The Highlands: Land and Light

ISBN 13: 9780711232747

The Highlands: Land and Light

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9780711232747: The Highlands: Land and Light

The Highlands is a celebration of Scotland’s wild places, a stunning and spectacular new perspective on the untamed mountains, lochs and glens from landscape photographer Craig Aitchison. Crafted over a period of six years, this book portrays the full drama of the Highlands and sets out to capture this rugged ancient landscape as it is transformed through the seasons by Scotland’s tempestuous weather. Containing over 100 unique images from some of the remotest corners of the country this stunning portfolio is a collection of panoramic photographs that show Scotland at its best, with views of the nation’s most loved locations from a fresh perspective.
The Highlands renews and redefines the magic of this much loved landscape which will excite and delight those who know the Highlands well and reveal its character to those who have yet to experience the majesty of one of the world's most treasured landscapes.

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About the Author:

Craig Aitchison is a young, up and coming landscape photographer. Based in Glasgow, he is naturally drawn towards the beauty and splendour of Scotland’s mountains, lochs and glens. With a combined passion and knowledge, he strives to capture the beauty of Scotland’s wild land and light.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

INTRODUCTION
It is the contrast that draws me to the wild places of Scotland. Living and working as I do amid the urban ubiquity of Scotland’s Central Belt, it is heartening to know that a few hours’ travelling can take me to a wilderness of desolate beauty unsurpassed anywhere in the world. There the relentless pace and pressures of twenty-first-century life give way to a primeval sense of peace and freedom in an environment where the passage of time can be measured in geological ages rather than working days.
Scotland’s landscape has long been celebrated. Its rich natural heritage and incredible geodiversity from the white beaches of the Hebridean islands to the jagged peaks of the west coast and the broad, glaciated Cairngorm plateau in the east are unusual for a country of its size. The spectacular drama of these is played out amid continually changing light, thanks to Scotland’s notoriously volatile weather; this constantly transforms the landscape and ensures that no two moments are ever truly the same. The Highlands (broadly speaking the area north of the Highland Boundary Fault, which crosses Scotland from Helensburgh to Stonehaven) are, therefore, a photographer’s paradise. In this book I endeavour to capture not just the manifestation of that landscape but also the feelings that it inspires.
Scotland’s varied landscape is the result of a remarkable geological journey that started hundreds of millions of years ago in the southern hemisphere. Drifting slowly northwards, the landmass moved through all the Earth’s climatic zones, from polar to tropical. In the process tectonic plate movement, volcanic activity and ice ages all left their individual mark on the landscape, creating many of the distinctive mountain ranges and landmarks with which we are familiar today. In fact Scotland is not just a single landmass but composed of separate pieces of the Earth’s crust that fused together in the distant past.
This remarkable geological jigsaw can be seen in the unique variety of rock found in the country, from relatively young sandstone formations to the Lewisian gneiss of the north-west coast, at approximately three billion years old some of the oldest rock that can be found anywhere on Earth. Numerous world-famous geological features such as the unconformities’ at Siccar Point in Berwickshire identified by James Hutton in 1788 have also led to ground-breaking discoveries about the age of the planet itself.
When considering the elemental forces that created this land, it is difficult to imagine that human habitation could have significantly changed it. In fact, however, the presence of man has had a dramatic, often pervasive, influence on the landscape.
Archaeological studies have uncovered evidence of human habitation in Scotland dating back to prehistoric times. The well-preserved settlement at Skara Brae in Orkney, for instance, was inhabited as long ago as 3200 BC and it is known that people lived in Scotland several thousand years before that. The earliest Scots were hunter-gatherers whose survival depended on catching and killing wild animals.
As early farming practices began to emerge, parts of the extensive forests that dominated much of the Scottish landscape began to disappear to make way for crops and farm animals. This was the start of a human-driven process of deforestation that contributed significantly to the decimation of the once mighty Caledonian pine forests to the point that today just 1 per cent of the original woodland remains. Much of this now lies in protected areas but the damage has long since been done, a permanent reminder of the influence that human habitation has had on our landscape.
However, the pattern of settlement in the Highlands has always been a transient one. In many areas the farming land is often only marginally arable and historically it has proved very difficult for even relatively small populations to support themselves. Combined with other factors such as the notorious clearances of the nineteenth century, this resulted in a gradual emptying of the Highlands as people left arduous, poverty-stricken lives behind in search of a new start in the rapidly growing cities of Lowland Scotland or further afield in North America or Australia. The ruins that remain are a poignant reminder of the struggle those people endured to survive in the Highlands. The landscape that they once inhabited is virtually barren, denuded of its woodland and natural diversity. Ironically, though, it is the very emptiness the escaping Highlanders left that now attracts so many visitors to the Scottish wilderness.
