Autumn, at last.

Autumn has been fairly crap this year. A combination of ex-hurricanes and a lack of frost has left the landscape looking a bit lifeless. I went out the other weekend to the The Trossachs, to an area which I had found in the summer and looked promising for autumn. It was bare. No leaves. Just a muggy morning of forlorn wandering, wishing I was back in bed. So imagine my surprise driving from Glasgow to Forres last week when I noticed that autumn hadn't been and gone, it was just happening in Perthshire and the Cairngorms. Swathes of golden larches jostling amongst the bottle green conifers. Delicate yellow confetti scattered in the birch woods and oak trees clinging onto russet red leaves. The only problem was that I was working, so I gazed longingly out the window all the way up  (in between looking at the road) and decided to return on Sunday. The forecast was looking good for once. 

I headed up very early. Cruising along the deserted A9, listening to the Russell Brand Podcast and trying to wrap my head around the concept that there may be a universal life force which transcends matter. Apparently if you teach rats a trick, then rats on the other side of the world will learn it as well through some interconnected pathway that we cannot see, feel or test. I was relieved that trees cant seem to do this, otherwise the Perthshire trees may have got the spiritual memo from the Trossachs trees and decided it was time for autumn to be over. My first stop was Loch of The Lowes. I pulled into the car park and got out, rummaging for food, jackets and rizlas. Frosty ground, dim dawn light. Calm everywhere until my shambling wander to the lochside disturbed a group of deer which darted about in mad panic, crashing into fences and then belting out the car park onto a golf course. A full moon hung over the hillside and I sat and watched the sun rise. 

I wandered aimlessly around a frosty woodland/bog for a while and then headed to a spot which I had noticed a while ago - a stand of birch trees on the River Tay. My plan was for the sun to come up and light the top of the birches, catching the remaining yellow leaves against a dark backdrop of trees on the hillside. I scrambled down the side of a bridge abutment, under some jaggy bushes and made my way down to the river. On reaching the river I noticed there was a path under the bridge, but I got to be all Bear Grylls for a bit anyway.  For once the image I had in my head turned out exactly as I planned. A nice feeling. I was there in plenty of time so could sit and wait for the light rather than rushing about trying to get set up while all the good stuff is happening. After this I decided to wander along the side of the A9 like some sort of photography version of Alan Partridge sauntering from a Travel Tavern to a Petrol Station. Lots of very nice bits of woodland along here and I took quite a lot of photos. Some of which I like. Back of the net. 

The sun was now too high for any images so I toured around the back roads of Perthshire and saw many grand old Highland houses (at the end of drives, behind walls, enclosed by trees). I used to wonder who bought all the red trousers in The House of Bruar. Now I know. I drove on and up a hellish wee switchback road to a loch in the middle of nowhere with a small fishing hut beside it. Lets call it Stuarts Bothy. It’s a cracking spot, perched on the edge of the moor looking north to some pretty big hills with snow on them. Walking around the loch through the heather, waiting for the light to change was a bit like walking through a field of landmines. If you imagine grouse are landmines. Even after the fifth time of having one of these creatures dart out from under my feet I still jumped. Still wouldn't want to shoot one though.

Anyway, it was a grand day out. Here’s the photos.

North

A few images from the north coast of Scotland made at the start of September. 

A New Camera

Illustration by Stewart Swan

Illustration by Stewart Swan

There's a new camera out today. It's really good apparently. Its got more megapixels. A brighter screen. It can stack lots of images together. It does everything you've ever wanted. There will soon be images on websites taken with this camera (resized for the internet) that folk will pore over and convince themselves that they can see a difference between those taken with the shiny new camera and those taken with their own drab old camera. There might be some really cool photos of the new camera itself, probably taken with the old camera. Or maybe you'll read a review by a photographer who's been given one of these cameras to test. They always write a glowing review of the new camera and they always tell you they weren't paid to write it. 

You'll probably see lots of articles in magazines and on boring websites saying It's The Last Camera You Will Ever Need.

It probably is. It's probably brilliant. 

Although, didn't they say that about the last one, and the one before that, and the one before that and with every incremental improvement the price rises. Now the top of the line camera is £3.5k rather than £2.5k. In just a few years with just a few improvements another £1000 gets slapped on the price tag. 

So what? Nobody forces you to buy it. If you choose to spend your money on a camera that's your decision. 

But is it though? How much of that decision was driven by feelings of inadequacy when looking at your work? Or the hope that this new camera will elevate you to being a contender for Landscape Photographer Of The Year. Or the adverts which constantly bombard you about how great this new camera is compared to your current one. You know, the one which used to be The Last Camera You Will Ever Need. Maybe it's not altogether your decision.... 

