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Book review – Wild Light

I know from our social media pages – and my own experience – that looking at photographs of nature, and of wild landscapes and well-loved places that are currently out of reach are a comfort for many of us in trying to get through these testing times. So I was delighted when this stunning book of Scottish panoramas – taken by Craig Aitchison – dropped through the letterbox for review.

Craig was the inaugural winner of the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition, and this is his second book – following on from the successful The Highlands: Land & Light.

Reversing the usual trend, whilst Craig learned his craft with an early digital SLR, he eventually turned to film, and started using a Hasselblad Xpan film camera in 2006. This, almost legendary piece of kit, takes panoramic shots on 35mm film. With this he uses 3 prime lenses – 30mm, 45mm and 90mm, making up a kit that is much less bulky than an old-style medium format setup whilst matching it in quality. But why?

Like most people I tend to just see what I see when out on a walk, and then try to make the best photos from it that I can. Us digital users can snap away happily, though most of us know our best shots are when we put a little more thought in.

Lord Berkeley’s Seat, An Teallach

For Craig, using his gear forces the taking of a much more deliberate approach to photography. The limited number of frames available when shooting panoramic on 35mm, and the choice from just a few fixed focal lengths, mean that to get strong results each photograph needs to be planned very carefully in advance. It forces the photographer to really consider what each shot is intending to capture. The images in the book are an ample testimony both to such an approach, and to Craig’s skill at it.

The current trend in landscape photography seems to be to go for a huge depth of field in wide angle shots, with a very carefully considered close foreground of interesting rocks or plants either balanced or contrasting with the towering hills beyond. It requires great skill to pull off well, but despite this, still doesn’t always capture the feel of the mountains for me.

Craig’s approach is different – more akin to a lot of Colin Prior’s work – often completely omitting any foreground, leaving the viewer as a disembodied eye to ponder the ‘alien’ vastness – a style that to me best emphasizes the scale of the mountains. Most of the now very familiar crowd-pleasing Scottish classics are in here – such as An Teallach in both summer and winter, Buachaille Etive Mor, Loch Maree and Slioch, Loch Clair and Liathach, Loch Lurgainn and Stac Pollaidh, and Loch Affric – the latter being a particularly magnificent capture. Rather surprisingly there are no shots of the Cuillin. But there are plenty of memorable images of less celebrated places or unfamiliar angles too – such as Hoy across the Sound from Mainland Orkney, or a great shot of Loch Etive from Meall Copagach hidden behind Ben Cruachan. A couple of my favourites are included here – an unfamiliar wide angle on Lord Berkeley’s Seat, and a view of the Lairig Ghru and the Cairn Toul-Braeriach massif from Carn a’ Mhaim.

The Lairig Ghru, Cairngorms

Hopefully these give a flavour of this fine book – an inspiring collection of some of Scotland’s most magnificent landscapes, sure to bring some comfort to the frustrated mountain-lover during lockdown.

Wild Light is available to buy discounted from £25 to £17.50 (free P&P) from Owter, a new bookselling platform that intends to give a fairer reward to authors and publishers, especially needed during lockdown. Click here to buy.

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