The Ayrshire Photographer - Loch Arklet & Rob Roy's Viewpoint, Inversnaid

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It’s 1am & I’ve been keeping my eye on the weather forecast for Callendar & Aberfoyle tomorrow. There are yellow warnings in place from the Met Office due to an incoming weather front named β€˜Storm Gareth’ - but whilst the wind is to be very strong from the wee hours onward, the rain isn’t to start until early afternoon. I’m hopeful for some really dynamic conditions & I prepare for the journey.

[ S L E E P ]



Now morning, I layer up, fill my flask with strong coffee & set off. I drive North, hitting a squall of nasty weather on the Fenwick moors - but this is normal as you will know if you’ve ever been there, haha! Everywhere else is relatively clear with some interesting formations in the clouds. Once I’ve broken free of the morning traffic heading towards Glasgow, my journey continues smoothly & I reach Aberfoyle in good time. I stop to stretch my legs & to consult my map; deciding to start my days photography at Loch Arklet, just West of Loch Katrine & Ben A’an.

I drive along the beautifully quiet road, lined on both sides by the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest. I fight the urge to stop & explore the woodlands as my time is limited if I want to avoid the inbound storm, though I do make some voice memo’s to remind myself. The road twists & turns as I near my first location & out of nowhere, the enigmatic Arrochar Alps suddenly dominate my view. I’m amazed at just how beautiful the scene is as heavy banks of freezing fog roll swiftly across the snow covered mountain peaks. The peaks themselves are fantastic - sharp, jagged & full of natural character as the light breaks through the thick clouds. Still in awe, I pull in to the side of the road & strap on my bag. I’ve reached my first location;



Location 1. The Abandoned Corriearklet Boathouse - Loch Arklet

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After hopping a small fence & scramble across the boggy banks of Loch Arklet I find a promising spot to begin composing my photograph. With the Arrochar Alps forming such an impressive backdrop, the scene simply begs to be photographed! Instead of just jumping in though, I take a moment to study the landscape & contemplate what I want to achieve. Careful consideration is key in moments like this, as it’s too easy to end up with sensory overload which leads to poor photographs. I’d originally planned to make a panoramic if the water was still & glassy - but that isn’t the case now that I’m here.

I decide that I will shoot at 85mm from chest height. This allows me to slightly crop into the scene & really focus on what I want to achieve with the image. I carefully frame the boathouse with the mountains & make use of a simple S-shaped leading line from the waters edge on the right. This divides the frame nicely & leads the eye towards the mountains. I apply a polarising filter to really nail the definition in the water & to sculpt the light on the mountains & a 0.8 soft edged graduated ND filter to add some drama to the clouds & to accentuate the light on the peaks. Once all of this is completed, I check my exposure & boost my ISO to give me a shutter speed of 1/125 whilst shooting at f11. It’s very windy & I’m not leaving anything to chance by shooting at a slower shutter speed.

I make a couple of test exposures & wait for the light to hit the boathouse at the same time that the mountains are relatively clear. The rain comes & goes- but then the light appears & I make my exposure. Moments later, the boathouse is in darkness & the mountains are obscured once more by the fog. Job done!

Leaving my camera set up I make my way back on to the road & make an exposure of the scene that lays before me after setting my focus. Image number two - complete.

The view towards the Arrochar Alps from the roadside at Loch Arklet

The view towards the Arrochar Alps from the roadside at Loch Arklet

Location 2. Rob Roy’s Viewpoint - Inversnaid

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My next location lies a short drive along the road. I cross a narrow wooden bridge as I turn off the main road & park the car in a small clearing before setting off up the hill towards the viewpoint. The hike is absolutely wonderful. The trees block any wind & the air is still. The morning rain has left everything vibrant & inspiring, with moss twinkling underfoot like lumps of emerald. There are many little streams cutting through the woodland & the puddles on the path are a rich red ochre due to the peaty earth, lumps of quartz from the hillside lie scattered throughout the trail & it all feels very mystical!

I stomp my way through a peaty bog & then begin to ascend up through the trees, using a natural stairway in the roots & stones to pull my way up through the mud. The ground begins to level out as I pass through a pine archway & up the final couple of meters towards the viewpoint. The wind suddenly hits me like championship boxers right hook as I break through the trees & cast my gaze upon the epic views across Loch Lomond..

With the wind this strong & with the storm now in front of me, I hurriedly set up my tripod, camera & filters. My first photograph is a panoramic view of the Arrochar Alps, comprised of; Ben Narnairn, Creagg Tharsuinn, A’ Chrois, Beinne Ime, Ben Vane, Beinn Dubh & Ben Vorlich with Kenmore Wood framing the bottom of the range. There is a small band of light running through the peaks & this helps to set them out against the dark woodlands & the quickly darkening sky. I make a series of 5 exposures, to be stitched together in my post-processing software whilst weighing down the tripod in the wind.

My second (& last) composition is a wider view of the viewpoint itself. Shooting at 28mm, I compose my image to include the lonely bench & the bare Birch trees in the foreground with Loch Lomond & the rolling hills to the South-West filling out the background. Needless to say, there were no boat tours on the go!

Rob_Roy's_Viewpoint_Inversnaid_Loch_Lomond_Scott_Wanstall

With the wind now severely picking up, I quickly pack away my gear & head back down the hillside to the car. I drive down to the waters edge at Inversnaid Hotel & the rain comes down on me like steel rods as I watch the roaring waterfall ferociously pushing its way into Loch Lomond. I decide against making photographs & retire into the hotel for a cup of coffee & a freshly baked scone by the window instead. By the time I leave, Storm Gareth is in full force, the mountains are no longer visible, the weather is becoming dangerous & I make the decision to (slowly) make my way home.

All in all, I made more photographs than I expected to. I’m very happy that I made the effort to get out there, even with weather warnings in place. It certainly pays to explore in all conditions - even in the face of abject conditions. I often find that my favourite Landscape Photographs are made just before or just after a storm!



Equipment Used;


Camera & Optics by Sony / Samyang.
Elite Filter System by SRB Photographic.
Tripod by Vanguard Photo.
Bag & inserts by Karrimore UK / Lowepro.
Outdoor Clothing & Boots by Jack Wolfskin / Karrimore UK / Decathlon.

