Beltane Fire Festival

It felt almost like a film set at times. Throbbing drums, dancing flames and writhing, shrieking, naked painted bodies. The Beltane Fire Festival celebrates the beginning of Summer, and is held on top of Calton Hill in the middle of the city. With its half-built acropolis, and open hillside park, it’s the perfect venue to stage a roving, multi-cheeked moonie at stuffy Edinburgh society. Three hundred (and more) enthusuastic volunteers wearing lovingly prepared costumes, summon the spirits of their ancestors, spark up hundreds of small and large flames, and get down to the serious business of welcoming Summer.

As a last minute addition to the photography corp I’d missed out on the priviliged spots alongside the main performers, so I took a reasonably long 70-200mm lens, braced myself for mixing it up amongst the thousands of spectators, and gave myself two photography missions.

My overall brief to myself was to capture the theatre of the event, but in two distinct ways. The first was to slice off intimate scenes from the general melee, and focus on individual performances - using shadows and selective focus to achieve the visual isolation of the people in my small vignettes. The second was to try and capture the whole massive theatre of it all, the atmosphere, the light, the closeness of crowds and performers, the unique location above the city, and the classical architecture of the columned National Monument as the centrepiece.

Not seen through the viewfinder or even when checking through images, I only saw the cheeky nipple when I was processing the shot.

Not seen through the viewfinder or even when checking through images, I only saw the cheeky nipple when I was processing the shot.

Like a film set, the National Monument is the perfect stage for this manic event

Like a film set, the National Monument is the perfect stage for this manic event

I love the overall theatre of this one showing the mass of people,the performers and the fantastic arena of Calton Hill

I love the overall theatre of this one showing the mass of people,the performers and the fantastic arena of Calton Hill

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The “Reds” ran around for 5 hours wearing nothing but red paint, big grins, and a couple of bits of string for modesty

The “Reds” ran around for 5 hours wearing nothing but red paint, big grins, and a couple of bits of string for modesty

This was a 30 second exposure while lots of people ran around with fizzing burning sticks in the stage area. I’m amazed how many people watching stood perfectly still.

This was a 30 second exposure while lots of people ran around with fizzing burning sticks in the stage area. I’m amazed how many people watching stood perfectly still.

Temptation

Temptation

There is something very spooky about people carrying torches in a slow procession, especially if they are banging drums, at an increasing tempo

There is something very spooky about people carrying torches in a slow procession, especially if they are banging drums, at an increasing tempo