Dementia Dogs

No two jobs are ever quite the same as a freelance photographer, but this one was pretty special.

The Dementia Dogs project is run jointly between Alzheimers Scotland and Dogs for Good, and aims to provide working service dogs to couples that are dealing with dementia. Everyone has heard of Guide Dogs for the blind, and there are many parallels between the projects, but while the Guide Dogs are long established, the Demenita Dogs project is still in the pilot stages.

Having had the opportunity to spend a couple of days with the project’s clients, it is clear that it is a project that has the potential to have a huge impact on people’s lives. That might explain why the project has been winning awards for innovation recently.

I was hired to take some fresh images to help promote the project, and part of that involved visiting couples that had taken on some of the first fully-trained Demenita Dogs in Scotland. Over the course of two and a half days, I met and photographed five families, each with their own story to tell. What was immediately obvious was just how much of an integral part of the family unit the dog had become, and in a very short space of time.

Every couple’s requirements were different, and each dogs was trained to adapt and work to help in unique ways. Some will fetch a medicine bag when a timer goes off, allowing people to spend time at home alone while their partner is out. One would even roll out a yoga mat when instructed! One client told me that having the dog as part of their lives had taken them out the house for the first time in months.

When I took on this job I was expecting to enjoy a good technical challenge, and it absolutely ticked that box: taking quality images in people’s homes, and under time pressure is hard enough without factoring in working with the dogs. It’s got to be said, photographing black labs is tricky! I confess though, that I went away astonished at the impact that these animals can have on the families that they live with. On the face of it, it seems a simple thing to introduce a dog to a home but the level of training the animals receive is incredible, and the support and commitment shown by the project’s team both to the dogs and to their clients is truly impressive.

Every photography job brings it’s challenges and rewards; you learn something every time, but the lessons from this one were about a lot more than the camera. Thanks to Fiona and the team for the opportunity, and to the project’s clients for allowing me to use a few of the photographs in this blog.

To find out more about the project, follow this link:

Croft No. 5

Back in the day some friends used to have a band called Croft No. 5. They were at the cutting edge of Celtic fusion, well ahead of their time and a damn fine live act! Yeah, so it's possible that I'm a little biased but I've had their album on repeat this afternoon while I edit a shoot from earlier on the week on the Isle of Harris. More specifically, from a property shoot at Croft 5, Borve on the Isle of Harris.

Tenuous link? Maybe, but it's made my day complete! 

Harris has long been one of my favourite places. There are few venues better in the world for landscape photography than the Outer Hebrides, and Lewis and Harris feel almost like a second home to me. Gavin and Susan have just finished building their own home up there and their builders, Fjordhus, asked me to go up and take some photographs of the property for their portfolio.

This was an exceptionally satisfying shoot to work on, with one of the best sunsets I've seen in a while followed by an impressive sunrise, and combining stunning design with the perfect location! The idyllic Hebridean setting played well with my landscape work but interiors was something of a departure for me, which greatly added to the satisfaction for me personally.

There's nothing more dangerous for the creative than the risk of falling into a rut. You need to sink your teeth into a good technical and creative challenge from time to time. By stepping out of your established comfort zone you get your juices flowing, broaden your skill set and you come away not just a little a more experienced but also reinvigorated. When the opportunity to shake things up a little comes along with an excuse to visit one of the most beautiful islands in Scotland with some good people at the same time, then all the better. Huge thanks to Gavin and Susan and the guys at Fjordhus for the opportunity to do exactly that.

Up Helly Aa

St Ninian's Isle - one of many stunning places to discover along the Shetland coast

It’s a long way to Shetland. When you get there, there’s a good chance it’s probably wet and windy and looking magnificent for all that. Countless islands and inlets make for a never ending coastline to explore, and a culture firmly rooted in the sea. Oh, and there’s the Vikings...

Of all the festivals and traditions around Scotland, Up Helly Aa may be one of the most enigmatic. Various communities around Sheltand have their own Up Helly tradition, the most famous being the one in Lerwick on the last Tuesday of every January. You’ll probably have seen photographs in the papers, or segments on the telly; the torchlight procession, led by a squad of vikings through the centre of the town is famous. It’s really only half the story though. Which is not to say that the procession isn’t epic!

