Belinda Kennedy’s wonderful photograph Dappled Magic in Knoydart is the latest winner of the SNH-sponsored ‘Scotland’s Protected Places’ category in the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year (SPLOTY) competition. In its second year of running, this prestigious competition has attracted entrants from around the world. Here Belinda tells us about her passion for the outdoors, her photographic journey to date, and how this prize-winning image was captured.
I was tremendously surprised and honoured that my image won in the ‘Scotland’s Protected Places’ category of SPLOTY. I first became aware of the competition from a poster in a parking spot on the A87 between Invergarry and the junction for Invernesss/Kyle of Lochalsh. It is a prime advertising spot, as so many tourists stop there eager for a view and a snap of Loch Garry and the dark mountains that frame its shores.
I have been interested in landscape photography since the early 2000’s, after a chance encounter with the prominent photographer Colin Prior. I had been hill walking for some years before this fortuitous moment, but in the process of meeting him and becoming aware of his work I became inspired to integrate photography with my passion of being in the hills. I was subsequently given a Canon PowerShot in 2005, which was a great little camera to start out with (boasting a ‘mere’ 3.2 megapixels, which was standard at the time – my iPhone currently has 8!). Then, in 2009 I graduated to my first semi-professional standard camera, a Nikon D300, which I still use today.
My successful image was captured atop Luinne Bheinn, one of four impressive Munros rising up in the remote Knoydart peninsula located in the west of Scotland. This peninsula, largely unpopulated and only accessible by foot or by boat, is designated as a National Scenic Area for its rugged beauty and blissful tranquility and is a Mecca for outdoor enthusiasts.
I visited this enchanting area with two friends on a girls’ hiking weekend in August 2015. Our little band trekked the 4-hour journey from Kinlochourn to the excellent Barrisdale Bothy along a superb coastal path with our camping gear, enough food to feed a small army and no less than five litres of wine between us for the 2-night stay. The camaraderie and shared passion for being in wild places made for a perfect company of like-minded souls.
Dappled Magic in Knoydart looks down the sweeping flanks of the mountain toward the east, with a patchwork of sunlight illuminating the rugged slopes of nearby hills. You can just make out the faintest autumnal tinge on the vegetation, the heralding of shorter days and the first season’s frosts. The image is a somewhat deceptive record of the conditions we encountered during our hike. In fact, we had been pelted by sleet and hail fairly continuously during our ascent, so I wasn’t very optimistic there would be any photographic opportunities at the summit. Miraculously, the clouds parted for a brief, magical moment as we mounted the summit, affording a small window of respite in order to capture a few images before the next squall overcame us.
While a fantastic weekend overall, it was nonetheless touched with an element of sadness. One of our party had lost her beloved canine hill-walking companion, Kai, a few weeks previously, in the treacherous Steall Gorge, and this was her first mountain outing since that traumatic day. The spectacular beauty of the landscape, combined with the atmospheric, turbulent skies, acted as a kind of catharsis for reflection for all of us as we considered how simultaneously joyous and precarious life can be when venturing into the mountains. It is never without risk, even in seemingly benign conditions, but for those who love the mountains the rewards are multiple and worthy of that peril. In this spirit, I feel this photo is as much a tribute to Kai’s memory as to the restorative power of being in the mountains and the ability of friendship to sustain us when it’s most needed.
For me, the magic of photography is partially in the skill involved in taking the photograph, and partially the raw emotion it engenders in the viewer. A photographer can be very good at adapting for ambient conditions and fine-tuning the settings on their camera to achieve a technically ‘perfect’ photo, and while it may be compositionally pleasing it still might not arrest the viewer’s imagination. Patience is also a requisite attribute as there is often a lot of waiting…. and waiting…(!)… for the right light to develop, for a particular colour hue to deepen or wane.
Sometimes, however, the opportunity is so ephemeral that you have to react quickly. As I do the majority of my photography ‘on the hoof’, I purposefully seek these fleeting moments: that awe-inspiring instant of cresting a bealach and suddenly seeing the landscape on the other side opening up; observing a huge cloud hitting a mountainside and swirling up and over like an enormous wave; a shaft of sunlight piercing a sombre, rain-soaked glen, briefly illuminating a single rowan tree.
In the digital age, landscape photography (and indeed other photography genres) has become readily accessible and the ability to capture images is only limited by the storage capacity of a memory card. More people are becoming involved in landscape photography and in doing so, getting out into nature, which is hugely positive. I still have a way to go with development of my photographic skills, but fortunately becoming a better photographer is not an arduous journey when you are motivated by passion! Receiving this award has incentivized me to continue developing my technique and, hopefully, improve my success in future competitions.
The most profound landscape images are those that excite a desire in the viewer to jump out of their chair and run to the wilderness, explore it for themselves. Whether you are a mountaineer, a beach comber or an urbanite, there are myriad landscapes in Scotland that can fire our imaginations and opportunities aplenty to exercise those photography muscles!
For more information about the competition visit the SPLOTY website. All images (C) Belinda Kennedy.