Post Processing performed in Adobe Lightroom & Affinity Photo.

Transport by Land Rover.

Headshots & Portraiture : The Subtle Art of Character


Business Portraiture. There’s a fine line between what is & isn’t acceptable as a professional headshot - especially in the corporate world. One must observe power dynamics within the operational hierarchy, taking great care to ensure that the director is well defined from the workforce. When it comes to small businesses though, a much more creative approach is often the key to differentiating your subject from the pack - albeit subtly.

I’ve learned that there is much more to business portraiture than simply meeting a client & shooting photographs with some nice lighting. As a very creative & philosophical individual, I have to check that my direction meets the need of the client rather than fulfilling some artistic vision that I may have. I strongly believe that headshots & portraiture are entirely dependent on a clients unique personality from the offset. It is my duty to observe how much of this personality should shine through in the finished photographs.


By way of example, I was recently commissioned to make photographs for Heather Thomson, ND; a medical professional & naturopath based in Prestwick, Ayrshire. Heather wanted professional, yet informal, portraits that would convey her character to prospective clients. We met on Prestwick beach, the weather was rather bleak with a storm blowing in from the West. We chatted whilst I shot some nice locational portraits, getting to know each other a bit better before we escaped the storm for the shelter of her clinic where the real work would be done.


Heathers personality was professional, but she is a very funny & warm individual, so I wanted to make photographs that balanced this nicely. I set up some lighting, bouncing a speed light from the rear wall for some fill-light & using a softbox to light Heather, casting a very subtle shadow for a bit of definition. I opted not to pose my subject, instead capturing exposures as we made jokes & discussing things like acupuncture, β€˜cupping’ (a traditional Chinese method which sounds a bit strange) & Chi. I made sure to show Heather what I had captured so as to reaffirm any sense of doubt as the session progressed - once we felt that we had captured the best we finished up & headed home.


The most important factor within this particular shoot was the confidence that we shared due to our meeting on the beach. While Heather was able to grow comfortable with me, I was able to determine the characteristics that I felt would benefit her portraits & express her personality to prospective clients across social media & on her website.

I delivered my work within the timeframe that I’d predetermined & Heather was over the moon - no edits!

Visit Heather’s site for more information at;

https://www.heatherthomsonnd.co.uk


Heather_Thomson_Professional_Headshots_Portraiture

Landscape Photography - Rekindling the Creative Fire

Over the last couple of weeks the weather on the West Coast of Scotland has been rather dull. Cold winds, overcast skies & endless rain have sapped any semblance of productive local photography & I’ve been working away in the studio, making portraits for commercial clients & corporate leaders.

Finally, there was a break in the localised cloud. I travelled up the coast to Inverclyde where I enjoyed a full day of making great (ahem) photographs - from coastal panoramas, intimate seaside shots, hillside portraits & even some abstract sunset work to top it off..

I don’t often suffer from a lack of creativity, but when I do, it’s usually because the weather prevents the creation of unique photographs. I suppose that’s just reality here on the West Coast.

My advice would be to either a) leave the camera alone & do some research to pass the time or b) focus on making photographs in a different style, fine art for example. This will help to keep your mind working whilst the weather passes by.

The image below distilled all of the abject weather into a panoramic image which both tells a story & highlights the different weather patterns that we face on the coast - Argyll from Cloch Point, Inverclyde.

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How to Photograph Mushrooms : Fine Art Photography

Introduction;

In this blog, I will underline my process for shooting Mycological β€˜portraits’. Why use the word portrait?  Maybe it’s because I’ve been fascinated by mushrooms since I was young; but, if you do a little research you’ll find that they in fact share some similarities with humans! As with shooting portraits of people, it’s always a lot of fun to experiment with different lighting techniques when shooting mushrooms; generally they live in dark places so it makes sense from a photographic point of view too.

Given that it’s now Autumn, the time is right to head into your local woodland to discover a world largely unseen. The woods really come to life in the Autumn, with stunning displays of colour, succulent scents & plenty of little scenes for you to explore!

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1. Choosing your Location;

Though you’ll find mushrooms growing in both deciduous & non-deciduous woodlands, I prefer to explore deciduous locations as there’s often a lot more on offer, a lot more variety & a lot more space to explore. I’ll generally explore woodlands that are close to a river, with steep embankments - this usually means that conditions will be reliably damp & I’ll have plenty of opportunities for shooting/lighting at different angles. 

This False Deathcap (Amanita Citrina) was growing on the edge of an embankment, allowing me to shoot upwards with lighting from above & from the side.

This False Deathcap (Amanita Citrina) was growing on the edge of an embankment, allowing me to shoot upwards with lighting from above & from the side.

2. Choosing a Subject;

Once you’ve explored your location, you’ll want to find a subject that pique’s your interest. Look for interesting formations, colouration, contrasting visual traits or characteristics such as relationships between a group of mushrooms. You’ll want a scene which isn’t too cluttered, so look for subjects that have a clearly defined space within their landscape. Personally, I won’t enhance a scene by moving undergrowth debris etc as I don’t want to affect the ecosystem at all.

I found this wonderful Chanterelle (  Cantharellus Cibarius)   sheltering underneath the remnants of an old Birch; note the uncluttered area around its base & the photobombing insect to the left of the stem!

I found this wonderful Chanterelle (Cantharellus Cibarius) sheltering underneath the remnants of an old Birch; note the uncluttered area around its base & the photobombing insect to the left of the stem!

3. Composing your Scene;

Now that you’ve found your subject, you’ll want to compose your scene. I generally look at my subject from every angle & experiment with perspective until I find a position that really enhances the scene. Once you have your position, look at your foreground/background in relation to your subject; do you want it in focus or do you want it blurred? I like to shoot at larger apertures (lower f-stops) as it allows me to draw attention to my subject. It also has the benefit of creating an attractive blur or Bokeh around the subject. However; sometimes you’ll want everything in focus and a smaller aperture (higher f-stops) will help you to achieve this.

With mushrooms you have the choice of shooting from above for an overhead perspective, full frontal for an β€˜eyeline’ perspective or from below for a really intimate & interesting perspective that isn’t usually seem. Each of these different perspectives offer exciting opportunities for lighting, so keep this in mind when finding your camera position.

