Thursday 30 July 2020

Why am I suing the National Trust for Scotland?

What is the case about?

This is a straightforward case of defamation against the National Trust for Scotland.

The National Trust for Scotland issued statements to the press that directly and indirectly implied that I had "gained illegal entry" (ie broken into) Craigievar Castle and had been shooting nudes around areas visited by children.

These statements were entirely false and the impact these statements had, as the story went worldwide, was devastating for my business, my personal reputation and my mental health.

The NTS were successful in preventing the case being heard in the English Courts, forcing me to face the prohibitive cost of taking the action through the Scottish Courts, presumably in the hope that I would give up but they should never be able to do this to anyone else and they should be held accountable for the damage they have done.

Why did they defame me?

In September 2012, I organised an artistic nude photoshoot at Craigievar Castle, which is managed by the NTS. I had contacted them about using the castle because I was aware that they had sanctioned in writing a similar nude photoshoot at Leith Hall in April 2008. I knew this because the model and makeup artist on that shoot had worked with me the day before and the model was staying at my house. When the photographer picked them both up, I had spoken to him about the shoot and he had explained how he wrote to the NTS and was given written permission for the shoot for a fee of £60 on the grounds that he was an amateur photographer and the images were not for commercial publication.

My shoot was arranged over the telephone because it was short notice and as it was a commercial shoot, the fees were considerably higher. Initially the Picture Librarian (the person within NTS senior management with ultimate responsibility for what images can be created on or of NTS managed properties) asked a lot of questions about the shoot; how many people would be involved, the levels of nudity and the intended market for the images. I was then quoted £500 for two hours. When I apologised and said I may have wasted their time, as that was outside my budget, he asked my what my budget was and I said the most I could afford was £200. He replied that the shoot could go ahead for £200. I then asked him to email me any paperwork that needed completed and I would get it back to him before the shoot. He said that wouldn't be necessary, just to deal with the custodian appointed to supervise the shoot. I had a brief moment of thinking: "Am I being set up for plausible deniability here?", so I said: "I will be paying by business cheque, as this is a commercial contract. I hope that's ok?" and he said that was fine. This allayed my fears, as that meant a paper trail would exist and I asked how I should make the cheque out. "Make it out to National Trust for Scotland" was the reply.

On the day of the shoot, the custodian asked the same questions that the Picture Librarian had asked, in virtually the same order. It seemed to me that she had been briefed on what to ask, possibly to ensure that my answers were the same before allowing the shoot to go ahead. She showed us around, opened blinds to let daylight in, as we had been specifically asked not to use flash (I could cover the folly of that in a whole new blog post) and said we could touch or move anything, so long as we put it back when we were finished. Throughout the shoot we all found it amusing that she would disappear and then magically reappear each time the model got dressed. It was clear that we were being carefully supervised on CCTV.

I grabbed this snapshot of Karen and Rachelle as we waited for the appointed custodian to let us in.

Around late 2015 or early 2016, the daughter of the family who had handed Craigievar Castle to the NTS spotted some of the images on a print-to-order art website and contacted the NTS. The donor families have considerable clout with the NTS and it may have come as a shock when she started asking questions about the shoot. When they failed to respond to her, she contacted a journalist who was a family friend and he contacted the NTS. This was when things began to go completely pear shaped.

What was my situation prior to this defamation?

In February 2016 I was well on my way to my retirement plan. Karen had a good management job with a large company, as well as helping me with the business. Financially I was virtually debt free, with only a small amount still outstanding on my mortgage and no overdraft or credit card debt. Our retirement plan was to sell our place in Aberdeen and buy a small B&B in the north highlands and split our time between there and running bespoke photographic and safari adventures in Kenya. We had been visiting Kenya regularly and had built up a lot of local knowledge, contacts and tracking skills. On our February 2016 trip, I had also picked up the last of the textbooks needed to finish my study for the Kenyan Professional Safari Guide Certificates. We had already taken photographers we knew on some of our trips and the feedback we had was excellent, so we knew we were heading in the right direction. Our aim was that in 2022 we would be ready to put the plan into action, retire to the Highlands and offer bespoke safaris and model events in Kenya.
My photography workshops were not intended to be a major part of the business until retirement. They were the fun bit, where I got to share my passion for photography with others. If they made profit, great but I had been happy to break even or lose a little on them. They were also an investment in the future, as they demonstrated the kind of experience people would have once we started the retirement plan.

Immediate Effects of being defamed

The first we knew about any issue was when my mobile phone rang at midnight in a Nairobi hotel. The images had been up on sale on Fine Art America and other print to order sites, as well as being displayed on photography portfolio sites and my own website, since they were taken in 2012. I could not believe what the journalist told me, as he explained what the NTS were saying. He was also pretty shocked to hear that they had not even contacted me before labelling me a criminal deviant, as they had claimed to have carried out a thorough investigation, which should surely have involved speaking to me.

