John Macpherson lives and works in Fort William, a small town in the West Highlands of Scotland. A self-taught photographer, he has traveled in Europe, Africa and the United States, and has explored the corners of his own country extensively. He has supported himself as a welder, carpenter, and most recently he balances working two days a week as a social worker with his career as a professional stock, nature and landscape photographer. As a social worker at a center for adults with learning disabilites, he has undertaken projects in which he has taught photography to his clients; the resulting work has won numerous awards.

John may be contacted via email at:

On his Web site:, he displays a large portfolio of his work.

1. What kind of time goes into producing images? When you find a promising scene, how long do you spend watching the light? Have you ever made note of a particular scene, then come back at a different time or time of year?

2. Why do you shoot landscapes? Is it simply to try to capture beauty, or do you have environmental concerns?

3. You say that you are a self-educated photographer. Are there any photographers who influenced you in your work? How did you technically and visually get to the level of sophistication you now possess?

John Macpherson responds >


I like to think that many of the images I make are not simply ‘landscapes’. I would prefer to call them ‘lightscapes’. For me, the term ‘landscape’ ties an image too closely to the ‘land’ , a psychological weighting of the work that draws the mind towards what we know, what we can feel. Earth.

Lightscapes are an attempt to capture that space above earth, the void between land and sky where light is transient and evocative. Surfaces that reflect attract me also - their ability to distort and reflect light to create wonderful abstract patterns. Or to simply reflect the ordinary, but in a way that gives depth to their flat and anchored surfaces, and, perhaps, forces the viewer to question the reality of what they perceive.

My pictures are an attempt to capture some of these magical effects. I watch light. I think about light a great deal. And occasionally I am able to capture it.

I have often mused over the inspiration that moved prehistoric man to erect the enigmatic monoliths that are scattered around my relatively small country. Orkney, Lewis, and many other corners can boast lone standing stones, or complex groups of stones, their purpose long forgotten and now pondered over by modern minds. But I have a suspicion that their erectors realised something fundamental, something in their collective unconscious that drove them to try to bridge the gap between earth and sky, between soil and sun.

At the edges of the day, at Brodgar on Orkney, or Callanish on Lewis, as the sun sinks towards the low western horizon, elemental light takes over. Shadows lengthen, creeping across the ground, touching earth, other stones, touching people. In my pictures of stones I have tried to show something of that ‘connection’ between stones and the physical environment that defines them.

There seems some primitive need to erect stones, as I discovered on the Applecross Peninsula, near a spot frequented by visitors, where a stunning view of land and water induces gasps from those who stop and look. Where the sheer enormity of the land and water scape is overwhelmed only by the overarching vastness of the sky. People, moved by the scene, have marked their presence by erecting a stone. I have stood there on many occasions, some bright and vivid others stormy, but on this clear late evening, as the sun dipped over the horizon spilling warm light across the scene, I think I glimpsed a fraction of their motivation.

Lightscapes are elusive. That’s their attraction. Many factors must conspire to produce the ideal conditions. Imagine a day of scudding cloud and patches of clear sky, where the light lances down, isolating details with dramatic effect. It requires very little perceptual ability but lots of activity.........clouds race, gaps form, light spills through and the limiting factors are your agility and mastery of exposure.

But there are other days, of softer light, and more relaxed pace. There is a particular effect possible on such ‘bright overcast’ days, the cloud cover diffusing the sunlight, where I can only describe the light as appearing to come from below. The effect is sublime. Shadows disappear, colours are vibrant, and the scene appears almost to be illuminated from within, from the earth. Reflective surfaces, water if it is calm, become mirrors of sky, or any detail that you choose to play with. This is a more considered approach, the lighting stays constant and even, and agility of mind, and a willingness to ‘explore’ a scene, becomes more important than any physical ability.

Northern peoples consider light in a particular way. The disappearing sun in winter marks a period of mood swing and change for many individuals. Recognised now as seasonal affective disorder (S.A.D.) it fundamentally changes the way one thinks and acts. Light, or rather its absence, subtly but surely leaves its mark on our psyche, in ways we often do not realise.

This is very much a work in progress; as I learn more about light, the work will change and grow. I hope this brief glimpse of my feelings towards my small but often beautifully illuminated country moves you to respond to your land and elemental light.

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