This year there were no less than 900 torchbearers to escort the Jarl’s Squad and their Galley, the Falcon, through the streets to the Burning. It’s a sight not soon forgotten. Visceral and utterly awe inspiring, it assaults all the senses at once, with the wind driving the rain through the ranks, the stench and heat of the paraffin torches, the sound of the band and of the squads revelling in their moment. They’ve earned it.

There are no half measures here, this is not some little parade where old trinkets are brought out of storage every year and traipsed around town. This has taken dozens upon dozens of people months of graft and planning, and in return it gives the occasion a sense of gravity and solidity that it might otherwise lack.

The torches alone took months to prepare. The galley saw a team of over 40 men working several nights a week for months to bring it to a beautiful finish, all for a short journey through town to a fiery end. Each member of the Jarl’s Squad will have spent hundreds of hours and thousands of pounds hand making their Viking uniforms just for this festival. 

With so much time spent together in preparation, the Jarl’s squad is more than just a collection of men dressed as Vikings. When they walk through town it is as one unit, together.

The procession will be what you see on the news, or hear described on the radio, but it marks the beginning of the night, rather than the end. Once the galley is alight, the squads and the crowds all quickly disperse to various community halls around town. The Squads will take it in turn to visit each hall through the night and into the morning. Each has a rehearsed turn to perform on arrival, before sharing a drink with the people in the hall. It’s an impressive feat of organisation, and each and every squad has put time and effort into their routine... Some are better than others, and by 6am some may be getting a bit ragged around the edges! 

Circling the galley, before the burning.

Looking around the hall though, it’s impossible to tell without talking to people who live here and who are just visiting.  This is very much a local festival, but you’ll be welcomed in like an old friend and treated like family. It is the party that tops all parties and a tradition entirely befitting of the Lerwegian’s generously riotous natures. 

Come to Up Helly Aa, come for the procession if that’s what motivates you. You’ll leave remembering the welcome you had at the halls. I’d love to share some photos from that part of the night, but I was having far too much fun to take any.

Landscape Photographer of the Year awards!

I was sitting editing a wedding on Saturday afternoon when my email beeped... Now, I'm not normally easily distracted when I've got my wediting groove on, but I'm glad I took a peek at this one. It seems that I've been exceptionally fortunate and had a photograph has won the Classic View category of this year's Landscape Photographer of the Year competition! 

It's always gratifying when people enjoy your work, but to have been granted an award of this size in a competition judged by some of the most respected landscape photographers in the country is just stunning! My photograph not only topped the Classic View category but was also selected as the Judge's Choice by Steve Watkins from Outdoor Photography magazine. Hopefully I'll have the opportunity to buy him a pint at the opening of the exhibition in London in November.

I've spent a long time on the road this year, researching, writing and shooting for the Photographing Scotland guidebook that I'm writing. The book should be finished and with the editors at fotoVUE for fact checking and laying out soon, so opening that email this afternoon has been a huge motivational boost to get out there and finish off the last few locations I want to visit before signing off on the project. If you think you might be interested in the book once it's in print (early spring 2017) then there's a newsletter sign-up below. And of course, should you fancy a print of a photograph that was already close to my heart, that can be arranged too!



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2017 Calendar at the printer!

I am pleased to announce with no small fanfare that the 2017 Leading Lines calendar is now at the printer, and should be ready for dispatch in a little over a week. I'm now accepting orders, if you want to get in there early to make sure you get a copy, but having been on the road a lot this year working on my guidebook to Scotland, I've had a bumper crop of images to choose from! I'll be out shooting this coming week while the autumn colour is looking particularly good, but should be back at the end of the week, around the same time as the printer delivers the calendars!

As always, they'll be on high quality silk papers, individually wrapped and with a C4 envelope enclosed for any generous souls that want to post them on to friends or family around the world...


It’s anyone’s guess what 2019 will bring… Whatever happens, be sure to map out a solid plan in your Leading Lines “Scotland” Calendar. It features some of the most inspiring landscapes from around our beautiful country, all the better to inspire a good year ahead!

