Photography Is a Feeling: An Interview with Richard Gaston

The Highlands of Scotland | Photograph by Richard Gaston

There is a quiet beauty in Richard Gaston’s photographs. They are like a quiet place in themselves. Relieved of any unnecessary detail. What remains is the emotion of the adventure, of the moment, of the element. Isn’t this why we travel? Why we connect with nature? Why we set out in search of places and of the self? Even if I look at hundreds of photos, good or bad, each one of them more staged than the other, the minute I lay my eyes on one of Richard’s photographs, it has the ability to block all the noise of everything else I’ve seen before. Maybe it’s his subject matter of choice, landscape, that focuses your attention on the now and on reality flowing, or the majestic beauty of Scotland, where he often shoots, that commands you to stay still and just be, or his preference for the colder months which naturally invite to reflection, but there is also a man-made quality and the eye of an artist that truly makes them unique.

In the delicate times we are living, when our planet is fast approaching the place of no return in environmental equilibrium, photography plays a contrasting double role. On the one hand, it can contribute to conservation by shedding light on important topics with relevant images. But we don’t think very often at the other side of the medal, that travel photography can also and does lead to increased travel, therefore to an unsustainable impact on our world. Richard Gaston unselfishly acknowledges the photographer’s responsibility and makes it part of the conversation, not necessarily in words, although he does bring it into discussion in our interview, but, most importantly, on a much more subtle level. I sense that he is sparing, in the best possible way, with sharing his visual stories, like each and every one of them are to be part of an exhibition. It is not about the more, but about the better, about making the best of each experience, not checking as many as possible off your list, about how to best capture and transmit a feeling. Because every photograph is unrepeatable and endless.

It is a great pleasure to have Richard Gaston as my guest today, talking about photography and why passion and persistence go together, about appreciating the simpler things, about one of the special hidden places from the wonderlands of Scotland, and about his dream photograph.

Bergen | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Richard, what does it take to go there, to want to tell a story through your photographs?
Passion and persistence is the key. First of all, passion builds motivation and without passion there wouldn’t be persistence. It’s a long game, but those who power through will come out on top. For me, photography is a feeling. Learn the basics independently and go with what feels right (focus on the subject that one desires) and get out and take photos. You won’t take any good images sitting at home (in relation to landscape photography).

What led you to photography?
A passionate hobby, turned into a profession. A self taught, organic development really; years of fiddling with a camera and spending time in the outdoors achieved a large archive of images. The jobs trickled through and became more and more prominent as I became more experienced. I’ve undertaken internships abroad, assisted photographers and taught myself the skills that were required but, most importantly, focussed on personal projects.

Do you always carry a camera with you?
Not always a DSLR as my subject of choice is landscapes and I live in the city, but I guess nowadays you could say everyone carries a camera, the mobile cameras are so good and do a great job as a backup.

The Highlands of Scotland | Photographs by Richard Gaston


“Do I savour the moment or risk missing it and going below
to fetch my camera? My answer is to get my camera, always.”

Photography has become ubiquitous. Everyone seems to take and view insane amounts of images every single day. But that does not make everyone a photographer. Which is why I appreciate your photography even more. It is uniquely distinct, it stays with you, it invites to reflection, you sense that it connects the viewer with the world in a very tangible way. Do you see your photography as a much-needed response to social-media generated images?
That’s very kind of you, thank you. I think it’s important to appreciate beautiful places and capture them in a way which isn’t selfish; by that I mean not just a photo of oneself standing in-front of beauty just to show they were there, but instead compliment the landscape with a beautiful image. Personally, I like to focus on the micro, more abstract details of the land.

Are there moments when you simply witness a moment without shooting any picture? Is it true that even photographers keep some of the most special moments they experience to themselves?
I’m often asked a predicament, where I’m on a boat, my camera is below deck and a whale comes to the surface. Do I savour the moment or risk missing it and going below to fetch my camera? My answer is to get my camera, always. I know I would regret not capturing it for myself.

Your project Glas-allt-Shiel documents the landscape of the Balmoral Estate bothy in the Scottish Highlands over the four seasons. You returned to the same location once a season, choosing the same shooting spot. Is it take or make a photograph?
A bit of both really. The majority of my photos are spontaneous and not planned. Just simple moments I have witnessed on my travels. However, I do plan a small amount of my photos. Take “Glas-allt-Shiel”, I planned that series after I had taken the first images in autumn. I thought it would make an interesting project to see the changes in landscape at that one particular place. It was ideal as trees convey the seasonal changes so vividly.

Glas-allt-Shiel. Autumn. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Winter. | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Spring | Photograph by Richard Gaston

Glas-allt-Shiel. Summer. | Photograph by Richard Gaston


“It is important to do this responsibly.”

Your photography often documents the magnificent Scottish landscape. It’s autumn. What is the most scenic road trip in Scotland?
In autumn, a trip to Glen Torridon is a must. The vast array of trees, stunning lochs backed by grand mountains and deep glens.

Your book, Wild Guide Scotland, is a compendium of hidden places, outdoor adventures, artisanal food and inspiring places from the wonderlands of Scotland. Would you be so kind to share one of those places with us?
Kearvaig bothy (a free and open refuge for anyone to use) is a special hidden gem. Located out in the northwesternmost point of mainland Scotland, in the middle of moorland and ocean front views.

In this time and age, what do you wish people appreciated more?
Simpler things. Spending time in the outdoors and camping really emphasises the appreciation for the basics: comfort, safety and food. Instead, we get caught up on insignificant issues, for instance, what other people think of one another instead of focusing on their own instincts. However, it’s great to see the current generations awareness for the environment increasing.

In that regard, do you feel, as a photographer, that you have a responsibility not only to reveal, but also to respond to world events and issues?
I think everyone has their part to play in environmental awareness. In regards to photography, the ideal tools exist to document and to share the issues that we are currently facing so they can be used in beneficial ways. This is not necessarily true for every photographer due to their subject matters not being relevant, however I think the downside to travel photography is the encouragement that leads to others venturing out to the same locations which increases the carbon footprint of the world, so it is important to do this responsibly, limiting the use of flying and reducing the use of plastic.

What is your favourite moment of the day for shooting? Do you swear by the “golden hour”?
Sunrise for me is just that little bit more special; the start of something new and often there alone. However, I would suggest that the golden hour offers a greater window for photography due to the optimal light lasting longer and it’s easier logistically (not having to get up so early, etc.). Summer, for me, is usually a write off and I wait for the darker, colder months.

If you could be anywhere in the world right now, preparing to shoot, where would you want to be?
Svalbard. To photograph a polar bear on an ice berg is my dream photograph.

The Highlands of Scotland | Photographs by Richard Gaston | Instagram: @richardgaston


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