Edinburgh: Heavy Metal and Haggis

Alex Ray and I are back in London, having just wrapped up a 1,000-mile UK road trip with The Flash Centre.

We got to see some cool things and meet lots of interesting people. None more so perhaps, than Elaine Davidson, seen at left.

After all, it's not every day that you run across a Guinness World Record holder...


Picture this: You are on a lunch break while teaching a one-day lighting seminar in Edinburgh (amazing city -- more on that later.) And while walking down the Royal Mile in search of food, you come across Elaine Davidson, who just happens to hold the world record for most piercings by a human.

At last count she claims a total of 6,275.

First reaction: We gotta shoot her in the demo portion of the class in the afternoon.

Rather than approach her immediately on the street, we got back to the hotel and mapped out a plan. I would shoot the normal portraits of attendees while Alex would head over to Elaine during our afternoon session and try to talk her into dropping by for a portrait. It took a bit of convincing -- and maybe a few Pounds Sterling did cross Ms. Davidson's palm -- but she was game and promised to show up at 4pm.

For the record, our "Plan B" would have been to quickly secure a decent-sized rare-earth magnet and position Alex between Elaine and the conference room, confident that she would feel strangely compelled to come on her own. Fortunately, it didn't come to that.

Dealing With a Pro

Having been a photographer for the past 25 years, I would like to think that I am pretty good at dealing with subjects when shooting them -- developing rapport, subtly coaxing them when I need to see something different, etc. I very quickly realized that Elaine was far more experienced at playing with photographers than I was at controlling my subjects.

Put simply, I was no match for her. Being photographed by people is her stock and trade. And she is very, very good at keeping photographers off balance.

What I thought would be a lesson in having a good bedside manner with a subject quickly devolved into me struggling to keep my composure as she made me blush continually in front of 40 attendees. And it sure was fun.

How Do You Light Chain Mail?

Problem: She has dark skin, completely covered with very reflective metal rings, studs, piercings, etc. -- two completely different surfaces, intermingled. So my approach was to light her with a soft source (an umbrella) from the side, and use an Orbis as an on-axis fill.

This way, I could let the shadow side of her face go relatively dark while still picking up the on-axis reflections of the metal. Doesn't need much power on the fill, as the jewelry is a very efficient reflector. I was probably 2 1/2 stops down from the main light, for those keeping score.

In the end, I was satisfied with the photo -- but less so with my ability to parry Elaine's bawdy double-entendres in front of 40 people laughing heartily at my expense. If you want to see a setup pic, attendee Pat dropped one into the Flickr comments of the image above. Click the pic if you like.

Put Edinburgh on Your List

My first impression of Edinburgh was that it was almost like Disney. I say that not in a bad way, but in that the views were so storybook perfect that they almost could not be real. Amazingly beautiful city, everywhere you looked.

I could walk in Edinburgh with a camera for days on end, snapping architecture photos like a doe-eyed tourist. Which was essentially what I was, I guess.

Fortunately, Alex had been to Edinburgh before and knew the turf. So on our free day we hit the Camera Obscura and World of Illusions -- one of which made for the pic at left. It's a neat little shrine to optics and fun, and is an extra special treat for a photographer.

We spied on the whole city through the very telephoto, rotating periscope-like camera obscura in the top of the tower. Great fun.

On a higher-tech note, we also got to control the super-telephoto security cameras mounted on top of the tower. You could look at individual people half a mile away -- It felt very MI-5, really. Except I would hope their cameras are trained more towards terrorists and less so on the lassies, to which ours tended to gravitate. I am sure it was technical malfunction.

We followed that with a hike up the nearby Arthur's Seat mountain for spectacular views of the city below. Which of course left us in need of refreshment.

As it turns out, refreshment is quite easy to find in Scotland. And we found ours at The Scotch Whisky Experience, where Steve the barkeep educated us about the various intricacies of Single Malts. He convinced most of us to never again let a blended Scotch cross our lips. We may not yet be serious Scotch drinkers, but we can certainly BS about the stuff at a cocktail party.

About That Haggis…

The Twitter messages as soon as I mentioned I was going to Edinburgh: "Will you be trying the haggis?"

Haggis, for the uninitiated, as a concoction made from all of the parts of a sheep that, em, less adventurous people might mistakenly throw away. It's ground up, spiced, stuck inside a stomach (as a bag) and cooked. (More here.)

And, as it turns out, tastes delicious.

On the breakfast food scale, I would put it above many (but not all) of the sausages that I have tried, but below bacon. Because, as Alex said as I was trying the famous national dish, nothing is bacon.

That said, I appreciate the encouragement to experiment, and feel just a wee bit more Scottish for having tried it.


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