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Dunnotter On The Coast By Stephen Mcdonald
CREDIT: Stephen McDonald

A Return to Scotland by Stephen McDonald

RPS Landscape Group Newsletter, March 2023

A Return to Scotland by Stephen McDonald

I left my home town in Renfrewshire when I was 19, heading to Bremen for summer work in 1975. After four years there, a French business degree in Reims later, a management posting to Malawi and finally settling down in various counties of England, I returned to Scotland in July 2021 to start my retirement. It has been quite a journey!

As a landscape photographer this move has given me a welcome opportunity to revisit the wonderful scenery my home country has to offer, this time from my doorstep.

Since moving north, I’ve taken every opportunity to explore. I’ve already visited Perthshire, the Highlands, Argyll, Angus, the Cairngorms NP, Sutherland and Wester Ross; with a trip to the Outer Hebrides planned for September this year. I’ve enjoyed every moment so far.

My first tour was a trip to Perthshire in Autumn. I was expecting the usual riot of autumnal colour but I was disappointed. The vibrant reds and golds were not evident and a lot of the trees had shed their leaves early. Climate change has been blamed for this. Nevertheless, there were super shots to be found in the Hermitage National Park, near Dunkeld, and Killiekrankie at the eastern end of Loch Tummel. In fact, my image of the Hermitage bridge is currently touring the country with the RPS Landscape outdoor exhibition.

Autumn at Carrbridge by Stephen McDonald

For my next trip I headed north. I visited Wick, John o’Groats, Duncansby Head and Thurso. From there a quick visit to Ullapool before heading south east again via Tain. The weather during this journey was far from kind. I had hoped to take some interesting shots of the stacks at Duncansby Head but the lashing rain caught me short. You can see the only image I managed to make before the heavens opened.

As noted, the Scottish weather can be extremely unpredictable and you have to be prepared for four seasons in one hour! This has happened to me on numerous occasions. However, it also allows you to capture some dramatic shots, provided you are flexible and don’t mind getting wet/cold.

Lashing Rain over Duncansby Head by Stephen McDonald

One of the highlights of last year was joining my brother-in-law on a round trip west from Inverness in a Cessna light aircraft he was piloting. I was sitting in the back shooting some fantastic scenery from 2,000 feet. We flew south west from Inverness to Oban, Islay, Jura and Iona. We also flew over Fingal’s Cave. We enjoyed a nice lunch at the Machrie golf club on Islay before heading home. The challenges were to keep the photos sharp (turbulence not helping) and to process the images with quite a bit of de-haze as the aircraft windows were not the best filter I could have wished for. However, I’m generally pleased with the results. I’ve included an aerial shot of Iona Abbey which was very pleasing as I had never seen it from the air.

Iona Abbey Flypast by Stephen McDonald

Pristine Beach on the Scottish Isles

Living in Scotland you really have to visit the castles and at least one summer Highland Games. So far I’ve photographed Castle Sinclair, Cawdor Castle, Dunnotter Castle, Corgarff Castle, Urquhart Castle and Ardvreck Castle, Scotland’s most northerly. I also shot some images at the Tomintoul games last year. All I can say is you’d better like the skirl o’ the pipes should you venture to one of these meets!!

The Huntley Pipe Band at Tomintoul by Stephen McDonald

Castle Sinclair Girnigoe & Ness Lighthouse by Stephen McDonald

Corgarff Castle by Stephen McDonald

Ardvreck Castle on the Edge by Stephen McDonald

One of the other joys of photographing in northern Scotland are the roads. You just never know what’s around the corner. Apart from the odd tractor, sheep are probably the most dangerous obstacle in your way. From the photography point of view, I’ve shown two examples: ‘Left turn’ (B940 Pitscottie Road) and the other ‘Wide Falls’ (A832 Talladale Road). Both these images were right next to the roadside and a totally unexpected treat.

The Left Turn by Stephen McDonald

Wide Falls by Stephen McDonald

I’ve been travelling the world for nearly 40 years and have my camera with me. My annual Steve McDonald Photography calendar had the theme of ‘Travel’ (not surprisingly). However, this year’s calendar is entitled ‘My Scotland’ and features some of the images included in this article. I’ve enjoyed putting this photo project together and will be considering similar themes for future years.

I’m relishing my retirement mainly because of the time it allows me to do what I want, when I want. In addition to my golf and swimming, my exploration of Scotland in the years ahead will continue and I also plan to travel the world; always with both of my trusty Canon 5D’s and a good tripod to hand.

Header image: Dunnotter on the Coast by Stephen McDonald

All images © Stephen McDonald


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