on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Isolation of Winter

Conveying the sense of emptiness and vulnerability

Paul Gallagher

Paul Gallagher is recognised as one of the most accomplished landscape photographers and workshop leaders in the UK today. He has been a writer and lecturer in photography for over thirty years and runs both field and printing workshop nationally and internationally.


I have always preferred making photographs in the winter months. I do love autumn and spring, but there is something about the starkness of trees with no foliage, or the muted light, and often the lack of sunlight, that I feel portrays the landscape as ‘realistic’ and something that displays elements that are conducive, for me at least, in making beautiful photographs.

Scotland is a place I strive to be in during the winter months. From November to February the place seems more remote and empty, certainly in comparison to the busier seasons when motor homes are plentiful and the coffee shops are full of tourists and travellers. During the winter months the landscape is stripped of anything that could be regarded as available to the tourist. Hotels close down, gift shop owners hang their “Closed for Season” signs and the skies darken with storms and daylight dwindles to a few hours either side of 10am to 4pm.

Along with these conditions come two sets of emotions for me. Firstly, the feeling that I am alone out there. It is clear that I am not and although the villages and hamlets seem sleepy and desolate, they aren’t and the evidence of this is apparent during the school run. Secondly, (and an emotion which naturally follows being alone,) is a degree of vulnerability. This was made quite apparent approximately ten years ago when on a fierce and stormy February afternoon I headed out from Elgol on the Isle of Skye in Scotland and made my way around the edge of Loch Scavaig and I took a hard fall on the slippery boulders within the tidal zone. I thought I had broken my leg and luckily I hadn’t, but the sense of isolation was palpable for a short moment in time.  

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