Earlier I made the point that any amateur photographer who spends £3.5k on a camera body needs their head examined and to be honest, I was sort of being flippant, looking for a reaction on twitter. But then I started thinking about it. Maybe what I was actually stumbling towards was the idea that consumerism itself is actually a form of madness. 

I honestly think it is - and I know this from experience. In the past I've spent ages deciding whether I "need" to upgrade my camera. Hours reading reviews or scrolling through arguments in comment sections, or watching boring men (it's always men) droning on about a new camera in dimly lit YouTube videos. A pointless waste of time. Madness. There's always something better, something newer, something more shiny. 

So, fuck this. I'm not buying anymore stuff I don't need. I'm off it. I'm Mark Renton, choosing life. I didn't really need my last camera upgrade. Probably didn't need the one before it either and it bothers me that even though I can see what is wrong with the system, I'm still sucked into it. 

But why does all this matter? It's not like I'm stealing to feed an addiction. I guess I'm basically just sick of consumerism. Sick of targeted advertising, lifestyle marketing, built-in obsolescence, product cycles, slave labour, unboxing videos, pro-endorsements, websites that cover tsunamis and relate them to when a new camera is coming out, magazines called "Stuff", game changers, GAS, megapixels. The whole lot. 

 

"Are these things really better than the things I already have? Or am I just trained to be dissatisfied with what I have now?"
Chuck Palahniuk, Lullaby
 

The Lie Of The Land

Loch Tulla.jpg

What do you see when you look at this image? Perhaps you see one of the classic views of the Scottish Highlands. The Scots Pines, the loch, the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The romantic view of a Highland Dawn. You could almost say it’s the quintessential Highland scene, all it needs is a stag drinking from the loch.

It’s a place I’ve visited often, however recently I’ve begun to question this landscape. Take the melancholy stunted Scots Pine tree in the foreground, it’s gnarled form twisting like an old man’s back beneath a heavy load. Or cast your eye up to the bare hills rising above the loch, stripped of all vegetation, bar the hardiest of grasses. Or the dark ranks of commercial forestry that cloak the far hillsides. 

This landscape isn't natural. It’s as shaped by man as the cities are.  

This immediate area is a tree zoo. A protected area of a once common, but now endangered landscape typology. It is one of the last remnants of the great Caledonian Pine forest which once covered most of Scotland, a temperate rainforest in which wolves, boar and bears roamed. Much of the forests were cut down to provide grazing land, to provide timber for shipbuilding or used as fuel for industries. The increase in deer numbers, whose population has exploded since the removal of apex predators such as wolves have ensured that natural regeneration of these woods cannot occur. This area at Loch Tulla is now fenced off and should hopefully regenerate but it needs careful management, and crucially time. 

Perhaps everyone knows this. Or perhaps people don't want to know. Maybe in a time of fake news, terrorism and stress we subconsciously crave a natural landscape, wildness, or a return to a simpler time, even if it is an idealised notion of what constitutes a natural landscape. We want to believe that wild land, unsullied by man is still out there and is easy to reach after a hard week at work. 

So what does this mean for the photographer? Well, maybe not a lot. Does it even matter that this isn't a ‘natural landscape’? I’m sure many will be happy to ‘bag’ this image and move on to the next ‘location’ without reflecting on what they are actually shooting. However, I feel that by gaining an understanding of the processes, both human and natural, which shape the landscape it enriches our experience, deepens our connection and ultimately leads to a greater appreciation of the special places we love.

This article originally appeared in Outdoor Photography April 2017

Easdale

Once the home of slate quarrying in Scotland and supporting 500 residents Easdale is now a quiet, peaceful place accessed by passenger boat from the island of Seil. There are no cars on the island, everything is transported by wheelbarrow. It's a fascinating island- in some views, a picture postcard Scottish coastal village and in others, an industrial wasteland. The remnants of this industry are seen everywhere - tottering piles of slate, open mines filled with crystal clear water and the ruins of buildings gradually being reclaimed by nature. 

This is a series of images made on a visit there on Easter Monday. 

The Outer Hebrides

This time last week I was waking up in North Uist in an old blackhouse with walls a metre thick and a thatched roof weighed down with rocks to keep the elements out. Peering out through the tiny windows I could see cascading sheets of rain blown across the Atlantic. 

It was the first day of a grand week in the Outer Hebrides. 

We had all these plans of what we were going to do, walks to be walked, sights to be seen, beaches to explore, islands to visit. Normally not all of these plans materialise. The weather doesn’t play ball or laziness sets in. However on this trip everything went to plan. We were blessed with brilliant weather and managed to do everything on our list. 

What we didn’t plan for was seeing St Kilda and Boreray illuminated on the horizon, or two golden eagles nonchalantly soaring above us, or the Northern Lights lighting up the sky with a dazzling display, or the snow-covered Cuillins lit by the rising sun on the morning ferry from Berneray to Harris. 

