Dancing in the Moonlight and choices…


I’ve been laid up for the past week or so with a bad back so I was a little worried about the shoot we had planned for last Sunday. A few anti- inflammatories and some pain killers managed to at least get me mobile again so we decided to crack on with the plan.

The aim was to shoot the next photograph in my ‘Lyric Project’ and this one was simple to interpret (as much of this project seems to be!). The lyric was “Dancing in the Moonlight” and my idea was to get a lovely ballet dancer to foolishly listen to me and perform some graceful loveliness in front of the Royal Crescent in Bath Spa, Somerset, UK. The shot would be completed at dusk/night (obviously) and I decided would need to be two shots comped together, one of the landscape and the other of the dancer, strobed to freeze the graceful movement of a leap. The wonderful Royal Crescent was chosen due to its grace and grandeur (suitable for ballet) and its unique crescent shape representing a new moon.

I was joined by a young and hugely talented ballet dancer, Gabrielle MacAllister and her wonderful (and equally talented teacher/mentor) Rebecca Petty-Fitzmaurice from the Dance School, FitzGraham Academy of Dance from Chippenham, Wiltshire, UK. Gabrielle is soon to attend a school in Barcelona to further perfect her trade such is her ability! I brought along my long time friend and able assistant Kev Borley to help with the lugging and to be my mobile light stand for the strobe!

We arrived too early for the shoot given there was still remaining light from a rapidly setting sun but this gave us the opportunity to munch on the sandwiches, crisps and chocolate we’d purchased on the way!  We took the short walk up to the location and were all surprised at the bitter northerly wind that bit into us in the open land in front of the Crescent. Gabrielle looked uncertain at the thought of donning the flimsy white dress we’d brought along for her ‘performance’. No joke, we were down to 3ºC with a strong bitter breeze and I realised we would have to work quickly.

We lugged all the kit to our set and I set up the tripod with my lovely 17mm tilt and shift Canon lens. 17mm was wider than I’d hoped to have to go but we were as far back from the viewpoint as we could go. I took some shots of the view on long shutter speeds and noticed the lovely blue sky full of stars above the buildings. Perfect.

Then it was Gabrielle’s moment in the flash light.With the help of “Miss Beccy”, we trialled some leaps and worked out the best technical move that captured the light correctly and made the dress ‘flow’. Once this was done, it was just down to our ‘light stand’ and me to aim and time everything correctly. Gabrielle’s performance was of course, perfect every time. We had frequent breaks to make sure our gorgeous dancer didn’t actually get hypothermia and when the teacher and light stand started to complain of being unable to feel their fingers, we decided to call it a night. As always with these things, I was totally oblivious to the time and realised we had been stood around for longer than I had anticipated.

On reviewing the images we were happy with what we had achieved and on the big screen back in the office, they looked excellent but would need some work to produce a final image due to the need to comp the different images.

I spent considerable time combining the shots to create a suitable ‘base’ image I was happy with. In the end, the final shot is 3 images blended due to the dress not being as I wanted it to be in the best action shot. Once I had created the base image the biggest problem and not one I have had for some time, presented itself. I ended up with 3 images I liked for different reasons but that themselves conjured up quite different feelings upon viewing. After much seeking of advice and ummming and aaaahing I have decided on the image below. Its unusual but I think it captures Gabrielle’s dynamism and the image has the element of fun and exuberance I was seeking. I also accept that its a bit love it or hate it but hey, that’s art isn’t it?



Portland Bill Lighthouse


Keeping going with the night project has been good during these clear nights and we decided to make the long cross country trip to Dorset on the south coast last week. All the appropriate conditions were looking good. Weather forecast looked clear but with a slight chance of some sea mist rolling in towards daybreak. The Milky Way Galactic Centre would be up just before the pre-dawn light at around 4am and the moon wouldn’t rise until around 5am.

So, off we set for our 2hr 15min slog south. We duly arrived around 12:30am and although I knew the area, I hadn’t pre planned the shooting position so a quick recce was in order. We walked towards Pulpit Rock by torchlight but the rock itself was a bit low down meaning the lighthouse was partially obscured by the surrounding land. Getting the sea in shot, as the tide would also be in, would have been really good but I couldn’t get a good viewpoint and include the lighthouse as prominently as I wanted for this particular image. The other slight challenge was that the lighthouse light is very bright (obviously!) and also emits four beams in its sweep not just the one. This meant that shutter speeds would need to be kept short (around 8 secs max I calculated) in turn meaning iso sensitivities would need to be high.

After a very short snooze in the van we got up at 3am and headed to our planned viewpoint. After a few shots I decided the Milky Way wasn’t quite in the position I thought it was and was able to adjust the composition to a more pleasing one keeping the lighthouse in the centre of the image (I’d stupidly thought the excellent “Photo Pills” app wasn’t quite as accurate as it indeed is!).