Note; You’ll want either a lens with a close focusing distance, macro capabilities or a couple of β€˜extension tubes’  to really get in about your subject at an intimate level. When shooting intimate scenes at close range or on a macro spectrum, I’ll generally use a lens with a variable focal distance (or zoom) as this allows me to easily pull in/out of a scene & recompose without having to move my tripod in tight situations. 

While hunting around the undergrowth I came upon this juvenile Panther Cap (Amanita Pantherina) surrounded by birch seeds, beautiful autumn leaves & emerald green moss. Note the leading lines caused by the leaf to the right & the fallen Birch log in the background.

While hunting around the undergrowth I came upon this juvenile Panther Cap (Amanita Pantherina) surrounded by birch seeds, beautiful autumn leaves & emerald green moss. Note the leading lines caused by the leaf to the right & the fallen Birch log in the background.

4. Setting Up;

So, you have your subject, you’ve composed your shot & you’re happy with your perspective. Now you’ll need to look at lighting the scene. Firstly, think about the message you’d like to convey. Would you like a brightly lit scene resplendent with vibrant colour? Would you like a moody scene draped in deep shadow? Once I know what I’d like to say with my photograph, I’ll use a video light with variable intensity/temperature controls to find my lighting angles. 

Generally, lighting with harsh, cool temperatures allows me to define where my shadows will fall within my scene. I then use warmer temperatures to fine tune the lighting positions in a much more natural sense. I’ll set up my master flash, using a wireless trigger for off-body shooting & then make test exposures until I’m happy with my main light source. Most of the time, I’ll use a small soft-box or diffuser on my master flash as this softens the light & allows it to β€˜wrap’ around my subject.

Once you’ve got your flash in position, you may want to think about a secondary light source or β€˜slave’. I generally use a slave to provide a bit of rim-lighting (back light) as this helps to add depth to my subject. I’ll also experiment with coloured flash gels, using the colour wheel to see which colours work well with my subject. Generally, woodland scenes will be of a warmer tone, therefore Blues & Greens tend to work well. It’s purely down to your personal aesthetic though! I like to use a large circular diffuser when backlighting a subject too, as this helps to soften the effect.

By opting to utilise a single light-source from above, I created an a clandestine atmosphere wherein the group of 'shrooms are apparently discussing something you shouldn't know.

By opting to utilise a single light-source from above, I created an a clandestine atmosphere wherein the group of 'shrooms are apparently discussing something you shouldn't know.

5. Exposing your Photograph

When using flash, you’ll want to remove any ambient lighting. To do this, you’ll want to shoot at higher shutter speeds; anything above 1/80th of a second in usually fine in woodland scenarios. Keep an eye on your shutter speed though - depending on your flash system your shutter speed can be too fast for the flash & this will cause a black bar across your image where the physical shutter blocks the light on the cameras sensor. Speeds below 1/200ths of a second without HSS (High Speed Sync) are generally fine. Once I’ve balanced my shutter speed & my aperture, I’ll usually set my ISO to 200/300. This means that I can reduce my exposure without having to change my other settings if need be!

By removing the ambient lighting, I was able to create an attractive colour palette & illuminate my subject - the Fairy Ink Cap (Coprinellus Disseminatus)

By removing the ambient lighting, I was able to create an attractive colour palette & illuminate my subject - the Fairy Ink Cap (Coprinellus Disseminatus)

Conclusion;

I hope that this piece has helped to expand your photographic skillset & inspired you to get out there & explore the macro world that is the woodland undergrowth! Please remember to roam responsibly; leave as you came & respect that you are a visitor to the environment. Happy hunting! 

Go Outside, It’s Good For You!

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Fine Art Photography : Making 'Beside You in Time'

It was a lonely day on the shore front; the lighting was exceptionally flat & the low-altitude blanket of cloud meant that any hope of decent colour during sunset was null & void. Instead of leaving the beach empty handed however, I opted to change out my wide angle lens for something a bit longer to pick out any smaller details in the landscape. I soon spotted a composition that I liked, a single solitary soul wandering along the beach defined only by their silhouette. At that point, I decided that I'd try something a bit different.

To create the image I had in mind, I had to capture two photographs. One was of the figure striding along the beach at a fast shutter speed of around 1/200th of a second & the other was to be a shot with a longer shutter speed of approximately 1 second, which allowed me enough time to shoot with 'intentional camera movement'. Basically, I had my camera on a tripod, level with the horizon. During the longer exposure, I rotated the head of the tripod so that the scene seemed to smear across the frame.

Once I had the two exposures that I needed, I headed home & fired up Photoshop. I opened the two exposures, placing the shorter exposure on top of the longer. I then used tools such as the selection tool & the eraser to leave only the man and the Arctic Tern (100% as shot) on top of the 'smeared' layer. After some basic colour editing and exposure tweaks, the photograph which you see now was what I was left with. 

The entire process was very simple, yet the final result is very interesting & visually arresting, with the sharp lines capturing your attention & dividing the frame as the figure seemingly moves through it - hounded by the Tern!



Camera Settings;

Short Exposure : 85mm - 1/200' Exposure @ f 1.4, ISO 100
Long Exposure : 85mm -  1' Exposure @ f 11, ISO 100 + Polarising Filter

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Beside You in Time - framed.jpg

Portrait / Fashion Photography : A poem inspired by my work :)

I recently shared the following photograph on my Facebook page as a bit of an experiment & I was taken by surprise when one of my followers left the wonderful poem below in the comments field. I am honoured that a piece of my work has inspired someone else to create something & that they were compelled to compose a poem based on their experience of my output! 

[The photograph itself was an experimental street fashion shot for Glasgow based fashion label Social Recluse.]
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'Faceless' 

'Faceless' 

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"Hint of Light" 

There in the shadows wry,
smile on his lips, the frame
was denied me, disguised
identity, memory digs.

High brow raised eyebrow
gave out no hint, tshirt now
shapeless of the light just
a hint. 

With no greater knowledge
of the shadowy shape I
stepped in the shadows
resigned to my fate. 



