I’m waiting to catch the travel bug. I was born and brought up in Perth in central Scotland, on the edge of the Highland boundary fault; a geological divide between the dramatic landscapes of the Highlands and the more sedate rolling hills of the Lowlands. My parents bought their first touring caravan when I was three years old and, throughout my childhood, I spent my weekends and school holidays travelling around Scotland, sight-seeing, walking, cycling, and island hopping. I owned a globe and an atlas throughout my childhood and I loved learning about foreign countries and their cultures, flags and currencies; although I didn’t set foot on foreign soil until the age of twenty. Over time I’ve come to realise that my interest in the wider world is a means to understand my place within it – Scotland.
As a nation, we Scots are a bit unappreciative of what’s on our own doorstep. I completely understand the desire to explore the wider world and to jet off to sunnier climes but I do get frustrated by the number of Scots who never venture into the Highlands. Surely these are some of the best landscapes in the world yet negative perceptions about the weather seem to stop people from travelling the short distance up here. As far as I can tell, climate is a contributing factor in the decision-making of every ex-pat and every Scot who chooses sun, sea and sand holidays over the Highlands and Islands. However, it’s one of the reasons I don’t have itchy feet. I complain as much as the next person about the cold temperatures, rain and lack of daylight in winter, but the truth is that I love the seasons and the ever-changing weather and light. As a landscape photographer working in Scotland, I’ll never get bored.
Thinking of my Black Isle home, my favourite months of the year are September and October when the melancholy feeling associated with the end of summer is counterbalanced by the achingly beautiful light of dawn and dusk, fields of golden hay bales, fleeting rainbows, and the turning of the trees from green to every shade of red and amber. There is a marked chill in the air when the Swallows, Swifts and Housemartins have departed and the Pink-footed Geese return in their thousands.
Winter seems long and we’re never far away from the next storm which threatens to flatten my neighbour’s greenhouse and cut off my electricity supply for an afternoon. However the darkness, rain, wind and cold are temporarily forgotten when an anticyclone settles over the Highlands. The high pressure brings glorious winter days with clear skies overhead, crunchy frost underfoot, stunningly crisp air and long shadows cast by the winter sun sitting low on the horizon. These days are a landscape photographer’s dream and are some of my favourite days of the entire year.
I rejoice as the light gradually returns in February. It feels like a minor miracle to come home from the office before the onset of dusk and while the birds are still singing. I jump for joy as temperatures rise and spring unfolds with its characteristic snowdrops, crocuses, daffodils and bluebells; lambs in the fields; and buds on the trees. There is a sense of having survived another winter and of life being re-born.
In summer, I love shuffling around in my flip flops and being able to set off on a bike ride in broad daylight at nine o’clock at night. It almost pains me to say it, but it’s not my favourite time of year. It’s the best season for outdoor pursuits (so long as the jet stream doesn’t inflict three months of rain on us, as it did in 2015), but not the most inspiring for landscape photography.
On the Black Isle in the height of summer, the sun rises at 4:20 am and sets at 10:20 pm. The light in between these unsociable hours is harsh and bright (providing it’s not overcast and wet) and the landscapes, whilst still attractive, are a monotonous green. At this time of year, I search out wildflowers growing on field margins and sunsets on the coast, in the hope of capturing a broader spectrum of colour. It’s no hardship though; I enjoy a break from the self-inflicted pressure of landscape photography when I can leave the camera bag at home and enjoy the freedom of exploring Scotland’s great outdoors on foot, two wheels, or in a sea kayak or canoe.
The weather and light are constantly changing in Scotland. This, combined with the sheer beauty and diversity of Scotland’s landscapes and their distinct seasonal transitions (not to mention our staggering 10,500 miles / 16,500 kilometres of coastline), means that the potential for landscape photography is endless. If the sun is shining, there’s nowhere else in the world that I’d rather be, regardless of the time of year.
Footnote: The above text is an extract from a guest blog I wrote earlier in the year, Reflections of a Scottish Landscape Photographer, published by Just A Pack. Follow this link to read the rest of the article and to pick up top tips from Just A Pack on inspiring, affordable and responsible travel. Thank you for your company on my whistle-stop tour through Scotland’s seasons on this week’s WordPress photographic challenge!