Interview – Craig Aitchison
Congratulations Craig. How does it feel to be the first ever Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year?
Fantastic! I must admit it did come as a great surprise to me but I am delighted and honoured that my images have received such a high accolade. I feel very lucky, especially after seeing the exceptionally high standard of entries showcased in the beautifully produced competition book.
Tell us a wee bit about your background and when you first start taking photography seriously.
My passion for photography has developed over the years, stemming from an interest in hill walking, mountain biking and a general interest in the natural environment. I have always been fascinated with geography and geology and how light can interact and transform the landscape into something special and unique.
I began twelve years ago, stitching panoramas together in Photoshop from a variety of digital cameras. However, I soon become increasingly frustrated with the results and limitations from this method and decided to move to a dedicated panoramic platform about eight years ago, investing in the Hasselblad XPan system in January 2007.
We received a great deal of praise on our choice of winners, but what really took me aback was the overwhelming majority of photographers expressing “relief” that the winners were classic landscapes, and not something edgy or controversial. Was this ever in your own mindset before entering the competition?
Not really. I generally don’t enter many competitions for one reason or another but it was fairly clear to me that the organisers and sponsors would be looking for something that represents Scotland’s landscape at its best and that’s something I aim to achieve through my photography. So, in that sense the competition really struck a chord with me.
You shot your images on film. Can you tell us a bit more about why you chose film over digital?
Despite the obvious drawbacks of using film in today’s digital world, to me the medium still has a significant number of advantages over its successor. Primarily it allows me to take a panoramic image in a single frame. Additionally, there are no convoluted nodal point setup procedures to follow in order to capture a distortion and perspective free panoramic.
Working with film also means less time in front of the computer as two major post processing stages are bypassed. Firstly the compiling and compositing of the image sequence and the actual image processing in Photoshop as the film emulsion does all the work for me – it comes back from the lab already processed. It is photography in a simpler, purer form. Also, I particularly enjoy the disciplined approach that working with film instils. The cost of associated processing and scanning increases annually so the impetus is always on quality rather than quantity. It is also an excellent catalyst for ensuring the technicalities of composition and exposure are executed correctly in the field. But more importantly, I feel, that film captures the nuances of colour and light extremely accurately and that is something that is exceptionally difficult to replicate in the digital age.
Were any of your winning shots your personal favourites?
The Loch Etive image is definitely one of my favourites. The whole experience of being there at that time during those conditions will be something I’ll never forget. It is a beautiful and popular stretch of water for photographers, but it is almost always shot from the end of Glen Etive. I have been exploring the southern shore for a number of years now and was keen to show the view in the other direction. The location is quite remote and almost nobody frequents the area which is a shame, because I think it’s one of Scotland’s best viewpoints, and it’s only hidden because there’s no road or lay-by near it.
You shoot with a Hasselblad Xpan and your work has been compared to others, but as we both know, it’s really the 3:1 framing of the panorama that suits the Scottish landscape and accounts for any similarities. Can you tell us about shooting panoramas and a bit about your choice of camera?
I have always had an affinity with the panoramic format, I find it correlates a much more natural way of observing the world and for recording the beauty of the Scottish landscape. My photographs are made exclusively with the Hasselblad XPan it is perfectly suited for my particular needs. It’s Compact, small and lightweight – perfect for big mountain days. The three prime lenses provide absolute super sharp transparencies and cover the range I need. I briefly thought about upgrading to the large format 617 platform but decided against it as the Xpan gives me everything I need.
Do you use any post processing in your work?
I find one of the benefits in using film is that there’s very little post processing to be done. All the decisions are really made for you thanks to the characteristics of the film I use. My preference is the colour reversal emulsion of Fujifilm Velvia 50. This film is well known for its smooth image structure, high contrast and colour saturation. All of these characteristics make it an excellent choice for my type of work and it also offers an extremely fine grain which is very helpful for resolving small details from the original transparency during high resolution scanning.
Sometimes it is necessary to remove colourcasts that have been picked up by the film or through the scanning process – a relatively straightforward process today in Photoshop. The only other post production work I do is cropping. Because the 3 lenses that I use are fixed primes sometimes I like to tighten the composition to suit the scene after I’ve shot it.
My post production is quite light weight as I like to let the light and the film do the hard work so I don’t have to. This usually means harder work in the field but it is always worth it.
Do you have any new work or projects on the horizon?
Two of my favourite images I made recently were from winter. Two local spots to me and two locations that featured in the winning images selection too! Loch Tulla and Buachaille Etive Mor.
More of Craig’s work can be found at – www.landandlight.co.uk