A few months ago, we were reminded of how Scotland is much more than the rainy, cold, and windy north of Great Britain. With landscapes unlike anywhere else in Europe, we envy photographers who are so fortunate to call the country their home. Like Seán Kerr, the 2015 Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year finalist who lives in Dunblane with his wife, two children, and their miniature Schnauzer, Casper.
Kerr came to photography fairly late, only focusing on it seriously beginning September 2014, but he still managed to launch a professional career in just two years — “a whirlwind,” as he calls it. He did have a bit of a head start, experimenting with a 35mm film SLR camera fairly extensively during his 30-year-long career as a scientist working with metals. He bought his first DSLR in 2003 – a Canon 300D – but remained limited by work and family commitments for the next ten years. Then, as Kerr told Resource Travel, two momentous things happened:
Firstly, I gave up my crazily busy executive career at the end of 2012 and set up a consulting business, giving me more flexibility with my time and a renewed focus on living a balanced life. Secondly, on a family trip to the Outer Hebrides in the summer of 2014, I ended up taking over a thousand photos in a week – it was a phenomenal experience! I bought some new gear, spent the next year studying online, had instruction from some well-respected and experienced pros and practiced like mad.
Kerr believes in a deep connection between humans and their natural environment, but that modern technology and life can obscure that connection. With a drive to represent the world faithfully and with integrity, the photographer gradually developed a specific interest in landscape photography.
I love the natural world, how amazing landscapes were formed over billions of years and how they can fuse with weather and light changes. I love being out in it and I love trying to capture extraordinary moments faithfully, to retain its character, context and integrity. I hope my photography can, in some way, help some people to reconnect with the wonders of our planet and beyond, or to just give them visual and emotional pleasure.
Is it a good thing for a landscape photographer to live in Scotland?
I would consider it to be a marriage made in heaven! For its size, Scotland has a remarkable diversity of geological land forms: rolling hills in the Borders, incredible mountainous Highlands, the wild and rugged coastlines and the tropical-looking beaches of the west coast and islands… The quality of light in Scotland can be sublime, especially at dawn and dusk. Combined with extremely changeable weather (four season in one day is common!) and the incredible landscapes are the critical ingredients that make a Scotland special place to photograph.
Kerr’s overriding philosophy is that his work should carry authenticity. Having a deep respect for the natural world, he feels that it’s important to represent faithfully, respectfully, and with integrity. Therefore, he focuses on capturing things “in-camera” as close as possible to what he sees it before him.
It is very easy to overdo the processing, and I try hard not to do this. I’m definitely not a big lover of over processed or composite images.
He believes the photographer’s role is to create an image that evokes emotion and inspires the viewer. For his work, planning is an absolutely critical feature. Kerr feels that a good landscape photographer should be extremely well researched and organized to execute the shots that exist in the mind’s eye.
There is clearly some luck involved in getting good images, mainly with the weather and light, but if you can stack the cards in your favor, you have a greatly increased chance of success.
In pursuit of an image, Kerr prefers to immerse himself in the landscape — even if that means sleeping in the back of the car or in a tent on a remote mountain summit to make sure he’s at the right place for every sunrise. The Scotsman enjoys the sense of adventure and the solitude, which he believes limits distractions and connects him with the subject.
Do you have a favorite place in Scotland to go out and shoot?
On the mainland, it’s Assynt and Coigach in the far NW of Scotland. On the islands, it’s the Isle of Harris. The regions are very different from one another, but they hold so much wonderment and inspiration for me. I think the common draw factor, aside from them both being outstanding beautiful with endless photographic opportunities, is that they are both remote, wild and therefore generally quiet, especially outside of the summer holiday season.
How about in other countries?
Whilst I’ve traveled extensively in my previous career, and experienced some fantastic and varied locations, I did it before I was a professional photographer, so photographic records are sporadic. I have done some limited work in England and spent three weeks in the southwest of the United States in July. The landscapes of Arizona, Nevada, and California are fantastic and I got some really nice images, but I’d love to return to some areas in autumn or winter. But first, I’m going to Iceland, which should be spectacular in November.
Between 1997 and 2006, Kerr lived in Abu Dhabi with his wife. Their children were born there, but they eventually returned to Scotland, with a strong wish to explore their home country. During a summer trip in 2014, the family discovered the Western Isles, and the photographer immediately fell in love with these Outer Hebrides.
We were blown away by the natural beauty of the islands and I ended up taking well over a thousand images. It really rekindled my interest in photography. I returned in April of this year and captured some images that I was really happy with, and I’m returning again for three separate weeks in December, February and July. There’s something magical about those islands. I could happily live there one day!
Do you have an ultimate “bucket list” destination?
Outside of Scotland, there are endless places I’d love to visit and photograph, including parts of Utah, Idaho, Montana and Wyoming is the United States. The Canadian Rockies, parts of Norway and New Zealand would be nice too, but I think Japan would be my number one destination, probably in autumn or winter. Something draws me to the culture and the glorious landscapes.
Kerr was happy to share some of his amazing photography with Resource Travel but had trouble selecting just one favorite shot, comparing it to being asked which one of your children is your favorite one.
If I was pushed, it would be “Storm Brewing” on Scarista Beach on the Isle of Harris. That’s an impressionist image created by rotating the camera on a tripod with a shutter speed of 0.3 seconds. It was taken not long after sunset and an approaching hailstorm darkened the sky, creating a gorgeous and intense color palette. I wanted to create an image that felt like Harris, without focusing the viewer on the details. I think the image has a really relaxing feel to it, whilst in reality it was blowing a gale and hailstones were bouncing off my eyes just two minutes later!
Do you have any last words of advice for people who see your photography and want to go out and try to do something similar?
Buy the best gear you can afford, you won’t regret it, but focus more on perfecting the craft of using it well. Your main focus should be the art of creating a great image. Get some help too. There are plenty of online sources to help you and lots of professionals offering group workshops and 1-2-1 instruction. Follow photographers you like and get inspiration from the work they produce. Join social media groups with like minded people, especially those who can inspire you and open your eyes to new possibilities.