Highland InspirationFrom The Field
An interview with Alistair Horne
By Alex Roddie // Photography by Alistair Horne
At 25, Ali Horne is a full-time professional landscape photographer known for his dramatic images, subtle colours, and striking depiction of mountain landscapes. But his images aren’t confined to the Highlands. Alistair has travelled all over the world with his camera, seeking out unique viewpoints and telling stories through his images. Although he mainly focuses on landscapes, he dabbles in the odd portrait when necessary.
He’s the driving force behind the Highland Collective – a group of eight Scottish photographers exploring the landscape and showcasing the beauty of the Scottish Highlands, encouraging more people to visit… but to tread softly when they do.
Alex: Describe your visual style and how this came to be. Has it adapted or changed in any way since you started out?
Alistair: I love colours and dramatic skies, which we have an abundance of in the Scottish Highlands with our unpredictable forecasts. My style has evolved as a result of travelling around the west coast of America after university and seeing the local views around my home country. The variety of vistas, colours and beauty on offer around California, Oregon and Utah certainly had a profound impact on my appreciation of the outdoors. Seeing these amazing landscapes made me want to capture more of Scotland and other countries, and these early journeys gave me the travel and photography bug.
When I started, I certainly went overboard on the saturation when I look back at it now – you learn as you do more and realise what you like and don’t like.
At the time of writing, you have a large social media following. How has social networking helped you grow as a photographer? Are there any downsides?
I would never have pursued photography as a career had it not been for social media. It was a great way for me to increase my reach and following, leading to a variety of client work that would have been much harder to acquire on my own. It has given me a lot more confidence in my own work knowing that others appreciate my photos. When certain work gets positive feedback, or people even spend money on my prints to put up in their homes, that’s a great feeling.
I have also made a bunch of contacts through social media – not to mention meeting some of my best friends through these apps. Many of my school or university friends are not into photography as much as I am, so meeting other people with similar interests has been great.
As for the downsides, you do get a bit of negativity from other photographers around your photos, especially on Instagram, which is a shame. I think some people feel their photos should get more reach on the platform and maybe get upset if others have a larger following for whatever reason. In any field of work, you are bound to get some negativity from others doing similar things, so it’s part of the job – and I’m used to it.
Can you tell us a bit about the Highland Collective?
The collective (www.instagram.com/thehighlandcollective) is a group of eight Scottish photographers who came together to showcase imagery of Scotland and the beauty of our country. The main purpose is to encourage people to travel to Scotland and to help promote local businesses and tourism boards. Hopefully, it will help inspire future travels and put Scotland on the world map!
Your images convey a sense of both wildness and the human imprint on the land. Which inspires you the most – nature or human context – and why?
Both make an impression. The wildness of the Scottish Highlands definitely inspires my work – you just have to travel here to see why. Humans have had a massive impact on the landscapes here, but this has had a positive side effect for landscape photographers: we are able to see some incredible views thanks in part to the reduced tree cover.
Unfortunately, in recent times, the human imprint – in particular the increase of tourism – has had a negative impact on the locals as well as the landscape. Promoting certain areas means more people will want to go here, so it’s a thin line between promotion and encouraging mass tourism to an area that can’t cope. This issue in Scotland, where the local infrastructure cannot facilitate this influx of tourists, will continue to be a big issue in our country. If I can highlight this in any way through my work, and encourage tourists to leave no trace of their travel while supporting the local economies, then I will be doing some good for the local people.
Do you have a favourite destination that you’ve been to so far?
That’s a tricky question. My recent trip to southern Greenland was a highlight of the year: kayaking amongst massive icebergs was incredible!
If I had to pick one place I’d choose Norway – the fjords, the coastlines and mountain ranges are so beautiful. I can imagine myself living there in the future at some point. The Scandinavian culture, the people and the landscapes are the perfect mix, with the cherry on top being the Lofoten Islands which I was lucky to visit in 2016. I’m hoping to return next year.
When heading into the hills, do you go looking for images first and foremost, or is the adventure more important? Put another way, is the image the primary objective or a happy byproduct of your time in the outdoors?
When I first started taking pictures, I would have said the latter. Meeting like-minded people and going for a walk just to enjoy the outdoors was a priority, gaining new stories and seeing new places.
Since going freelance, unfortunately the image has become more important than just going outside. As much as I enjoy a new hike or seeing a new place, getting pictures is now part of my natural process on the hills. If I don’t get the desired outcome, it’s not a disaster – but it’s more of a focal point now than just going out for the sake of walking or hiking. I try to balance the two but it has swung the opposite way since it’s become my full time job.
How do you see things changing for landscape and outdoor photographers over the next few years?
With the rise of social media and phone photography, I see the number of people increasing and therefore competition for landscape photography to intensify online. This means it will be harder for people like myself, but the industry seems to be booming at the moment and hopefully more businesses will continue to spend advertising in these new channels. I’m sure there will be the latest craze or a new way to share your work that will have some new impact in the future, but we shall see.
What’s your next project?
I have a few smaller projects in Scotland over the next few months and I’m hoping to head to Finnish Lapland in February next year. I aim to travel to new countries and discover fascinating cultures over the next 12 months and encourage more people to travel. I’m planning my own Scottish photography workshop in 2018, so I have that to try and sort out soon!