I came home to a veritable shit-storm of press activity and the stories went worldwide. The first major impact of the furore was when Karen's employer told her that she would be sacked for bringing the company name into disrepute if any of the stories in the press mentioned her employer by name. A week after the initial story broke, the Scottish Mail On Sunday did a follow-up and approached the NTS with some of the facts and asked for comment. All they received was the same false statements that had been issued previously.

Most self-employed people, especially those in freelance photography, will know that work is very rarely regular and you can go months between contracts. You live off your savings in the quiet times and network and make contacts until the next job comes in, so the negative impacts on the business did not become fully apparent immediately. Initially I saw a drop in bookings for the workshops and there were no emails or "touch base" calls coming in from regular clients. I also found that people were not returning my calls and emails. In April 2016 a meeting that had been scheduled the week before I left for Kenya was cancelled at an hour's notice with no explanation. In the same month I attended an informal lunch for one of the local business networking groups and people literally turned their backs on me. By July 2016 I had used up a chunk of my savings and there was still no sign of work coming in. Even the small contracts with subcontracting agencies were not coming in. There was nothing happening and no matter what I did, it didn't seem to make a difference. I was starting to worry about where things were heading and about going into debt when I had worked so hard to become debt free and it was very concerning.

Having someone say to me on hearing my name: "Oh you're that guy who broke into that castle, we couldn't possibly work with you" was devastating. It hit home to me just how damaging these stories had been. That was the point that my confidence in my ability to pitch for work was destroyed. Even four years later I still get people ask me about Craigievar Castle when they hear my name!

Should I have persevered and continued trying to network? Absolutely but the impact of several months of nothing happening the way it should, people constantly bringing up Craigievar, people turning their backs and making clear I was a pariah plus the concern over my deteriorating financial situation made me anxious and depressed and that in turn affected my ability to stay a purely rational course.

I sat down to try to figure out a way out of the decline and every path I took led me to the same conclusion: with these false allegations hanging over me, I was going to be hamstrung for a long time; so I decided to contact a lawyer and see if it would be possible to force the NTS to retract and apologise. I quickly found that there are only a handful of lawyers in Scotland who actually deal with defamation cases because there have been very few cases heard in Scottish Courts (only just over a dozen since 1945, I believe!). Those lawyers who do handle defamation in Scotland can obviously charge a premium. I found one firm with an office in Edinburgh that dealt with defamation cases on a no-win-no-fee basis but when I called, they said they only do this in England but said they would get a solicitor to call me to discuss the case and see if there was a possibility of taking the case through the Courts in England instead, as the model was from England and I had a lot of business through English companies. They said it was a very strong case and recommended taking it through the English Courts. They also, after examining my accounts, recommended I make a damages claim for £50,000 to cover loss of business (actual and future), loss of goodwill, personal distress etc.

Under normal circumstances, defamation damages can only be claimed in courts outside the primary territory where damage occurred for the damages relevant to that territory but the EU has a regulation known as the "Brussels Recast", which states that damages occurring in any EU territory can be claimed in full in any EU territory where some of the damages occurred and it specifically prevents the use of a "forum non conveniens" defence (ie: there is a more appropriate place for this case to be heard). They suggested that this made it possible to deal with all the European damages in one court in England.

I should point out, as most lay people have a perception that lawyers just make things up to make themselves money, that in order to take this case forward on a no-win-no-fee basis, the lawyer has to have a case that will convince the lawyers of the insurers against their costs and the lawyers of the insurers against me being charged opponents' costs that there is a greater than 60% chance of success before they can get the insurance cover to allow the case to progress in England.

As it turned out, this was to be the first time that the Brussels Recast was going to be properly tested in relation to cases that could be heard in either Scotland or England. The High Court and subsequently the Appeal Court in England ruled that the case should be heard in Scotland. We sought leave to have the Supreme Court review the decision but that was denied, leaving the only option to have the case heard in Scotland.

Initial Responses From NTS

In response to the initial letter from my solicitor in 2016, the NTS indicated that they intended to claim "qualified privilege". This is a loophole in defamation law that allows Government bodies and large charitable trusts to claim immunity from defamation claims if they inadvertently libel someone in the course of providing information to the public. However, when it was pointed out to them that deliberately releasing false information to defame someone is not an accident, they quickly dropped that idea.

In February 2017, the action was lodged in the High Court in London, just before the one year time bar in England came into force. Over several months there was to-ing and fro-ing and in mid 2017, as part of an attempt at arbitration, a teleconference was held between my lawyer, their lawyer, someone who I think was their Head of Communications and myself. At one point I was asked to describe the impacts of the defamation on me, my family and my business. My lawyer then asked me what was the value of turnover generated by my business in the 12 months prior to the defamation. Then he asked what was the value of turnover generated in the 12 months after. When I answered you could almost hear the blood draining from their faces over the phone. There was about five or six seconds of silence, then fumbling and muttering and the teleconference was quickly ended.

Starting to struggle

By February 2017 my savings were gone and I had started to slide into debt. I had looked in late 2016 at how I could diversify the business but every time I though of a direction, the hurdle of what the public's perception of me would be reared its ugly head. All confidence in my ability to sell my services to clients had been destroyed. I felt hopeless and helpless and began sinking into a deep depression. Every day since has been a struggle between getting out of bed and just ending it.

