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Women in landscape photography

This is the word excerpt from an article l wrote for an American magazine: ONE | TWENTY-FIVE a couple of years back. Thoughts on the representation of women in landscape photography. 

Women in landscape photography

Women in landscape photography

How pursuing a love of the wild lead this photographer to question the role of gender in landscape photography. 

Being out in Scotland’s wilderness is what makes my heart beat faster. I find it almost a form of meditation. Hiking through undulating landscapes and rich green vistas made lush by an over-abundance of rain. Methodically placing one foot in front of the other until all elements combine and l stop to take it all in and use my camera to try and capture that feeling of wildness, especially apparent in the Scottish highlands. More often than not, I’m drawn in by the light. That transient light that I’ve yet to experience in any other country, caused by multiple weather conditions whipping the landscape on a daily basis. Rain, hail, storm clouds, sun, mist, haze and snow: I’ve experienced most of these in one day out on the Scottish hills. The unpredictable weather can be a source of frustration but find yourself in the right place at the right time and you’ll experience photography nirvana. You will see light dancing across the land, illuminating mountain tops, a lone tree, a herd of stags, acting as nature’s spotlight, providing intriguing visual contrasts. This is why l love landscape photography. 

Landscape photography has always been one of the most, if not the most popular branch of photography. It has universal appeal, allowing viewers to transport themselves to locations and vistas they might never otherwise have a chance to see. It’s still a relatively new genre to me and having dipped my toes into this wonderful visual medium, I’m now hooked. So it comes as somewhat of a surprise to me to find that there are so few female landscape photographers, or certainly few ‘recognised’ female landscape photographers. Whilst women have made huge inroads into certain fields of this historically male dominated environment, we are still lagging behind in the landscape genre. 

Does it matter whether an image taken is produced by a man or a women. Yes and no. This is a question that is relevant across the whole creative genre. More women than men are represented at entry level in the creative arts but further down the line and into art galleries, art collections, competitions, museums, auctions, significantly more men than women are represented. To give some context to that, in 1985 the Guerrilla Girls were formed by a group of female artists with the intention of drawing attention to sexism, racism and corruption in the arts. They launched a poster campaign targeting the MET Museum with the headline Do women have to be naked to get into the MET Museum? accompanied by the following statement: 

Less than 5% of the artists in the Modern Art sections are women, but 85% of the nudes are female.

Interestingly enough, they carried out the same exercise in 2012 and found that less than 4% of the artists were women and 76% of the nudes were female. Clearly it’s an issue that requires a more in-depth discussion than this paper allows, but one that l feel we are all qualified to contribute to and help move towards removing the obstacles to women entering and remaining in creative professions. Personally, it’s a hugely relevant issue for me for two reasons:

  1. I’m inspired by a huge number of photographers of this genre (virtually all male). I have had fantastic support from them and have witnessed knowledge sharing, support and camaraderie. I view inspiring images on a daily basis and it never occurs to me to question whether they are taken by a woman or a man BUT l have struggled to find a photographer that l can relate to. One that can tell me how they managed to develop or maintain a career in landscape photography whilst also being the primary carer for a young family. 
  2. I have two children; one daughter and one son. l want role models for them. l want my daughter to know that she will have access to the same opportunities that my son will. But it’s hard to say that with any authority when l see so little representation of women in landscape photography. 

I have heard many reasons given as to why there are so few women pursuing this career path from the nonsensical such as ‘the equipment is too heavy for women’ (clearly these people have never had to carry around 50lbs of children on a regular basis) to the unbelievable ‘women are just not that interested in this genre’. But the most realistic one is that it is difficult to balance traditional landscape photography with childcare. Waiting for long periods of time for the perfect shot, being there at golden hour and travelling away from home. All of these are incompatible with family life. These are undeniable real-life barriers but barriers are there to be broken. Yes it’s going to be difficult to pursue ‘traditional’ landscape photography but you know what? Traditional landscape has been done and it’s been done a 1000 times before. Want a pin perfect shot of the Grand Canyon. Search on google. It will bring up thousands. Women have a significant contribution to make to this genre and we are limiting our role if we let these barriers hold us back. l prefer to think of such limitations are challenges. I’m stepping away from the conventional and looking for ways in which l can do it differently. My aim is never just to make a visual record of a scene but to create an image with emotional pull, one that captures the mood and feeling of a place. Our landscape isn’t always a picture postcard and l have found that some of my most popular pictures have been those that most realistically represent my country. 

One of the best ways to create unique images is to shoot in what most would consider ‘unfavourable conditions’. You don’t tend to see many landscape images taken in the rain. Why? Some of my most atmospheric shots have been taken in the rain. l specifically seek it out when shooting in the wild glens of Scotland such as Glencoe, which has a rich, dark history of massacre, famine, exposure, drama and love. Using a slightly longer exposure, you can turn that rain into a soft mist, really adding to the story. Camera protection is of the utmost importance but l prefer to not over-complicate things and mostly get by using a large golf umbrella to shield my camera from the worst of the elements and a lens cloth for cleaning rain droplets off my lens. 

