John McSporran has a passion for landscape photography, especially Scottish landscapes. He has a beautiful collection of photos from the Trossachs, a picturesque area with lakes, glens, and rugged mountain views.
We asked John about his photography background and experience photographing the Trossachs. After reading his answers, you might want to book a trip to Scotland for your next vacation!
How & when did you first get into photography?
I was inspired to take up landscape photography by the work of Colin Prior, one of the world’s great landscape photographers (and he’s Scottish). That was back in the days of film. Kids and other commitments saw me taking a break for a number of years, then taking it up again about 4 years ago and going digital, but the principles are the same. I combine landscape photography with climbing hills and mountains, often at stupid o’clock, in the dark with a head torch, just to get the dawn light. I frequently wild camp on top of mountains for sunset and sunrise.
Breaking Dawn – Loch Rusky
What do you enjoy most about photographing the Trossachs? What draws you to that area?
I live in the Trossachs for half the year, so everywhere is accessible. Loch Lomond and The Trossachs National Park was recently voted the most beautiful place in the United Kingdom. Loch Lomond is very busy and, in my opinion, overrated (from a photography perspective), whereas the Trossachs outside the summer holiday season is quiet. Most mornings I have the mountains and lochs to myself.
What are your favorite photography spots in the Trossachs? What is the best time/season to visit these locations?
Autumn is best (Sept, Oct & Nov). The colours are spectacular and most mornings have low lying mist, great for photography. My favourite spot has to be Ben A’an, the miniature mountain. I’ve climbed it 31 times (so far). It has one of, if not the, best viewpoint in Scotland. The forests and lochs around the small towns of Callander and Aberfoyle have spectacular walks, waterfalls, etc.
What are some of your best memories of photographing and hiking in the Trossachs?
What I find strange is how alone I am with these spectacular sights. Most mornings I sit beside a loch or on top of a mountain completely alone with my flask of coffee, packet of jaffa cakes and camera on its tripod just soaking up the sights. I frequently hike and camp with my mate Andy Belshaw, another photography addict with an encyclopedic knowledge of all things technical. I do the poetry, he does the math. (This is a guy that cuts the bottom off his toothbrush to save a few milligams of weight in his rucksack). I also mountain bike round the Trossachs, which gives me ideas for photography locations.
Sunset on Loch Voil
Do you have any advice for photographers who want to start taking landscape photos? What are some mistakes that a beginner should avoid?
Buy the best DSLR and lenses you can afford. Learn how to use them. (This seems obvious but the number of people I see with expensive DSLRs who never get out of full auto mode is incredulous). A sturdy tripod and remote release is essential for landscape work. Low ISO settings (100) are preferable for landscape work.
Constantly check weather forecasts and download an app for your phone that gives sunrise and sunset times and tells you where the sun will be at any given time. Research your locations, constantly look at detailed maps (UK Ordinance Survey). Photograph during the golden hours (sunrise and sunset) and be in position early. For morning shots in mid summer this can mean leaving the house at midnight, driving 3 hours, climbing a mountain in the dark with a head torch, just for the sunrise. Alternatively, wild camp. In winter, wear appropriate clothing, carry an ice axe and crampons.
Always shoot in RAW format. It allows so much more flexibility for post processing. Learn post processing in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. I favour Photoshop, but many prefer to use Lightroom then Photoshop. Other programmes can be equally as good. It all comes down to personal preference. Learn to bracket your exposures and blend them in Photoshop. Never HDR – it looks false. Less is more – too many people overdo special effects.
Don’t listen to friends; 600 likes from friends on social media etc. is them being kind, not a critique of how good your work is. Submit your work to sites like Flickr, 500px, Google+, etc. where good work receives recognition and poor work doesn’t.
Study the work of great landscape photographers. My favourites are Colin Prior, Alex Nail, Ian Cameron, Fortunato Gatto, Ignacio Palacios. Look at how they capture and frame shots. The west coast Americans are really good, e.g. Zack Schnepf, Chip Phillips, Ted Gore. Their work and post processing is amazing. I constantly try to improve by learning from others, photography websites, reading, etc. It never stops.
Lastly, make sure your horizon is straight and constantly check your focus.
The Breath of the Urisks
Dawn on Loch Achray, Trossachs, Scotland
Sunfall on Goblin Mountain
Creag an Tuirc, Scotland
The Kirk of the Trossachs
Dawn on Loch Achray
Trossachs Kirk, Scotland
Loch Rusky, Trossachs, Scotland
Sunfall on the Trossachs
The Goblin’s Mountain, Trossachs, Scotland
Sunrise on Rusky