Book Review - Photographing Scotland by Dougie Cunningham
With his book Photographing Scotland, Dougie Cunningham has managed to do justice to Scotland, and that is no easy task. There are a lot of books out there about Scotland. A lot of books with great writing, lots with great photos. Dougie has combined the two to create an impressively thorough overview of his country.
I had been drooling over Photographing Scotland for months after seeing links online. Imagine my surprise and delight when Dougie messaged my Facebook page that he was a big fan of my blog, would I like to come to the book launch, and would I like a copy of the book? To quote the youngsters, I fan girled pretty hard. Take a look at the photos below and you'll understand!
I met Dougie for coffee in Glasgow, and bombarded him with questions about the journey behind the book. He's very approachable, down to earth and humble. It was a fascinating conversation. This was truly a labor of love for him, and Dougie didn’t phone this one in. He took the time (4 years) to be thorough. I had a great visit, and would have loved to talk to him a lot more but I let the poor guy go. "Lets meet in the hills next time" was the mutual farewell, and I was off with my new treasure. I picked up a copy for my friend Lesley (check out her blog here!) both of which Dougie graciously autographed.
Dougie treats both touristy locations and off the beaten path secrets with equal respect. No matter what type of photographer you are, you will feel welcomed by this book. His tone is both informative and conversational. Well timed humor pops up in unexpected places lending a warmth to the reading experience. Practical tips abound - the recurring theme seems to be "don't forget your wellies!" Great snippets of history give a deeper understanding of many locations.
This book is respectfully and responsibly written. We the reader are encouraged to use an abundance of caution in our wanderings. Close farm gates behind you. Respect privacy. Respect the environment and the locals. Take care when driving, observe the rules of the road, show common courtesy, know your limits, watch the tides and the weather forecast. Dougie’s respect, affection and pride for his country are evident in every facet of his book. He has a way with words, as evidenced in his description of Neist Point, Skye:
"There is a very definite sense of both arrival and of finality on reaching Neist Point, the most westerly point on Skye. At the remote end of an ever diminishing road, the peninsula and its lighthouse make for one of the very best sunset locations you will every photograph. Viewing the slender peninsula from the cliffs above, it is as if the island is extending a finger of longing towards the Outer Hebrides, unreachable on the horizon to the west."
I love the balanced advice Dougie gives for "getting the shot." There are equal measures of "consider this" and "make it your own." Many of his shots are places I have been, but I repeatedly found myself muttering "why didn't I think of that angle!?" Scotland has a lot of "overphotographed" locations, and page after page, Dougie has fresh takes on them. He emphasizes finding textures, foreground objects, creative framing and new vantage points. His regular reminders to look beyond the obvious have given me a great challenge for my return to Scotland. I keep a large map of Scotland on my wall, for making notations. I got a great workout from all the times I turned a page and immediately hopped up to go circle somewhere new on the map. I will also get a great workout lugging this 600 page gem all over the country with me!
Dougie isn’t secretive or precious about locations. You won’t find “undisclosed location” referenced in this book. Here is what you will find:
Viewpoint recommendations - suggested angles and how to get them
Technical specifics - camera body and lens, aperture, ISO, exposure, any filters used, month photo was taken
Directions to location - Latitude and longitude, parking grid reference, postcodes for parking areas, bus route numbers, maps
Accessibility - things to consider about getting there and getting around. A wheelchair icon is included next to locations that are accessible to those with mobility related limitations
Timing - Best time of year and day for optimal shots, opening hours when applicable
I would have expected it to be hard to pick a favorite photo, and I had no plans to do so. But then I flipped a page and not only did my jaw drop but I said out loud (to the annoyance of . a sleeping cat) "what!?!?" and just sat there staring at the landscape in front of me. After the initial wow was passed, I grabbed my pen and circled the location on the map on the wall. I HAVE to go there. The photo, below, is the view towards Suilven from the summit of Stac Pollaidh. Don't you just want to disappear into the pages?
I'm sure everyone has a different “ultimate wow” photo. But this was mine. It still haunts my brain, beckons me to stand in that spot. And that is the beauty of this book, and why I can say that it does justice to Scotland. It calls to your soul. It draws you in. It makes you feel like you've journeyed through the country yourself, but if you’ve seen as much of Scotland as I have (and Dougie clearly has!) you will also know that it leaves so much more to be discovered on your own. I closed this book feeling comforted and closer to Scotland, and filled with the ache to return to wandering to the place my heart is at peace. Scotland is my soul's home, which Dougie so perceptively reflected in his note to me on the opening page of my book: "Welcome home."
To learn more about Dougie and his amazing book, follow the links:
Thank you for reading!