I thought it might be of interest to pick one of my favourite images and explain what it means to me as well as something about how I created it.
Firstly, the title. I called this Scottish montage mainly because it is composed of elements that are distinctly Scottish. I don’t often do composites mainly because I can find myself constantly working on them and never getting to a point that I’m happy with. When they work though, as this one does for me, I find all the effort and tinkering worthwhile.
This image feels very Scottish to me and speaks of some of the things about Scotland that are very important to me. So, let’s take it apart and, in doing that, I will try to explain why it means so much to me.
There are four key images blended here to create the overall composite.
Background: This is Leven beach. Leven happens to be where I first lived and where I have now returned. Interestingly the shot was taken some years before the prospect of returning to Fife, let alone Leven, was even a vague idea. It therefore speaks to me of home but perhaps more importantly, it reminds me of the wide-open spaces of Scotland. Apart from the border with England, Scotland is surrounded by the sea and includes many islands so this also reminds me of the fishing heritage and that from these shores, throughout generations past, Scots have gone all over the world making a mostly positive impact. Although we feel attached to home, we Scots are instinctively curious and prone to exploration. The open spaces of Scotland appeal to me, so much more than the busy haste of city life, offering a sense of freedom and refreshment. Filling my lungs with either the sea breeze of the coast or the chill air of the mountains is simply exhilarating and life giving.
The overall image was built in Photoshop and the background is an unedited layer within the composite.
Foreground subject: This is a small sculpture found in Balbirnie Park at Markinch. It’s in the shape of a Celtic knot. In fact, it’s only the upper part of the sculpture and it is in the form of the Trinity Knot or Triquetra. The points on this three-fold knot are said to represent the Holy Trinity of the Father, Son & Holy Spirit but this can’t be verified as historically accurate. Most information relating to Celtic knots is dated after 450 A.D when Christian influence on the Celtic civilization began to take hold and these knots are complete loops with no start or finish and are generally said to represent eternity be that in the form of loyalty, faith, friendship or love.
The strong feature of the knot sculpture in the image reminds me of the deep cultural heritage of Scotland and of important values throughout Scottish history. We’ve always tended towards community as a people and been ready to welcome the stranger to our land. It also reminds me of the historical importance of faith in Scottish life.
The sculpture is a separate level in Photoshop. Because the sculpture itself is a consistent colour and has clear edges it was an easy job to cut it out from the background of its original photo and leave it on a transparent background. That was then placed above the background layer and I applied a mask to it. Working on the layer mask I was able to fade out the lower section of the sculpture to render it as a “faded shadow” which when added to the background makes it look like it is sitting on the sand.
Writing: The writing is from a photograph of a sculpture in the Scottish Parliament building called Travelling the Distance by Shauna McMullan. It features quotes from various women commenting on other women. The extracts shown in the composite are:
• Selected on merit, she ended 450 years of an exclusively male High Court Bench. (Alison Closs on Hazel Cosgrove)
• Best of Scotswomen, lifelong socialist, pacifist, grassroots activist, modest, eternally open-minded, an ordinary, extraordinary mother. (Liz Lochhead on Helen Kay)
• A wee lady always loving caring, determined, and generous, devoted to her faith and family. (Morag Ross on Elizabeth Dyce & Jean Campbell)
• Her passion for equalities shines through in her voice and in her eyes. (Ruth Black on Irene Graham)
• Thanks to Scottish Women who made the difference. Always stay on the equality path (Jane McKay)
• She makes me continue to believe that the fight for a more just world is the right road to be on…. (Elaine C. Smith on Helena Kennedy)
• When her friends visited, you never knew whether to bring out the silver or lock it away. (Hilda Smith on Chris Grieve)
This element of the composite reminds me of the number of strong and influential women in Scottish history and in Scottish life. So much to be appreciated and valued.
The words are another layer in Photoshop. The layer is simply the original photograph of the sculpture but I reduced the layer opacity to 60% which diminished the background enough to allow the writing to stand clear and retain something of the natural shadow from the writing which is in relief on the sculpture.
Trees: This is the final image layer and it’s a rather more subtle one. Just above the centre of the image and to the left of the sculpture there is what appears to be some trees on a hillside. In fact, these are the branches of one tree. More on that shortly.
I included the trees to remind me that Scotland is not barren across its wilderness spaces. The “trees” are there to remind me of the productivity of the land be that through nature’s provision or agriculture. I wanted the “trees” to be bare – winter plumage – as that worked better with the overall feel of the composite image and also reminds me of the fragility of things in these days of climate change awareness. It reminds me of the responsibility we have to the place we call home – from our own locality where we live, up through our countries to plant Earth itself.
The “trees” layer is, as I mentioned, one tree which I rotated through ninety degrees to make the bare branches appear as trees themselves with the trunk standing in for the ground. Fortunately, the background on the original tree photo is nice and clear so it was a simple job of positioning the layer as I wanted it in the final composition and then applying a layer mask and gently removing all that I didn’t need. Within the final composition it has the effect of creating the impression of a landscape beyond the water which I quite like, and I think works reasonably well.
In summary, this composite image reminds me of at least some of the things about Scotland and being Scottish that I hold dear.
While there are four images making up this composite, there are a total of eleven layers involved in creating the final image. In brief, and in order from bottom up, they are:
- Background image – unaltered.
- Celtic knot sculpture – transparent background and layer mask applied
- Brightness/contrast adjustment layer
- Trees – positionally adjusted and layer mask applied
- Words – opacity reduced to 60%
- Curves adjustment layer
- Texture brush adjustment layer
- Photo filter layer
- Selective colour adjustment layer
- Levels adjustment layer
- Another Brightness/contrast adjustment layer
All of the adjustment layers were making individually minor and subtle changes, nothing heavy handed, so that the cumulative result is what I was happy with. It’s in those minor adjustments that you can get trapped in continual tweaking. I didn’t complete this work on one sitting. It took a good number of “visits” to work through interrupted with periods of leaving well alone. It’s an example of making sure you can see the wood for the trees!
This image is available to buy from my website as prints and wall products.