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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
He likes to chase sunsets with me.
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.
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.
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.
I've been trying to embrace the 'slow-living' movement and simplify life a bit more. It seems to be a big trend just now with many extolling the virtues of concepts such as the capsule wardrobe, the Hygge lifestyle or the small house movement. My version of it is about simplification. Less clutter and plastic, more experiences. Less flights away, more staycations. Less social media, more socialising.
This gradual shift towards a lower maintenance lifestyle now seems to have infused itself into my photography and I'm hankering after more simplicity there too. Reviewing my images from last year, l'm struck by how busy they are. My style definitely isn't minimalist but I'm going to push myself to explore this concept this year.
Having studied some of my favourite 'minimalist artists and images, I've come up with some guidelines to help:
- Simplify. Take the time to see what is in the frame. Exclude anything that isn't necessary. Less is more.
- Utilise negative space help isolate and draw attention towards my subject.
- Create a sense of distance and scale by backing up.
- Subjects that seem particularly suited to minimalist landscape photography include lone trees, seascapes and snowscapes.
Inspiration will come from some of my favourite magazines including Cereal, my favourite photographers who l feel lean towards a more minimalist photography style (including James Wright and Finn Beales) and the accompanying soundtrack will likely be made up of songs from First Aid Kit and Tom Odell.
I'd love to hear any if you have any hints or tips or know of any artists that you think are great at this type of photography.
It's a photographic love letter to the Hebrides. Stunning imagery, personal anecdotes and a history of the island and its people. This is a book l return to time and time again. It captures the colour and feel of the islands perfectly. It's a moodboard of inspiration for photographers and once viewed you will feel compelled to make your own pilgrimage to the islands.
Scotland has some of the finest camping sites in the world. We've done our fair share of wild camping, still do, but nowadays we like to pre-plan some of our trips with a bit more comfort in mind. Always on the lookout for a unique and scenic spot, this is our starting point. This book looks more at the overall experience rather than just 5* facilities. Mountains, sea-scapes, sunsets, home-cooking, art courses, traditional music. There's a campsite for every interest. Along with handy hints like where the nearest pub is or what to do if it's rainy. Buy this if you want to find a unique location to stay in Scotland.
As above but for the more rough and ready of us. Not my husband's cup of tea, he prefers van-life. But this newly released book has me dreaming of mountain adventures and long nights spent in front of an open fire nursing a wee dram. Bothies have a special place in the hearts of outdoor enthusiasts. Basic accommodation, often in the most scenic and remote of locations, which provide shelter for anyone who needs them. How very Scottish! The book is broken down into categories such as bothies for beginners and families, romantic bothies, best bothies for solitude and best for history and legends. If you are after a Scottish adventure, this might be the guide to fire you up.
This book has justifiably earned cult status. l simply cannot do justice to it with my own words. If you love mountains, have spent any time in the Cairngorm mountain range or love fantastic writing, you must get this book. The prose is spellbinding. Here is someone who enjoyed mountains not just for the challenge of reaching the top, but as an exercise in absorbing all of our surroundings and the impact nature and the wild has on us. She makes it all feel magical.
Still making my way through this and although it's not specifically Scottish, I've included it here because it makes lots of references to Scottish mountains. This is a chunky and engaging read by another author who has the unique ability to capture special details about a place that others just don't see. It goes some way to explaining why mountains have such appeal for some people. It's written by a mountain lover for mountain lovers. Get ready to read about some of your favourite climbs in a new light or to be inspired to finally climb one of the mountains that he so evocatively describes.
Enchanting bedtime reading for children filled with Scottish folklore about creatures such as the Loch Ness monster (affectionately known as Nessie), selkies (seals that take a human form), kelpies, giants and much more. A storybook that both me and my kids love to read again and again.
l thought you might like a little tour inside our little camper van. Officially she's a 1977 Bay Window T2. Unofficially she's my third baby. We got her two years ago and since then have been on multiple family adventures with her. It's such a great way to get about Scotland and she turns lots of heads.
This is her from the outside.
And here's some interior pictures (mostly). She's can sleep 5 in theory, but you definitely couldn't fit 5 adults in at once. We get along just fine with the four of us. We sleep in the fold out bed in the back, it's quite roomy. The kids sleep either in the hammock over the front cab or the bed up top (it's chillier up there). We have heating, a cooker, a sink and a fridge. We take some movies for rainy days (but drying clothes can be problematic if we have a run of bad weather) and lots of teabags because there is nothing in life that can't be solved with a cup of tea. If you are hankering after one, just do it. You are likely to expand your mechanical knowledge (lemons into lemonade) but you will make memories that will last forever. My kids love her and we'd be hard pushed to find another holiday that would compete (Disney excluded).
Scotland's weather is infamous. Never mind 4 seasons in one day, you can get 4 seasons in an hour. The saying goes, if you don't like the weather, wait 5 mins. It's what makes the photographic opportunities so immense. The landscape is never quite the same from one hour to the next. Make sure you are prepared for the weather and bring adequate waterproofs for you and your camera. Or do what I do when the weather gets bad which is leave your camera in the car and use your mobile phone instead. The lens is smaller and easier to protect and it's much cheaper to buy weatherproof covers for the phone than it is for the DSLR. Check out this article for some phone camera tips. Alternatively, as above, wait 5 minutes.
The road conditions and lack of 'stopping places'
Scotland is full of stop and get out of the car vistas. Unfortunately it's not full of stop and get out of the car parking places (same goes for 'rest stops', get used to alfresco peeing). Some places have lots, some don't. Some are passing places so you can't stop for any length of time. Find a safe place to stop, get your fitbit on and chalk up some steps. Due to the overwhelming urge to stop and take some pictures, you will find that journeys take much longer than expected. Also bear in mind, a highland mile is quite different to a 'normal mile". Well, not really, but check out this article for more information.
