Croft No. 5

Back in the day some friends used to have a band called Croft No. 5. They were at the cutting edge of Celtic fusion, well ahead of their time and a damn fine live act! Yeah, so it's possible that I'm a little biased but I've had their album on repeat this afternoon while I edit a shoot from earlier on the week on the Isle of Harris. More specifically, from a property shoot at Croft 5, Borve on the Isle of Harris.

Tenuous link? Maybe, but it's made my day complete! 

Harris has long been one of my favourite places. There are few venues better in the world for landscape photography than the Outer Hebrides, and Lewis and Harris feel almost like a second home to me. Gavin and Susan have just finished building their own home up there and their builders, Fjordhus, asked me to go up and take some photographs of the property for their portfolio.

This was an exceptionally satisfying shoot to work on, with one of the best sunsets I've seen in a while followed by an impressive sunrise, and combining stunning design with the perfect location! The idyllic Hebridean setting played well with my landscape work but interiors was something of a departure for me, which greatly added to the satisfaction for me personally.

There's nothing more dangerous for the creative than the risk of falling into a rut. You need to sink your teeth into a good technical and creative challenge from time to time. By stepping out of your established comfort zone you get your juices flowing, broaden your skill set and you come away not just a little a more experienced but also reinvigorated. When the opportunity to shake things up a little comes along with an excuse to visit one of the most beautiful islands in Scotland with some good people at the same time, then all the better. Huge thanks to Gavin and Susan and the guys at Fjordhus for the opportunity to do exactly that.

Up Helly Aa

St Ninian's Isle - one of many stunning places to discover along the Shetland coast

It’s a long way to Shetland. When you get there, there’s a good chance it’s probably wet and windy and looking magnificent for all that. Countless islands and inlets make for a never ending coastline to explore, and a culture firmly rooted in the sea. Oh, and there’s the Vikings...

Of all the festivals and traditions around Scotland, Up Helly Aa may be one of the most enigmatic. Various communities around Sheltand have their own Up Helly tradition, the most famous being the one in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of every January. You’ll probably have seen photographs in the papers, or segments on the telly; the torchlight procession, led by a squad of vikings through the centre of the town is famous. It’s really only half the story though. Which is not to say that the procession isn’t epic!

This year there were no less than 900 torchbearers to escort the Jarl’s Squad and their Galley, the Falcon, through the streets to the Burning. It’s a sight not soon forgotten. Visceral and utterly awe inspiring, it assaults all the senses at once, with the wind driving the rain through the ranks, the stench and heat of the paraffin torches, the sound of the band and of the squads revelling in their moment. They’ve earned it.

There are no half measures here, this is not some little parade where old trinkets are brought out of storage every year and traipsed around town. This has taken dozens upon dozens of people months of graft and planning, and in return it gives the occasion a sense of gravity and solidity that it might otherwise lack.

The torches alone took months to prepare. The galley saw a team of over 40 men working several nights a week for months to bring it to a beautiful finish, all for a short journey through town to a fiery end. Each member of the Jarl’s Squad will have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of pounds hand making their Viking uniforms just for this festival. 

With so much time spent together in preparation, the Jarl’s squad is more than just a collection of men dressed as Vikings. When they walk through town it is as one unit, together.

The procession will be what you see on the news, or hear described on the radio, but it marks the beginning of the night, rather than the end. Once the galley is alight, the squads and the crowds all quickly disperse to various community halls around town. The Squads will take it in turn to visit each hall through the night and into the morning. Each has a rehearsed turn to perform on arrival, before sharing a drink with the people in the hall. It’s an impressive feat of organisation, and each and every squad has put time and effort into their routine... Some are better than others, and by 6am some may be getting a bit ragged around the edges! 

Circling the galley, before the burning.

Looking around the hall though, it’s impossible to tell without talking to people who live here and who are just visiting.  This is very much a local festival, but you’ll be welcomed in like an old friend and treated like family. It is the party that tops all parties and a tradition entirely befitting of the Lerwegian’s generously riotous natures. 

Come to Up Helly Aa, come for the procession if that’s what motivates you. You’ll leave remembering the welcome you had at the halls. I’d love to share some photos from that part of the night, but I was having far too much fun to take any.

Landscape Photographer of the Year awards!

I was sitting editing a wedding on Saturday afternoon when my email beeped... Now, I'm not normally easily distracted when I've got my wediting groove on, but I'm glad I took a peek at this one. It seems that I've been exceptionally fortunate and had a photograph has won the Classic View category of this year's Landscape Photographer of the Year competition! 

It's always gratifying when people enjoy your work, but to have been granted an award of this size in a competition judged by some of the most respected landscape photographers in the country is just stunning! My photograph not only topped the Classic View category but was also selected as the Judge's Choice by Steve Watkins from Outdoor Photography magazine. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to buy him a pint at the opening of the exhibition in London in November.

