A personal reflection

Landscape and sculpture composite

Sculpture composite

This composite shot is a personal reflection on Scotland, so I’ll explain the different elements.

Let’s begin with the main feature, the wooden sculpture. The actual sculpture is a wood carving located in Balbirnie Park near Glenothes in Fife. My wife and I occasionally pushed our first child in her pram through Balbirnie Park when we lived in Glenrothes. The beach is at Leven, Fife and is said to be the location for Jack Vettriano’s paintings which are set on a beach.  On the horizon to the left of the sculpture it’s possible to make out the small bump that is the Bass Rock out in the Forth estuary. The words are from a wall inside the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh and speak of hope and equality.

For me one of the defining features of Scotland is it’s vary varied coastline, dramatically different between the east and west coasts, not to mention the many islands of the Hebrides, Orkney and Shetland. Fife and Edinburgh are important to me. I was born in Fife and lived there until age five when we moved to Edinburgh. Later, I returned to live in Fife for a short time with my wife where we had two of our three children.

The sculpture speaks to me of the Celtic heritage of Scotland as it very much looks like a Celtic eternal knot and there is something about eternity that resonates with a distant horizon which is what prompted me to select a beach scene for the major background. I also liked the idea of taking the sculpture out of context and giving it a different aspect.

On a visit to the Scottish Parliament this year I was impressed by the Great Tapestry of Scotland which was on display and covers the history of Scotland from neolithic times to the present day. It reminded me that Scotland has given so much to the world in terms of inventiveness in many fields of endeavour which has brought good things to the world. Finding the words etched on a wall inside the Parliament building was a discovery that seemed to echo this sense of hope and equality so it was something I felt I needed to include in the composite.

Seemingly hovering above the horizon is what looks like another landscape of bare trees. This is, in fact, an image of one tree which I turned sideways so that the bare winter branches look like trees rising from this mysterious other-worldly landscape. This, I hope, reflects the sometimes mysterious, atmospheric nature of Scotland’s history.

All the original images were shot in colour but I converted the composite to monochrome before adding a slight colour treatment to add to the atmospheric nature I was trying to create.

It’s a personal reflection, and I have tried to give at least a brief account of what inspired it. But photographs, whether straight faithful shots or created composites, should tell a story. I wonder what story this image might relate to you? If you can spare the time, I’d love to know if it speaks to you, so please leave a comment briefly relating whatever story this inspires in you.

The technical aspects of the various components are below, though I honestly can’t recall which tree image I used in the composite, so those details are missing.

The sculpture was shot on 01 April 2005 at 1/400 sec at f2.8 on an ISO of 100.

The beach was shot on 17 June 2013 at 1/400 sec at f8 on an ISO of 100.

The words were shot on 27 August 2014 at 1/30 sec at f5 on an ISO of 800

The composite was constructed in Photoshop using layers with minimal adjustments to the main image elements.

tide of change

breaking waves


This image is from a set I took on holiday recently on the Kintyre peninsula, Scotland. Tomorrow is the day that the people of Scotland vote on whether or not Scotland should be an independent country. As I am a Scot living in England I have no vote but I have carefully watched the unfolding debate over several months. Although I knew that the real debate was taking place in all kinds of halls across the country I was unprepared for the magnitude of the effect of that until I actually visited.

I detected a very strong smell of change in the air and on that matter, I think both sides are right: people want change. The issue now is what kind of change that will be. I’ve chosen this image to illustrate the fact that I sense a tide of change is going to sweep the country irrespective of tomorrow’s vote. If the vote is yes, then negotiations will begin to disengage the parliaments that united in 1707. If the vote is no, then we will wait to see if Westminster delivers on its promise to devolve more powers to Holyrood. If that happens, there will be an almost inevitable clamour for increased devolution to English regions, Northern Ireland and Wales. There’s been much hyperbole in the debate but I really do think the Westminster establishment has not covered itself in glory. The one victory of the referendum is the political engagement of the people of Scotland with record numbers registered to vote. If that is converted into actual turnout then it will be a major success of democracy and we have to celebrate that.

Whatever the result, I sense that this popular movement may be in the vanguard of political change that will sweep the entire British Isles. I hope so. I detect a popular feeling that people are mostly fed up with the political system we have now which seems, irrespective of party, to be more answerable to corporate business than the electorate. It’s my hope that engagement of the people of Scotland in taking ownership of their politics will be an inspiration to others and that the tide of change will indeed sweep us all to better things.

