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Artistic Nude in the Landscape, March 29th-31st 2013

Bink by the Allt nan Aumh
Bink beside a waterfall on the Allt nan Aumh.

Our March 2013 Artistic Nude in the Landscape Workshop looked to be seriously threatened by the weather right up until a couple of days before departure. Snow and ice seemed to be everywhere and two days before we were due to start, Madame Bink was still snowed in at her Cumbria home. The weather in Assynt, where we were holding the workshop looked like it would be cold but clear; the problem was that we didn't know if everyone would be able to make the journey to get there!

Thankfully the weather broke enough on the Friday for everyone to be able to make the journey and we all met up at the Assynt Field Centre, Inchnadamph Lodge. After introductions and a welcome dram, Karen cooked a lovely meal of Karahi Chicken with Coconut Mandazi, spinach, tomato and chilli, plus rice and ugali for everyone. We then adjourned and met later at the cottage for the first talk "Planning your own art-nude in the landscape shoot - from concept to completion". After teas, coffees, biscuits and cake bars Howard then gave two short talks, first on legal issues involved when shooting nudes outdoor and then model/photographer safety on a shoot.

Around 8.30pm, we headed out for the first shoot, an introduction to light-painting at the ruin of Ardvreck Castle on the shores of Loch Assynt. Due to the cold, with an air temperature of around minus 2 degrees Celsius and a wind-chill giving an effective temperature of around minus 6, we abandoned plans for a full demonstration with participants working in pairs afterwards and opted to do a short demonstration, with everybody shooting together to minimise the exposure the models had to face. With everyone ready, the girls had to hold still and not breathe for around 10-15 seconds and then stay still for around a minute as Howard painted them with a focused beam. In the meantime, Karen was using a powerful torch with coloured gels to add colour to the castle itself. At the end of each exposure, Jason volunteered to help rush over to the girls with a pile of coats to wrap themselves in between exposures. After the first full exposure, we asked everyone to alter their ISO settings from 200 to 400 to further reduce the exposure time. After a total of 5 exposures we called it a night and headed back to the warmth of the Lodge.

Light-painting at Ardvreck Castle
Light-Painting at Ardvreck Castle with Rachelle and Bink
24mm, ISO400, 56 seconds at f8

Saturday morning began at the unearthly hour of 5am, with a short drive to a lay-by on the road to Kylesku, where we trudged across the bog towards Quinag. The plan was to use one of the small lochans that usually occur on the bog as a foreground setting for the models but in contrast to the rest of the country, which had been covered in snow for two weeks, the North West Highlands had become tinder dry, with wild fires springing up in several places. As a result, many of the small lochans had dried up. We did eventually find one that was still there and it was nicely frozen over. The models moved into position and everyone started to get set up as Roy asked Howard when we could expect the light to arrive. Howard was in the middle of explaining that about a minute after the pinkness disappeared from the sky, the light would start to work its way down the mountain, when the pinkness disappeared from the sky. Soon there was a lovely golden-red glow moving down the mountain, with the coolness of the frozen bog contrasting nicely and the two models positioned either side of the lochan. Tripods locked, ND graduated filters at the ready, there was a flurry of shutter noises, as Bink and Rachelle moved into different poses to give everyone a variety of shooting options in the few minutes we had before the light began to lose its intensity of colour.

Rachelle and Bink by a frozen lochan as the dawn light moves down Quinag
Rachelle and Bink brave the icy cold once more as the warm dawn light moves down Quinag

After a frantic six minutes of shooting, the models hurriedly dressed and huddled together whilst everyone chimped at their images and packed their gear. Roy had kindly brought a flask of tomato soup, which Bink and Rachelle found most welcome!

Souper Bink feeding Rachelle soup
Super Bink becomes Souper Bink, as she helps a frozen Rachelle warm up with a cup of hot soup

After trekking back to the vehicle, we returned to the Lodge for breakfast and arranged to meet again in the cottage for a review of images so far. Whilst most of us were reviewing our images from the first two shoots, we had also set up a mini-studio in the kitchen so that 82 year-old Alec, who was unable to manage the trudge across the bog, could get some studio shooting time with the models instead. When Alec and the girls returned, we projected his images and then had a quick run through everyones so that Rachelle and Bink could see them.