I decided that I had to try to push the workshops more, figuring that photographers wanting to expand their knowledge and experience of model photography was one group least likely to be influenced by the adverse publicity. Consequently, I planned an increase in the number of such events for 2017 and 2018. Unfortunately, the available pool of keen amateur photographers in an area like Aberdeenshire is very limited and all I succeeded in doing was attracting the same number of photographers, spread over many more events and I lost even more money. 

I also started looking for a part-time job to try to at least bring some money in to arrest the decline in to more and more debt. However, being over 50 and having been self-employed for so long did not make me a good prospective employee and it took until August 2017 before I managed to find a part-time job as a night porter in an hotel. It was enough money to cover my business insurance, business phone line and web hosting.

At the hearing in the High Court in London for the NTS claim of forum non conveniens, there was a freelance reporter and press photographer, so once again I was all over the news. Almost immediately I got an email from one of the small freelance agencies that had dropped me like a hot potato 18 months earlier. It read "Would you be willing to work with us again?". I thought at last this might be the turning point and it brought a brief relief from the darkness. Maybe people realising that I am serious about clearing my name would make them reconsider working with me. In 2018 I did some work for them worth £192 and shortly afterwards received a notification from receivers that they had gone into receivership. That turned out to be the sum total of my commercial photography turnover for the year. To cut costs I also had to cancel my membership of the business networking groups, which had been costing me almost as much as the part time job paid me every month. People were no longer shunning me but neither were they discussing potential opportunities with me and I could no longer afford to keep throwing money at these events.

From bad to worse ~ why I need help to take this forward

In the Spring of 2018, we heard that the Appeal Court in England had upheld the Earlier verdict of the High Court that the case should be heard in the Scottish Courts. My English solicitor and barrister advised asking the Supreme Court to consider examining the case and brought in one of the people who had actually drafted the Brussels Recast Regulations. His advice was that there was only a 50% chance that the Supreme Court would agree to review the case but that if they did, he was fairly confident they would overturn the decision. In the end they decided not to review the case.

In the meantime, we were looking at what we could do with the business and decided to try holding an additional high value event like our Art Nude in the Landscape, to see if that was the direction we should go. A lot of the feedback we had from our events mentioned that it was the whole experience that made the events special to people, so we re-branded the workshops as "Photographic Experiences". We organised our first Autumn Beauty event for the October and it sold out quicker than any other workshop. We actually made a profit on it of a couple of hundred pounds. It wasn't much but it was a start. We had also remortgaged the house at the end of 2017 to consolidate the debt that had built up over the last year and to reduce our monthly outgoings.

Just before we left for Glen Affric for the Autumn Beauty Experience, Karen received notification that she was being put on notice of possible redundancy and in December 2018 she was made redundant. We had spent 2018 working on bringing forward our plans for safaris and model events in Kenya and had arranged to take a stand at the Photography Show in March 2019 to market these. Now we faced the prospect that if that failed and Karen was still out of work, we could end up losing our home.

Five days before the Photography Show, Karen was involved in a road accident. Fortunately she was not injured but our vehicle was written off, so we had to find another £1,000 to hire a Transit van to take our stand displays etc to Birmingham for the week. We set up our stand and were very pleased with how it looked. The work we had put in on planning a comprehensive collection of events had paid off and we knew we had good products to offer. We weren't expecting anything from the Friday but the Saturday is usually the busiest day and we were confident of doing some good trade on the Saturday. However, on the Saturday morning we awoke to discover that our hired van, with around £1,000 worth of personal and business items inside, had been stolen from the hotel car park. We were shocked by the casual approach of the hotel, with a "oh yeah, there are always a few vans stolen at the weekend". 

I had to spend half the day dealing with the Police and the van hire company and the anxiety on the stand must have been evident to anyone visiting. We didn't make a single sale during the entire show.

Being over 50 and highly qualified, Karen found it extremely difficult to get another job, as employers either considered her over qualified or too old (one interviewer actually said to her "You're over 50 now; how much longer are you planning on working?" and at another interview a senior partner in the firm walked into the interview room, picked up her CV, said: "Jesus you're more qualified than me!" and walked out).

I managed to increase my hours at the hotel slightly but it was still nowhere near enough. Karen received jobseekers allowance for three months and then got moved to Universal Credit. However, Universal Credit treats you as a couple, so I had to attend interviews as well, even though I had a part time job and a business to run. Then came the real kick in the nuts. If you have a part time job and a small business and that business is making as much of a loss as your part time job pays, it doesn't matter to Universal Credit. Make a penny profit on the business and it counts as income. Make a few hundred or more loss and it only counts as zero income. They don't consider your losses against your employed income. You can guess where that led! Having paid into the system for almost forty years, we were "entitled" to the square root of fuck all.

It took until July 2019 for Karen to get a new job on minimum wage and it came just as we finished the 3 month mortgage holiday we had arranged. I also got my first commercial photography job since the beginning of the previous year. I received a fee of £1500. That is the last commercial photography job I have had so far.