How the tide will come in will be determined in large tomorrow, but I am sure the tide is turning.

The photo was shot at 1/80 sec, f25 at ISO 200 on a focal length of 40mm.

The need to communicate

AA call box

Roadside communcation

I confess I’ve been somewhat neglectful of this blog and haven’t posted for a while. My excuse is that life has been very busy recently although I am now on holiday and will soon be heading to Scotland for a break. Some of that time will be spent in the Kintyre peninsula and I am hoping to be back with some inspiring photographs.

So, planning to be away on holiday and taking some more photographs got me thinking about this blog and the need to communicate, especially as it’s my view that photographs should have a story to tell. The combination of communication and Scotland reminded me of this particular image from my collection so, pending something new from the next couple of weeks, I thought it would be good to say something about this one.

I spent my teenage years in Aberdeen and often travelled along Deeside to Ballater and Glen Muick where Lochnagar was a favourite climb. I had passed this old AA box many times and had long wanted to have a photograph of it. I think it’s the combination of the remote location at Cambus O’ May and the nostalgia that it evokes which I find attractive. So, earlier this year when I was back up there on a visit, I parked up the car and made sure I got this long-wanted photograph (actually, it’s one of a number!).

Reflecting on this old AA box is a reminder of a simpler time long before cars had phones or people carried mobile or cell phones around with them. Every AA member (my dad was one) would have an AA key which would open any AA box in the country and inside was a phone which could be used to summon an AA patrol in an emergency. This was hardly universal coverage and I suppose if you had a breakdown nowhere near such a box you were in some deeper trouble. It was, though, the provision of communication for when it was needed.

Now that we have mobile phones we can make and take calls almost anywhere and, certainly, with my own mobile phone charging in the car on long journeys and blue tooth connected to the car’s radio system I feel secure in being able to summon help from almost anywhere at any time; and that’s got to be a good thing.

What I’m less sure about is the apparent need that many people seem to have to be always talking with someone via their mobile phone. I drive by people alone in their cars who are either talking to themselves or are on a hands-free call. I regularly pass people in the street pushing a pram with one hand and talking on a mobile on the other. What, I wonder, do they have to talk about that I don’t?

As human beings we are natural communicators – it’s something we do well and have refined amazingly. I wonder though about our technology now and I am left with the question: do we control communication or does it now control us?

Finally, let me communicate the technical stuff relating to the photograph of AA Box 472.

It was shot using a Canon 70D on ISO 200 at 1/80 sec on f/7.1 at a focal length of 20mm. Some minor processing adjustments were made using Photoshop.


The freedom of flight

gliding gracefully

gliding gracefully

I’ve sometimes wondered what it is that makes flight seem so attractive and what does it for me is the seemingly effortless ease of those birds that stretch their wings to simply ride the thermals. This graceful elegance is far removed from the high tempo wing-beating of the smaller birds which seems to be completely energy sapping.

So, it occurs to me that as there are different approaches to staying airborne, so there are different ways of travelling through life. Some people seem to choose a high energy approach, full of activity. Others opt for a more relaxed style, apparently soaring undisturbed by any chaos around them.

I’m sure that most people, like me, would think of flight in terms of soaring like a gull or eagle, riding the thermals, gliding effortlessly and enjoying an overview of everything. I don’t know anyone who has thought of the hummingbird approach; at least no-one I know has admitted this. So why, I wonder, do even the busiest of wing-flapping types tend to view flight in terms of soaring. I suspect the answer is that it’s attractive and seen as an ideal approach to life.

If it’s true that most people imagine flight in this soaring way, it’s hard to see why some are naturally drawn to be high-energy wing-beaters, unless, like the birds there is a practical reason for the approach. Personally, I’m struggling to see one.

This was shot at ISO 400, f10 at 1/1000sec on a focal length of 200mm.


These dark satanic mills

cooling towers

Didcot Power Station

These are the cooling towers and chimneys of Didcot Power Station, near where I live. The Power Station consists of two generating plants: Didcot A, coal-fired and Didcot B, gas fired. Didcot A closed as a generating plant in March 2013 and is due for demolition, which will see the well-known landmarks of the cooling towers disappear from the landscape sometime in 2014.