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Book Progress

It's been a long time in the making, but things are finally starting to take shape on the Photographing Scotland guidebook that I've been working on for the last two years. It's not all been plain sailing, but as they say, "a calm sea does not make for a skilled sailor." Regardless of the weather, the start of the  month saw the demise of my trusty campervan, which decided to break down at the furthest point from Glasgow of the trip.

Since then I've replaced the van, and taken the new machine out for its first test run, staying relatively local in glen Coe and Glen Etive for the first time out. The very first morning of the trip saw one of the most spectacular sunrises I've ever witnessed, with a perfect temperature inversion around the Bauchaille and Glen Etive! 

The morning just kept getting better and better... The light once the sun broke the horizon was incredible, and I eventually trudged down the hill with some of the best landscape photographs I've taken in a while.

The conditions prevailed through the whole of the first trip, and I had a great time on Rannoch Moore and down Glen Etive, ticking off locations and writing up notes for the Scotland Guidebook. Maybe it's an omen, and the new van will bring a little luck! Or maybe it's just coincidence. I'm hitting the road again tomorrow for a few weeks, so fingers crossed for more of the same either way.

Solar Eclipse for the One Show

Today's shift started at 04:300. In my book, that's kind of anti-social, especially when you're crawling out of bed in Glasgow rather than out of a tent on a mountain somewhere. Then again, it's not every day that you've a chance of seeing a solar eclipse, and rarer yet that you've been asked to take some photographs as part of a feature on BBC's One Show. Four photographers from around the UK were to be sent out to see who could get the most evocative photograph of the events of the day, and I was chosen to represent Scotland… No pressure then!

Not sure I like this end of the camera...

Not sure I like this end of the camera...

The weather forecast was looking pretty sketchy, but it's not like you can put off the eclipse until the next day when it's clearer, so we set off for Edinburgh, where the met office said there was a slim chance of catching a glimpse of the eclipse if we were lucky. We figured that worst case, we could get some good shots of the other folks that were bound to be out on the off-chance too: it was all about catching people enjoying the moment rather than trying to photograph the sun (heck, I can't compete with the big telescopes! Sometimes size does matter).

Calton Hill seemed like a good spot, and we were there early enough to get a prime spot with a cracking view out over the city… Sure enough, by 09:00 the place was packed! People were viewing the eclipse in progress through everything from proper viewing glasses, to collanders and home-made pinholes. For once the Scottish weather came good for us, and we had pretty much ideal viewing conditions.

We had a bit of a scout around to make sure we had the best shot we were going to get, and then recruited a young family to pose for our photo. Young Samuel and his mum were absolutely brilliant in front of the camera, and I reckon we went away with a pretty good shot - it was exactly what I'd hoped for. Ok, so the Welsh team's photograph of the Meerkats won the competition on the night, but I had a cracking day out, saw something truly incredible and went home with a good photograph in the bag: that's a win in my book!

Braemar Gathering

Ok, so I have a confession to make. Until just a couple of weeks ago I'd never been to a Highland Games. 

I know, I know! Shameful. I've no idea how I reached this ripe old age without making the effort at least once, but at least the situation has been rectified now, and the Braemar Gathering was the perfect place to do so! 

Tug o' war!

It was quite an eye opener, with several events taking place around the field simultaneously, lone pipers practicing under every second tree, dancers milling around in immaculate dress despite the torrential showers and dozens of athletes of all shapes, sizes and ages all milling around and on top form.

After the epic security and formal crowd control of the commonwealth Games in Glasgow this year, the Gathering felt like a chilled out, easy going distant cousin of the Games. Both events offered excellent atmospheres, both offered a great community spirit, but both were so far apart in almost every way that it is difficult to draw direct comparisons beyond the most banal and obvious: people having fun and people competing at sports.

I was fortunate enough to be there officially, to photograph the Gathering on behalf of one of the corporate sponsors, and enjoyed excellent access to the whole site and the field while the games were taking place. It was the sort of access that photographers at the Commonwealth Games could only dream of: go where you like, just try not to get underfoot or flattened by a flying hammer.

It was a wonderful way to see my first games. I don't imagine that I'll have that sort of access at my next Gathering, but I'll be there anyway: I've no idea how or why I waited so long to get to my first! 

Canne beat it.

Landscape Gallery in the Guardian

This summer has been a proper roller coaster! There's been more work and adventure (and working adventures!) than there has been hours in the day, which is probably how I neglected to post this weeks ago...

