First thing in the morning is a great time for photography for all sorts of reasons. For one thing, there’s the ‘golden hour’ after sunrise when the light is just perfect. For another, there are fewer people around to stare at you prancing about in a silver catsuit.
I’ve written previously about cosplaying as a retro astronaut, and there are a whole bunch of places where I could – with minimal photoshopping – make places in Scotland look like they were on another planet. I’m pretty sure the people who witnessed me wondered what planet I was on, too…
Sometimes the weird shit requires quite a tightly-focused angle. I ventured to Edinburgh’s Sheraton Hotel early on a Saturday morning to twitch my bumcheeks at guests having breakfast, posing beside artistic stone spheres and a hemisphere covered in shiny tiles. (These had seen better days; the trick was to find an angle where the gaps wouldn’t be seen, and to hide the abandoned fencing where posters had been hung to advertise shows during the recently-completed summer Festivals.)
The location in the city centre meant parking the car where I probably shouldn’t (just as well the traffic was light at sunrise on a Saturday morning!) And being in the city centre, it meant pulling on my go-go boots whilst weekend workers ambled past on their way to their workplaces. You can see why I don’t do this sort of thing at rush hour…
Another thing I sometimes have to pay attention to is the tide. (I’ve done this for various swimsuit shoots at Dunbar, for a Baywatch-themed shoot, and at a ruined lido in Fife.) If there’s one thing this has taught me – balancing tides with weather conditions – it’s patience and making the most of whatever you’re presented with.
For the spacey shots, the causeway to Cramond Island in the Firth of Forth resembled – to my feverish, teenage-geek-brain – the ruins of a long lost civilisation. (In reality, anti-submarine defences from the last century.) On this morning, there were a few more people walking about but the tide had only just receded far enough to make the causeway passable, so I had it to myself.
Some mornings you just have to take a chance. When it’s misty or foggy, you might get ‘moody’ or ‘atmospheric’ shots. And by happy chance you might get some epic, backlit clouds. At Arthur’s Seat (also in Edinburgh’s city centre), I got a few mountainous-looking photos in fog lit by the dawn sun. There was one old guy out walking his dog who asked if I was taking these photos for a Festival Fringe show.
Before the pandemic lockdowns got in the way, I’d started going swimming again for the first time in… bloody hell, a couple of decades. Part of this was to get in better tone/condition and improve my breathing, but a lot of it was to do with losing flab and firming up my fortysomething body (it’s not the years; it’s the mileage…)
Eventually I got to the point where I thought what the hell; maybe I could revisit one of my old photoshoots and re-do some sunrise beach swimsuit photos? The trouble is, it depends on getting the right conditions. If the tide’s too high, then it’s trickier to get a good angle with both me and the sun in shot. Too misty or hazy, and I’ll be lost in the glare of the light. Too cloudy and it’ll look like a grey day on the North Sea, and not ‘it looks kind of tropical’.
My beach of choice is at Dunbar, because it’s not too far from home, it’s nice and big (so easy to keep your distance from any others who might be foolish enough to be there at that time), and you can get the sunrise without any obvious markers of where you are (such as Fife, or Bass Rock). With nothing but sand, sea, and sun it could be anywhere.
I had a couple of false starts: one morning when there were no clouds over Edinburgh, but plenty nestled on the horizon blocking the golden glow I was after; and one when a rapidly-moving cloud front took over the sky as we drove out. This was the middle of summer, when sunrise is before 5am, so it wasn’t something I wanted to waste time on too much (those mornings, we returned to the city and I changed costume to do other shoots instead). It’s not great wasting a long, early-morning journey like that, let alone twice!
Third time was perfect: not too hazy, just enough cloud to give the sky some texture, and a sea that was just about lively enough to be interesting, but not dangerous. I’d already picked my theme: I got a red swimsuit and an inflatable Baywatch-style float, and a couple of party balloons for tits (I didn’t want to accidentally dip my usual falsies in the sea; I’d already done that in a freshwater loch…)
(I gave Baywatch a go on Amazon Prime for nostalgia. I was astounded that the first season was a proper action-drama which I remembered nothing about; the second more of the same but with more slow-mo music sequences of pert Californians; and then the balance shifted further and further.)
The dumb thing I did was to stick the inflated balloons under my swimsuit while I was driving out to the beach. The seatbelt had forced the air out of one of them, making me seriously lopsided, and I’d forgotten to bring any spares (having wasted a few on the earlier, aborted attempts).