Unforgettable moments like these are what I love the most about visiting the Outer Hebrides.

We visited North Uist, Benbecula, South Uist, Eriskay, Harris and Berneray, we walked endless deserted beaches, we fed ponies on Luskentyre. We returned to favourite places and discovered new ones and every night we hunkered down in our wee blackhouse by the sea. 

It seems a long time ago now! 

One Day in The Highlands

After a fitful sleep (don’t look at twitter before bed - you might find out the manager of your football team has resigned) I didn't really fancy getting up at 5am for a trip to the Highlands. I'm glad I did though, it was a cracking day. Loch Creran was my first stop, where I had planned to re-shoot the view up the loch to (hopefully) snow-capped mountains. It didn't disappoint, a lovely quiet dawn with the clouds scudding towards me made for idea long exposure conditions. While the camera was doing its thing I wandered about the shoreline looking for details.

The wind rose and soon the loch was corrugated with waves, so I headed to the coast, stopping off at various spots to take in the views across Loch Linhe to Morvern. It was one of those days where the highlands look ridiculously good. Picture postcard stunning. So good, you almost forget the ecological desert you are looking at, the tax-dodge mono-culture forestry, the absentee landlords, the bulldozed scars on the hillsides, the useless sheep, the starving deer and the total lack of people. It just looks so....nice. 

The afternoon was spent wandering about the wooded shores of Loch Leven, finding abandoned mausoleums, unearthing strange time capsules and buying a really powerful lighter. Essentially being a photographer is like being a kid again. I pretend I’m being serious when I go out all day…I’m not. I’m basically just playing. 

As the sun began to lower I headed back through Glen Coe, walking alongside partially frozen watercourses, and watching, transfixed, as sidelight illuminated the spindrift pouring down the sides of Buachaille Etive Mor. It was quite a sight. The rest of the evening was fairly quiet. Except for a nuclear sunset over Loch Tulla. 

Harris in the Winter

It's Blue Monday today. The most depressing day of the year apparently, so I suppose this would be as good a day as any to share some images from Harris and Scalpay. We didn’t get the best weather over Hogmanay, but it was still brilliant to be there at that time of year - snow on the hills, big waves, howling winds and moments of glorious wintery light. We were staying at the lovely Fir Chlis, which overlooks Seilebost and Luskentryre beaches, the panoramic windows of the house providing an ever–changing view of sea, sand and sky. A couple of these images were actually made from the house. Standing on the balcony in a tracksuit drinking coffee is probably the laziest way I’ve photographed the landscape! 

A Return To Halloween Woods

It’s not called Halloween Woods. It doesn’t even have a name. But I call it Halloween Woods.

I went there a few years ago on Halloween and I like to look in occasionally to see if anything has changed. It’s a just a wee patch of woodland on the road to other places, but I love it. Yesterday I stopped off and had a wander - I’m glad I did, it was really looking at it’s best in the misty dawn light! 

The local deer must use this woodland as route as one nonchalantly sauntered past me, head down without a care in the world. It got a hell of a fright when it noticed me, slipped over, jumped up and went clattering off into the undergrowth. 

After that, I packed up my stuff and went off to other places. 

Seasons Change

I’ve been photographing this scene in The Trossachs for a while now, returning each season. It’s a lovely spot with views across scattered birch woodland to Ben A’an. 

Since I discovered this view, felling has taken place on the slopes of the hill. Hopefully within a few years a new deciduous woodland will grow replacing the conifers and changing the scene again. 

Harris In The Spring - The Book

I was very pleased to receive copies of my new book "Harris In The Spring" this week. It has been published by Kozu Books as number 3 in their Landscape Editions series. Having purchased the previous editions it was great to be featured alongside top photographers John Irvine and David Baker

Working with Greg at Kozu was a pleasure, and he's made a great job of sequencing the images. I'm really happy with the result and hope you all like it! 

The book is a limited edition of 100 copies (with a free print) and there are still some available through this link 

I also received my copies of Kozu's Landscape Editions 5+6 by Camillo Berenos and Finn Hopson - both are photographers whose work I admire and their books are very very good - go get em! 

Harris in the Springtime


I’ve just returned from a week on Harris.


I don’t know what it is, but something about Harris speaks to me. It has grabbed me and when I’m not there I find myself thinking of it like no other place I’ve been before. When I’m back in Glasgow I find myself daydreaming about the ferry pulling into Tarbert, imagining the promontories of rock either side ushering me back to the island. Retracing the journey west over the barren interior of the island and the view opening up towards Taransay across bands of shining sea. Thinking of that sudden reveal at Luskentyre as the dunes part and Traigh Rosamol blends from sand to sea to mountain. 


It’s got me. 