On those rare full sun days in Scotland, instead of putting my camera away, I’ll head to the coast where the conditions really enhance the blues of the sea. I also seek out interesting textures, shapes, patterns and contrasts. If it’s not conditions conducive towards getting a portfolio worthy shot, I’ll use the opportunity to work on my craft, studying the curves and lines of the landscape, and using online tools to work out when the best light is likely to hit the location so that l am fully prepared when the right conditions do arise.  

Instead of seeing my children as a limitation, I incorporate them into my work. It’s not easy and realistically, l would be able to give a lot more time to my craft without them there, but for the time-being, I’m their primary carer and I’m in a fortunate position of being able to give them a taste of adventure. We camp, we build dens, we hike (small distances), we splash in puddles and climb trees, we run from waves and toast marshmallows. What better way to live your childhood. Often I’ll incorporate them into an image, providing perspective and scale and recording what their Scottish childhood looks like. 

l also spend a lot of time working close to home. Long road trips and weeks out in the hills waiting for the perfect moment is not workable for me. Instead, I focus my energy on trying to shoot locations close to home in new and unique ways. This is pushing me creatively and helping develop my photography skills even further. It has also given me a new appreciation for my hometown. 

There are so many ways in which we can break down these barriers and produce memorable and evocative images of our own landscapes. There has never been a better time for women to try out this genre, to push themselves to get out there and ‘feel’ the landscape and experience the meditative effects for themselves. I’ve no doubt that by the time my daughter is a young woman, there will be a multitude of female role models across all genres of photography to tell her about. 

First published in ONE | TWENTY-FIVE Vol 4 - Oct 2015

A Scottish Winter

Winter in Scotland

The last vestiges of Autumn slowly drift away. Everything is stripped back.  Sparkles appear in the shops indicating the imminent party season. I prefer sparkles of a different kind and find my eyes pulled upwards towards more celestial delights. The inky black sky is peppered with glitter. The kids look for constellations and then we make up some of our own. We follow the International Space Station traversing the sky 400km above us. The size of a football field, it appears as a bright white dot above us for seconds at a time before disappearing over the far reaches towards other continents. 

The damp days give way to frozen delights. With teeth chattering we stomp on frozen puddles, the ice crunching and breaking beneath us. Red, dripping noses and warm breath, seeking out pockets of light when we can whether it be from the sun, the glowing embers of the fire or from the twinkly fairy lights strung up haphazardly around the house. 

Winter in Scotland
Winter in Scotland
Winter in Scotland

Daylight and energy are sapped, the cloak of darkness wrapping us up sometimes as early as 3.30 in the afternoon. Light is so fleeting, barely has the day begun than the sun is setting. We warm our bodies from the inside out with copious amounts of steaming tea, warming stews and bubbling hot pots. This is the time to nourish our bodies. The dark nights feel like nature's way of slowing us down, a forced rest from the constant busyness of modern life. 

A skit of snow dusting the landscape heralds November's arrival. Like a sprinkling of icing sugar on a cake. Stepping out gingerly into the perfect stillness of a frosty morning, we marvel at the snowflakes and ice crystals which, in the right light represent nature's diamonds.  The snow also gives us an opportunity to develop our rudimentary tracking skills. We seek out prints in the snow, sketching them with numb fingers before internet sleuthing to reveal a number of creatures including deer, a fox and even a badger. 

This month also brings us our nightly serenade from our resident tawny owl. The familiar hooting of the owl staking his territory, engaging in nightly musings with a mate, provides an atmospheric backdrop to our dreams.

Winter in Scotland

Winter solstice passes largely unnoticed by the masses too focused on the Christmas mayhem. Although l enjoy this season, I'm extremely happy to welcome midwinter. Daylight stretches every day from now until the summer solstice when there will be an extra 11 hours and 15 minutes of daylight than there is today. As darkness approaches, I light candles and tea lights dotted around the house, creating light where there is none, imbuing a sense of cosagach or cosiness. We collect wood and methodically prepare the fire. The job is a therapeutic one on days when we have time to lounge. Kindling and paper, twigs and logs all placed in a careful pyramid. The spark from a match is all that is needed to turn this into a roaring fire.

Winter in Scotland

I snatch a day to myself and head out to the hills with a flask of tea and a bagel stuffed with brie and leftover christmas cranberry sauce. Driving out the scenic Deeside way, l make for Loch Muick on the Queen's Balmoral estate. Having set off late, l have the place mostly to myself. Past the visitor centre with its mountain artefacts, a red squirrel accompanies me for a short time, its russet coat standing our against the snowy backdrop of mountains. The path around the Loch is frozen solid and requires careful footing. Not so for the herd of deer who nimbly dart about the upper reaches of the crags eyeing me suspiciously. The freezing mist suspended over the water obscures the other side of the loch but not the jagged mountain peaks which, with their winter coats, hang menacingly over me. Shards of black ice paths zig zag up the seemingly impenetrable slopes of mountains including Lochnagar, Broad Cairn and Creag a Ghlas-uillt. A buzzard swoops down from the hilltop in front of me gliding over 'The Widow's House' named after it became Queen Victoria's place of respite and grieving following the death of Prince Albert.