A few weeks back the Guardian got in touch looking to run a gallery of Scottish landscapes. It's not every day that a national paper approaches you, so I was rather pleased about the whole thing! I'm sure that it'd have brought more traffic to my site if they'd managed to get the links on their website correct, but you can't have everything, eh? They did fix them in the end, and I reckon it looked pretty good! It's still live, if you fancy a peek.

As it appeared the week before the Scottish Independence Referendum, the comments section is by turns hilarious and tragic! Enjoy.

Scottish landscape photography guidebook!

I'm more than a little excited to be able to report that I'm working on a guidebook to Scotland specifically for landscape photographers!

There are umpteen guidebooks to Scotland out there: tourist guides, biking guides, whole shelves of walking and climbing guides…. Up until now however, there has been nothing aimed at photographers and it's time someone did something about that. I've signed up with fotoVUE, who released the first in a series of guidebooks that will cover the UK this month. The guide for the Lake District is already getting five star reviews online.

I've been working on the Scottish version for a wee while now, but it's taking shape nicely and should be out in the shops in 2015. In the mean time, expect plenty more blogs of photographs from around Scotland as I research and shoot for the book! And of course, there's always the option to buy a print of your favourite place while you wait for the book to come out….

There's more information through the link above, but the idea is to try and highlight the classic Scottish views as well as a selection of the best landscapes that are often missed by visitors and locals alike. So far it's been a dream project to work on, so I hope that you all enjoy the book when it arrives as much as I'm enjoying writing it!

Slioch, taken on a recent research trip to Torridon

Weekend Wars

Band shoots are always great fun. Maybe it because you've got the whole session to come up with just a few photographs, so you can tweak everything until it's perfect. Maybe it's because the band tends to be a pretty tight unit and have some good banter! Whatever the reasons, when you get to add a location like Millarochy Bay and a sneaky wee BBQ on the beach between shots it all adds up to a good night out!

The Weekend Wars are a new act on the Glasgow music scene, but having just played their debut gig in King Tut's I've a wee feeling that it's not going to be long until you hear a lot more about them. 

the Weekend Wars

The internet is awash with photographs of bands looking moody in dark, grungy alleys, so I wanted to do something a little different. We took some "safe" shots in the woods behind Balmaha before heading down to Millarochy, then I set to work arranging a something slightly more ambitious while the lads tended the burgers. The light came good before the sausages did, which meant some extra crispy food once we'd finished shooting but hey, it was worth cremating the last half of dinner for the shots we got!

Walkin' on water at Millarochy

the set-up

the set-up

Big thanks to Robbie Black for helping with the lighting! There are some places that light stands just aren't reliable enough to keep your kit safe and dry….

Remember, sharing's caring folks!

Connor in the forest

I was down in Kendal at the weekend, just a flying visit to take in a film with some friends (wish I'd had time to catch up with more people)... A long way to watch a dvd perhaps, but we'd set up a projector and screen in the forest above town and watched Defiance after the sun went down: a WWII film about a group of Jews that hid from the Germans in the forest for several years. It was a pretty cool way to spend a night! On sunday I went back to the forest with Ivan and Lucy and their new son Connor to take some family portraits... 

The little fella was a wee legend, very patiently posing with his mum and dad, then his gran and grampa, and we came away with some pretty cool photos. We'd got his modelling skills up to speed in the house before we left, so by the time we got out under the trees he was like an old hand. 

Here's a wee sneaky preview of the photos while process the rest of them!

Buzz Lightyear visits Sainsbury's

It's been a manic month, with some stunning weddings and some great trips to the hills, but I thought I'd share something a little different with you today. I was processing up some wedding files in the office a couple of weeks back when I heard a whisper that the legendary Space Ranger, Buzz Lightyear, was in the local branch of Sainsbury's!

It's not often you get the chance to meet a hero like Buzz, so I thought I'd pop up and take a look. It's a shame that my wee niece Bella wasn't around at the time, she's a big fan too and I'm sure that she'd have loved to meet him.

It's funny, you never do seem to see the two of them in the same place at the same time...

Don't forget to follow my facebook page for more regular updates!

