Spotlight on Dougie Cunningham - Photographing Scotland - Capercaillie Escapes

It is no surprise that Scotland makes for a tremendous backdrop to some of the finest photography opportunities out there.

In 2017, Scotland was voted Rough Guides ‘Most Beautiful Country in the World’ and earlier this year another top travel guide, Lonely Planet, announced the Scottish Highlands and Islands to be one of their coveted ‘Best in Travel’ destinations for 2019.  Scotland is not new to these accolades but they serve to remind us what beautiful landscapes, seascapes and not forgetting historic city-scapes we have right here on our doorstep.

Visitors come and go, capturing in their own way, whether on the latest smartphone, tablet, disposable camera or the more advance range of cameras, their unique view and happy memories of travelling here.

Whether an avid photographer and someone who simply appreciates the great outdoors and nature Scotland offers a special destination to capture spectacular images to cherish.

With this in mind, we are honoured to be partnering with award-winning local photographer, Dougie Cunningham, to offer a unique 8 day tour of the Scottish Highlands and Islands in Spring 2019.  Guided by Dougie there is no better way to get off the beaten track and see a different side to Scotland.  We’re intrigued to get to know a little more about Dougie and so over a coffee in Edinburgh earlier this month it was great to be able to ask him a few questions about his love of Scotland and what it is about photography which makes him tick.

You’ve explored Scotland extensively over the years – where are a couple of your favourite spots?

That’s a pretty tough question! It’s a bit like asking what your favourite album is – to an extent it depends on your mood… For me, I think Assynt has to be right up there though, it’s got just so much to offer. It’s got some of the most beautiful mountain views in the country, right next to some of the finest coastline on the mainland. It’s got a flavour and a texture unlike anywhere else in Scotland, and no matter what you’re looking for on any given day, there’ll be somewhere in Assynt that will scratch your itch.


Do you have a favourite season – personally and photographically?

It’s tempting to say autumn from a photographic point of view, when the colours are rich and varied and often quite intense. I think if I’m being honest though, winter is pretty special. I’ve not made it up as many hills as I’d like the last two seasons, but there’s something magical about the mountains in the snow. From a photography point of view, the short days mean that the sun is never high in the sky, giving you a great side-lighting throughout most of the day. And let’s be honest, it’s lovely being able to get up for sunrise at a more socially acceptable hour than in the height of summer!


Are you ever surprised by things you find on your travels in Scotland?

There’s always something new to find, some nook or corner that you’d never spotted before; a new angle on a favourite location, or even a venue that you’ve neglected to visit in the past. I’m not sure that in particular really counts as a surprise though, I think that sense of discovery or exploration is a large part of why many of us are photographers, or even just as travellers and outdoorsmen. Chance encounters with wildlife or particularly rare or exciting weather conditions can be more surprising. Stag’s rutting on the hillside, a brockenspectre from a remote summit, a perfect inversion rolling off the moors… you can go looking for these things, but when you stumble across them by accident the experience is all the sweeter.


When did you take up photography and do you remember your first camera?

I got my first camera as a child – a wee Canon point and shoot film camera. I loved it, not that I was particularly talented with it. It was only really when I went to university and started kayaking and climbing around the Highlands that I started taking photography more seriously, taking my turn providing the “Kodak Courage” for my friends on our adventures. I started really getting into the landscape side of things when I lived in the Lake District between 2007 and 2009. From there, it’s all been downhill (aside from the ascents).


Have you had any great wildlife encounters whist out in the landscapes?

If you spend any time out in the countryside, it’s inevitable! Again, it’s the unexpected ones that stick in the mind, and a few stand out in my memory… Two stags rutting on the side of Carn Mor Beag, as we climbed towards the CMD Arête, they were beautifully framed against the cliffs of Ben Nevis. Watching three otters swim nose-to-tail along the line of a beach on Harris. A heard of deer posing perfectly for the camera by the weather’s edge in Lochranza, with the castle right behind them. A Golden Eagle cruising along a ridge line just ten meters above my head on Lewis just a couple of months ago… Finding fresh wildcat prints in the snow high on the mountain in Knoydart – I’ve still never seen one in the wild, but a few minutes later the wind had destroyed the prints, and just knowing I’d had a close encounter and was sharing the hillside with one was quite lovely.


What does a typical day out on tour with you look like?

“Typical” is tricky! The best plans and schedules allow you to be flexible and adapt to the conditions and to what people want to do, to a greater or lesser extent!


After a day out in the great outdoors with your camera what would be your meal of choice?

Ah! Now that completely depends on where we are! If I’m out in the wilds in my van on my own I often keep it simple: pasta on a camping stove, maybe with some veg or sausage… If there’s a good pub meal to be found, then you can’t beat a good venison burger, or perhaps even some haggis, needs and tatties – great food for fuelling another day in the hills!


Do you have a favourite dram to finish?

I’m a huge fan of the island malts! The Ardbeg Uigeadail is a favourite at the moment, but I’ve also got a beautiful bottle of 17 year old from Orkney on the go at home, bottled under the North Star label.


Any top tips for budding landscape photographers?

Keep experimenting – try and fail, again and again. It doesn’t matter: nobody ever has to see the images that don’t work, but they’re the ones you learn from, provided you take the time to think through why things haven’t worked afterwards. Critique your own work but also of any images that really catch you eye (privately – you’ll make no friends offering unsolicited advice to strangers online for example!). Try to figure out what works in any given image, or what doesn’t, but most importantly try to understand why.  What did you do at the time or taking the photograph that made the difference, for better or worse?  Fancy processing may occasionally salvage a borderline shot, but it’s much better to have a plan for how you want the finished image to look when you push the shutter button. Most of all though, enjoy it! If it becomes a chore, you’re doing it wrong.


Dougie is a real character and has many more stories to share about his adventures and travels – here we could only take a wee snippet.  On a serious note, from a photography perspective we couldn’t think of anyone better to team up with to join a guests from 13-20 April 2019 for a guided Scottish Photography Tour from Edinburgh through the Cairngorms down into Torridon and across to the beautiful remote corners of the Isle of Skye.

If joining a tour with Dougie sounds of interest then best to contact us at Capercaillie Escapes directly to check availability and ask any further questions.

You can email or give us a call on +44 (0) 1334 845 440.

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