Prepare to create, but listen to your client

Another photo in the "Real Life of..." series for Piping Today magazine, but quite a change of style from the previous photos in the series.  The piper is Glenn Brown, a top class piper who is a Gold medal winner and is currently pipe sergeant of the well known Shotts and Dykehead Pipe Band. He is also Canadian, but you probably guessed that, eh?  

I was planning to shoot Glenn in black and white, but Glenn suggested a more colourful approach would be more in keeping with his larger-than-life personality. I was happy to try it, and on the day of the shoot I set up my lights and bang on time in came Glenn looking as if he had walked right out of The Great White North.

He was a riot of colour and character, and I simply had to say: "Just stand there, hold your pipes, smile", snap, snap, snap and the photo shoot was done in 10 seconds. Of course, we tried other poses, but the simplest approach was best.  

In many cases good photography is just about being in the right place at the right time, and with a bit of planning and creativity (from you or your client), you can create your own right time and right place and the photo makes itself.

Glenn Brown


General Elections are like milestones through life.  I was thinking back to what I was doing five years ago at the time of the 2010 election and thought I would look at my photo archive for a clue. Two days after that election I was out in my back door photographing my son kicking a football in the back garden and it made me realise how much my life has changed since then.  In this photo he is only four years old and had not joined his team yet, which means that I had not started football coaching yet. Little did I know then that when I did start coaching, it would eventually become a full-blown passion which has me coaching five days a week now.  It is amazing what life brings to you, and no matter how much you plan, you never really know what is waiting around the corner.  

My three-year-old daughter just started scraping on a fiddle the other day... I wonder what I'll be doing in five years time?

Football in the garden

Chris Armstrong

Chris Armstrong is pipe major of one of the best pipe bands in the world, ScottishPower, and he has won many of the top prizes for solo piping including the Gold Medal at The Northern Meeting in 2003.  

This photo was to accompany "The real life of …" interview in Piping Today magazine where he jokingly referred to himself as an "Oscar the Grouch" type of guy. That is the image both of us wanted to capture in the photo.

Pipe Major Chris Armstrong

Pipe Major Chris Armstrong

Patience is a virtue

Patience is a virtue essential for a concert photographer. Some gigs can be fast moving and the photographer reacts to what is happening on stage. But when the artist is hiding behind the mic, you just need to crouch there pretending you are invisible to the audience and wait. As you keep focusing on the singer waiting for "The Shot", your joints stiffen up and you are saying in your head: "Just open your eyes singer, or smile, or move... just do something!" And you wish you hadn't had that extra pint at the break, and you wonder when the last train home leaves Glasgow, "Is this the third song or the...?" and then you get to the instrumental break and this happens. And your patience is rewarded.

Coco Mbassi at Celtic Connections 2015

The Puir's Hoose

When I was a wee boy I remember my grandpa would joke as we drove past this place that we would send him here one day.  I always guessed it was some sort of hospital, and when I recently asked my dad about it he called it The Puir's Hoose — the poorhouse.

It seems that is exactly what it was originally — 

I don't think the facade is there anymore as the last time I drove past there was a new housing development on the site.

Practice makes perfect

A few years ago my son was learning to go his scooter and it was a memory worth capturing.  I was also experimenting with off-camera flash and thought this a good opportunity to use it to stop the action but also capture the movement.  

It can be really useful for a photographer to have children to press-gang into modelling duties, but one time I made the mistake of offering extra pocket money for a session, and since then the fees have risen exponentially!

Photos matter!

The photo below matters to me because it is the oldest photo of my family that I have.  I am so grateful that they took the time and effort, and probably some expense, to get together for this photo. My great-grandfather and my grandfather on my dad's side are both in this photo and I just love looking at them.  Some of my older relations have told me that I really remind them of my grandfather, in looks and manner, and somehow that means a lot to me.  I wonder what the reason was for getting the photo taken.  Was it simply to hang on the wall, or did one of of them have the idea of creating something special for future generations? I really hope they did.

Photography has never been so popular as it is now. Almost everyone who has a mobile phone also has a camera in their pocket.  And a wiser man than me once said: "The best camera is the one you have with you".  At any gathering of people you see people snapping away with their phones — recording their memories — and so they should.  Whether you use the camera in your pocket, or arrange a professional family portrait, please make the effort — because photos matter.

The Slavins

The Slavins

Colin MacLellan

When Piping Today magazine published a new series of features entitled "The real life of...", the first person interviewed was the highly-respected piper, adjudicator and reed maker, Colin MacLellan.  What made it different from the rest of the magazine's content was that the series did not focus on the bagpipes, but rather on what other interesting things happened in the "real life" of the subject. 

Colin provided a very interesting and funny interview, and as it was a new series I decided go in a new direction with the photography. So on a sunny spring morning in March I drove to Colin's home in Edinburgh with my portable studio, and with Colin sitting for 18 minutes, was able to capture the portrait above.  

I had a good idea what I wanted from the photo session, and Colin was relaxed and willing to work with my ideas when he was in front of the camera.  I'm glad to say both of us were very happy with the 'presidential' image and it even got the approval of his sister, of whom Colin said:  "There is no bigger critic in Scotland". 

For more information on Colin MacLellan visit his website at

Colin MacLellan

Colin MacLellan

Hooray! New Designfolk website online

After two or three months of swithering and dithering, I finally got my designs and photos prepared and uploaded to this new website.  

There are a few more categories to be added to the graphic design section, such as magazine and brochure design, but there are enough examples to be going on with in the music, logos and posters categories.

There are also lots of photos and if you have an interest in Highland piping and pipe bands, you will find plenty to catch your eye in the bagpipes category — and might also enjoy a browse through the other sections as well.

I don't have any plans to become an avid blogger, but from time to time I will post a photo or design on this blog and include some of my thoughts behind the image.

So to kick things off, I have used one of my favourite photos. This is from the World Pipe Band Championships, Glasgow, in 2011, and it shows Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band celebrating their Grade 1 win just as the ticker tape explodes.  I'll never know what it means to be a World Champion at anything, but I think the expressions, movement and energy in the photo takes me close to understanding how these guys are feeling.  The perfect moment in the photo, however, comes from the two figures just right of centre, who are in focus at the eye of the emotional storm.

Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band celebrate their Grade 1 win at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2011.

Field Marshal Montgomery Pipe Band celebrate their Grade 1 win at the World Pipe Band Championships in 2011.

Are we there yet?

I'm planning to launch the website this weekend and I need to do some final checks, but I'm sitting at my desk rather uncomfortably as I spent a day cycling on the Isle of Arran this week with two good friends.  I have not cycled for years, and doing forty miles in one day has left me a bit saddle sore, though I'm happy to say my legs and general fitness were up to the task.

Isle of Arran at sunset

Too much of a distraction...

I'm busy collecting my photos and graphics to try and complete this new website, but it already has become a distraction from my other work.  So in another piece of classic procrastination I thought I would see how this blog thingy works and also give me an excuse to find a new photo to show off.

Mary MacGillivray at the Captain's Bar, Edinburgh, playing in the Monday night session with Ben Miller and Amy Dawson.