Rainy, cold, windy and uninviting. Unfortunately, that’s Scotland’s reputation in many people’s minds. But those who look at the pictures of Scottish photographer John McSporran might quickly find themselves changing their minds. Because the splendor McSporran is able to capture in the hilly wilderness of Britain’s northernmost country, is something you will not easily find anywhere else in Europe.
McSporran is a former police officer who lives in the Glasgow and the Trossachs areas of Scotland. He’s in his mid-50s and presently works for the Police Investigations and Review Commissioner for Scotland. Resource Travel asked him when and where he picked up his passion for photography.
I was inspired to take up landscape photography by the work of Colin Prior, one of the world’s greatest landscape photographers. His initial work was of the Scottish Highlands. This was back in the 1990’s, before the age of digital photography. Working with film means you have to learn the craft, due to the cost. These days, with digital, a photographer an blast off dozens or hundreds of images in one or two hours, then selects the best. In the days of film you had to get exposure, framing, etc. correct ‘in camera,’ which meant learning the craft.
When my children were born, they and my work commitments denied me the opportunity to pursue my photography. I worked in Africa for a time, doing war crimes investigation, and got back into photography during that time, when the world was moving to digital photography. When I retired from the police, I again took up landscape photography as a hobby and increasingly combined it with climbing mountains and wild camping.
McSporran realizes he’s very fortunate to be living where he lives with a passion for landscape photography like his. When he talks about the Scottish outdoors, a desiring fire of admiration warms his voice.
There is something serene and magical about being at the side of a loch or on top of a mountain witnessing a spectacular sunrise or sunset and capturing the moment. The scenery in Scotland is stunning and it is so accessible, in many places you can step out of your car and great scenery is right before your eyes.
Like many other photographers, McSporran thinks he knows what makes Scotland so special. The quality of the light is “hard to find anywhere else,” and “an essential element for landscape photography.” He especially hails the light at dawn and dusk, even despite the notorious Scottish weather. But he does warn anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps: “the Highlands are on the same latitude as Alaska and Siberia and the weather is extremely changeable.”
What has been your favorite shooting experience so far?
I love the mountains of the Trossachs and Glencoe and have climbed them several times, sometimes camping on top for sunset and sunrise. My favourite experiences was camping on top of the mountains Beinn a’Chrulaiste and Buachaille Etive Beag (The wee Shepherd of the Glens) with my mate Andy Belshaw and witnessing spectacular sunsets and sunrises over the Highlands. The weather was so clear I could see the mountains on the Isle of Jura 70 miles away.
McSporran says he still has so many Scottish mountains and lochs and their sunrises/sunsets that he wants to photograph, and that he will never tire of them. His next wish is to be able to photograph the mountains on the Isle of Skye “from up top,” but two previous visits have already been washed out by the weather. Other items on his “photography bucket list” are the Torres Del Paine in Chile and Argentina, the Lofoten Islands in Norway and the Pacific Northwest of the United States, such as Oregon and Utah.
We asked McSporran about what he would normally pack in his camera bag while heading out for an adventure.
I usually carry two Canon 6D’s camera bodies. Lenses: Canon EF 16-35 mm f/4; Canon EF 70-200 mm f/2.8 IS USM; Canon 50 mm f/1.4; Canon x2 converter; Filters: 2, 4 and 8 stop soft grads, and a 10 stopper. Remote release with intervalometer. A Go-Pro and a Google Nexus 7 for 360 degree shots. Heavy Manfotto tripod or a lighter carbon fibre model. Flasks of coffee and water; and of course a packet of Jaffa cakes. If I’m camping then I add a tent, sleeping bag, cooking stuff, food, clothing, etc. It all weighs about 25 kilos / 55 lbs. In the winter, ice axe and crampons.
John advises people who are inspired by his pictures and want to follow in his footsteps, to “just do it. You’re never too old to enjoy life.”
Buy the best gear you can afford. Some great photographs are taken with a very basic kit. Get out there and experiment. Look at the work of the work of the great landscape photographers, people like Colin Prior, Alex Nail, Ian Cameron, the west coast Americans… Look at how they frame shots and process them. You never stop learning. I consider my photography journey as just beginning, there so much room for me to improve.
More than 200 of John’s amazing pictures can be found on John’s Flickr.