Everything is ready now, Tam leaves his office and heads up to the Gun.
Tam was never short of an audience, folk from all over the world wanting to witness the firing of Edinburgh’s one o’clock gun.
And there it is, exactly one o’clock. It synchronises with the dropping of the time ball which is situated on top of the Nelson monument on Calton Hill. This actually came first in 1852 and was used to assist sailors on the river Forth set their chronometers. However on foggy days the ball couldn’t be seen so it was decided to add an additional auditory signal.
Shell casing and breech mechanism in hand Staff Sergeant Thomas ‘Tam the Gun’ McKay, would return to his office and will prepare for the next day’s firing. In 2002 he published a book of anecdotes and history relating to the gun entitled ‘What time does Edinburgh’s One O’clock gun fire?’ the proceeds of which went to t the Army Benevolent fund for whom he had undertook fundraising work for.
preparation is everything when you only have one chance a day to get it right per day. Here Tam has installed the breech mechanism which contains the firing pin and is cleaning the rest of the breech to ensure smooth operation.
Getting ready now and a last check with the speaking clock to make sure the timing is perfect.
It’s not just the gun which comes under Tam’s scrutiny, his own appearance is also part of the tradition and gets the same amount of attention, there is an audience out there!
Edinburgh’s one o’clock gun has been a part of everyday life (except Sunday’s) since 1861. Late in the 90’s I asked Staff Sergeant Thomas McKay if I could photograph him firing the one o’clock gun, he kindly agreed. ‘Tam’ was the District Gunner with the 105th Regiment Royal Artillery from 1979 until 2005. During that time he was responsible for the daily firing of the one o’clock gun and was the longest-serving holder of the post.
Here he is cleaning the breech mechanism, you only get one chance a day so everything has to be right.
At that time the gun used was the 25 pounder howitzer, brought into service in 1940 it was probably the most outstanding field artillery piece used by the British and Commonwealth forces in the Second World War.
Servicing the weapon was part of Tam’s duties.
Keeping the gun in working order and looking good wasn’t the only thing Tam had to work on, got to ‘bull’ those boots to get a good shine!
Using the speaking clock to make sure he has the correct time, to the second.
35 minutes into the shoot and I’ve changed from my 35mm lens to my favourite portrait lens, my 85mm F2.
Keeping the same light set up I take some upper torso shots before getting in real close
I’ve always loved portraits with a shallow depth of field, it’s that dreamy quality and the way the eyes grab your attention with nothing else to distract you.
Sticking with the 85mm I’ve moved back now for some more upper torso shots. This is not a commercial shoot so I have more time to experiment and play about with poses and compositions. This next photo illustrates how a small movement can change a photo.
I’ve moved to the right a bit so the side of the bedroom door is in the photo, this change has also allowed more of the window to be seen creating more depth than the previous photo. In a free flowing situation these decisions of composition are made on the spur of the moment, sometimes you don’t have the time to fully realise what you have until post production when you can analyse what you’ve taken in a more relaxed way.
We are 40 minutes into the actual portrait session and I’ve changed the 85mm for my 50mm for the last series of photographs. I tried a few more poses but started to feel I was repeating myself and had achieved everything I’d wanted from the shoot so called it a day at just about 50 minutes of session time and 170 exposures. All that was left was to pack up, thank Nick for his time and head home to process the images.
I now feel I’ve done enough with the Plain background and want to move onto the next stage of the shoot which places Nick in a more natural background. I had noticed his bedroom had a workspace and also some nice light coming through the window so thought that would be a good location to use next.
I really liked the shape of the chair so incorporated it into the composition, only later did I realise it matches the colour of the curtains. I positioned the light (24″soft box) on the left.
I only took 15 shots of this set up, I felt that was enough and that it wasn’t quite working for me so moved Nick to the chair.
For this shot I moved the 24″ soft box to the right and let the window provide the backlight.
Very similar pose to the last shot with some subtle differences. I’ve changed the composition to clean up the clutter on the right hand side of the picture, toned down the light coming through the window and added a 12″ soft box on the left to make up for the reduced backlight coming through the window. I’ve taken about 30 shots with the 35mm lens and now it’s time for another lens change.
So, we are seven minutes into the actual shoot, Nick is starting to relax and I decide to change the set up, asking him to stand so we can work on some more poses.
After taking a few shots I change the lighting again by switching off the fill light again, a very subtle change but it changes the mood of the photograph.
Nick then suggests he change into a different top, this is good as it shows he is actively participating in the shoot with me, two minutes later he’s in front of the camera again, I’ve stayed with the single key light.
I try some more 3/4 length shots then change the pose again moving in for a tighter composition.
This part of the shoot has taken 12 minutes including the clothes change, I’ve taken 36 exposures and now I think it’s time to move onto a more ‘documentary/editorial’ style of photograph.
Sixty minutes, why 60 minutes? Because that’s how long clients usually give you to complete what thy think is a simple task – making them look good. This series takes the reader through a shoot, from walking through the door of the office and meeting the client/sitter. Having a chat with them to establish a bit of a rapport while scouting about for locations to take the photos, setting up the lighting then the actual shoot itself before packing up and leaving. It’s a pretty intense time but I enjoy the challenge. I started off with a plain grey background set up in the dining room of his house, the key light is on the left with a large fill light directly behind me. We started off with some simple poses, this lets Nick get comfortable with the camera and I can get a feel for how I want the shoot to go
During a shoot I also make subtle changes to the light to create different moods as illustrated in the next two photographs. The first is the original two light set up.
This next shot I switched off the large fill light behind me and let the key light do all the work
The difference is subtle, the key light is getting some light kicking back from the wall on the right, If I’d wanted that side of the face to be darker I could have put up a black sheet to stop the reflection but I was happy with the overall result.
So, we are twenty seven minutes into the photoshoot since I walked through the door, I’ve taken 30 shots in seven minutes, time to move on to the next stage.
Leith small businesses project COVID edition. Bellfield Brewery, CEO and co-founder Alistair Brown. Alistair worked in the digital technology industry for 20 years before starting Bellfield Brewery. He founded the brewery after he was diagnosed with coeliac disease (an auto-immune condition caused by sensitivity to gluten) meaning he could no longer drink his favourite beers. He teamed up with a local brewer and Heriot Watt University to develop great tasting beers that everyone could drink (all the beers are also vegan). Bellfield started production in 2016 and opened a popular Taproom next to the brewery in Abbeyhill in 2019.