then. A combination of bounced flash for the film camera and no flash for the digital captured the atmosphere and guaranteed seeing their faces!
The very next day I was at a big wedding (yes, it was a busy week!). Once again this was on the shores of Loch Lomond, at Auchendennan house, part of the location where the well known Scottish television series, Take the High Road, was filmed. The interior is truly wonderful with beautiful wood panelling, tapestries and leather wall paper. This proved to be another tricky lighting day. All the outside shots were either in bright sunlight or in a mixture of sun and hard shadows.
There is a great place here for large group shots. A fire escape provides a perfect viewpoint for the photographer to get all the faces showing in the group – in excess of seventy people on this occasion. Big groups always present the problem of showing everyone in the shot if the photographer stands at the same level as the group – but the fire escape gave an elevated position showing everyone clearly. The contrast between the deep shadow of the building and the bright sunlight beyond created some difficulties but the results were better than taking a standard shot where only the front rows would be visible.
Yet again, there was the dilemma of capturing the ambience of the interior without the harsh effects of flash. Direct flash does have the tendency to illuminate the first thing it hits with the light then falling off rapidly, leaving the background too dark. Bouncing flash from light coloured walls does diffuse the harshness of the flash, but this only works if there is a light surface close enough to bounce from. In this case the walls were beautifully panelled in dark wood which would reflect the colour tones of the wood onto the faces of the people to some extent, but at least the background would be visible and not lost in a sea of black.
Speaking of skin tones, one of my most recent commissions was to photograph “before & after” shots for a Spray Tanning business. This involved setting up a portable tanning booth in my studio and photographing a very beautiful young woman - well! – before tanning and after! I took the opportunity to do some additional portraits of Alice after the session. Alice is a singer with a jazz/blues band in Glasgow and originally lived not too far from my home in Argyll.
Perhaps the most exciting development will compensate for the traumas of the extension building work to our house, which I used as a feeble excuse for having failed to keep up this diary!
The roof space of the extension proved to be far bigger than we anticipated and has generated wonderful opportunities for business. My wife, Sue, had been working for a very successful local picture framer who recently left the area to live in the Borders. (If you live in the Kelso area look out for “Bheula Framing). As Sue had all the expertise and we now had the newly acquired space for a workshop, she has set up her own framing business under the name of “SP Framing” (very handy for a local photographer). The space has also enabled me to set up a small studio for my portrait and product photography.
We are providing a collect and deliver service for artists (and photographers) in the area and indeed anyone with framing requirements. My own work involving the production of Giclee (Fine Art) prints for artists may well be increased if we can arrange framing at the same time. Artists will now no longer have to be concerned about making time to take their artwork to be framed. We can advise, collect, mount, frame and return artwork directly to their homes or to their local galleries. Watch these pages for future developments.
All in one!