After the review session, we had a lunch break and then headed out to the bone caves at Beinn an Fhuarain, stopping along the way to shoot at waterfalls along the Allt nan Uamh and a strange-shaped dead tree. Alec came some of the way along the path, then Karen took him back to the lodge and he went for a drive to Lochinver, whilst the rest of us continued the trek up to the caves. Karen caught up with us again at the wonky tree, just before the steep path up to the caves. It was a lovely day and there were many other people walking in the hills. It became a bit of a joke that Bink was able to model un-hindered but whenever Rachelle was modelling alone, she seemed to be interrupted and have to cover up so as not to offend any walkers.

Bink beside the Allt nan Uamh
Bink beside a waterfall on the Allt nan Uamh

Rachelle in the Allt nan Uamh
Rachelle posing on a rock in front of a small waterfall on the Allt nan Uamh

Rachelle posing on the tree Bink and Rachell at the wonky tree
Rachelle and Bink with the wonky dead tree

When we reached the bone caves, the path was very icy in places, with huge icicles hanging down from above. Roy's slide on the icy path had us all with hearts in mouths. There were also many people around and it was extremely cold, so we decided just to have a quick few seconds shooting in twos and then headed back down the path. After dinner, we re-convened in the cottage for a talk on effective communication and then had an early night. Although we were due to be up at 6am on Sunday, the clocks were going forward an hour for "British Summer Time", so we were not getting the extra hour of sleep some might have thought.

Sunday morning came early and very cold, as we set off on the drive to Achmelvich Beach for our last dawn shoot. The glow in the sky was lovely, with the rocks and smooth sand providing lots of interesting textures to complement the models. Within moments of starting to shoot, it became clear that there was a problem with the sand. The water trapped in the top layer of sand had frozen and turned the sand into one large block of ice. Adding to this was the shore breeze, which added significantly to the wind-chill, meaning the models would only be able to work for a very short time. We all shot together to speed things up and when we got back to the vehicle Bink and Rachelle took the two front passenger seats to be closest to the heater during the short drive round to Lochinver, where we headed for Loch Druim Suardalain and the view towards the mighty Suilven.

Bink at Achmelvich beach
Bink on a cold Achmelvich Beach at dawn

Rachelle at Achmelvich Beach
Rachelle on a cold Achmelvich Beach at dawn

Rachelle greets the dawn light
Rachelle greets the dawn light at Loch Druim Suardalain with Suilven in the background

Bink and reflection
Bink and her reflection on the ice of a frozen Loch Druim Suardalain

After this we returned to the Lodge for breakfast and to pack our things and check out but this was not the end of the workshop yet. Richard and Alec decided they would rather begin the long journey home, so only three photographers joined us for the last couple of shoots. First we headed for a secluded waterfall with a long drop below Loch na Gainmhich. The trek along the rocky path was a tricky scramble at times but as we reached the waterfall, we all agreed it had been well worth it. Most of the waterfall was frozen and it gave a surreal quality to the scene.

Rachelle at the frozen waterfall Bink at the frozen waterfall
Rachelle and Bink make the most of the backdrop at the frozen waterfall

After the waterfall we began the journey home, although we had one last stop along the way. Loch an Ais offers a spectacular view with several of Scotland's iconic mountains as a backdrop, so it was here we stopped for our final photoshoot of the workshop.

Loch an Ais and the mountains
Loch an Ais - in the background are Cul Beag, Meall Dearg, Stac Pollaidh, An Laogh and Cul Mor

Bink at Loch an Ais
Bink and a violin at Loch an Ais, with Stac Pollaidh in the left distance and Cul Mor behind her

Rachelle mirrors the shape of Stac pollaidh
Rachelle mirrors the shape of Stac Pollaidh in the distance as she poses on the shore of a frozen Loch an Ais

When the final shoot was over we headed into Ullapool for lunch, after which we said goodbye to Roy and Les. Poor Les had the unenviable task of driving all the way to Shropshire. We had one more stop after Ullapool, at Garve, where we met up with Alex Ingram and said our goodbyes to Rachelle, who was off to work with Alex. Sadly Bink could not escape the early mornings even after the workshop was over, as her train from Aberdeen was leaving at 5.50am on Monday morning!

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