But dammit, the weather and sea conditions were too good to waste, so I’d just have to work around it (lucky I had that float to hide with!). I suppose I should be glad they didn’t whistle as they deflated…
Another major change from the first set of beach photos was that this time I had a much better camera to work with. I could run up and down through the waves for action shots, and each droplet of water would be captured, crisp and perfect. Because that’s what I want people to look at, obviously…
I ventured a bit deeper into the water this time, but there’s a balance I wanted to get between striking a pose for the camera, and actually looking like I was swimming about. In the end, processing my way through the hundreds of photos we got, I found the best results came from running in the water, no deeper than mid-upper thighs (I was also wary of getting knocked down by the waves)…
I should also point out that I can see the appeal of cold-water swimming that people might indulge in. Once you get used to it, it’s “not too bad“, but it’s the situation that makes a difference: having a whole beach to ourselves; watching a sunrise; getting a sorta-kinda workout; and getting a record of your batshit start to the day. Bring a flask of tea – you’ll need it!
If that doesn’t convince you, I’ll point out that seawater’s a great exfoliator. The battlefield of ingrown hairs all over my legs cleared up no end (shame the effect didn’t last)!
Not sure it did the balloons any good, mind you – by the time I emerged from the water, one boob had completely deflated, and the other was shrivelling up as well. At least I could stop worrying about them…
Of course I haven’t had a chance to return to the pool during lockdown, and I’ve got a few kilos of belly flab I want to shift. I mean, I could go to the beach for a proper swim, but I’d want to feel good about myself before I put on that swimsuit again!
Cosplaying as a character you created yourself sounds like it should be easy, but there’s always going to be some major detail that buggers everything up.
A couple of years back I spent an inordinate amount of time doing sketches of a 60’s-style space adventure with cigar-shaped rocket ships and, yes, a space babe and her crew, all in shiny silver space suits. It got to the point where I got heartily sick of drawing buttocks, but damn it, I thought they looked kinda cool (the characters I mean; although the botties weren’t half bad either). Fuck it, I thought, I want to do a photoshoot like this!
Fortunately, most of the outfit can be bought dirt cheap from Ebay or Amazon with relatively few adjustments. As long as you expect a shiny silver catsuit from China to be completely the wrong size, most of it’s pretty easy to acquire (sometimes from the weirdest places – like a pub in England with a surplus of novelty ketchup bottles…).
The only part which eluded me was the goldfish-bowl space helmet. Actual goldfish bowls were either too small or too heavy, and in either case I didn’t fancy balancing one on my head. Other options were too expensive, and making a custom-fit, lightweight version myself was beyond my skills. So I decided to Photoshop it in, instead (and hope I didn’t take photos on windy days…)
The next issue was finding locations to take all these damn photos. I had ideas – oh, you’d better believe I had ideas! – and ended up with more locations than I could possibly talk about in this blog entry alone (more in future months, I promise). Having already travelled the length of Scotland from the border to John O’Groats, anything was possible. I figured out road routes that would give me as many locations in as few journeys as possible. I scoured Google Earth for places that mixed the familiar with the obscure, and sketched out rough ideas for different shots.
I had a route planned that would start at silly o’clock in the morning, and get me to Aberdeen at sunrise. All I needed to do was keep an eye on the weather and hope the skies wouldn’t sabotage the journey. Weather forecasts are only reliable up to a point, and then you just have to rely on luck, and accept whatever shots you can get.
We went to bed not long after dinner, and woke not long after midnight. Batshit crazy? It meant I could slap on my makeup and the spray-on silver catsuit, and drive to Dundee by 3am. Yes; utterly batshit crazy.
My main interest in Dundee was the recently-opened V&A art gallery on the edge of the river Tay. Happily, being there at 3am meant there was nobody around to ask drunken questions, or dive into the shots, or just spoil things. At that time, the only interest was from the night guard (I swear, I must’ve given a handful of night guards some weird shit to contend with on their CCTV screens over the years…). We wandered around the funky modern architecture as long as our schedule allowed before moving on again…
The next stop was Balmedie beach. I’d been here a few times when I was a kid, so I knew it had vast expanses of sand that could double as a desert planet, grassy dunes, freshwater streams choked with greenery making their way to the beach, and best of all, an epic windfarm which annoys the shit out of Donald Trump.