Poem Written by Kit Duddy for The Eye of God Photography. You can follow Kit and read more of his wonderful prose in the following link;

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https://www.facebook.com/kitspoems/
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Philosophy : Art Versus Education

While it is true that the ready availability of information on the web has catalysed the development of many a keen mind, it has also given rise to a steady decline in articulation across the board. Those whom previously may have fallen by the wayside, due to a distinct lack of quality in their work, have been given a platform by which they can saturate their chosen markets, without the hindrance of personal reflection and/or learning curves. 

As creative professionals, we no longer need to study our chosen subjects in order to develop an unspoken understanding of our field. Instead, if something comes up that we don’t understand, we can open a browser and look it up - or, if we don’t want to make that sort of commitment to our craft, we can simply start a thread on a social media platform and let others do the legwork for us. The same rules also apply to those under a course of study. A subject or technique is briefly discussed before subsequently becoming the go-to until the next is introduced to the individuals (of which there are many).

Though it’s very easy to be cynical in a society which is (increasingly) cut-throat at best, the important thing is to figure out the issues at play and to set about incurring change. Even if it’s only on a personal basis. As creatives trying to develop our skills and to forge a path for ourselves in an increasingly difficult working environment, we must strive towards excellence. In the age of availability, we are told that the hustle is more important than quality of work, and this, is a integral part of the problem we all face.  

We must focus on our artistic integrity, while nurturing our own creative development. We must stoke the fires of productivity in order to compete, yes, but we must also place an unwavering value upon our work without the incessant need for β€˜content’ clouding our collective judgement. We must resist crossing the threshold unto falsity in order to meet targets and instead rely upon our skills to get the job done to the highest standard possible at that point in our development. We must never give in to the pressures of the modern age, wherein beautiful works of creative expression are nullified within seconds. 

In order to truly forge a path for ourselves in the modern age we must look at our working environments with a cynical eye. Social media, online profiling, marketing & all of the modernistic tropes are simply tools by which we may solidify our place in the world. Without a well planned and critical approach we are doomed to fall by the wayside, leaving nothing behind to account for our endeavours. No matter what you are trying to do, you must first consider how your output will benefit your growth. Nurture your efforts and allow them to bear fruit. Strive to reduce the dross in which you will become consumed and allow yourself to operate on a level which is both conducive to your own personal targets and to those around you.
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'Breaking Through'

'Breaking Through'

Photojournalism : A Brief Foray into the World of Press Photography

PT. I - The Events as they Occurred.

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In the past week I’ve encountered two different scenes that I deemed worthy of press and as such, I shot both scenes in gross detail. Scene one consisted of a large fire which had had spread through a pine woodland and gorse bushes near Irvine, North Ayrshire, due to a period of rather intense heat & distinct lack of rain. I was on my way home from a productive business meeting, cruising alongside the expansive & bustling beach park. I’d travelled approximately half a mile from Irvine harbour when I found myself driving through a dense cloud of acrid yellow smoke and heavy, grey ashes. 

As I turned the next corner I came upon four fire engines & stopped the car. I got out & headed into the brush, following the trail that the firefighters had left behind them as they rushed to tackle the blaze. I got as close as I could to the woodland, to the point I could see and hear everything that the firefighters were doing and saying, without impeding them or diverting their attention from the task at hand. I shot a series of images & a short video before heading back to the road and phoning my contacts for the local press. 

Fast forward fifteen minutes and I was back at Irvine harbour, seated in a local coffee shop & editing the photographs before utilising the free wi-fi to upload my work. Tipping generously for the lemonade I’d just drank I left and went home. Between leaving the coffee shop and getting home, the story had gone from local to regional press!

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Scene two consisted of a relatively serious RTA (Road Traffic Accident) that took place at Prestwick Train Station. After a lazy Sunday morning I was on my way to my Grandmothers house (directly across the street from the train station) when I found the road down to my usual parking space cordoned off & blocked from view by an ambulance and road traffic Police vehicles. I quickly parked my car elsewhere and rushed to the scene, praying that my nephew hadn’t run onto the road or any other terrifying scenario which races through ones mind in a situation such as this one. 

As it happened, a (rental) box-van had attempted to pass under the railway bridge at speed & being too high (the maximum height for vehicles is well signposted), collided with the bridge & very almost split in two upon the sudden impact. Once I had established that the passengers were OK I retrieved my camera from the car & proceeded to make photographs of the scene while onlookers gathered around the Police cordon, phones at the ready. I then rushed into my Grandmothers house, made a phone call & sent the images to the press for their approval.

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RTA, Prestwick Train Station

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PT. II - A Question of Motive.

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β€œThe picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.”

β€” Scott Lorenzo

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Primarily a Photographer that specialises in Portraiture, Product Photography & Landscape Photography, I am usually able to establish an idea for a shot, plan my compositions to the n’th degree & execute my designs in a relatively controlled manner. However, photojournalism is almost entirely spontaneous - requiring immediate response & a keen sense of ’sight’ in order to capture a situation effectively.

It was on both of the above-mentioned occasions that I felt compelled to document the events that were unfolding before me. I also made the conscious decision to exhibit their happenings on the broader spectrum, choosing to connect with those whom were able to amplify my experiences in a daze of pure adrenaline & some underlying & multifaceted psychological driving force. I wonder, then, what it is that compels the mind to act in such a way. Yes, it is true, that on both occasions I made sure that the situations were under control before I reached for my camera, however, I still query my own motives for doing so. 

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β€œWe are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

- Ralph Hattersley

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I have found that through the lens of critical self-reflection, there exists an egomaniacal satisfaction in being the first to document a scene; even more so wherein one becomes the one & only source of its visual documentation in the public eye. Becoming the conduit by which others may experience the existence of an incident outside their own private lives promotes a sense of self-importance, or of power, in the individual. 

In the thinking mind, cognitive dissonance manifests itself between the act of documenting a scene and its subsequent amplification; whether it is undertaken purely as an act of collective altruism or as a personal conquest. What then, is the driving force behind making a photograph of someone else’s misfortune, or, of natural devastation? Is it an instinctive urge to make ones tribe aware of danger? Is it revelry in the face of misfortune given ones current position of safety? 

