Sunday, 26 March 2017

Tyrone shadows

The March sun,
Ancient as paradise,
Though some would reckon it a scant six thousand years,
Casts long shadows.

Window frames, curtains, the odd boot or potato,
Anything near the light
Or close to the ground
Is chased across the boards.

Myself, a headless Giacometti
On the cobbles.
That can't be good
This side of Fairy Water.

It's been a week and a half this week.
Shadows, mine and ours
Gathered in a heavy bundle.
I test them on my heart.

A burden,
A bogside box,
A bloodied bridge,
A small and sharp betrayal,

Drawn out,
Longer than they should be, 
Their bitter edges 
Block the light.

In this place,
Where shadows print six thousand years of stains,
Beware the sun.
The dark shades sting.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Girls on film

It's a drear Belfast Sunday and I'm nursing the tail end of a horrible headache. Not the type caused by riotous living. The most riotous I get during term time is eating an extra Wispa and dancing round the living room to Deacon Blue, or Hamilton if I'm feeling super modern. No, this is more of a too much marking and waking in the middle of the night to worry about the GCSE controlled assessment sort of headache. Average March life in this job.

But enough of headache types! I'm off to a day-long portrait photography workshop, and I'm determined to learn as much as I can, so I drink a lot of water, dose up on paracetamol with caffeine and drive to Conway Mill, where lovely encouraging Ross McKelvey will be teaching us today.

It's a gorgeous building, shot through with beams of natural light, intensifying as the sun comes out later. Most of our work, though, is done with studio lighting, which is my biggest learning curve of the day. Lighting is everything. Like, actually everything.

Models Amber and Melissa arrive, looking like normal pretty girls until, with Stephanie's beautiful make-up and through a lens, they're revealed as super-symmetrical goddesses who have been sculpted into being by Rodin or Bernini, where most of the rest of us were created in the P1 play-dough tray, lovable but slightly squished. 

There's a great feeling of camaraderie amongst us students as we take our turns shooting each model. We're eliciting our chosen poses, but as the shutters click, the girls change expression, adjust angles, fine-tune lines in a seamless, elegant flow. It's hard work for them and they are exceptionally patient.

Standing back to observe, checking our own work and seeing what our colleagues are producing gives perspective, and I'm learning how I want my light to fall, what details to check in the pose and which looks resonate. We've been so well taught that, basically, every shot turns out well, leaving us space to consider the fine details. At the end of the day I have dozens of gorgeous shots.

I have also learned that:

  • Lighting is, yeah, everything.
  • And natural light works too, but it's harder to manage.
  • Professional models are worth every penny. (Though I'm still casting round in my mind for relatives and acquaintances who may turn out to have professionally sculpted faces and might be enticed to turn out for a shoot....)
  • Hands can look awkward very easily.
  • The lines of an outfit are key. Fashion isn't important. Unless, presumably, it's an actual fashion shoot.
  • Watching and listening all the time yields all sorts of vital information.
  • This is fun. I'll be planning some more portrait work of my own over the next couple of months.

I drive home through a rather brighter Belfast and dance round the living room a bit with my Wispa.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Twenty minutes

Twenty minutes. Last night at Ballyhenry Bay, Strangford Lough.

It was totally heart-warming to see such glorious spring light, after a few hours of dodging rainstorms round the tip of the peninsula.

It only occurred to me as I started editing the shots that it would be interesting to show how the light on this particular view changed during the twenty minutes that I spent beside Ballyhenry Island. I wish I'd thought of it at the time and framed each shot exactly the same.

I'm shooting straight into the setting sun, so there are lots of burnt-out patches and flashes of lens flare, but the series makes me happy.

So does this fellow....

...who was perched on the edge of the deck until the final two shots.