Each season in Scotland has its merits and drawbacks. Come in Spring and you will see an entirely different landscape to that of Autumn. It's part of what makes this place so captivating. Here's a breakdown of what to expect in each season.
Spring. The long dark nights are fading fast. Green is reappearing, spring-time bulbs are flowering. Although there may still be some snow on the hills, colour starts returning to the landscape.
Summer. Vibrant greens, excessive foliage, long days that mean photography adventures can continue late into the evening. During the day, the sun is too high and direct to obtain much photographic wise but evenings can be delicious with beautiful, soft lighting, long, lazy sunsets, amazing seafood and lots of local festivals. Come late summer/ early Autumn and the hillsides will be tinged purple with Scottish heather. If you are visiting a popular tourist area, you might want to leave it until another season to avoid the throngs of tourists (or just get up earlier/ go later to the most popular attractions.
Autumn. My favourite season. The landscape changes hugely over the course of a few weeks. The lurid greens of summer give way to yellows, reds and burnt orange. Crisp, clear days create perfect photography conditions and if you are lucky all this colour might combine with a dusting of snow on the hills.
Winter. My second favourite season. Could even be my first if it didn't go on so long. When the sun is out, it's golden hour all day long. Sunrise and sunset times are convenient for those who don't like getting up early/ staying up late. When the snow comes, it transforms the landscape into something quite magical.
A season all of its own. Some places in Scotland get very busy at certain times. Hit the popular spots, like the Isle of Skye or Edinburgh, in summer and you are going to have to compete with a throng of tourists to get your picture. (I personally love Skye in Autumn and Winter. Beautiful light and empty landscapes). But you don't have to go far to move away from the throng. Choose a guide who will take you off the beaten track or do it yourself. Hire a car, take a picnic and get lost. It will probably lead to your most memorable images.
Your return trip
It can't be done in one trip. Not even a fraction of it. This might be a small country but it is big on cinematic and captivating landscapes and buzzing, vibrant cities. I live here, travel around the country regularly and still haven't seen a fraction of it. You will want to return.
Tips for getting the best landscape images out of your iPhone.Read More
Ok it's a bit late but in my defence - December with kids which also includes one of the kids birthdays!
This year l failed miserably again. No time was carved out for crafty activities and Christmas bakes with the kids. Instead it was a rolling procession of parties, outings, recitals, plays and other such events that mean my kids have an infinitely better social life than me.
I take a picture of our tree every year. We picked it up on sale in Costco a few years back. It's like a shopping centre sized tree but I love it. Of course once we have put it up and decorated it, we have no energy to do Christmas decorating anywhere else.
I had great plans for a series of Christmas themed images with the kids. But my oldest will not indulge me at all and the youngest never stays still. Still l got a few. Tip - give them something to focus on. In this instance, her favourite book.
Here she is with one of her favourite Christmas presents.
Checking for wrinkles.
Her first nativity. Everything about it was adorable and l almost cried.
Somebody turned 6. So big.
We had a small Christmas themed party. Gingerbread houses, hot chocolate and The Polar Express.
I try and take the same picture next to the Christmas tree every year. It's all fine and well until l look back at the old ones and start getting emotional about how quickly it's all passing.
Between Christmas and New Year we got a bit more time to ourselves. We decided to decorate a tree with edible decorations for the wildlife.
Heres our other 'baby' all decorated for Christmas.
On New Year's Eve we started a new tradition. Every time something amazing or funny happens to one of us this year, we will write it down and keep it in this memory jar. Hopefully it will be full of happy and fun memories to reminisce over next New Year's Eve.
I started off the year shooting an intimate wedding ceremony. It's an absolute privilege to shoot someone's wedding service. It's one of the most important and memorable days in anyone's life and l love to get to be part of it. The wedding took place in the Grant Room at Marishal College in Aberdeen. It was beautiful and touching and fantastic start to married life for Ian and Alex.
A rather cold day at Colliestion Pier on the NE coast of Scotland.
People have many different reasons for using Instagram. For me, very late to the party, it started off as a quick and easy way to share phone images from my homeland. It's morphed into much more than that now. I've made lots of connections through Instagram and we have a fantastic community of "Instagrammers' in Scotland who organise regular photography meet ups throughout the country. This gives all of us photography nerds a place to hang out together and overdose on all things photography.
At the end of November, l spent the weekend with a great group of women in a cabin on the banks of Loch Earn. The one thing that unites us is photography. We talked shop, got up early to witness the (disappointing) sunrise, headed out on a mini road trip and collectively oohed and ached over the photography opportunities. The mild weather and perfectly still day made for photography alchemy. Here's some images from the weekend.
l really look forward to compiling these posts and sharing a little bit of family life with you. I had a fab November. Some beautiful frosty mornings, not too many dull days, an overnight trip away with some Scottish Instagrammers, catching up with friends and squeezing in some baby snuggles. Here's my picture diary:
The littlest has started ballet. I'm not sure there is anything more beautiful to a room full of mums than seeing little girls dressed in pink ballet uniforms.
The leaf deluge continues.
But this time of year is full of spectacular sunrises and take your breath away evening skies. The oldest posing here. He's not always so keen to get in front of the camera but is showing a real interest in learning photography.
Here's an image he took for homework. It was safer to hand over my camera than the sparkler. In case it's not obvious, the word is FIRE.
Frosty mornings. Pain in the arse for scraping windscreens first thing in the morning but the silver lining is that nature sparkles with its winter coat.
Made an early start to the Christmas pictures. This year she was bribed with a lollipop.