Ruth and Scott on the Tall Ship

I don't often blog weddings (much to the despair of some of my colleagues), but I thought that I'd share a few photographs from yesterday's wedding on the Tall Ship in Glasgow.

Ruth is one of my oldest and closest friends and it's always very gratifying when a friend asks you to take their wedding photographs. Heck, it's gratifying when anyone chooses you over the legions of wedding photographers out there, but being alongside someone you've known for 15 years as they walk down the aisle is pretty special. The Tall Ship is a pretty special venue too, and with Ruth's grandfather being a member of the crew that brought her home it meant much more to the family than just being a quirky place to tie the knot.

Ruth and Scott are off on their honeymoon to Thailand today, so I've got plenty of time to get their photographs processed up for them, in the mean time this wee collection will give you a taste of the day: how happy Ruth and Scott were, how stunning the venue is, and just how incredibly lucky they got with the weather. It's really just a handful of shots that caught my eye as I imported the files from the cards, but I hope you enjoy them. 

Big thanks to Johnny for helping with the lighting in the pouring rain, was well worth it lad!

The Outer Hebrides

The Commute

It's a tough life, being a landscape photographer. All the driving, the cleg bites, the knowledge that the midges are almost here for the summer... All in all though, when you consider it, the office space more than makes up for the 04:30 starts and the 22:00 finishes, especially when you packed lunch contains a bar of chocolate and a miniature of cask strength Laphroaig.

I'm not long back from spending two and a half weeks on the road shooting landscapes for a long-term project that I'm working on. Being able to go away and focus on nothing but getting the shots I wanted was stunning: it's amazing what you can achieve in a couple of weeks with a little planning and a lot of bloody-minded alarm-setting!

The weather wasn't wonderful for the first few days of the trip so rather than pushing through to the islands immediately I meandered north, meeting a few friends and ticking a few landscape boxes I've wanted to tick for a while. The Buachaille, for example: everyone has a photograph of the Buachaille, but perhaps for that very reason it's very difficult to find a shot that you feel is your own. And Ben Dorainn was one of the very first places I ever went specifically just to take a photograph and has been overdue a re-visit for some time.

Ben Dorain

The Buachaille

I started at the southern end of the islands on Barra and Vatersay. It took a day or two to get into the groove, but Barra is definitely the place to be if you're trying to relax into your photography again. It was an act of discipline to catch the ferry on the saturday morning to head north for Harris and Lewis... there's just so much to see and to shoot out there, you could easily spend weeks on Barra alone.

One of the nice things about shooting landscapes is that you're often at a location either very early or very late to catch the best of the light. When I turned up at Callanish at 05:45 one morning  I was kind of expecting to have the place to myself: it was 05:45 - it's not the most sociable of hours. The sky was perfect, shaping up for an incredibly intense sunrise too: perfect.

Except for the 30 or so folks all stood holding hands in a ring within the main circle chanting to each other! There's not a lot you can do about that sort of thing (apparently it's bad karma to chase them off), but I've never seen so much stone hugging and sun worship in the literal sense.

I shall spare you more stories here, instead here's a few selected highlights from the trip: personal favourites, as they stand for the moment. Hope that you enjoy them, and if you do then spread the word and be sure to check out my facebook page.

Shiny new website!

Welcome to the all-new Leading Lines website! 

The old site was long overdue a refresh, and increasingly common issues with the old platform steered me towards an all-new site rather than a tweak of the old. This means that I've lost my old blog posts, but I'm sure that in the grand scheme of things that's not the end of the world.... Let's be honest, I was never the best at keeping it updated.

Well that's going to change.

I reckon quality over quantity makes for a better blog, but I'll be posting here rather than just on facebook  when I've something I want to share with you. I will also be reinstating the tutorials from the old site over the next few weeks - if there is anything that you'd like to see as the subject of a tutorial drop me a line:

The site should be a lot more fluid than the old one, and if you've any comments, whether general feedback or maybe something you've spotted that isn't working quite right, let me know!

In the mean time, I've got a couple short pieces to write for The Great Outdoors before heading to Glen Coe to shoot a few landscapes while there's still some snow in the hills: busy week. Here's hoping that I get conditions like those I found on the Cobbler a couple of weeks ago!