As we approached Aberdeen I saw a massive bank of cloud hanging over the northern skies, and I had a nasty feeling they’d block out the sunrise. To my immense relief, we got about ten minutes’ sunshine as the sun broke the horizon, and made as much use of it as we could. Sunrise was the only limitation on the schedule; after that we could take our time at the remainder of the locations.
The next stop was a stone circle at Daviot, in the middle of… well, nowhere. Grampian region is pretty sparse, and the country roads are choked with roadkill rabbits, like a Beatrix Potter version of Schindler’s List. God, it’s grim.
For the purposes of the photoshoot, I figured the stone circle, surrounded by trees, might give a Stargate-y vibe (in that series, they gave themselves an excuse for why every planet they visited resembled a Canadian forest…). I had a bash at recreating one of my sketches which was easier said than done. First I had to scamper over sharp, loose rocks in high-heeled go go boots, and then try holding that ridiculous pose for ages (taking breaks to see how they looked on the camera, and then going back to readjust).
So yeah, seemingly minor locations can take a while to complete…
The final stop was an abandoned 1930s lido at Tarlair on Grampian’s northern coast. It’s still intact, but clearly it’s been decades since its hey-day. It’s set among cliffs and rock arches that make for an otherworldly appearance.
When we arrived there was a single guy running laps around the area, and doing chin-ups and exercises (I guess there isn’t much else to do first thing on a Sunday morning here). We found it easy to keep him out of the shots, but he was clearly interested in what we were doing and dying to speak to us… but keeping a respectful distance.
There were tons of different shots we could take there (it’s been difficult whittling it down to only the best of the best; the location looks good at any angle), but eventually we realised that it was time to head back south. I changed back into a more ordinary dress and shoes, and when we were about to head off the exercise guy walked by.
“Don’t get many space girls landing in Banff!” he said. He’d been dying to say that for ages, poor sod. I gave him a cheesy grin and pretended to laugh silently because I knew if I said anything my voice would just wreck his whole morning.
We stopped off to tank up the car, and a bunch of retired and well-fed old men were gathered in the petrol station shop to buy their morning papers and catch up on everything that wasn’t happening in the area. Obviously, me walking in with my makeup and retro hair was a sight they don’t get that often, so they all clammed up and stared silently as I paid and left in less than sixty seconds. Was it creepy? Or did they realise I was a guy in a dress? Honestly, I didn’t give a shit what they thought – which is pretty much the only superpower you need to crossdress.
And with that, I had a batch of photos I could photoshop with my space helmet… and maybe add a few details to, like planets and frickin’ laser beams.
For the past few years I’ve infrequently made calendars for friends. In 2019 I wanted to go a bit further afield than usual, and made an epic journey to the almost-most-Northern part of the country to take in as many sights as possible on the way back the following day, all in Twist mode.
It helped that a couple of friends own The Lighthouse Keeper’s Cottage at Noss Head – I could crash there for a night, wake up before the seagulls fart, slap on makeup for the day, and make my way back to Edinburgh stopping off wherever I found a good view (much of this was planned out beforehand).
This was my biggest gamble I’d ever taken with weather forecasts. It was supposed to be piddling it down mightily the day before and the day after, but with a 24-hour reprieve during which I could do my en-femme cannonball run through Scotland.
Sure enough, the drive north was through apocalyptic rain with the wipers going full pelt. It was at this point, a family of spiders chose to abseil down from the sun visor right in front of my goddamn face. I had to ignore the dance of 24 legs to focus on steering through water. I may not have ovaries of steel, but fucking hell I’ve earnt them…
My host kindly offered to help with taking photos at sunrise (muahahahaa! the fool!!!); after all, it was my first visit and I didn’t know where the best angles would be. There was the lighthouse, a nearby pond, and a statue of Henry St Clair I could pose with…
After failing to suppress my inner monologue from singing the earworm theme tune to classic 1990s Australian kids’ TV show Round The Twist, I let my photographer caffeinate himself while I made a quick change of clothes and set off. It felt a bit ridiculous to head off so soon after a single night, but I had a long day ahead of me and the weather wouldn’t last…
The first stop was just a bit further up the road: John O’Groats. Despite the early hour, it was mobbed with tourists, and I had to wait for them all to bugger off before setting up the camera tripod and timer for a few selfies. The signpost had been pretty much obliterated by a coating of novelty stickers plastered onto it over the years. At least I could see I had 273 miles to go…
I stopped off at Wick’s petrol station to tank up and grab a sandwich for breakfast before heading south again. I was on the lookout for scenic viewpoints that would allow very fast, impromptu stops for photos. Maybe I was overthinking things, because there were some gorgeous vistas in the morning sun which I drove past. One of the few I picked was a perfect reflection at Loch Fleet.