Winter in Scotland

Jan and February hit hard. With no Christmas to distract us, the long dark nights and never-ending seagull grey days wear everyone down. The land has been stripped right back. Desolate swathes of nothingness. Seemingly incapable of supporting any wildlife but wildlife does thrive here. The roe deer are regular visitors to our gardens with as many as 7 visiting at one time. They feast on leaves, weeds, fungi, ferns and less pleasing to the gardeners amongst us, garden plants. It's a small price to pay for such a delightful sight. The holly tree with its beautiful deep green spiky foliage and bright red berries provides a feasting ground for a variety of garden birds entertaining me through the window as I edit. 

Winter in Scotland

Early nights with ferocious winds battering against the windows create the perfect hermit conditions. Warmed by an electric blanket I devour seasonal books with a hunger impossible to conjure in the long days of summer. As l read about wild swimming, stargazing, mountain climbing and nature spotting, my mind drift towards warmer days where exploration and adventure opportunities abound.  

The essence of the highlands seeps out of the fire made possible with a bag of peat from the Hebrides. As plans are made for the coming year, the house fills with the smells of my childhood, inducing a sharp nostalgia for all things and people gone.  Never do you feel a loved one's passing more keenly than a family celebration with Christmas being the hardest one to bear. Just as well this season is followed by that of Spring: renewal and hope are just around the corner. 

Escaping the grind

BC (before children), my husband and l did a lot of hiking and adventuring. Whilst friends visited America or Europe's jewels, we preferred to pack our climbing gear and head to the hills in far flung places like Nepal, China and Tibet. We didn't have the skills or experience to make it a serious hobby but we both loved it. The physical challenge, the mental break and of course the take your breath away (sometimes quite literally due to altitude) landscapes all combined to hook us in and we were left wondering why everyone else also didn't holiday this way. 

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It's been one of the hardest things to give up since having children. Our previous fearlessness has not translated into fearlessly travelling with young children. The huge positive to this change though has been that we have rediscovered and developed a deep love for our own country. Hiking through glens, camping from coast to coast, sailing across the Minch, immersing ourselves in our incredible and often dark history and frolicking on white sandy beaches on the west coast. 

Our previous experience has helped foster a love for nature and a yearning to pass on that same love and desire to make a positive impact to our children. 

Nowadays, the chances are more infrequent, the fitness isn't what it was and the adventures are less adventurous but we still get out there accompanied by our 4 and 7 year old. With nothing to do but walk and breath it all in, it is the antidote to today's rush, rush, rush, busy, busy world. The chance to physically exhaust our bodies but rest our minds. A free therapy that works wonders for me. Combine that with photography and I'm in heaven. I'm hoping that our children will develop their own sense of adventure and love for this beautiful country. 

Our youngest is only 2yrs old here. Despite taking a child carrier, she insisted on walking the whole way up the Old Man of Storr (she inherited her mother's stubbornness). Fit and healthy adults on their way down watched her in astonishment. We took regular breaks with food and water. They both had the time of their lives and still speak about it 18 months later. 

Our youngest is only 2yrs old here. Despite taking a child carrier, she insisted on walking the whole way up the Old Man of Storr (she inherited her mother's stubbornness). Fit and healthy adults on their way down watched her in astonishment. We took regular breaks with food and water. They both had the time of their lives and still speak about it 18 months later. 

Another hill conquered. 

Another hill conquered. 

A walk out to Ryvoan bothy in somewhat unfavourable weather. We headed inside to a warm fire and mini picnic. 

A walk out to Ryvoan bothy in somewhat unfavourable weather. We headed inside to a warm fire and mini picnic. 

Window View

Inspired by Paul Octavious project same hill different day http://samehilldifferentday.com, I've been capturing our window view over the last year. Until l saw these images together, l had no real commitment to the project. I've been casually snatching pictures as l get the kids ready, missing opportunities to do so because my camera was packed away. Now though, looking over them as a collection, I'm motivated to carry this on and make a real effort to capture the changing seasons and light. I can't believe how much change I've witnessed just capturing it haphazardly this year. 

Same View Different Day
Same View Different Day
Same View Different Day
Same view different day
Same view different day
same view different day

Autumn Bouquet

Oh l am so behind sharing on here, it's a disgrace. Summer was very busy with the two kiddos and towards the end of it, l managed to pick up a nasty chest infection that basically wiped me out for 6 weeks. I'm looking forward to drowning you all with lots of Scottish ( and Irish) imagery over the next few weeks. I still have some gorgeous client sessions to share with you as well. Meantime here's a quickie from today. The rain deluge finally stopped so we all donned wellies and headed out for a long walk to burn off energy. Along the way, the kids picked up a variety of foliage and we made it into an Autumn bouquet upon returning home. 

Autumn Bouquet

A Scottish Summer

Summer in Scotland

Summer is starting to fade in Scotland. The leaves are turning russet, the nights are drawing in and with it the unstoppable march towards winter begins.  How we long for summer in the depths of winter. The first taste of it usually comes in April. In the midst of spring and renewal an expected blast of heat arrives and a million Scots say a silent prayer pleading with the gods to let this be the year that we experience a full summer. Like the one our parents speak of from the 70s: when the sun shone constantly for 8 weeks and children played happily in the outdoors all summer long building dens and swimming in lochs. 