Harris is not a place I can return to very often, maybe once a year if I’m lucky. So when I’m there, I'm aware of an almost desperate need to appreciate the landscape, to soak it in and remember it. I suppose my photography is always driven by this, however it is different on Harris and feels tinged with sadness for some reason as I know I will only be there for such a short period. I often feel similar emotions in the Highlands - I know I’ll never really belong there, I don’t have the family connections or any ties to the land. It’s not my home. But when I’m not there I feel homesick for it. 


No matter the weather I always enjoy time spent on Harris, however on this trip I was lucky enough to witness some of the most incredible conditions I have experienced there. A grey sunset suddenly enlivened by parting clouds and rushing waves. A cold morning at Seilebost where the sky flared then dulled but left a pink glow across the sand. A brief glimpse of the far flung islands of St Kilda from the top of Ceaphabhal. The scattered islands in the Sound of Harris dappled by cloud shadows. The relics of the painstakingly created lazybeds picked out in stark relief by low sun. Newborn lambs getting their first taste of Hebridean hail showers. A rainbow nestling under the lowering hills of North Harris. 


I was battered by rain on a beach. I was warmed by spring sunshine on a hill. 


There a lot of images here. Way more than I’d normally share, but each one is a fond memory and I’ll revisit them often, until I return to Harris. 

Hebridean Storms

I write this as the latest winter storm, "Henry" is bearing down on Scotland. It's scattered a few bins in Glasgow and threatened my hair but it's not really come to much yet. There seem to have been more storms this year than usual, or maybe it’s just that we’ve dramatised them by giving them names....Anyway, the wild weather has made me think of a stormy day spent at Mangurstadh beach on the west coast of Lewis last year. It’s a dramatic beach with savage, wave-thrashed cliffs, exposed to the full power of the Atlantic and I imagine it’s taking a real battering just now. Hope everyone is safe up there. 

Snow

A snowy wander at Firkin Point, Loch Lomond. 

Rannoch Moor

Heading up to Glencoe this morning I didn’t have high hopes for a great day of photography and I wasn't even feeling up for doing much at all. I was knackered, but I was on the road and thought I’d take a look around and maybe just go for a wander. Pulling into a lay-by on Rannoch Moor it was still pitch black - I'd arrived far too early. I could see other photographers huddled in their cars waiting for the sunrise and for some reason I just couldn’t be arsed with it all. It was cold, I couldn’t snooze because the lights of the approaching cars woke me up and I had the feeling that I should just head back home and jump into bed. But I didn’t, I drove on to Glencoe and pulled into the car park of the Kingshouse Hotel instead. Waking up about 20 minutes later, a vague light in the sky to the east seemed to be announcing a weak sunrise. I decided to drive home via Rannoch Moor and see if it came to something. It didn’t. It disappeared and was just cold, flat and grey.

However, I decided to have a walk and see the frozen lochans. 

That’s when sunrise happened! If you don’t like pink sunrises look away now. And yes - it did look like this. 
 

Frost

A series of images made last sunday in The Trossachs, when it was winter for a day. 

International Poetry Day

The landscape of Assynt seen from Stac Pollaidh

Glaciers, grinding West, gouged out
these valleys, rasping the brown sandstone,
and left, on the hard rock below – 
the ruffled foreland –
this frieze of mountains, filed
on the blue air – 
Stac Polly, 
Cul Beag, Cul Mor, Suilven, 
Canisp –
a frieze and
a litany.

Who owns this landscape?
Has owning anything to do with love?
For it and I have a love-affair, so nearly human
we even have quarrels. – 
When I intrude too confidently
it rebuffs me with a wind like a hand
or puts in my way
a quaking bog or loch
where no loch should be. Or I turn stonily
away, refusing to notice
the rouged rocks, the mascara
under a dripping ledge, even
the tossed, the stony limbs waiting.

I can't pretend
it gets sick for me in my absence,
though I get
sick for it. Yet I love it
with special gratitude,since
it sends me no letters, is never
jealous and, expecting nothing
from me, gets nothing but
cigarette packets and footprints.

Who owns this landscape? –
The millionaire who bought it or
the poacher staggering downhill in the early morning
with a deer on his back?

Who possesses this landscape? –
The man who bought it or
I who am possessed by it?

False questions, for
this landscape is
masterless
and intractable in any terms
that are human.
It is docile only to the weather
and its indefatigable lieutenants –
wind, water and frost.
The wind whets the high ridges
and stunts silver birches and alders.
Rain falling down meets
springs gushing up –
they gather and carry down to the Minch
tons of sour soil, making bald
the bony scalp of Cul Mor. And frost
thrusts his hand in cracks and, clenching his fist,
bursts open the sandstone plates,
the armour of Suilven;
he bleeds stories down chutes and screes, 
smelling of gun powder.

Norman Mccaig, 'A Man in Assynt'