I've spent a long time on the road this year, researching, writing and shooting for the Photographing Scotland guidebook that I'm writing. The book should be finished and with the editors at fotoVUE for fact checking and laying out soon, so opening that email this afternoon has been a huge motivational boost to get out there and finish off the last few locations I want to visit before signing off on the project. If you think you might be interested in the book once it's in print (early spring 2017) then there's a newsletter sign-up below. And of course, should you fancy a print of a photograph that was already close to my heart, that can be arranged too!



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Solar Eclipse for the One Show

Today's shift started at 04:300. In my book, that's kind of anti-social, especially when you're crawling out of bed in Glasgow rather than out of a tent on a mountain somewhere. Then again, it's not every day that you've a chance of seeing a solar eclipse, and rarer yet that you've been asked to take some photographs as part of a feature on BBC's One Show. Four photographers from around the UK were to be sent out to see who could get the most evocative photograph of the events of the day, and I was chosen to represent Scotland… No pressure then!

Not sure I like this end of the camera...

Not sure I like this end of the camera...

The weather forecast was looking pretty sketchy, but it's not like you can put off the eclipse until the next day when it's clearer, so we set off for Edinburgh, where the met office said there was a slim chance of catching a glimpse of the eclipse if we were lucky. We figured that worst case, we could get some good shots of the other folks that were bound to be out on the off-chance too: it was all about catching people enjoying the moment rather than trying to photograph the sun (heck, I can't compete with the big telescopes! Sometimes size does matter).

Calton Hill seemed like a good spot, and we were there early enough to get a prime spot with a cracking view out over the city… Sure enough, by 09:00 the place was packed! People were viewing the eclipse in progress through everything from proper viewing glasses, to collanders and home-made pinholes. For once the Scottish weather came good for us, and we had pretty much ideal viewing conditions.

We had a bit of a scout around to make sure we had the best shot we were going to get, and then recruited a young family to pose for our photo. Young Samuel and his mum were absolutely brilliant in front of the camera, and I reckon we went away with a pretty good shot - it was exactly what I'd hoped for. Ok, so the Welsh team's photograph of the Meerkats won the competition on the night, but I had a cracking day out, saw something truly incredible and went home with a good photograph in the bag: that's a win in my book!

Weekend Wars

Band shoots are always great fun. Maybe it because you've got the whole session to come up with just a few photographs, so you can tweak everything until it's perfect. Maybe it's because the band tends to be a pretty tight unit and have some good banter! Whatever the reasons, when you get to add a location like Millarochy Bay and a sneaky wee BBQ on the beach between shots it all adds up to a good night out!

The Weekend Wars are a new act on the Glasgow music scene, but having just played their debut gig in King Tut's I've a wee feeling that it's not going to be long until you hear a lot more about them. 

the Weekend Wars

The internet is awash with photographs of bands looking moody in dark, grungy alleys, so I wanted to do something a little different. We took some "safe" shots in the woods behind Balmaha before heading down to Millarochy, then I set to work arranging a something slightly more ambitious while the lads tended the burgers. The light came good before the sausages did, which meant some extra crispy food once we'd finished shooting but hey, it was worth cremating the last half of dinner for the shots we got!

Walkin' on water at Millarochy

the set-up

the set-up

Big thanks to Robbie Black for helping with the lighting! There are some places that light stands just aren't reliable enough to keep your kit safe and dry….

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Buzz Lightyear visits Sainsbury's

It's been a manic month, with some stunning weddings and some great trips to the hills, but I thought I'd share something a little different with you today. I was processing up some wedding files in the office a couple of weeks back when I heard a whisper that the legendary Space Ranger, Buzz Lightyear, was in the local branch of Sainsbury's!

It's not often you get the chance to meet a hero like Buzz, so I thought I'd pop up and take a look. It's a shame that my wee niece Bella wasn't around at the time, she's a big fan too and I'm sure that she'd have loved to meet him.

It's funny, you never do seem to see the two of them in the same place at the same time...

Don't forget to follow my facebook page for more regular updates!

Shiny new website!

Welcome to the all-new Leading Lines website! 

The old site was long overdue a refresh, and increasingly common issues with the old platform steered me towards an all-new site rather than a tweak of the old. This means that I've lost my old blog posts, but I'm sure that in the grand scheme of things that's not the end of the world.... Let's be honest, I was never the best at keeping it updated.

Well that's going to change.

I reckon quality over quantity makes for a better blog, but I'll be posting here rather than just on facebook  when I've something I want to share with you. I will also be reinstating the tutorials from the old site over the next few weeks - if there is anything that you'd like to see as the subject of a tutorial drop me a line:

The site should be a lot more fluid than the old one, and if you've any comments, whether general feedback or maybe something you've spotted that isn't working quite right, let me know!

In the mean time, I've got a couple short pieces to write for The Great Outdoors before heading to Glen Coe to shoot a few landscapes while there's still some snow in the hills: busy week. Here's hoping that I get conditions like those I found on the Cobbler a couple of weeks ago!