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β€œEssentially, the camera makes everyone a tourist in other peoples reality,

...and eventually in ones own”

- Susan Sontag

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It is on this particular wavelength, that whenever I see a phone raised to capture a snapshot of a scene that is unfolding before an individual, I can disdainfully (& with ease) envisage some dystopian future wherein the individual seeks not to aid those in peril or to enjoy a pleasurable experience. Instead, they compulsively reach for their smartphone in order to duplicate a moment in time in some vain attempt at proving that they, in fact, existed.

I'll conclude this piece with another compelling excerpt from Susan Sontag's thought provoking compendium of essays 'On Photography'. Thanks for reading!
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" The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied: first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and second, because the project is finally self-devouring. The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion. Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."

Anthony Morrell : A Portrait of an Ayrshire Blacksmith

β€œA good photograph is one that communicates a fact, touches the heart and leaves the viewer a changed person for having seen it. It is, in a word, effective.”
β€” Irving Penn

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There are many ways to create a portrait for a client, whether your remit is to capture a photograph which is naturally true to life, a bit more polished & contemporary or highly experimental in nature. This all depends on your relationship with the client, their personal tastes and their faith in your work as a paying customer & as an individual.

On this particular shoot, I had no real knowledge of who Anthony was apart from what I could lift from his professional output. I was also very limited by time as I had other portraits to make on the day. So, with this in mind, I decided to take ten to fifteen minutes to get to know Anthony’s business; wandering around his yard & exploring his workshops in order to form an image in my head and to find a good background for my composition. I then spent five minutes chatting to him about the processes of smelting & reforming lead for use as ingots which informed my choice of how the portrait should look. 

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Given that the mid-day sun was positioned almost directly overhead I thought about how I could use this to my advantage. I knew that I wanted to use a dark background so that Anthony’s weathered features would be exaggerated & I also knew that I wanted to showcase the definition in his strong, ash covered features. To achieve these fundamental elements, I positioned Anthony in one of the workshop doorways. The workshop itself gave me the dark backdrop & the overhead sun illuminated the face; with the skipped bunnet providing a nice bit of shadow from the top of the face down.

Once I found my composition, I then used my video light which features light-temperature controls to extend my shadows and to fill a few select areas across the face. I like to use this light, as it offers me a constant light source which I can then manipulate to fit a composition when I’m required to work quickly. I set the light to cast some natural β€˜warm’ light across Anthony’s face as this was more in tune with the saturation offered by the sunlight. 

I guided Anthony through the process by asking him to smile through his eyes more than via his mouth which meant I could capture the natural character in his personality. I worked very quickly, capturing a series of shots in quick succession in order to maintain the organic sense of warmth and personability that exuded from him - especially after I mentioned that the shots reminded me of the old pictures of Fred Dibnah.. haha!

Though this shoot was rather rough & ready, limited for time & a tad rushed, I captured on that day one of my favourite photographs to date (& an example of why I love Portraiture); a beautiful portrait of a hard-working & highly skilled man in his element - amongst his soot ridden workshops, heavy duty & well used machinery & beautifully crafted ironworks. Needless to say, when my Grandmother expressed a desire to install wrought-iron fences in her front garden I recommended she contacted Anthony Morrell at Morrell’s Forge in Maidens, Ayrshire.


If you've got a passion for the art of smithing, please show some support by visiting Anthony's business page at : https://www.facebook.com/MorrellsForgeBlacksmiths/

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Locational Product Photography - The Buck 221 Creek Knife

Today I’m shooting photographs of the Buck '221 Creek Knife' & in this blog, I’ll run you through my general process for crafting a final image. 

Ok. To set up my composition and to frame the product, I first consider what I would use the product for in the real world. In this case, it’d be survival or outdoors activities. I decide that it'd be best to focus on the theme fire-building, opting to reflect the process of creating fuel for a camp fire. To do this, I’d wear my thick, β€˜blade-proof’ gloves, use the (very sharp) knife to carve kindling & a durable, refillable lighter to ignite it.

Now that I’ve established my theme, I choose my background, opting for loose bark as fits nicely in to aesthetic of my image & features a nice rich pallette to play with. I set up my composition, using only natural light as this is empathetic with the scenario in my head and the idea which I wish to convey.

The Knife takes centre position, set diagonally against the flat background. The Gloves and the lighter are then introduced, set diagonally at the opposite angle to aid the eye in finding the knife (leading lines). I’m shooting at 85mm, with an aperture of f11 to optimise my sharpness across the frame. My white balance is set to β€˜cloudy’ as this is truest to the scene & I’ve got a shutter speed of 1/13th of a second. I don’t have any need to boot my ISO from 100, as I don't have any movement in my scene. I take the shot & then open the image in Adobe Lightroom.

Before

Original RAW File. Unedited.


Editing Pt. 1 - Overall Image Balancing in Lightroom

Before I start to balance my image, I picture how I want the final image to look. I want a gritty, modern looking image that appeals to all audiences with earthy tones & clean detail. I also need to be mindful that the company may want to add text & logos. With this in mind, I select a crop that is aesthetically pleasing & frames the subject well. 

I double check my white balance & colour tint, which are both fine. There are no obvious changes to the original colour of the Knife & I can move on to adding a touch of contrast to enhance the richness of the colour palette across the frame.

Balancing my light settings is a subtle process with this image, as everything is relatively well balanced. I reduce the highlights by about 25% & boost the shadows by 5% to draw out some detail before adding a 15% boost to the images clarity. This helps to define the overall structure. I then drop my vibrance & saturation by 5% & 15% respectively - now I’m starting to shape the overall colour of the shot with respect to my original concept.

Dialling in the hues of the colour palette, I then desaturate the yellows, reds & oranges this draws more attention to the blues of the knife, where I boost the luminosity of the blue in the handle. I have no use for split toning in this particular shot, so I move onto sharpening the image - this adds a wee bit of grit which will come in handy in part two of my process. The last action I perform is the addition of a very subtle vignette - further leading the eye towards the centre of the image and the logo on the knives blade.