Summer Scotland

If Scotland had a proper summer, it would be overrun. In every other way except the weather, we consider this little country of ours to be perfect. Perhaps the weather is as much about protecting this beautiful landscape of ours as it is about providing a conversation starter. What else is there to stop people arriving in their droves other than the weather? 

The lengthening days mean more time for exploration. One exceptional weather weekend in June, we set off towards Glencoe hoping to finally experience it in beautiful midsummer conditions. The Glen of Weeping, named for the massacre that took place there in 1692, suits a bit of grim weather: it brings the ghosts of the past to life.  That particular weekend, the weather was a revelation. The greens of the hills were lush and luminous and the purple heather just starting to flower. Coachloads of tourists arrived by day, scurrying from one scenic photography spot to the next, never really taking the time to absorb it all. We left our touristing until the evening, preferring the solitude and quiet that came with it. We stopped at Loch Achtriochan, lured by the perfectly still waters mirroring the majestic landscape all around.  Stepping out of our camper van and craving an ice-cold drink, we made our way alongside a wildflower verge down to the water's edge. The gentle hum of insects lulled us until we saw a haze of black surround us. The dreaded midge, which thrives on dry, windless days had settled in for a feast. This contrast between the sweet and sour of adventuring in Scotland is often what makes trips memorable. 

Summer Scotland

The changeable weather in summer makes it hard to plan in advance. You can wake up to a glorious day but not know if the weather will hold long enough for you to have a bbq for dinner. In the same way that you need the challenges and down times in life to make you appreciate the great times, our more challenging weather helps us seize the day when the warm weather arrives. At the first whiff of sun, we play. At home, my children can while away many hours with a hosepipe, the spraying water making rainbows and soaking anyone in its path. We eat outside and I watch the juices from their watermelon slices leave a sticky trail down their chins.  Away from home, we forage for blaeberries and raspberries, hike up purple drenched hills or ramble through woodland thick with foliage and moss. One evening we take the children out to a nearby estate. We make the mistake of wearing simple summer shoes. They are no match for the recently drenched landscape and we squelch our way through the fields like elephants after a monsoon. We walk through a tunnel of trees emerging into the warm light at the other end. We touch the rough stone of old settlements and speak at length about the people who lived here before us. We catch sight of tiny frogs, jumping like popping corn in the path in front of us. The longer we observe, the more we see. Nature's broadway performance.  

Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland

Sometimes we go days and days without a hint of rain. The earth dries, the leaves and grass crisp and there is a hazy stillness in the air. The rain always comes though and after it, we are left with a musky, earthy scent. The very essence of the earth and rocks beneath our feet released. 

On the coast, you breathe in the air and taste the salt on your tongue. Usually the domain of squawking gulls, the summer months find many of our coastal areas taken over by a multitude of seabirds. Guillemots, kittiwakes, fulmars and our favourite - puffins, all cram together on the carved out cliff edges, the sea breeze dispersing the pungent aroma far and wide. Summer is also a good time for dolphin and if you are very lucky orca spotting. We venture out on a boat on aqua green waters off the west coast of Scotland and are observed by some very inquisitive seals. Keeping our distance, or trying to, the seals appear at regular intervals, bobbing up out of the water almost as if they have joined an observation tour of us. It's almost midsummer's eve and as l look into their human like eyes, l think back to the stories l have heard of the seal people or selkies. Those with the ability to cast off their sealskins and appear in human form. Many a tale has been told of the alluring selkie dancing under the moonlit sky and of humans hiding their sealskins to prevent them from returning to the sea. If you venture to the coast on the summer or winter solstice, perhaps you will have a story to tell too. 

On the north-east coast, hot and windless days can sometimes be tainted with haar: a thick porridge like mist that spreads a chill over the city. For those unaccustomed to this sight, it can seem quite apocalyptic. Best to head inland on those days. 

Venturing away from the coast, a favourite sight is that of the rosebay willowherb. This pink wildflower consumes usually desolate areas dispersing pink across the landscape. Roadsides, wasteland, railway embankments all transformed into thriving and colourful insect metropolises. The national flower follows suit although isn't nearly so prolific in its endeavours. The thistle's silvery stalk leads up to a spiky bulb with a vibrant purple flower perched on top, instantly identifiable as a source of pride for all Scots. 

Summer Scotland

The platitudes don't fade with nightfall. Night is so brief at this time of year, the daytime glow never really disappears. We wrap the kids up, head inland and clamber on top our our camper. Wrapped in duvets and warmed from the inside out by milky hot chocolate, our 6 year old is our star guide. He points out the north star, the W of Cassiopeia, Pegasus, Andromeda and the milky way. As our eyes adjust, we make up our own constellations.  Nature's encore performance is stars shooting across a twinkling sky, the zenith of the Perseid meteor shower. 

Summer Scotland

As we enter August, there are hints of Autumn. The darkness closes in on our long, light evenings, early morning temperatures dip and the luminous green of the landscape begins to fade. By the end of the month, the leaves will start falling announcing Autumn's arrival. But summer has one last bittersweet delight: the flowering heather. In a matter of days the hills, glens and moors are carpeted in various purple hues from lilac to vivid deep violet. This is my favourite time for exploration. The light is softer, the colours more gentle. Summer's last lingering days gently ease us into the next season of life. 

Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland

Picking lavender

Found some time to harvest the lavender in our garden with a view to making soap, oil and shortbread with it once dried. 

Lavender
Lavender

Belladrum Fun (with children)

Belladrum 2017

One of our many adventures this summer was attending Belladrum: a small music festival (about 18000-19000 people) in the highlands of Scotland. Billed as a festival for all ages, with a great, friendly atmosphere we had high, possibly unrealistic expectations for it. Now before I go on, a caveat: a lot of the issues I'm going to jest about here are to do with the fact that we were there with a 3 year old and a 6 year old. Anywhere you go with that age group is going to be a challenge. You could arrange a holiday which involved flying on a pink sparkly unicorn to minecraft island where you ate nothing but ice cream and it would still be a massive challenge. Somehow though, every trip turns into childbirth. We forget about the massive challenges and plough on booking new adventures and seeking out the elixir of children holidays. 

Belladrum 2017

We left Aberdeen on Thursday morning, keen to arrive at the festival before lunchtime and avoid the worst of the traffic. It definitely took longer than normal but was relatively painless. Arrived to lovely weather, got a great camping spot, set up the awning and had some lunch. WINNING. 

Belladrum 2017

Mid afternoon we headed down to the festival site itself. First impressions were great. A walled garden area with a myriad of activities for kids including circus skills and an old fashioned swing boat as well as art installations, stalls, a small music stage and plenty of other things we never got round to seeing properly. This was one area that we initially thought we would spend a lot of time in but the lure of the fairground type activities in the main site was too big for the kids. Oh yeah, you know when you are younger and go to a festival and spend a fortune on booze. Well the money you save on booze as an adult attending a festival with kids is completely trumped by the money you spend on kids activities. There was a merry go round, bouncy castles, zorbing, trampolining, ice-skating, dodgems and a helter skelter. Oh and you know how l mentioned it was a music festival? Turns out our kids had absolutely no interest in the music bit and would have been quite happy traversing from one pricey fairground ride to the next. Even though they are young, we had just assumed that the excitement of live music would thrill them and start their music loving journey. We were wrong. There were lots of free activities for kids as well: cinema, theatre shows, yoga, dancing lessons, puppetry. Our kids showed less than zero interest in the free activities, preferring instead to wail for each new pricey fairground activity they came across. LOSING.

Belladrum 2017
Belladrum 2017

We wandered through art installations and hay bales, stages and performances trying to get our bearings. One of the great things about the festival was the fantastic variety and quality of food on offer. Is there another festival where food options include: oysters, mussels, cullen skink, crispy haddock in a wrap with salad and basil pesto mayonnaise, venison burgers, halloumi wraps, hot garlic bread, chick pea curry, wood fired pizza, ice-cream, milkshakes, fresh fruit smoothies and waffles with an array of toppings? One other thing that l thought was great was there was a pop up co-op on site. We could get groceries here which helped with fussy kids and also meant we were loaded up for the drive back home. WINNING.

Belladrum 2017
Belladrum 2017

That evening we managed to catch our first band: First Aid Kit. Woot. I'm a big fan and was over the moon that they were one of the few bands we managed to see over the weekend. They played at the Garden Stage - a big open area on multiple levels with lots of places to sit/ stand/ retreat to with kids. We stayed near the back, on the hillside. No sooner had the band started than our oldest announced that he needed the toilet. Hubs took one for the team and made the 20-25min round trip to the toilet. This wouldn't normally take so long but the band had just started and there was a huge flow of people to get through to get away from and back into the stage venue. First Aid Kit finished a fantastic set (checking out their tour schedule now) and we looked hopefully at the kids to see whether they might last a little longer to see the start of Sister Sledge. It was a resolute no. Fair enough after such long day but aagh, it was tough returning to our camper van with some amazing disco sounds echoing out of the main stage. This set sounded amazing and is the band I'm most disappointed about not seeing.  WINNING&LOSING.

Belladrum 2017
Belladrum 2017

They really aren't kidding when they sell this as a festival for all the ages. Babies right up to OAP's were there enjoying themselves. Some families were clearly Belladrum veterans and came prepared with mini homes on wheels for kids to rest in. These carts came with blankets, a mini shelter pod, snacks and fairy lights. A number of people got married over the weekend at the Belladrum Temple. No fear of mud on a white dress from these festival goers. We felt very safe the whole time we were there. It really did have a lovely, welcoming vibe. WINNING.

The next morning we woke up to rain. With no means of checking the weather due to a lack of signal, we kept our fingers crossed for a brief rain shower but it was anything but. The rain kept up the whole day into the early evening making for some interesting mud bath conditions. We headed down to the main festival site in the afternoon. Most people were huddled into the tents enjoying the bands but our kids just wanted to partake in kids activities. We made the mistake of letting the kids go on the covered bouncy castle. The covered bouncy castle was no match for the Scottish weather and the kids came out drenched. A rather wet and soggy walk back to the van to dry out and have a little nap and we woke up refreshed, ready to head down to see Feeder on the main stage. LOSING. 

