by Paul Gallagher Published 01/02/2017
While I love autumn and spring I have always preferred making photographs in the winter months; there is something about the starkness of trees stripped of foliage, or the muted light, and often the lack of sunlight, that I feel portrays the landscape as ‘realistic’ and something that displays elements that are conducive, for me at least, making beautiful photographs.
Scotland is a place I love to visit during the winter months. From November to February the place seems yet more remote and empty, certainly in comparison to the busier seasons when motor homes are plentiful and the coffee shops are full of tourists and travellers. During the winter months the landscape is devoid of anything that could be regarded as a lure to the casual tourist. Hotels close down, gift shop owners hang their 'Closed for Season' signs and the skies darken with storms; daylight dwindles to a few hours between 10am and 4pm, some places never see the sun all day.
Along with these conditions come two emotions. Firstly, the feeling that I am alone out there. It is clear that I am not and although the villages and hamlets seem sleepy and desolate, they aren’t and the evidence of this is apparent during the school run when they come alive with the sound of excited voices. Secondly, an emotion which naturally follows being alone, is a degree of vulnerability. This was brought home strongly about 10 years ago when I headed out from Elgol on the Isle of Skye. It was a fierce and stormy February afternoon and as I made my way around the edge of Loch Scavaig I took a hard fall on the slippery boulders. I thought I had broken my leg and as I was within the tidal zone I checked myself over with rising panic. The sense of isolation was palpable for that short moment in time before I confirmed I could still move.
Experiences such as this heighten the senses and become an ingredient to convey when making photographs during these times. Having photographed many countries in the winter I felt compelled to extend this experience almost to the limit and this eventually came in the form of two specific trips. The first was to the south coast of Iceland in the first week of February 2015 and the second, for me the most exciting winter trip, was to Lofoten in Norway, in January 2016.
It was clear to me, having been to both of these locations many times, that what I would see would be markedly different in the full winter conditions guaranteed so early in the year. Iceland is the busier of the two locations and ever since I first travelled there some years ago, its popularity in the warmer season is all too evident at the famous roadside stops. The beginning of February proved to be too early for the general tourists and many of the normally busy areas were bereft of people and, as with Scotland, the supporting tourist industry, was on winter shut-down.
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