In September 2019 I managed to get my hours at the hotel increased to what most people consider full time, although I am used to working 70-80 hour weeks, so it is still part time to me. Finally we were able to cover the bills and stop ourselves sinking even deeper into debt. We even managed to replace the old banger we had been driving but the worst was still to come.

In late October 2019, Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer. We got home from the hospital on the day she was diagnosed to find our dog had collapsed and he died the next day. Karen was off for treatment and only received statutory sick pay and we had vet and cremation bills for Tsavo. We had to borrow from family and friends to get by. That was the darkest time for both of us and, not for the first time since this started, suicide was looking like the best option.
Then came covid-19 and if that is not enough, Karen is now being made redundant again!

The Scottish solicitors I have are very confident of success but their accounts department is requesting payment of some of the costs so far and I am not able to afford anything like as much as they want, which is why I launched the crowdfunding campaign. I really don't want to find myself without representation just as the case is coming to a head and end up snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
All I am asking is for people to share the page, so that anyone who thinks it is something worth helping with knows about it and if you are able to pledge some assistance we would be very grateful.

The pledges will only be taken if the campaign reaches the primary target of £2,000 by August 19th, otherwise they will be cancelled and we will be back to square one, so please share as much as possible.

Saturday 18 May 2019

Art Nude In The Landscape Experience

Art Nude In The Landscape Experience

19th-25th April 2019

Our Art Nude In The Landscape Experience takes place every Easter in the Scottish Highlands but this year, following feedback from the last two years, we decided to run it twice in one week so that more people could attend. We also changed the venue, so that participants would have single rooms in a comfortable hotel with meals provided, instead of sharing twin rooms in a hostel and cooking their own food, like they have in previous years. This obviously added to the cost but we felt it would provide a more enjoyable experience and enable people to concentrate on learning as much as possible and getting as creative as possible during the event.

Our four models for the first session were the uniquely talented Rachelle Summers, Helen Stephens, Keira Lavelle and Scarlot Rose. All of the ladies had already modelled for this event previously and brought all their experience of the genre and knowledge of the locations into the mix to provide a masterclass in location nude modelling for our participants.

Water Nymphs (L to R Rachelle, Scarlot & Keira)

After introductions and a talk on planning and preparing an artistic nude shoot on location in the comfortable surrounds of the hotel lounge, we headed out for a recce at the waterfall we planned to use for the light-painting shoot and as the light was favourable and the location to die for, the models decided to add an impromptu shoot during the recce. 

When we returned to the hotel, we continued with more talks on safety issues facing models and photographers on outdoor shoots and also legal issues relating to such work. We then adjourned for a delicious three-course dinner provided by our hosts Jaimie and Richard at the Inchnadamph Hotel.

The light outside was looking spectacular and several people suggested a sunset shoot, so we agreed to head to Achmelvich Beach after dinner. This gave us an unexpected opportunity to demonstrate exactly why we suggest planning everything to the last detail for this type of work. Normally, we would have checked the exact time for sunset, the time to reach the location, the tide times for the beach and done a recce to determine whether there were likely to be people around. We would have known exactly what to expect and when to leave to arrive on time. 

As none of this was done, we had to contend with getting there a few minutes too late for sunset, with the tide being almost completely in and the beach and surrounding area being full of tourists and families doing the North Coast 500 route over Easter.

After a fruitless wander around the coast, we eventually found a good location after dark where we could set up an alternative light-painting shoot. Although some very curious horses decided to come and watch, the light-painting exercise went very well. The aim of this particular shoot is not to create stunning images, its purpose is two-fold: it is an icebreaker, to get people communicating and working as a group and it is an introduction to photographers to adjusting camera settings and working and thinking fast, which gets everyone into the right frame of mind for shooting nude models in what can be very difficult weather conditions over the next two days.

Creatures of the night (L to R Scarlot, Rachelle, Helen & Keira)

It was a short night's sleep before our early start at 5.15am to head for a marshy area in front of one of the area's iconic mountains, Quinag. If the weather is behaving, you can time the moment the dawn light hits the mountain within a few seconds but too often the light is not behaving and then the models have a much tougher task, as plan B at this location involves the bog, which the models have christened over the years "The Bog Of Eternal Stench"!  It is freezing cold, wet and incredibly smelly but it helps make some amazing images with the right models.

As the bog is filthy, cold and wet, it is the last thing the models do on this shoot and as the light was not planning to appear on the mountain, Plan B was going to have to happen. However, we introduced a fifth model for a quick shoot on one of the rocks beside the bog first, to give everyone something more than just the "bog monsters". Tsavo the Husky joined in for something a little less disturbing to start with.

Leader of the Pack (Scarlot, Rachelle, Helen, Keira and Tsavo)

Demons of the Bog of Eternal Stench (L to R Keira, Scarlot, Rachelle & Helen)

After the bog shoot, the models quickly cleaned off the worst of the mud and had a cup of hot soup as they got dressed. We then headed back to the hotel in time for them to have a hot shower or bath before our delicious cooked breakfast.