Belladrum 2017

The rain had stopped by this time but the path to the festival site was on the treacherous side of muddy. Our wellies (which we wore the whole wknd, don't bother bringing any nice shoes) coped well though l kept a firm grip on my 3 year old's hand fearing an actual mud bath. Feeder are fantastic live. Our 3 year old actually rocked out to this band (the only time this weekend we saw any real interest from either of our kids in the music).  We even managed to stay for the first half  of the headline act that night: The Pretenders. I was really impressed with the festival line-up. WINNING.

Belladrum 2017

After a great night's sleep we woke to sunshine. We enjoyed our breakfast outside and spoke at length about how wonderful music festivals would be if you had guaranteed sunshine for their duration. 

We headed down to the site for more festival fun including my 3rd go on the merry go round. The hubs and l thought the kids would love Danny Macaskill's Drop and Roll tour (if you don't know who he is check out this video which shows off just some of his immense biking skills https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQ_IQS3VKjA). To get a spot we had to be there 35 mins before the performance started. Things kinda fell down a bit here. Our son has additional needs (Autism) and struggles with waiting and sensory overload. Some people thought we were mad to take him to a festival and in lots of ways, they were right. But we've always been keen to open the door to as many experiences for him as possible, with safeguards and some planning involved. In this instance it meant lots of breaks and sensory activities (of which there was an abundance given all the kid friendly activities), his ear defenders to minimise the noise overload and avoiding long queues for things. There was no way of avoiding the queueing here. In order to get a spot, you had to be there early and from then on the crowd started filling out behind us and there was lots of jostling and pushing. Basically an autism nightmare. We managed to get him to the start of the performance but by then he had reached overload and couldn't relax to enjoy it and l had to remove him from the situation and find a quiet spot for a break. I'm not sure there is any way around this but it was a real shame to miss a chunk of the show. Oh and hidden disabilities make for lots of staring and whispers. On the whole, this seemed to be quite a welcoming festival for disabilities. I'm not sure how friendly the mud was but we saw plenty of people there with a range of physical disabilities who looked to be really enjoying themselves. I think a couple of little additions could help make this even friendlier for those with high functioning autism who want to experience a festival. 

Can you see the Belladrum heart in the clouds?

Can you see the Belladrum heart in the clouds?

Whilst we enjoyed some fantastic food from The Seafood Shack (normally based in Ullapool and an absolute must if you are in the area), the kids enjoyed some bouncing in the zorbs. The guys running this must have lost a fair few pounds over the weekend running up and down the hill bouncing kids inside. This was my son's absolute favourite thing of the whole MUSIC festival. 

We headed back to the van and the kids rested whilst we packed up our awning and clothes. We had decided to set off on Saturday night instead of Sunday morning fearing that there may well be chaos with a multitude of campervans all trying to leave at the same time up the same waterlogged dirt track. We headed back down to the site to catch the last headliners managing to see both Birdy and KT Tunstall (born to perform, she created a real buzz about the place) before both the kids and us decided to get going. 

With the kids all snuggled up in their chairs and a Harry Potter audiobook on the radio we headed down the road pleased to have survived. Lots of funny family memories for the memory bank, a van full of mud and glitter and a resolution to return again. The question is do we have the energy to do it all again with the kids................

Belladrum 2017

In summer

Never did get round to sharing some of our family summer holiday pictures from last year. We toured around Scotland in our VW camper van and had an amazing time (as long as you don't mention that one day where the weather was so stinking bad that we were stuck in the van all day long. Thank goodness for IPADs). We visited Ardnamurchan, Arisaig and the Isle of Skye. Roll on more crazy family adventures this year and apologies as this is post is image heavy. 

Scotland
Scotland
Scotland
Scotland
Stewart Family 2016 Summer-12.jpg
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland
Summer Scotland

World Environment Day

World Environment Day

I've always been vaguely environmentally aware. Which in reality means that I agreed with all the principles but didn't put a lot of them into practice. Having children motivated me to learn more but although I endeavoured to make better choices, sometimes the sheer exhaustion of early parenthood meant the easier choice won. 

2 things have lit a fire under me recently.

The first: Donald Trump. Effectively the most powerful man in politics, he has the power to make an incredible difference to our world and the issue of climate change. Instead he prioritises profits over wellbeing with actions such as pulling out of the Paris Agreement, slashing funding for environmental programmes and appointing a climate change denier to the most important environmental role in the US: Head of the Environmental Protection Agency.  

The second is more local. Scotland has seen a surge of tourists in the last few years. Initiatives such as the development of the NC500 route, the popularity of Outlander and the promotion of Scotland as a tourist destination through Instagram have aided this increase. Scotland deserves all the plaudits. It truly is one of the most beautiful areas of this world and somewhere l believe everyone should try and visit at least once in their lifetime. However, this recent increase hasn't been without its issues. As a photographer who spends a reasonable amount of time outdoors in Scotland, l am witnessing an increasing disregard for our environment. This is a trend that is being reflected throughout the country and is being highlighted by a number of photographers, outdoor enthusiasts and national organisations such as Keep Scotland Beautiful who have identified that " for the first time in ten years, Scotland’s local environmental quality is in decline".