At this point, I’m happy with how the image is shaping up. I’ve sorted the fundamental balance of the image & I’m now ready to implement part two of my processing - polishing (or β€˜mastering’). To retain all detail & digital information I then open the image as a .TIFF copy in Photoshop via Lightroom.
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Editing Pt. 2. Polishing The Final Image in Photoshop

The first step I take is to make a duplicate of the original layer, performing some additional (but subtle) noise reduction. I’m careful not to affect the overall sharpness of the image, as NR can be quite destructive. This layer is then merged with the original and I can start to creatively edit the image.

Generally, the next step for me is to add contrast layers, one for overall contrast & a second for more localised edits. I tease out the finer details by making subtle boosts to the mid-range contrast, which adds to the earthy feel of the shot. Next, I hone in on the knife, making sure that everything remains natural. By editing the product alone, I’m able to make it pop out of the image - making it the prime focus. I usually aim to have my opacity set between 10/50% on this layer. This means that it blends nicely into the frame.

I add a subtle layer of β€˜Dehazing’ just to reduce any leftover light-distortion. This helps to define the image since I’m using natural light. At this point I notice a slight blue hue to the blade & opt to reduce this locally by adding a colour cast mask - this reduces the blue tint & makes the metal look more grey which is closest to the original colour. At this point I’m pretty much done. I tighten my crop - being mindful of the gaps in the corners, burn my shadows slightly to add a bit of richness & add a final vignette - using the eraser at an opacity of 50% to sculpt my corner shadows.

The final step in the process is to add the fade which gives the image a cinematic feel, concurrent with modern processing. To do this, I create a curves mask & pull up the blacks (or crush them) in a heavy handed fashion. I dial this in across the image by reducing the opacity to 10% & export the image as a full-resolution JPEG file & a watermarked half-resolution JPEG for sharing purposes.

After

Final Image. Processed JPEG.

Field Notes : The Heads of Ayr.

While it’s generally true that only the best photographs from a shoot will appear before the public, I thought that in the name of transparency it might be a good idea to put out some of my failed shots. Nothing is ever perfect - sometimes things go to plan, but most of the time they don’t. The weather in Ayrshire and in Scotland changes rapidly and sometimes without warning, as does the light required to add that special touch to a composition.

The first image I’ll share in this series is an exposure made upon a headland on the Heads of Ayr, which you can see below.


Conditions;

The air was quite humid with an element of fog which remained unseen until I switched on my headlamp to head back across the fields towards the road. I was shooting from a very exposed headland wherein the wind changed direction inconsistently - both blowing my tripod (which was weighed down) and pushing dense cloud across the sky & obscuring what little stars I could actually see. 

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Heads of Ayr, Failed

The Image;

That morning, I had purchased a 10-20mm lens, which has an amazingly wide field of view. The main issue I faced with this lens however, was that I had bought a Nikon fit (which I’m adapting to fit my Sony body with a β€˜dummy’ adapter). This means that to change aperture, I have to manually set the aperture pin on the base of the lens until I either a) purchase a manual adapter with aperture control or b) purchase an electronic adapter. Having just shot in Dunure, I’d set the lens to f 3.5 - reducing the depth of field & allowing more light to enter the sensor.

A few issues arose in the moment, such as being unable to magnify the stars in order to attain pin sharp focus (I’ve since rectified this issue) and being unable to truly gauge my exposure (+2 stops was equal to -2 stops underexposed) - making up for this with a high ISO which in turn, introduced some colour β€˜noise’ - which is anathema to me! With all of this in mind, my image suffered from shake due to the high winds, lack of focus due to my inability to hone in on the stars and high noise due to using a high ISO and boosting the exposure in post production. The result is an image which is both soft and features trailing of the stars.

I do love the juxtaposition of the clear blue night sky against the cloud which is glowing orange due to the light pollution from Dunure/Girvan/Cars - the colour is exactly what I’d hope for. I also like the composition, which has a lofty atmosphere - so it’s not all bad. All in all, I was able to rectify the issues that befell me on the night. I’ll return when the conditions are a bit more favourable for long exposures and get the shot I wanted that night! Without the f*** up’s, I wouldn’t have the skills to ascertain what the issues are. It’s a simple case of trial and error - which will pay off when a shot comes up which requires immediate attention.

Culzean Castle - The Nature of Coastal Photography

As I sit and look over a soothingly calm sea, towards the well-lit mountains of Arran, I feel the heat of the afternoon sun warming my back as it slowly begins to descend towards the horizon. It’s been cold and bleak so far this year and today is the first day that I’ve been able to sit comfortably on the sand in just a t-shirt, soaking up the ambience of the coast.

I’m sitting on the beach below Culzean Castle at low tide and I’m waiting for the sun to set for the day. I’ve got a nice composition set up, my camera locked in place on its tripod, filters carefully selected and settings dialled in ready for the brief moment of golden light that will illuminate the scene, bringing it to life. So far, everything is looking good for a clear sunset, though the wind has begun to pick up and there’s a worrying amount of rain clouds passing overhead across the sea (it’s been blue skies all day)!

An oystercatcher soars somewhere abovehead, calling out to the others foraging amongst the rocks. The sound reverberates and echoes around the shallow bay, amplified by the rocky cliff face before diffusing amongst the trees on the outermost cliffs - a wondrous effect! Everything else is silent, barring the gentle ebb and flow of the waters edge and the tweeting of songbirds amongst the trees.

Unfortunately, as time drifts by, the clouds have grown much heavier and are now diffusing the available sunlight. This is worrying. Though my plans were now under threat, I seize the opportunity to capture a very moody monochromatic shot of the castle from the sands of the beach - briefly lit by a break in the clouds as they drifted westward. Kneeling in the wet sand to capture this shot, I notice little trails which I discover are caused by molluscs travelling between the rock-pools at low-tide - something I’ve never seen before!

I go back to my original composition as it’s now Golden Hour - though the cloud has become so thick that the light is all but useless for my composition. I decided to leave and simply edit a daylit long exposure shot that I’d captured earlier on.

Do I regret wasting hours of my life waiting for the final image? No. By simply being in the moment I witnessed a brief but dramatic change in weather, enjoyed the sun on my back while gathering agate on the shoreline, met new people and generally found time to think about my overarching plans for The Eye of God Photography. While I didn’t get the shot I had planned, I got a couple that I’m very satisfied with instead.

