Winner: Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year

Some good news I thought I’d share – as announced on Monday, I had the huge honour of discovering that I’d won this year’s title of Scottish Nature Photographer of the Year (along with the Sea & Coast category winner), for my image “The Boy”, taken at Rattray Head in Aberdeenshire. With this being the first time I’d entered the competition, and my image style not typically being about replicating the natural ‘reality’ of a scene, it wasn’t a competition I held any expectation of succeeding in. Even being shortlisted was a pleasant surprise, so to actually win the whole thing…

“This is the first year that a photograph from the landscape categories has won the overall winning title and I’m delighted that it was achieved by such an innovative image. The incredible light and the drama of the lighthouse struck us all immediately. It’s a frequently used phrase that a good photograph captures a moment in time, but Donald’s image goes beyond that. By using a long exposure over a period of time, it captures something that the eye wouldn’t have been able to discern on its own.” (Niall Irvine, organiser and judge)

For various reasons I am especially pleased that it’s this photo which has received such recognition, and when you consider the standard of images the competition attracts, plus a judging panel of such renowned and respected photographers (Colin Prior, Neil McIntyre, Lorne Gill and Niall Irvine), it’s fantastic that they’ve been drawn to a shot which doesn’t fit the obvious template for nature photography. Leaving aside that I’m the beneficiary, I’m really pleased that it’s brought some attention to monochrome long exposure imagery – a hugely popular yet often overlooked genre in photography competitions.

It’s also a personal favourite because there’s a story behind it, a shot created on impulse but with an immediate title, purpose and vision of how the final image would look. Upon winning, the competition organisers asked for a statement about the image, which goes some way to explaining what I mean:

“The image is actually inspired by a scene from my favourite novel (and film), “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, in which he describes in the most extraordinarily poetic language a father and son arriving at a desolate, colourless beach in the aftermath of an apocalyptic event, who are overcome by the monochrome bleakness of what they find. As soon as I passed through the dunes and saw the boy standing at the far end of the beach, I immediately thought back to this story and had to try capturing it before the boy wandered off. I often take inspiration from literature and movies as it can add another layer of depth and interest, but ultimately it has to work as an interesting image in its own right. Hopefully I’ve achieved that here."

As much as this is about celebrating Scottish nature and the photographers who traipse up and down the country being constantly inspired by it, I’d also just like to recommend to anyone who loves spending time photographing in (or just visiting) these wild isolated places to read and watch The Road, for the melancholic descriptions of the sea and land they pass through significantly changed the way I look at the landscape around me and inspired the way I photograph the sea.

The other reason that it’s a notable image for me is in the timing of it’s creation. Not long after shooting this I had to call a halt to my photography due to health reasons, for a period that ended up lasting over a year, reaching the stage where it became a real struggle to even stand up or walk. Through that time the thought of hammering around the country taking pictures was very far from my mind, but it does make me much more appreciative of being able to get out and photograph these dramatic coastal locations like Rattray Head now I’m back on my feet again. Of course it has also made winning a national competition with this particular photo that little bit more special.

There will be an awards book published in the coming months including all the winners and shortlisted images, and an exhibition touring the country throughout 2014. I’ll post more details as they’re announced. In the meantime I’d just like to congratulate all the other category winners and shortlisted entries, thank the judges and competition organisers, and the good public in general for all the messages I’ve received since the announcement (Oscar speech over). There’s a fantastic standard and variety of photos displayed on the awards website so do go have a look.

Donald

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