Rubbish tossed into the landscape or left piled up next to overflowing bins, the ground charred by home-made fires or in worse case scenarios left irreparably damaged by out of control fires, erosion to the land and damage to flora caused by people straying from official paths, cigarette butts and the disposable bbq's and bottles left on the beaches and wild campsites. It is devastating to witness. 

World Environment Day

It's prompted me to look at what l can do to improve things. An overwhelming task when viewed on an individual level but collectively can make a huge difference.  As a family we are making changes including leasing an electric car, teaching our children to love and respect nature, starting to grow our own vegetables, carrying litter pick up materials when we go out travelling to collect and appropriately dispose of other's rubbish, reducing our meat consumption and avoiding flying whenever possible (helped by me fear of flying). 

Collectively, a number of influential Scottish Instagram users are using their voice to say enough is enough. From highlighting problem areas and raising awareness to working with national organisations such as the John Muir Trust, there is a passion behind this movement that we hope will lead to positive change and help protect and enhance this beautiful country. 

It's an overwhelming task with no easy solutions but that doesn't give us an excuse to not try. If you want to help, you might find these links helpful:

The John Muir Trust is a conservation charity dedicated to protecting our wild places https://www.johnmuirtrust.org

Keep Scotland Beautiful is the organisation tasked with "leading the way on improving Scotland’s environment, tackling a wide range of environmental issues, from reducing the amount of litter on our streets to cutting the carbon emissions that threaten our planet.

For advice on your rights and responsibilities in the Scottish Outdoors please check out http://www.outdooraccess-scotland.com/

There is so much more that can be written about the topic of the environment and sustainable tourism. I hope to write a regular series on this with helpful links, guides and updates. Please let me know if there are any valuable resources or organisations out there that you think will be useful to include. 

#WorldEnvironmentDay

World Environment Day

Monday thoughts

It's been a fortnight of devastation in the UK. I have a long list of jobs to do but my thoughts come back to Eilidh MacLeod and her family who will be burying her today. There are so many stories that stick with you through these unimaginable events but Eilidh's has particular resonance because of my connection to the Western Isles. A trip off the islands is always exciting but a trip away with your best friend to see your pop idol? The outfit planning, the make up, the whatsapp conversations with friends at home........... That first flush of adulthood flushed away in an act of devastating horror. 

Her family have shown incredible dignity and strength these last two weeks. The undeniable support from their community in Barra and further afield will no doubt have helped.

I'm trying to channel that frustrating impotence you feel in a situation like this. I'm going to dance a little bit harder, sing a little bit harder and grab more opportunities and each time l do, I'll think of Eilidh and her love for life and music. Forever young and vibrant: may she rest in peace.

 

 

The bonny banks of Loch Lomond

I had the pleasure of meeting this family, all the way over from America, for a photoshoot at Loch Lomond. Just days before the shoot, it was snowing heavily. l tried to prepare them and gave advice about layers and keeping warm. Imagine all of our surprise when the day dawned bright, beautiful and sunny. One of those summer days in Scotland that we can never predict. So sunny in fact that we couldn't reward the kids with an ice-cream at the end of the shoot because the shop had completely sold out. 

Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
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Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland
Photoshoot Scotland

How to survive in a camper van for 2 weeks as a family of 4

Campervan life isn't for everyone. If you prefer fully inclusive holidays with kids clubs, a spa and lots of beach time, then you probably aren't going to thrive in a campervan. But if hiking boots, a wet suit and waterproofs form part of your wardrobe, this could be your ideal family holiday. 

I've always lusted after a vintage VW Campervan. It inspires a huge sense of nostalgia amongst its fans. An emblem of simpler times and sunny days. We got our van (still unnamed) 2.5 years ago and have spent many happy days and nights with her since. The kids love her. Only Disneyland could compete for their attention. 

Campervan Scotland
VW Campervan

Our very first trip was to the banks of Loch Morlich for the night. With it being our first time, we had no idea how to organise and pack/ unpack efficiently. It was a late night by the time we got all the beds made up and everything tidied away. Our return journey descended into disaster when we snapped our clutch cable coming over the Lecht (the highest road in Britain) and were stuck at the top in a howling gale for 7 hours. But much as that sounds miserable (and in a car it would have been), we actually had a great time. We could make ourselves a cup of tea or a snack whenever we wanted, the kids had space to move around, we had plenty of warm blankets and even an IPAD for watching films. We've had a couple of breakdowns since, one self-inflicted and one due to issues relating to the age of the van. With each one we gain more mechanical knowledge and skills and whilst not ideal, it's part and parcel of owning a vintage vehicle and a risk that we are willing to take for the joy we get travelling and camping in it. Many modern camper vans don't have this to contend with but if you are thinking of buying an old van, be prepared to gain some new mechanical skills.

VW Campervan
VW Campervan

Having spent a great deal of time as a family of four in ours, we have a good idea about what makes for a successful road trip. Here's our recommendations (with a number of weather related items due to the fact that we have no control over the Scottish weather).