Timing the sweeps of the beams from the lighthouse proved tricky and its fair to say I shot quite a few images, shooting it in different places as it polluted the night sky quite heavily. I ended up using iso 6400 and a shutter speed of around 4-5 secs for the main night sky exposure. The compromise was noise versus light pollution from the lighthouse. We got the main shots and then had a play with the wonderful Canon fisheye 8-15mm L lens and the beautiful Canon 17mm TSE.

The result being I have another shot in the bag for my ongoing project and a couple of fun photographs taken during the expedition as seen below. We retired to bed in the van around 4:30am and slept for four hours before being awoken by the lighthouse emitting ear splitting fog warnings to those sailing out on the seemingly millpond-like waters of the English Channel.


The Milky Way over Portland Bill Lighthouse


The Milky Way over Portland Bill Lighthouse with van left of shot!

Furthering the Night Vision


The weather up until recently has been difficult for my new night project to say the least. The constant cloud cover has been frustrating especially during the weeks the moon has been invisible (good for night shooting). However, as the weather has cleared there have been a couple of opportunities to shoot before the moon appears above the horizon, giving a short window to get some good night shots.

I had investigated this location during the daytime as it was a) not far from home and b) a good excuse to walk the dog somewhere different! It seemed to be ideal apart from the fact a low viewpoint was needed in order to get the stones above the inclined horizon.

The stones were at the head of a 230ft ‘Barrow’ and had long since collapsed before they were reconstructed in 1921. They sit within the mystical area within Wiltshire UK near the Avebury Stone Circles, other Long Barrow’s and Silbury Hill. They are believed to be from the Neolithic era making them potentially over 5,000 years old.

The site is called “The Devil’s Den Burial Chamber (Dolmen)” and with a name like that you can imagine there are some pretty ghoulish stories that accompany it. My favourite being that if you pour water on the top stone and it pools in the rock’s many nooks and crannies then the Devil himself will come in the night and quench his thirst.

Not that I believe any of these ridiculous fanciful tall tales of course. However, when you visit such places in the dead of night in the middle of a very still, quiet and dark, eerie countryside, it’s easy to start thinking the wrong things and building your own imagination. Hearing every rustle of nocturnal wildlife, sounds that only exist in your head (or do they?) and giving them other meanings. There must be a term for sending yourself into a blind panic at every owl screech but I’m not sure what it is (blind panic maybe? Terror?).  Anyway, I did the only sensible thing and one which any self respecting man would do and took my wife along with me! Not for any protection of course, just to hold the torches and other crucial equipment…

Anyway, onto the shoot. It was and is for my “Travelling Riches” project. Meaning light painting, night skyscape with the ever present tent. I had problems with low whispy cloud cover (might actually have been high mist tbh) which seemed to roll in as the temperature dropped from the balmy 18ºC during the early spring day. This produced a very high level of dew on the surrounding grass and of course, equipment!

On the technical front I was debuting my latest purchase a Samyang 14mm f2.8 lens. This rectilinear (not fisheye distorted) beauty is all things old fashioned being almost totally manual. It does suffer from some fairly odd and non-uniform distortion (mild for its wide angle tbf) and heavy vignetting across the frame. However, it is fairly sharp, stops open to f2.8 (ie quite fast), is perfect for nightscapes and is very wide at 14mm. It also only cost me £275 new. Its faults can largely be corrected in post processing making it potentially a very good purchase indeed.

Overall I was very happy with the results. We tried a few different things out with the LED torches and subsequently with the post processing too. The actual final shot for the project isn’t featured here yet but will be added to the growing number of shots taken in different locations, with differing astronomical viewpoints for the final project. I attach a couple of images without the light painting of the stones and other features but that do demonstrate how utterly cool the venue is!

Cloud rolling in by light pollution on left

Cloud rolling in by light pollution on left


Opposite view with less light pollution

More Pet Photography…


As a result of the recent post about photographing pets, I was approached with a request to photograph another gorgeous canine called Django.

We were a little uncertain how this would go given that Django is a touch nervy. We didn’t want him spooked or to be upset by the experience. So, I carefully followed my own advice and arranged the small studio as required making sure all strobes were on ‘silent’ mode and the shoot could be conducted quickly and with the least distraction possible.

We firstly made sure that Django was comfortable with me, away from the studio, relaxed and happy. We then brought him into the ‘studio’ environment with the appropriate handful of treats for his attention. While happy next to his owner we flashed the lights to see if he was likely to be spooked. His attention never wavered from the extended treat and he didn’t flinch at the bright flash of light. So we tried it again, and again, making sure each time he didn’t react negatively.

With the biggest hurdle out of the way we proceeded with the shoot. Treats again worked their magic, keeping his eyes and head focussed where we wanted. We shot in two short sessions, reviewing the first sitting’s images and adjusting for the second set. The whole shoot probably lasted a maximum of 10 mins. Ideal for Django and perfect for keeping the attention focussed where we wanted.

Anyway, here are the results.