After breakfast, we had the first of our image review sessions, where everyone gets a chance to see their images projected on the screen. These sessions are very light-hearted and usually involve a lot of banter and jokes, as people spot their own and others' errors, or spot a gem they wish they had taken.

With the first couple of shoots in the bag and a lovely hot breakfast in our tummies, there was an atmosphere of happy adventure as we headed out for the next set of shoots, along a 5km path towards the Bone Caves, where cavers discovered Neanderthal bones and also the skull of a Polar Bear, which provided the first evidence that Polar Bears probably roamed in Scotland during the last Ice Age. Along the way there are numerous places to stop and create stunning art nude images.

Helen's expression and pose really suit the location

Rachelle creating beautiful figure studies against the craggy rocks of the caves

The Bone Caves not only provide us with a superb location, they also provide shelter from the wind and anything else that the weather decides to throw at us. On the way back down from the Bone Caves, we stopped at several more inspiring locations along the way.

This overhanging rock provided a great prop. Thanks to our participant John McNairn for directing the models for this pose

The colours and textures at this spot, where an underground spring bubbles to the surface, contrast beautifully with the models

Everyone was exhausted but delighted with what they had achieved when we finally reached the minibus and headed back to the hotel for a shower and another delicious dinner, after which we had our second image review session.

The final morning of the first session began with another early start, as we headed out to a lay-by near Achmelvich, where we could climb a short distance to a viewpoint across the landscape that gives a stunning backdrop with five of Scotland's iconic mountains lined up in the dawn light: Canisp, Cul Mor, Cul Beag, Sùilebheinn and Stac Pollaidh. Unfortunately, the weather decided not to play and we had drizzle and fog. However, this gave us something different for some very atmospheric images.

Helen creating a dreamy feel to the image, staring into the mist

Helen and Keira produced a fantastic set of images with a shamanistic feel amongst the foggy drizzle

As the weather turned to heavier rain, we finished up and headed back to the hotel for a fine cooked breakfast before our final review session and a talk on effective communication to ensure the success of a shoot. The original plan for after our guests had checked out was to shoot at the Wailing Widow Waterfall, which is along a rough path in a deep gorge but the heavy rain had made the path more tricky than usual, so instead we took everyone to a superb spot at the shore of Loch Assynt and the photographers each picked a number to determine which model they would have a one-to-one session with at this location.

Assynt Mermaid ~ Keira splashing water from a rock pool against the back light of glorious sunshine

From here, we headed round to a viewpoint across the wilderness, looking towards Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh, where the light here provided some beautiful rim lighting on the models' hair. This was the final shoot of Session One and from here we headed to Ullapool for a farewell lunch before our Session One participants headed home.

Scarlot, Rachelle and Keira in beautiful natural rim-lighting with Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh in the background.

The team had a day off on the Monday, so we arranged a day trip to Durness, with a visit to Smoo Cave and the amazing Cocoa Mountain in Balnakeil, where the finest hot chocolate and home made chocolates are served. Rachelle and Helen decided to give the trip a miss and chill at the hotel for the day, so the rest of us headed out in the best sunshine and warmest day of the entire week. Along the way we stopped to shoot some panoramic images of the stunning Kylesku Bridge.

Kylesku Bridge is one of many stunning views on the North Coast 500 Route that includes this area.

At Smoo Cave, Karen, Scarlot and Keira decided to take an exploration trip into the cave with the resident cave diver. It was only a 10 minute trip but very interesting. Afterwards, we headed to Cocoa Mountain for a memorable treat. We bought a small selection of the chocolates to take back to Helen and Rachelle.

Keira and Tsavo in the sunshine on the cliffs above Smoo Cave

When we got back to the hotel, Richard asked if we would like to join him for a beach bonfire party on the shore of Loch Assynt that night, so we all headed down after dinner, taking bottles of malt whisky to add to the refreshments Richard provided. This turned into something of an epic night, with all the girls (and Jason) opting for a skinny dip in the frozen loch. One of many hilarious highlights of the evening was Scarlot dragging a protesting Rachelle deeper into the freezing water, as Jason squealed: "I think I've lost a testicle!". Karen and I left shortly after 1am, as I had to drive to Inverness in the morning to collect the next group of participants but the others continued the party until after 3am.

The following morning, very few faces appeared at breakfast and I was on the road to Inverness before most of the hangover crew had surfaced. 😎

Session Two was intended to be much the same as Session One, except there were only three models. Helen had stayed on to take part as a photographer in the second session. For the light-painting icebreaker, we took our parachute along and a tiara, intending to create a scene by the waterfall with an Elven princess and her attendants. However, the wind was too strong and the models found it tough to remain still enough in the combination of a cold wind and a billowing parachute. The exercise did, however, serve its purpose to get people used to working fast and adjusting settings quickly.

The next morning, we headed to the bog in front of Quinag and the sky looked clear enough that we would get the beautiful dawn light on the mountain that we were hoping for. Although a cloud did try to block the light at the perfect moment, we were able to get some images with some of the light cascading down the mountain. Despite being on this session as a photographer, Helen asked to model on this shoot, as she has modelled for this event five times and never been lucky enough to get the light.