1. An awning. Particularly for trips of 3 or more days. Not sure this would be strictly necessary in warmer climes but in Scotland we can sometimes see days of unrelenting rain. It's great to have the extra space to dry off in, play in and store belongings. We have one similar to this: http://www.justkampers.com/camper-van-motorhome-and-camping-accessories/awnings-sun-canopies/motorhome-awnings/vango-airaway-kela-iii-2017-low-cloud-grey-driveaway-awning.html It takes hardly any time to put up and even less time to put away. 

2. Leveller ramps. If you are parking on an uneven ground, this helps make the camper level ensuring a better night sleep for everyone. 

3. Waterproofs. I've mentioned the weather already. Sometimes we have glorious days. Ones that take your breath away and there is no better place to be in the world. Crystal clear, sparkling waters, the freshest seafood, the best viewpoints and scenery. Summer utopia. More often than not, we have quite average days. Overcast, lukewarm temperatures, nothing too offensive either way. But sometimes we have drookit days. The rain is never-ending, the skies dark and grey and a dampness permeates everything. You are going to get cabin fever pretty quickly in a small camper van. Better to have the right gear on you and make an adventure of it. Kids love nothing better than being given free reign in a large puddle. 

Campervan Scotland
Campervan Scotland

4. A small activity bag. l make up a bag for each of them with travel activities and games that l have usually sourced from pinterest. They also select a few toys to take and we always carry a ball and a bucket and spade for the beach. 

5. Similar bedtimes. Give up any notion of getting a couple of hours to yourself in the evening. It just doesn't happen. Instead accept that the kids will be going to bed a bit later and you a bit earlier. A bit more sleep is required to handle the rigours of 24/7 van life with children anyway. 

VW Campervan
VW Campervan

6. Route planning around kids activities. If the kids are unhappy, you are unhappy. To have a successful campervan holiday you need to plan around kid hotspots such as parks, swimming pools, the dreaded play barns (emergency rain back ups only) etc. We usually try and build a big, kid friendly activity in every two days. Sweetie shops and ice creams are a hit any day. 

7.  Get creative. Our kids are 6 and 3 and have climbed several big hills with us. If you say you are going for a walk, be prepared to hear several hours of complaints. Instead sell it as a kid friendly adventure. A gruffalo hunt, a fairy adventure, a search for giants. Incorporate elements of the landscape into the adventure, make a treasure map, bring lots of little snacks and stop frequently. Look for the most adventurous (but safe) way to get to the top. Our kids despise a nice, safe mud free path. Stick in lots of uneven steps, some bouldering and a few muddy bogs and they are in their element. 

8. A heater. We have a little heater in the van and it makes those occasional frosty or just cold and damp mornings infinitely better. We snuggle up and get toasty whilst a pot of tea brews. Perfection. 

9. IPAD - A lifesaver for longer road trips or particularly sustained rainy periods. We load ours up with films, make a snug and snack up. 

Campervanning Scotland

One last thing: Responsibility. It's never too early to install a sense of responsibility for the environment in your children. We've witnessed plenty of questionable tourist behaviour from littering to unsafe driving. Life lessons for our kids include picking up other people's litter and an education in why we do that. We want them to be environmentally conscious campers who "take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints"

Campervan Scotland

Spring refresh

I've not picked up my camera much lately, except for work. A long grey winter eroded some of my enthusiasm for it. But l've found that as with most things, a little absence makes the heart grow fonder. I'm pushing myself to photograph close to home, a place that l tend to struggle with inspiration and as a result, I feel myself growing and learning so much from it.  

Chasing sunsets

He likes to chase sunsets with me. 

NuArt Aberdeen 2017

In recent years, Aberdeen, a city best known for its granite and its oil industry, has turned into a bit of a creative hub. New and exciting events appear on the festival line-up every year creating an exciting buzz around the city centre. One of the most inspiring to take place this year is NUART which showcases street art from a variety of artists around some of the more 'tired' areas of the city. I finally got the chance to go out and see some of the art this weekend and was blown away. Compelling portraits, storytelling and splashes of colour on an otherwise grey veneer. Even more inspiring was the range of people taking a walkabout throughout the city to explore and appreciate these artworks. Showing that street art is one of the most accessible forms of artistry out there, this event appealed to a wide range of people across society. I'm excited to see this return to the city in future years. 

NUART ABERDEEN
NUART Aberdeen
nuart aberdeen
NUART ABERDEEN
NUART ABERDEEN
nuart aberdeen
NUART ABERDEEN
NUART ABERDEEN
NUART ABERDEEN
NUART ABERDEEN
NUART ABERDEEN
NUART ABERDEEN

Isle of Harris

We visited family in the Outer Hebrides this Easter holidays. No trip there is complete without taking in the wonders of Harris. The landscape is truly breath-taking. Wild, rugged and peppered with dusky white beaches. We spent nights observing the stars and days avoiding rain showers and exploring the jagged and beautiful coastline. We met a resident who had hitch-hiked up to Harris 40yrs ago and never left. I can see why. It's a creative lover's paradise. A trip there will soothe your soul and help you slow down. 

Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris Camping
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris
Isle of Harris

Campervan Tales

We've had her for two years but l don't share nearly enough pictures of her. Here's just some that I have taken over that time.