- Go Outside, It's Good For You!

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The Lamentations of an Elder Citizen

Oaft! It’s the first of January 2018 - A new year, a fresh start and another 365 days worth of opportunities to be embraced!

Having met with the Princes Trust, attended in-depth business seminars and submitting a rough copy of my business plan / proposal to their funding panel, I’m happy to announce that I will be receiving the funding that I require to take The Eye of God Photography to the next level - to run it as my first business. This is a venture which I am extremely excited to explore - to ride the tiger, as it were.

I have a lot to do to make this happen in January though. I need to finish my website, sort out my finances, get in touch with the Inland Revenue and put the final touches onto my plan for the year. However, once these small hurdles have been cleared I’ll be ready to get out there and get stuck in.

I’ve got some pretty big things planned, things which I can’t reveal as of this moment in time - but, what I can reveal is that I aim to get my YouTube channel off the ground (having posted my first video in December here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SovGqZFF2_Q&t=3s) with more videos detailing my photographic journey to come, to start offering one-to-one photographic workshops, to work with a lot of interesting people and to generally grow as a person and as a professional - I also plan to get out a lot more. This means full on and intensive extended trips into the Scottish wilderness (Rain, Hail or Shine), journeys further afield than I’ve previously been thus far and generally discovering places that I haven’t seen before. Most folk want to visit other countries, but I want to devour my homeland before I go anywhere else. I want to explore every nook and cranny and to experience everything that this amazing place on Earth has to offer.

It's with all of this buzzing around my head that I enter a new year. I’ve never enjoyed Hogmanay before, but standing on the harbour, between the land and the sea - embracing the winds of Storm Dylan with Chelsea in my arms and Cooper at my feet - I was actually excited for the clock to read 00.00. 

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The image below, taken while everyone was out celebrating, details a sculpture in Ayr town centre known locally as β€˜The Fish Cross’. The sculpture stands amongst a slew of empty shops - a dismal spectre and representation of the town today. The figure stands, looking down at the fish in his arms - symbolic of the Ayr of yesteryear; a successful place built upon local trade - now just a shadow of itself, falling apart all around him.

I took this photograph not to revel in Ayr’s creeping decrepitude, but to inspire myself to enact positive change - no matter how small a fish I may be (pun intended). I personally remember Ayr as a thriving social hub full of small businesses and that’s the way I’d like the future generations to remember it too. It is for this reason that I pledge to donate a portion of my profits as a business into local development charities and into local food banks.

Why the food banks? Well, during the process of starting all of this up I was owed a considerable sum of money. I was rapidly reaching the point where the money I was borrowing was running out, my overdraft was breached and I was really struggling both financially and mentally. Though I knew the money I was owed was coming, I realised how bad it must be for those who live in that constant state of desperation through no fault of their own. Walking through the supermarket a week before Christmas feeling sorry for myself, I came to the realisation that there were people in my community that were truly suffering; and I wanted to actively combat such a corrosive social ailment if I could. 

While the powers that be seem to act in a manner that suggests that we don’t matter and that our towns are simply a hindrance to their plans, it is up to us as a COMMUNITY to support those greatest in need around us - the Princes Trust are helping me, so it is only right that I extend a helping hand too. Should you have the means, I’d implore you to do the same. 

It may be an un-realistic Utopian ideal, but lets actually do something for each another in 2018, so that no one needs to wake up in the morning feeling like there is no point in carrying on.

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'The Lamentations of an Elder Citizen'

Why I Didn't Wait for the Sun to Set at the Summit of Ben A'an

I awake suddenly to the sound of my alarm ringing out in the darkness - it’s 5.30 in the morning and its still pitch black outside, but most importantly the skies are still crystal clear and the ground is still frozen… Coffee time!

Last night during a sudden drop in temperature (to a balmy -5 degrees) I made a snap decision to ascend and to photograph β€˜Ben A’an’ the following morning - if the conditions remained as they were. Situated in the Trossachs - a two hour drive from Prestwick - I’d have to leave early if I wanted to reach the summit by sunrise.

Coffee in hand, I defrost the car. I’m fully awake due to the excitement and anticipation and I hit the road, making good progress until I almost come off the road just outside of Callander due to some very thick ice lurking in the darkness. Arriving at the Ben A’an car park in very good time I put my (roasting) new 3-in-1 jacket on, humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag over my shoulders onto my back and put Coops on his lead so that we can cross the road safely. I let him off at the foot of the path and literally hit the ground running. Or so I thought. 

I get approximately 30m up the steep path from the road and suddenly realise to my horror that I can’t breathe; the sudden cold air and the weight of my bag are constricting my lungs. Gasping, with my heart pounding like a pneumatic hammer, I come to an embarrassing halt in order to regulate my breathing - deep breaths; in through the nose and out through the mouth. (Thanks Mr. Wright). The fresh mountain air quickly revives me and I head (slowly) to my next rest stop - a wee bridge connecting the initial path onto the mountain trail. My thighs are burning at this point, my bag feels as though it weighs the same as me and every step upwards fills me with apprehension.

With much effort and a concerted struggle to persist, I reach the halfway point chuckling as I notice that someone had vomited on the man-made two-foot high stone steps. My legs feel as though they are about to give way as the path suddenly becomes much steeper and I look up to see the summit looming what seems to be an aeon away from my position. This does nothing to ease the feeling of plausible defeat in my heart - I see Coops bounding through the trees (full of energy) way up the trail, not for turning back and remember the SAS adage that my Papa was always so keen to relay to me; β€˜He Conquers Who Endures’. This provides me with a well-needed kick up the arse and I press on making decent progress against all odds.

As the path curves upwards into the shadow of the peak, it morphs seamlessly from thick man-made steps to rough, extremely slippy, natural crags. Due to its constant shelter from the sun, a thick layer of sheet-ice has settled in nicely, leaving anyone brave enough to continue towards the summit at risk of seriously hurting themselves. I stop to take stock of the situation, then continue my ascent using the fresh snow at the edges of the path to provide the grip that I required. At this point, the summit is about fifty metres away and I catch a second wind (one of the best feelings in the world when climbing). My blood is flowing freely now, my breathing regulated and my muscles warmed up. The rest of the climb is assuredly pleasant and I hit the summit and suddenly lose my breath again…This time, it’s the panoramic visions of splendour hitting my retinas like a six-tonne truck that stop me in my tracks; snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, bathed in the golden light of the rising sun; deep emerald woodlands rising up to meet the pure mountain air and the vast expanse of water that is Loch Katrine reflecting the land surrounding it.

