Photographing the Kelpies

The Kelpies are a well known, and subsequently well photographed, landmark in Scotland. The problem therefore facing any photographer is to capture the standard Kelpie shot but, more importantly, to try to add something new to the already large collection of images available.

Remarkable structures, the majority of shots seem to be of both horses together from the bridge end of the park, along the lines of the shot below:

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But I felt that whilst this shows the horses from the most familiar angle, and the canal lock they rest upon, it doesn’t really show what they are in detail and also leaves a rather large gap between them.

Wanting to address this by looking at the details, coupled with the use of a very wide angle lens enabling me to get closer, meant I could see a variety of images that would show their construction and give a real sense of their majestic size.

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Standing beneath the nose of the horse allowed an appreciation of scale that I found lacking when trying to get all of them both in to a single shot. By playing with the viewpoint I could still show both, but I hope that I have added a new perspective and even a degree of humour from this shot.

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I wanted to try and capture the feeling of their immense size and give a thought to our relative scale by getting very close to the base of each work, and attempting to convey how small they make you feel. Again, this is only achievable through the use of a extreme wide angle lens*.

Walking around each horse in turn allowed me to also visualise the elemental photographs I wanted to create using a more normal ranged telephoto**.

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Looking up at the ‘mane’ of the horse also made me move around the back of the horses to take in the rear views, again something I had not seen covered often, but which actually afford an exquisite view in my opinion.

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The other advantage of the rear view is the lack of distractions. When viewed face on, the photographer has to contend with the electricity pylons, the canal boats, and the shop. Taking a view from the rear and sides allows for more selective framing without the distractions. To get over the number of people mingling I tried to pick the quietest time of the evening (7-10pm) and also used a long exposure*** for some shots.

Of course, one of the other highlights of the Kelpies is the fact that they light them up at night. One of the downsides of living in Scotland however, is the knowledge that in the summer, night, can be a long time coming!

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When you are perched, camera on tripod, waiting for the light to fade, the dusk can seem to take forever. The whole time of which, the temperature is also fading from the blissfully photographer friendly 18C to a much more refreshing 12C.

By 10pm I was seriously regretting not wearing more than a body warmer over my t-shirt as my arms were remarkably chilled. I’d spent the rest of the week in Suffolk basking in the low 20s.

This reminder of Scotland, a place I love immensely and have made my home for the last 12 years, was a brief wake up call (and actually quite welcomed in some ways ) after a six hour drive.

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In the end I didn’t wait for the full dark and set off for the hotel at around 10.30pm. It was dark enough to see the lighting effects but light enough to retain detail in the sky and detail in the surroundings. More importantly to me, I was also able to retain as much detail as possible in the Kelpies themselves too.

Whilst enjoying a well earned cup of tea I sat wondering if I had possibly left too early, and therefore made a mistake. Looking at the results, I prefer my dusk images to the full dark ones that I have seen elsewhere. I think you lose something of the structure by going for the full dark shot, but as always, personal preference has a lot to do with your interpretation of the scene. We all see and enjoy things differently and there is no wrong way or right way to photograph any scene or iconic image.

For me, the trip was very successful. I feel I have captured a well know landmark in a more personal and new way, hopefully inviting the viewer to look as much at the details and scale, as the horses in there entirety and within their setting.

I hope you like them. And, if you happen to find yourself in the Grangemouth/Falkirk area, they are well and truly worth visit (at any time of the day or night).

EQUIPMENT
Nikon D7100
Tokina 12-24mm f4 lens, at between 12mm and 16mm, on a DX Nikon body giving a 35mm equivalent of 16-24mm*
Nikon 18-300 f3.5-5.6 lens**
Hoya ND1000 filter***
Manfrotto BeFree Tripod

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