In more recent times road construction and the building of electricity pylons have left an unmistakable imprint on the landscape too. One of the most controversial issues has been the advent of wind farms, with ever-increasing numbers of turbines becoming a dramatic example of contemporary interaction between humans and the landscape. Proponents of wind farms argue that they form an indispensable element of the drive towards renewable energy. Their detractors point out that the turbines have a massive impact on the landscape and that environmentalism should take aesthetic issues into account rather than concentrating entirely on carbon emissions; given the importance of tourism to the Highlands, the landscape, many argue, should not be sacrificed in the name of green energy. The Highland landscape has become a key asset to Scotland’s economy in many areas, as walkers, climbers and photographers flock to the deserted glens, mountains and beaches the photographers prepared to take on the challenge of the capricious weather for the rewards of its ever-changing light.
A crucial element of landscape photography is being in the right place at the right time. This is far from being a matter of luck but instead the result of careful preparation. The vast majority of images in this book are premeditated, the end result of a process that begins with an idea or preconceived image. For each successful image a wide variety of factors must be taken into account: the sun, the season, the time of day, wind, tides and weather all play significant roles.
Light is the essence of every image and fundamental to the art of photography; casting an infinite range of photographic possibilities upon the landscape, it is what makes every image unique. Capturing this light at its best as it interacts with the landscape is vitally important. The sun’s position and the angle of light it projects upon the landscape are therefore a critical factor in the planning of a photograph. This is especially the case when photographing mountains, since features may be in light for only very limited periods of the day; images of north-facing aspects of mountains, where light can be an elusive and fleeting visitor, especially during the winter months, can be particularly difficult to capture. So for mountain photography knowledge of how the sun’s position at a given time of the year will interact with the topography of the landscape, and when and where windows of light will open, is essential.
The seasons, which determine the position of the sun and therefore the light that encompasses it, exist thanks to the fact that the Earth’s axis is tilted at 23.5 degrees, and as a result different parts of the globe receive varying amounts of sunlight depending on their position in relation to the sun. Throughout the year, as the Earth orbits the sun, this degree of exposure changes significantly. During the summer months, when the northern hemisphere is tilted towards the sun, daylight here lasts longer and the sun’s angle, or ecliptic, is higher in the sky. As the year progresses towards winter and the Earth continues its inexorable path around its star, the northern hemisphere eventually finds itself tilted away from the sun, whose arc across the sky is lower, resulting in significantly shorter days.
As a result, there can be a remarkable contrast between two images of the same location shot at different times of the year, as illustrated here by the photographs of the well-known summit of Ben Arthur, better known as the Cobbler, seen resplendent in winter snow and in June. It is this transformation of land and light in an unending process as the seasons progress that this book attempts to capture.
While the seasons change the landscape over a period of months, the rotation of the Earth on its axis every twenty-four hours changes day into night; and the period at the beginning and end of each day, as the sun rises or falls in the sky, is known to photographers as the golden hour’. This is widely perceived as the ideal time of day to capture an image because of the quality of light. The spectacular red light cast by a dawn or sunset can render an otherwise mundane scene into something unique. Capturing this light in Scotland’s wild places can be one of the most challenging aspects of photographing the Highland landscape. A shot taken at sunset from a mountain summit, for example, might require a descent in darkness; an image from the same location at dawn could require an overnight camp on the mountain.
It is no bad thing that some of Scotland’s best-loved scenery is easily accessible to tourists and those less able make their way across difficult terrain; however, increasingly far too many images seem to be taken from a handful of locations where the photographers barely need to leave a lay-by if they bother getting out of their cars at all. Avoiding the well-known and over-exposed landmarks requires a little more vision and commitment. To take the photograph here of Loch Hourn from Barrisdale Bay, for example, I embarked on an undulating 9 kilometre/5? mile trek from Kinlochourn, laden with camera equipment, camping gear and everything else I needed to survive in one of the country’s most remote and wild locations. I captured the carefully planned shot at 10.00 p.m. around the summer solstice, before spending an uncomfortable night in a tent and making the long return journey...

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