I’m filled with a deep sense of joy, of accomplishment and of wonder. There’s literally nothing in this world that could counter the euphoria of such a moment and I smile. Meanwhile, Coops is on the summit - looking at me as if to say β€˜is that it!?’… after all, his first ever walk was Cairn Gorm! I scramble up the to the summit absolute to devour my sandwich and to down an ice cold can of red bull in order to restore my spent energy reserves. The conditions are perfect; no wind, no solar haze and most importantly of all; NO RAIN!

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[NOTE; In landscape photography (especially when a strenuous ascent is involved), well-maintained energy levels are vital to focussing the mind in the field, as without them one may as well just go home empty-handed. I’d already decided that each shot was to be carefully considered, crafted and β€˜of its own’, meaning that there'd be no β€˜b-shots’ or duds. I wanted each photograph from this adventure to serve as a testament to the natural beauty of the location and to pay homage to my struggles while ascending the summit.]

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My first image is a composition overlooking Loch Katrine and the Trossachs, with the hills remarkably well-defined summit framing the shot, kissed by the beautiful, golden, morning light. I depress the shutter release and stand back at a loss for words… I know that here and now I’m experiencing a life-affirming moment in time.

Hearing voices behind me as I stand in awe of my own work, I turn my head and see that a large family has joined me on top of the world, spearheaded by a fellow that looks strikingly familiar to the American singer-songwriter Father John Misty. They greet me warmly (having come all the way from Canada) and heap attention onto Coops before settling down onto the rocks to soak in the views and to crack open their collective Thermos. 

I lock-on to another composition, this time featuring the summit-peak in the foreground. I take the shot, outwardly expressing my excitement for the image. The group behind me are now getting ready for a family portrait, standing in front of the sun. I take a moment to suggest that they take position at the spot where I captured my first image as it’d serve as the perfect backdrop for such a picture and happily end up taking the shots for them - putting a massive smile on their faces.

By the time we finish sharing stories, the summit has become a buzzing hive of activity. I count no-less that twenty-four people and three (well insulated) dogs - its amazing to think that such a place (located in and atop the middle of nowhere) can be so busy! Interestingly though, I didn’t see any other photographers! I spend the rest of the daylight hours watching the light and meeting lots of lovely people with interesting stories to tell, from South Africa to Stoke, making my experience all the more rewarding! 

The sun begins to set and I decide to head down from the summit to utilise the last of the golden light on capturing compositions I’d seen on the ascent, as I’d already captured images that I was more than satisfied with. Anything else from today would simply be a bonus! The first of these compositions is threefold - an extremely moody monochromatic shot featuring Loch Achray from the Northern side of the Summit, an abstract shot of the crag covered in icicles set against the clear blue sky and a close up of the heather above the snow - with large icicles hanging off of a single small bush.

My final descent is just as arduous as the ascent - the sheet-ice was making things fairly treacherous in the twilight, and the steep terrain covered in snow obliterated any semblance of a swift descent! Nonetheless, I make decent time and reach the aforementioned mid-way point and take a shot of Ben A’an from the path. It’s a great shot, but the deforested foreground casts a wee bit of a malaise upon my state of euphoria. Just as I reach the bottom of the trail and the end of my adventure I hear two Kestrels calling out through the twilight and stop to enjoy the moment. I tune into my ears and hear the soft warning calls of smaller birds nesting amongst the heather - it fills my mind with wonder.

I get back to the car, taking stock of the days adventure. The feeling of wellbeing is overwhelming - not only did I overcome any semblance of physical or mental stress, but I reached the summit to behold one of the best panoramic vistas that Scotland has to offer - the kind of place that requires no real effort in order to capture its innate natural beauty. I humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag into the boot, gulp down a litre of water and set off homewards through the darkness - avoiding the frozen road which very almost claimed my life this morning.
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I'd like to thank everyone that I met atop Ben A'an for their generosity, stories and encouragement - your company took my already exemplary adventure to a whole new level! Until next time we meet - lang may yir lums reek!


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'Atop Ben A'an'

No More Excuses (Pushing Forward).

I always put shooting video off. I’d convinced myself that I’d be no good at it and that it was too much work for me. In all honesty though, I was scared to get behind the lens. I was afraid of making a fool of myself, of how I would look and of putting myself in the public eye.

I was making excuses.

Today though, everything changed. I decided to throw myself in at the deep end and to make a proper video for YouTube. I went into the shoot telling myself that I’d just continue what I’d been doing with my phone; 30 odd second clips of me desperately trying to keep it together. However, I found a nice composition for a photograph (to be the foundation of the video) and found myself completely at ease with the whole thing - in fact, the whole process made me value my final image a hell of a lot more.

Contrary to my initial attitude, I actually found myself loving the process - capturing video at different angles to help move the thing along, capturing some pretty basic β€˜b-roll’ and even some studio footage (where, if I’m being completely honest, I was absolutely bricking it). It was only once I’d edited the video and put my ending together that I realised that I’d completed something that I thought I wasn’t capable of doing!

Ok, so it’s not perfect, in fact, it’s pretty rudimentary. But, it’s a testimony to my efforts and something I’m really proud of (for now), haha!

The moral of this particular story is this;

If you’ve got something that you want to do, but are afraid that you’ll make an arse of it - or you’re simply not confident enough - JUST DO IT.

Don’t let your mind put you off and don’t give in to the pressure of β€˜what if’. Throw that attitude into the wind and get stuck into it! You just don’t know what might happen… Who knows? You might just feel like you accomplished something!

- Maybe in a year or so, when I'm shooting ultra professional, awe-inspiring pieces of cinematic history (ok, ok) I'll look back at this and say "what the HELL was I thinking!?"

But at least I tried.