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.

The Guardian
“This photo was taken looking over the River Coupall as the dawn sun hit the mountain peak and the clouds behind, creating a spectacular sight.”

Mystic
“Pre-dawn mist on Loch Rusky, Trossachs, Scotland, with the sun below the horizon giving the clouds a fantastic pink and blue colour. I sat here for two hours just watching the colours change from pre-dawn pinks, purples and mauves to golden sunrise colours, then watching the sun burn the mist off the loch. A truly magical place.”

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.

Loch Ard Autumn Mist

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.

Sron Na Creise
“Long exposure photograph taken of the mountain Sron na Creise in Rannoch Moor, Scotland across the River Coupall just before sunrise.”

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.”

Distant Land Under a Swift Sunrise
“Sunrise on Rannoch Moor, West Highlands of Scotland.”

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.

Go Ahead, Make My Day
“For obvious reasons, and for those of us of a certain age, only the old Dirty Harry (Clint Eastwood) quote seemed appropriate.”

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.”

Silent Witness
“The sculpture ‘Still’ standing as a silent witness to sunset on Loch Earn, Scotland.”

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.

The view from Creag an Tuirc
“Below this viewpoint is Balquhidder Church and the grave of ‘Rob Roy’ MacGregor the infamous outlaw. His grave stone is immediately in front of the ruined church, which has been a place of worship for a good wee while – about 1200 years.”

Glencoe, West Highlands, Scotland.

Glencoe, West Highlands, Scotland.

The River Coupall flows round the mountain, Buachaille Etive Mòr, in Glencoe, Scotland, before disappearing into Glen Etive on its way to the sea. The mountains in shot are L to R: Sron na Creise; Buachaille Etive Mòr (centre) and Buachaille Etive Beag. Taken from Beinn a'Chrulaiste.

The River Coupall flows round the mountain, Buachaille Etive Mòr, in Glencoe, Scotland, before disappearing into Glen Etive on its way to the sea. The mountains in shot are L to R: Sron na Creise; Buachaille Etive Mòr (centre) and Buachaille Etive Beag. Taken from Beinn a’Chrulaiste.

Rescue Helicopter
“Top left is a rescue helicopter directly over Stob Coire Sgreamhach (In the English – the peak of the horrible corrie) on Bidean nam Bian, the highest mountain in the Glencoe area of Scotland.”

Flow
“The flow of morning clouds over the Black Mount mountains in the West Highlands of Scotland across a frozen Lochan na h’Achlaise. 6 minute long exposure shot using a 10 stop ND filter.”

The Fingalian
“The sun steaks through a gap in the clouds over Glencoe, West Highlands of Scotland, striking Sgorr nam Fiannaidh (The Peak of the Fingalian Warriors) on the Aonach Eagach ridge. The Three Sisters are the mountains on the left, with Loch Leven and the mountains of Ardgour in the far distance. Taken from Stob Coire Raineach.”

Sunfall
“The sun sets over Ben Venue (the mountain of the goblins) in the Trossachs, Scotland, lighting up the rain which is blowing across Loch Venachar. The mountain peaks of the Cruach Ardrain are lit up by rain clouds top right. The photo is taken from the top of Ben Gullipen after a 40 minute race up the mountain to reach the top before sunset.”

Katrine
“Loch Katrine, Trossachs, Scotland, taken from Ben A’an.”

Mail
“Loch Venachar, Scotland, about 30 minutes after sunset with the mist rolling in from the surrounding hills creating a slightly surreal scene. I thought long and hard about the title for this photo – obviously.”

Snow Power
“Electricity Pylons caught in a snow storm on the slopes of Beinn Uamha (Cavern Mountain), The Trossachs, Scotland.”

Finnich Gorge
“The bottom of the gorge is reached by climbing a few hundred feet down through a narrow fissure into which is carved the 300 year old Devil’s Staircase. Once at the bottom of the gorge you can wade up the river to the Devil’s Pulpit and waterfalls. The gorge was a secret meeting place thousands of years ago for the Druid priests of the old religions. The river appears to run red with blood due to the red sandstone base.”

Time to Say Goodbye
“The first snows of the coming winter fell in Scotland today and autumn is quickly drawing to a close. Time to say goodbye. The photo was taken at The Hermitage near Dunkeld in Perthshire.”

Eilean Donan Castle
“The castle was founded in the thirteenth century and was a stronghold of Clan MacKenzie. Following the first Jacobite Rebellion in 1715, the MacKenzie’s allegiance to the Old Pretender (James III) saw the castle’s destruction during a bombardment by government ships. The current castle was reconstructed from the ruins and other buildings added.”

I couldn't afford a ticket to the Olympics in Rio. So this is not Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro but me on top of Ben A'an in The Trossachs, Scotland.

I couldn’t afford a ticket to the Olympics in Rio. So this is not Sugar Loaf Mountain in Rio de Janeiro but me on top of Ben A’an in The Trossachs, Scotland.