Scarlot, Rachelle and Keira are tiny in the landscape, as the dawn light fights its way through the cloud to put some colour on Quinag.

Helen gave us her Terminator pose as the light finally broke through in earnest.

After a successful beginning, Scarlot kindly demonstrated for everyone how easy it is for a model to find herself in Stage One hypothermia without realising it. 

On our safety talk, we discuss in detail the risks and the early signs of hypothermia and why it is essential for photographers to look for these signs on outdoor nude shoots, as people in the early stages of hypothermia rarely understand that they have a problem, especially models who are trying their best to give a good performance and things can progress very quickly if not caught in time.

Scarlot continued to model after a break to warm up, saying she felt fine, until we called a halt and it was only when she stopped posing that it became apparent to everyone that she had gone too far. The difference between no problems and potentially dangerous problems was only around 20 seconds of posing but had we not stopped when we did, Scarlot could have been in serious danger without even knowing it.

The indications to us that she was not as well as she thought were first that she took a few seconds to decide on a pose change, then repeated a previous pose. In moving into the pose, she also had a little wobble. These were all indicators that her cognition was being impaired and her fine motor control and balance were being affected. It was only subtle changes but enough to make us stop the shoot.

As soon as Scarlot stopped, she became aware of the problem herself, as she had difficulty in dressing and began to shiver and feel confused. Hot soup and additional layers of down clothing arrested the decline and we returned to the hotel, where Scarlot had a long bath after breakfast to fully re-set her body temperature. We also suggested that she should not model on the Bone Caves trek , or at least until we reached the caves and only then if she felt 100% better.

After breakfast, we had an image review session and then prepared to head out to the Bone Caves. Our first location was the lovely waterfall at the bottom of the Allt nan Uamh. We then decided to head straight to the Bone Caves and use other locations on the route on the way back down afterwards.

Rachelle in contemplative mood by the waterfall at the bottom of Allt nan Uamh

At the Bone Caves, Keira gave everyone a "wow!" moment, as she did a little naked free climbing up the rock face to pose. Meanwhile, in one of the caves, Rachelle and Scarlot spent some time planning and practicing some duo poses to suit the location. Whilst this was going on, to add something different, Jason and I set up some off-camera flash in one of the caves, to add a little extra for people. I used the Sony off-camera system and Jason used Pocket Wizard on Nikon with gelled flashes. Canon users could pop a card in either my or Jason's camera, Sony users could use my system, and Nikon users could also shoot with Jason's system.

Helen decided that this was another modelling opportunity not to be missed, so whilst Keira was climbing and Rachelle and Scarlot were practicing their set, Helen put her camera down and modelled for the off-camera flash set.

Cavewoman |Helen

The poses that Scarlot and Rachelle had been working on turned out to be a stunning duo and the similarity between the two of them made the set look even more beautiful. Meanwhile Keira provided a breathtaking set on the edge of the rocks, looking out over the landscape.

The similarity between the two models helps add balance to this image at the cave entrance

In order to calculate the area of the cave entrance, one needs to use Pi

On our descent back towards the minibus, we stopped again at the waterfall at the bottom of the Allt nan Uamh, where Keira did a wild swimming set in the plunge pool. This also provided an opportunity to demonstrate the value of a polarizing filter, as we could shoot the same scene with and without, to demonstrate the effect of using full polarization on water.

Keira swimming in the plunge pool with no polarization

A couple of seconds later with full polarization taking the glare off the water surface

Back at the hotel, we had another fun image review session before dinner and after dinner enjoyed a laughter-filled game of "Cards Against Humanity".

The next morning, we had another early start to head for the view across to the five peaks from above Achmelvich and once more the weather was not kind but at least it was not raining. Each participant had a one-to-one shoot with one of the models here, before we headed back to the hotel for breakfast.

After breakfast, we had our talk on communication and checked out before heading to the Wailing Widow Waterfall. We had been concerned that the drizzle during breakfast would get heavier and once more make the path along to the waterfall too tricky but it had dried up nicely and we made it along easily. After a couple of sets with all three models and then one with Rachelle and Scarlot, we achieved something we have not been able to on previous visits here.

The waterfall has a large plunge pool and usually at this time of year, the water comes thundering down and creates dangerous currents that can easily pull someone under the many overhanging rocks beneath the surface, so we have never attempted to photograph a model in the waterfall. However, on this occasion to our surprise, the waterfall was a mild trickle and the currents normally produced in the plunge pool were non-existent. Keira, as an experienced wild swimmer, has had her eye on this location since she started modelling for this event and we agreed a plan for her to model in the waterfall on this occasion.

Mimicking the waters meeting and separating on their way down the waterfall, the three models produce a lovely image by the Wailing Widow

Scarlot and Rachelle with the waterfall

Escape from The Land that Time Forgot ~ Keira finally gets to pose in the waterfall

Our final shoot of the week was a return to the viewpoint towards Cul Mor, Cul Beag and Stac Pollaidh and this time the sky had something extra for us. The clouds rising from Cul Mor looked like a volcanic eruption, which added something extra to the scene. 

