Specialist area: Lens-based media and related software
Photography, Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom
In 2009 I graduated from the Glasgow Metropolitan College (now City of Glasgow College) with an HND in photography. The course included analogue photography but was mainly focused on digital photography and digital imaging. Mostly we used Adobe Photoshop and Bridge, Lightroom had just been released when I was coming to the end of my first year and had not made it into the curriculum.
I have previously worked as a photographer for the National Trust for Scotland on an inventory project recording all the objects in their care in the North West Highlands and then Aberdeenshire. Before being employed by UHI as an instructional designer, I was the content coordinator for Rothiemurchus. Both roles helped to hone my skills in photography and in Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
Having a background in photography and the associated software has been very helpful in my current role. I am able to create bespoke content that is highly relevant to the subject matter and is guaranteed to be high quality with no copyright issues. After taking photographs I import them into Lightroom which allows me to process them quickly, making basic adjustments and rating images so I can sort them and pick out the best ones. If there are any more specialist alterations to be made, for example, removing something distracting then I will switch to Photoshop.
As fun as it would be to be able to produce a brand new selection of images for each course it requires a lot of time and planning and often is not practical or necessary. Most of the time when adding images, I am selecting them from photo libraries. On these occasions too my experience as a photographer is beneficial. I am always looking for high quality images and understand things like the importance of getting an image that is the correct resolution. If an image is lower res than the size you want to make it allows then you will end up with a pixelated, out of focus image that can be hard for the viewer to clearly make out. On the other hand, using an image that is a much bigger file size than you require can cause pages to load more slowly which is frustrating for the student.
I used my knowledge of what makes a good image to contribute a style guide created for the Educational Development Unit sub-brand. As well as making sure pictures are the correct resolution, I also recommended choosing images that are sharp, well lit, and have a clear point of focus. This makes it easier to look at and more appealing for the viewer.
If necessary and where the licencing permits, I will use Photoshop to improve an image. For example, by adjusting the brightness and contrast or cloning out a distraction. Or if I am struggling to find an image to illustrate something specific I occasionally download a few pictures that have bits of what I am looking for and use them to create one image.
I have been creating panoramas and HDR panoramas in my own time for quite a while. This process involves taking several overlapping photographs of a scene and later stitching them together to create one large image. It is useful when capturing landscapes where you want more than can be seen through the lens, it also enables you to zoom in on details later as the images contain a lot more pixels.
The Forest Landscapes and Society course at UHI is remotely taught so the tutor was keen to gather some imagery that would help the students get a feel for the kind of environments he wanted to teach them about. Because he was looking for specific things, and keen to have some panoramas and 360 panoramas, we decided that it would be worth going out and taking photos. I went out in the field (and forest) with him twice to document the kinds of trees and views that would be relevant to the course. I also took a 360 panorama in a larch forest because he wanted the students to be able to fully look around and explore the scene.
While I had made a lot of panoramas, 360 photography and the 3D Vista software were new to me, so I spent quite some time learning the theory and doing some practicing in my garden to be sure I was getting all the settings right. After looking at the images we had collected and then starting to use the 3D Vista software I realised it was capable of creating something far more interesting and engaging than just burling in a circle. So, I went back out to the forest near my house and created an example to show the tutor what else we could do.
I have taken three 360 panoramas and linked them in 3D Vista to create a forest walk. The walk is circular so you can’t really get lost. I downloaded a vector graphic of a person walking and of a magnifying glass to create icons that would make it clear to the student what they do. A walking icon moves the student to the next scene while the magnifying glass opens an image or video that shows a close-up of an area of interest, for example, moss and lichen growing on dead wood.
The tutor was really impressed by the example and could see the uses for this kind of interactive landscape in his teaching. I have also shown it while in discussion with other program leaders and they have been really excited by the possibilities it opens up.
You can click the image below to stop it moving, use your mouse to drag the pano round, up and down, or zoom in and out. Click the magnifying glass icons to view hotspots and the walking icon to move to another scene.
Videography – Premiere pro and After Effects
My first experience with filmmaking was in 2016 when a filmmaker friend and I decided to collaborate on a documentary project titled Adventures on a New Path. We had two weeks to visit a number of community development trusts around Scotland and interview the people who worked or volunteered for them about what they do. Unfortunately, my friend couldn’t make it the first week so I got a crash course in filming, audio recording, and interview techniques, and off I went to Mull and Tiree. I also did a short course in film editing at Edinburgh College of Art so that I could help with editing the footage. Since then I have produced a video project for Hidden Door festival as well as doing some small bits of filming in my previous role as a Content Coordinator.
Due to the pandemic, I have not had as many opportunities as I would like to produce films for UHI. I did make a short video for the Applied Software Development course, to give prospective students a flavour of the syllabus and the reasoning behind it. Mostly, the video-based work I have done has been editing recorded lectures and adding titles and chyrons.
While creating a course that needed to be available to remote students offline, we were provided with a number of pre-recorded lectures that were around two hours each in length. I felt that these would benefit from being broken down into 5 to 10 minute videos for several reasons. Firstly, two hours can be quite a long time to focus on a lecture when you aren’t actually taking part live and I felt it would be easier for the students to digest if it was shorter. Secondly, having shorter videos means that they can be embedded in a resource with wrap-around text that can give more context to what is being taught and students don’t have to scrub back and forth through hours of footage if they want to revisit a specific part. I edited the videos in Premiere Pro, removing any background noises or chatter that were irrelevant to the subject and could be distracting for the remote students.
Finally, I created animated opening titles using After Effects and exported these as motion graphics templates so that they could be edited and reused in Premiere Pro. Having titles added to the videos gives them a more professional finish. I also used After Effects to introduce pause screens in some of the videos where the lecturer had set the class a problem and given them time to work on it. Having a 15 minute section of a video where all that can be heard is background muttering is not particularly beneficial to someone watching it asynchronously. So I cut that and replaced it with a screen that said pause here while you work out the equation and press play when you are ready to begin again.
Video I produced for the Applied Software Development course.