I got caught recently photographing in Scotland. While I had packed 2 more lenses than I ususally travel with – usually it is only one – I forewent the tripod – I do have my limits and I was spending 6 nights on a 6 foot wide narrowboat on the canals so to say that space was at a premium is an understatement. So, night one of the trip we are moored at the Falkirk Wheel. This huge monolith lifts boats using a rotating wheel up 80 feet or so from one canal to another. It’s big and beautiful and very kindly the guys at the wheel turned the lights on for me so I could photograph it. So, there I was late at night, the weater was cold but luckily pretty still but I really needed a tripod. There was nothing around to sit the camera on so I braced myself and got off a few shots, not too shabby in the circumstance – the lights were great but I love to get something just a bit different.


So here’s what happened – I had spent the afternoon photographing some kelpie statues – these are creatures with horse like heads and dragon like tails. In this case there were only the  heads and they were sitting on a boat in the mooring pond at the foot of the wheel – funky stuff. At night it made a perfect focal point for my shots – but still the problem of no tripod. Now there is a flash curtain setting on most cameras – you typically have a front and a read curtain sync flash. Essentially what it gives you is a combination of both a flash and a long exposure – the front and rear bit is when the flash fires – the beginning or the end of the exposure.

So, I could use the flash to capture the statues and the long exposure to capture the lights. Because the sculptures were so dark they didn’t get caught in the long exposure but they were frozen in the flash. Having shot a few test shots, I thought it needed  just a bit more so I combined the flash and long exposure and at the same time I moved the camera.

So, the kelpie (horse) statues are lit and they are sharp, the lights are caught but moving and out of focus – and because the statues are little bits of metal welded together with holes in them, the light show through and over them. All in all I called that a technical challenge well met  and an ace final result.

A word of caution. The solution to this problem required me to have  played with the flash in the past so I understood the curtain sync process, it also helped that I’d played a bit with moving the camera so I could forsee what that might give me. So, as always it will pay to learn to use your camera features before you really need to put them to use.

Then pure luck put the statues there (they get moved around a bit) and it got my host Nick to call the wheel guys and get the lights turned on and Irene to wake me and tell me the lights were on – an all round community effort which paid off with some shots I love.

Helen Bradley