More beautiful teamwork from Scarlot and Rachelle to mirror the shape of the mountains on the final shoot of our 2019 Art Nude In The Landscape Experience

The clouds rising from Cul Mor add a prehistoric feel to the landscape and Keira's pose mimics the rising plume

We finished off with Tsavo joining the human models for a sad remembrance of all that was lost in this area. Sutherland was particularly hard hit during the Highland Clearances, as tens of thousands of people were forcibly removed from their farms, villages and crofts to make way for sheep farming. In the process, an entire culture was essentially wiped out. 

In mourning for what was lost ~ Tsavo's expression perfectly fitted the sombre theme

With the final shoot of our 2019 Art Nude In The landscape Experience over, we headed to Ullapool for a farewell lunch and on to our various destinations.

This year was the first time we had run the event twice, back to back, in one week and to be honest it will probably be the last. Although we all enjoyed every minute, it was mentally, emotionally and physically exhausting. That we were able to achieve so much in that week is a testament to the dedication to their art of four amazing people that I am delighted to call friends and to have worked with so much over the years. It has also only been possible with the assistance of my fantastic wife, Karen and my very great friend, Jason from Icarus Images.

Next year there will be some big changes to this event. Helen is retiring from touring as a model; Rachelle and Scarlot will not be available, as they will be in Japan for their Summers Abroad Cherry Blossom Photographic Holiday. When we discussed these changes with Keira, she felt that this would also be a good time for her to take time out from it too, so we will have an all-new line up of three superb models for next year.

We will also be spending some time this year doing extended recce trips to add new locations to the mix. If any models would be interested in modelling on this event, we would need to see how you work in the environment if we haven't worked with you before, so please feel free to contact me if you would like to join us on one of the recce trips to see how you get on. Models for this event need to be experienced in and comfortable with artistic nude work and free from tattoos and other body modifications.

If you have read this far, thank you very much for your patience :-)

Friday 15 February 2019

Highlands in Winter

Highlands in Winter

By Karen Kennedy

Well here we go again, heading for Glencoe and Rannoch Moor, one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland.  Our Duster is all filled up, Tsavo is in the back with some of the luggage and we're off.  First stop as usual is the Shee Base Cafe, Glenshee, Cairngorms, for lunch in their dog friendly restaurant and a stretch of the legs in the beautiful snow filled mountains.  We had heard there was plenty of snow this year and Glenshee confirmed it.  Unfortunately, Scotland doesn't always get snow in winter any more as global warming is making these deep snow years even less frequent.

Glenshee nursery slopes
Our two worst weather dates, when we had no snow at all and even worse rain or sleet at times, were in the Cairgorms and Glencoe and both of these times were when we chose to take a model with us: guess we should leave them behind in the future.  The first was with Lulu Lockhart and the plan was a Snow Queen shoot at a lovely little bridge just down from Glenshee.  For weeks before all seemed on schedule, in fact our only concern was how we would get there, as up until two days before the snow gates were shut.  Then in true Scotland style the night before the shoot it started to pour down all over Scotland and didn't stop.  When we arrived at the bridge in the morning, it was horrendous rain and wind, Lulu suggested we go for it anyway and use the bridge for some shelter, so we waited until the rain calmed down and took the shots.  The whole shoot took about 10 minutes with Lulu out of the car for seconds.  Please ignore the quality of these images: not the best but does show you just how mad some of these models are.

The Snow Queen kneeling at the river.
Lulu fighting with the wind.

The second was a trip to Glencoe with Rachelle Summers and again we had great snow leading up to it and all seemed to be going to plan.  This time we had a whole weekend planned, with an overnight stay in the Ballachulish Hotel. The idea being we should get several opportunities to get the photos.  Yes you guessed it, rain, rain and more rain for the 2 days before and over the whole weekend.  This trip ended up being a weekend of whisky and tourist trips to Ben Nevis and the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Buachaille Etive Mor - no snow but plenty of cloud.

Rachelle Summers was determined to find some snow: if you look closely, she's lying on it.
This weekend was going to be different, we could feel it.  Not only was there thick snow all month but the temperatures were below zero and the forecast said no rain.  However, this is still Scotland, so we live in hope!

Lunch over, we headed along the picturesque road through Pitlochry and Crianlarich and onto Rannoch Moor.  There it was: Loch Ba and it was frozen. Round the corner we were met by the infamous Buachaille Etive Mor mountain and all of it was covered in snow.  Well it may have been dry but it was also very cloudy on the Friday. No light limits the quality of your pictures but we took a few anyway, just in case of rain the next day. We could always delete if we got better.  We did the recce that day of the areas we aimed to visit over the weekend and checked out the roads for safety.  