I had lunch at Inverness and refuelled the car (it was a small car with a petrol tank the size of a budgie’s bladder). My next stop was a detour to the Loch Ness visitor centre where, floating in a pond, was a decades-old model plesiosaur.
Sure, there were other models at other tourist spots, but I was determined to get a photo with this one specifically, because it was in the goddamn water. I had to clamber over a fence and squelch towards it to set up the camera for the shot I wanted. A tourist from the far east followed me and had to wait patiently for me to get the hell out of the way before taking his own photos.
Graffiti in these parts consisted of ‘flat Earth theory!’ and ‘question evolution!’ Surely, I thought, there are easier things to rebel against than science, reason, critical thinking, and -you know- reality…
My next stop, carefully calculated for the view, was Clansman Harbour. The parking was overflowing, so I had to drive back past Loch Ness Lodge and trudge to my preferred viewing point.
I could see all the way from one end of the loch to the other from here, but it was also incredibly exposed. The effort I’d made in combing my wig that morning was undone in an instant. I spent half the timed selfie shot with one hand stopping my skirt blowing up, and the other hand keeping hair out of my eyes.
Sometimes, smiling your way through a multitude of inconveniences is good for the soul. Or at least, it’s good practice for pretending to maintain your composure when the shit hits the fan. I squinted at the previews of the photos in the camera display and decided I’d got enough. The long drive and the early start were beginning to catch up with me: time to head home.
I made one last stop just off the A9: Dalwhinnie Distillery. Partly because I was quite taken with the scenery (and the dramatic clouds), and partly because I’d passed it so often without visiting that this felt like the opportune moment. I went into the visitor centre, asked the woman behind the till if she knew of any good spots for taking photos, and bought a bottle as a souvenir of the road trip (avoiding all the Game Of Thrones themed whiskies because I’m a snob that way).
After waiting for the farmer to close up and drive off, I parked at the gate to a farm track where I could get the distillery and the hills in the shot. By this point, my wig was ready to take to the skies. With perfect timing, the clouds darkened and rain began spattering on the windscreen.
I got all the shots I wanted, and could drive the rest of the way home with a quite glow of success. (And, once I got back inside, a quiet glow of whisky…)
By last spring, I’d decided I’d had a long enough break from cross-dressing and doing photo shoots. I wanted to do more. Each one is like a mini-adventure, and I’d generated enough ideas to do another calendar for my friends*.
They repair stiletto heels here too.
The target for this one was a tiny little alleyway in Edinburgh known as ‘The Wild West‘. I figured I had enough clothes to get a sort-of, kind-of Calamity Jane look, and brought out my old outback hat from my time in Australia. A visit to the toyshop got me a cheap die-cast revolver (which was child-sized… hm…)
About to get west and wild…
I like to do photoshoots early in the morning, especially in the summer months when the light is good (luckily, I live far enough north that the nights are quite short in the summertime). It also means nobody else is around to give me funny looks when I’m striking bizarre poses for photoshoppy purposes later on.
The ‘Wild West’ part of Edinburgh is in one of the just-posh-enough parts of the city, in a residential area at the back of a local library. It’s quiet enough at the best of times. Going there at about 6am would guarantee nobody would be watching.
(…this is actually a library fire exit!)
It was built in the 1990s by a furniture salesman to create ….well, some sort of ambience, I guess. The years haven’t been kind to the place, and after a couple of decades, it’s run-down, faded, rotting and falling to bits. But with some clever camera angles, you need not see the nearby tenements, or telephone cables, or burglar and fire alarms…
I’d already scouted it out beforehand, and had some ideas about the sorts of shots and angles I wanted. It was possibly the most trouble-free (and audience-free) shoot we’ve ever done.
(You’d probably keep your door locked shut too…)
If anyone else wants to take photos or selfies (using a camera timer), I heartily recommend heading out early on a sunny morning, even just around your hometown. You’ll have the streets to yourself, you’ll have the golden glow of the sun, and you can get something approaching a glamorous set of outdoors photos (cross-dressed or not!).
*(It’s probably the last calendar I’ll do – I’ve no idea what other photo shoots I could do, and I’m not keen on repeating things… so I’m archiving the most -but not all- of the shoots I’ve done over the years, here on the blog.)