I’ve been very lax in keeping this diary up to date – so it’s time to fill in some of my activities during the past few months, starting with ->.
August 2005 continued ...
A trip to Outer Hebrides
I’ve lived in Scotland for well over 30 years and throughout most of this time I have tried to capture the wild beauty of the Scottish landscape in all its moods.
As part of my photography tuition sessions I discuss composition in some detail, but especially the need to see the photograph before you can capture it. In simple terms, look carefully to visualise and compose the image before you even lift the camera to your eye. This is often very easy, especially when the light is good, but it can be a lot trickier if the light is poor. This was my dilemma on holiday recently during a long overdue first visit to the Outer Hebrides.
Having enjoyed a good spell of clear, bright weather which provided beautiful light for photography but throughout which I was busy painting the side of the house (which is my wife’s idea of the best way of utilising clear, dry weather!), we headed off with anticipation of glorious clear skies. All the essentials for a relaxing week’s holiday were carefully packed into the car – for me, my camera bag and maps, for Sue, lots of other less vital stuff like our spare clothes, tent, cooker and food. Oh, and our two dogs.
We arrived in Harris under heavy, grey skies, which persisted for most of each day throughout our stay. There were only brief glimpses of the sun on infrequent occasions, with drifting and only occasionally broken clouds revealing a patchwork of pale denim blue. It was going to be a bit of a challenge if I was to get any usable landscape photographs.
We visited the awe inspiring standing stones at Callanish (three times, in fact). I had often visualised the exact image I wanted – the late evening light casting a warm glow across the landscape capturing the mystery of the stones, which were erected 5000 years ago for reasons which are not completely understood to this day. I wandered with unrequited anticipation through the stones waiting for the poor light to improve – it never did.
The grey light was only matched in its persistence by Sue’s endless patience waiting for me to give up. (Actually, I think she was quite pleased as she was enjoying Bill Bryson’s "Notes from a Small Island"). I experimented with different exposures, first on the stones then on the gloomy sky. I tried flash to fill in the foreground; I tried high viewpoints and low ones; eventually taking over 170 photos at the stones – but not one of them had the late evening light casting a warm glow across….. well, you know what I was looking for!
The light I’d wished for failed to materialise - and so the challenge was set. As dedicated photographers will know, we have an insatiable urge to find special images at every opportunity - and even with the poor light, I was determined to get something. Landscapes were a bit of a problem as I could hardly see anything through the mists and low cloud, so I reverted to a tried and tested standby – patterns and textures. It’s amazing how many opportunities for photographs there can be if you look closely - not just with your eyes open, but with your mind open as well. "See the photograph before you lift the camera to your eye". The world is full of wonderful images waiting to be found, just look for them!
I have been taking photographs of wild flowers for many years with the hope that one day I can produce a book of flower folklore. The Machair of the Hebrides is one of the rare beautiful places left where wild flowers can thrive unhindered, and for any lover of flowers, the Machair is definitely not to be missed.
I was amazed at the wonderful carpets of wildflowers throughout the areas we visited, and particularly the wild orchids. The size and quantity of the orchids here even surpassed those where I live in the Argyll Forest Park. As far as the eye could see there were great swathes of red clover intermingled with blue vetches and the golden yellows of the marigolds, often with the sound of the elusive corncrake tantalisingly near, but never seen.
I did, however get very close to lots of lapwings and a beautiful Golden Plover. We also had fantastic sightings of otters – but until I can convince my wife that she really does need a £7,000, 600mm lens, I doubt if I’ll get any decent photos of them! (This may prove difficult as she has no camera and no interest in photography!)
The Hebrides beaches are breathtaking, and we were quite fortunate to get one or two breaks in the greyness enabling some reasonable shots, not to mention long walks for the dogs. We camped at a site overlooking a superb beach, surrounded by fields full of the orchids I mentioned earlier. If you get the chance to visit Lewis and you like the idea of camping, then find the village of Cnip near Bhaltos, less than 20 miles from Callanish. You won’t be disappointed.
The last week end in August every year sees the major event of the Cowal Highland Gathering where the World Highland Dancing championships take place along with Pipe Bands competing from all over the world.. I was the photographer for the Gathering organisers, commissioned to record the entire event lasting three days. Much of the work involved recording the presentation of trophies for archival reasons, and as such, isn’t perhaps the most exciting or creative of jobs. However, the opportunity for colourful informal shots was not to be missed. You can see many of these shots at www.cowalgathering.com
September and October
I’ve covered quite a few weddings in the past few months. It’s impossible to generalise on them all – each one is very special for the couple getting married and I keep this very much in mind as I try to capture their day. I appreciate that there is a strong tendency these days for video coverage, but I believe that a still image, skilfully taken, can capture that special moment, or that unique expression, so much more effectively. This, I suppose, is why I prefer the more informal "reportage" approach to my work. I’ve never really been a fan of plastic smiles and static poses which usually take hours to set up and ruin the day for everyone else – definitely not my style.
There seems to be an increasing number of very small weddings in my diary these days. Big weddings, with lots of guests, give plenty of variety for reportage style photography, but the smaller, intimate weddings need a rather different approach. As with the two weddings documented in the June pages of this diary, I find that with the smaller weddings I can often cover the event more fully by combining it with my other passion – landscape photography.
I have enjoyed a few weddings lately where there has been just the couple getting married with just a few guests or none at all – I even had to act as a witness at one, managing to persuade a friend of mine to be the other witness.
After the wedding we stopped off at various locations alongside Loch Lomond where I took lots and lots of pictures capturing both the event and the location to show their family and friends when they returned home.
A very recent wedding presented completely different circumstances from the open landscapes of Loch Lomond – namely, a serious lack of working space. Steam trains are not renowned for the spacious compartments, at least not for photography, but this was the venue for this particular wedding.
After an early start (5.30a.m. followed by a three hour drive) I arrived at the hotel where the evening reception was to be held. I was met here by a friend of the couple, who taxied me to various venues to cover the day, starting with a shoot with the bride and her bridesmaid at the hairdressers, then to the groom’s house and on to the bride’s house for her final preparations. From here I was taken to the Bo’ness and Kinneil Steam Railway by the Firth of Forth. The bride’s father is French (her mother is Swiss) so it was fitting that the bridal party was transported in four classic Citroen cars to the station.
The Registrar at the wedding was one of the most considerate and helpful I have encountered. Not only was she very welcoming to the wedding party, but she had allocated an area especially for me so that I could get the desired shots throughout the ceremony. I could not have wished for more in such confined spaces.