The temperatures on Friday were cold but not as bad as expected, due to the clouds. We did have our winter lined Craghoppers on, so were nice and cosy but then the challenges of Scottish landscape photography are some of the reasons why we love it.  Anyone can take a good photo of a beautiful area in perfect weather but to get a really stunning image, you need to get out and about in all weathers. Just get set up and wait for the break in the clouds; it will come and you will get the photo.  After we lose the light, we head for the Ballachulish Hotel for a shower, food and of course whisky.

Howard setting up with one of our clients.

Buachaille Etive Mor through the clouds.
On Saturday I woke up and was reminded why I should wear my Tilley hat and sunglasses in snow.  The white snow and low Scottish sun means a migraine. Never good and worst of all it made me miss my lovely Scottish breakfast.  Never mind, by the time we were ready to head out, my eyes were open and off we went.  Saturday's weather couldn't have been more beautiful with gorgeous sun and not a cloud in the sky. Clouds would have added to the photos but photographers are never happy are we .......

It was a wrap up day on Saturday. No clouds means very cold and time to get out the Icebreakers and Meindl boots as well as Craghopper winter lined trousers and of course Tilley hats.  A down jacket is also a great body warmer under your waterproof jacket and a good camera bag from Lowepro will ensure both you and your equipment are ready for the elements.

Howard setting up a shot at Buachaille Etive Mor

We headed straight for the Buachaille Etive Mor and the river Coupall waterfall.  This is a view all landscape photographers should get.  This is where you will have one of your biggest challenges.  It's not a challenge to get the iconic view, providing the weather behaves; in fact most photographers laugh that they will just use the permanent tripod holes, as its been photographed so many times.  The real challenge here is to get a different picture; the iconic view is absolutely stunning, so getting something else you are happy with is not easy.  On our Experiences we will always encourage you to think outside the box and for our landscape photography clients, this is a good place to learn and practice this skill.  Howard and I have been taking photographs together for over 20 years, but a regular comment we get from all of our clients is just how amazed they are, that our photos are so different.

Iconic landscape view

Iconic portrait view
Get down low and show the mountain over seeing the landscape

The portrait view can draw your eye to the frozen water

Use a friend for scale.

Or take a model with you, in this one Tsavo helps out.
Next stop we headed to Loch Ba and Rannoch Moor.  This area is huge and on both sides of the road, there are plenty of parking spaces.  Take your time here and you will see plenty to photograph from small areas of frozen vegetation to large landscapes of the loch with mountains in the background.

Frozen grasses crisp up in the ice and snow

Loch Ba and Rannoch Moor shine out in the low winter light.

It was then time for a break to spoil Tsavo. He had been very good so far, sitting happily tied to a tree at Buachaille Etive Mor and sleeping in the snow at Loch Ba, so after the pictures were all taken we let him play.  Keeping a husky calm in the ice and snow is usually a challenge in itself, so he deserved a great run and play.

Tsavo sleeping next to the camera bags

Tsavo playing on a frozen Loch Ba

We headed back towards the hotel taking several photos along the way, but as the sun rose it was time to head back for a late lunch and chill.  Tsavo and I took a long walk along the old drovers road while Howard and our clients checked out their images and booked our table for a late dinner.

We headed back out again just before dusk to catch the low evening light.  The reflections on Loch Leven of the Pap of Glencoe were too good to miss.  

Pap of Glencoe reflected in Loch Leven.

Reflections in Loch Leven

Then we headed back in the direction of Buachaille Etive Mor and waited for dark.  The sky was so clear and the Milky Way was due to be visible tonight, this is an opportunity not to be missed for some Astro Photography.  Extra layers were needed when doing this type of photography as the temperatures dropped to -20°C.

Milky Way over Glencoe and Buachaille Etive Mor.

We earned our dinner and whisky that day.  The evening was spent going through our images and discussing the day's activities.

Sunday morning and I finally got my lovely Scottish breakfast: everyone agrees a happy Karen is best.  The weather unfortunately was not as good.  Sunday we got, yes you guessed it RAIN and even SLEET!!!!  So no point in rushing out for early morning shots, we got great ones Saturday anyway, so we took our time and packed the car.  Once the sun was up fully we could stop, whenever the breaks appeared in the weather to create some photos.  No large landscapes this time because the mountains had been swallowed up by the clouds, so we spent time concentrating on smaller subjects, as we headed back slowly towards Aberdeen.

Ice and snow on River Coupall.

If you want to join us next year for our Highlands in Winter Experience click here.

There are also many more PhotoClassic Experiences available here.  Our photography experiences are designed specifically for the photographers we have with us, so it doesn't matter if you're a world renowned expert or a novice, you will find something to suit your needs.  Our Experiences cover Scottish Experiences (landscapes and wildlife), Kenyan Safari Experiences (mainly wildlife) and Model Experiences (studio and location).

Lastly, it is important to us that we leave all these locations as we find them "Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints" but we aim to go further than this and give something back.  Scotland is our home and we love it, but our ancestors have already destroyed most of its wildlife.  Kenya is our second love and it's not yet too late there but it will be soon if nothing is done.  If you have enjoyed our Blog, please feel free to join us and donate to Save the Elephants.  

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