I wanted to have photographs of these landmarks before they disappear and took the opportunity this month. This photograph was taken from Sutton Courtenay looking south towards the power station. At the time I was taking this photo I was thinking of the effect of contrast created by the contre-jour aspect and although shooting in colour was already thinking of a mono conversion in editing. This brought to mind the phrase, “these dark satanic mills”, which I have always associated with the mills of the industrial revolution and so was thinking of the contemporary revolution in which we are ever looking for cleaner and more environmentally-friendly means of power generation, industrial production, travel etc. I was thinking that whereas the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution were seen as detrimental to those who worked in them, perhaps this power station stood as a symbol of a means of production that had been detrimental to the environment and therefore a dark satanic mill of a different sort.

With those thoughts in mind I returned home and set about some research into “these dark satanic mills”. I was surprised to learn that this phrase actually comes from William Blake’s Jerusalem:

“And did those feet in ancient time
Walk upon England’s mountains green:
And was the holy Lamb of God,
On England’s pleasant pastures seen!

And did the Countenance Divine,
Shine forth upon our clouded hills?
And was Jerusalem builded here,
Among these dark Satanic Mills?

Bring me my Bow of burning gold;
Bring me my Arrows of desire:
Bring me my Spear: O clouds unfold!
Bring me my Chariot of fire!

I will not cease from Mental Fight,
Nor shall my Sword sleep in my hand:
Till we have built Jerusalem,
In England’s green & pleasant Land”      (emphasis added)

Further reading showed that there are broadly two schools of opinion regarding these dark satanic mills.

One is that it does indeed refer to the mills of the industrial revolution. The other is that it refers to the established Church of England and the formality of the cathedrals and large churches. Blake was a Christian and, it seems, quite critical of conventional religion and so the reference to the established church as dark satanic mills could be taken to suggest that he was criticising a mode of religion that sought to limit and control people. The likely reality, perhaps, is that he was using the term as a metaphor and that it therefore held meaning in both senses.

So, it was interesting to discover all this additional information about these dark satanic mills. Does it change what I was thinking when I took this photograph? No, but it does now make me think that perhaps I should get a similar photograph of a cathedral, place the two side-by-side and consider the wider issues once I’ve thought about it a little more.

My goodness, photography can be educational.

For those interested, this photograph was taken using a Canon EOS 70D set to ISO 100, shooting at 1,000sec at f8, on a focal length of 55mm. It was shot in RAW format then processed and converted to monochrome, to reflect the feel of “these dark satanic mills”.


Water storage amid flooding


Water is said to cover around 70% of the Earth’s surface and is vital in sustaining our life here. That makes it a good thing, but recent experiences in some parts of England would suggest that maybe we can have too much of a good thing.

The flooding we have seen this winter has certainly been devastating for many people. Some have lost their lives, others their homes, their livelihoods. There’s been an unedifying game of blame ping-pong played between the government and the environment agency but this is nature and we are not its masters. The best we can do is prepare ourselves to cope with whatever we feel nature might throw at us and the blame game is only played with the benefit of hindsight. Surely the right response is to care for those people who have been affected, learn from the experiences and plan for the future.

According to Wikipedia: “The existence of liquid water, and to a lesser extent its gaseous and solid forms, on Earth are vital to the existence of life on Earth as we know it. The Earth is located in the habitable zone of the solar system; if it were slightly closer to or farther from the Sun (about 5%, or about 8 million kilometres), the conditions which allow the three forms to be present simultaneously would be far less likely to exist.”  If this is right, then we are perfectly placed in space with a 5% margin of error;  outside of that our planet would probably not have water and we would not be here. We have much to be thankful for.

This photograph was taken on 16 February at Crawley, near Witney in Oxfordshire and shows the flooding from the river Windrush. I was intrigued by the water container in the field which seemed quite ironic and out of place. It suggested to me the absolute necessity of water, such that we need find ways to store it yet here it was signalling an unwanted excess.

The photo was shot at ISO 200, 1/200 sec at f/8 on a focal length of 55mm.

standing still

Water sculpture

Water sculpture

One of the joys of photography is the ability to capture a moment in time and sometimes that stops movement and freezes the flow of action to reveal something new and different. This photo was taken at Evian on the shore of Lake Geneva at 1/1600 sec at f5.6 at ISO-200.

I like that the fast shutter speed froze the movement of the water fountain revealing within it shapes and textures that we simply don’t see otherwise. It stimulates the imagination in a completely different way to watching water moving and it reminds me that there are times when we need to stop our own hectic activity and take time out to pause, reflect and marvel at some things in life that we otherwise miss in the busyness of life.