Safety and comfort on my photographic workshops in Scotland


In light of the recent weather and articles that have been released about accidents and dangers of being outdoors in the winter in Scotland, I decided to write a few thoughts down about my retreats and my viewpoint on this. 

Scotland is beautiful, and never more so than in the winter months. The light is low, the ever changing skies can be simply glorious, and the weather brings with it conditions that makes landscape photography very appealing. I am known for shooting in wild conditions, where storms and heavy swells bring the waves I am searching for and the light to go with them. I thrive on being outdoors and the wind and cold makes me feel alive. I even swim outdoors in the winter because to me it’s more enjoyable and quieter than summer swimming. 

Like most human beings, I have thresholds though, and as much as I enjoy the outdoors, I also love getting back in, getting warm and dry and being cosy by my fire! I also hate wet feet more than anything and I'm no superwoman. I get tired as easily as anyone else.

I have only ever been on one photography workshop in my life and that was to learn night skies in America. My biggest fear over the many years I did look at workshops was being marched around and not being able to keep up. Feeling cold and tired and dragged around, expected to stay out and keep up. 

In America, it turned out that tutor, Ron Risman, listened to me when I told him my worries and I opted out of one session simply because I was tired and didn’t want to be out in a canyon in freezing temperatures for hours. He was very understanding. I saw things and learnt things that looking back on, have made a huge difference to me now and I am so glad I took the opportunity in spite of my fears. 

I guess what I am trying to say is that empathy is at the core of what I do. A basic understanding of each and every participant’s needs and wants and a fluid response to that during the retreat. 

Indeed, I called my workshops retreats to get away from the idea that you will be worked hard and you have to keep up and keep going. My aim to get an understanding of who you are before you even arrive and during the retreat, adapt and listen whenever needed. At the end of the day, it is your holiday and you have invested in joining us and my aim is that you enjoy every minute of it. 

So coming back to safety, it is a high priority on my part. I have dynamic risk assessments for every location on my list. Each location is planned, known and thought about; from distance and length of walk to facilities close by and underfoot conditions. I have a long list of locations which will be flexible according to group ability and weather forecasts.

When there are two tutors it also becomes easier to split up if there are mixed abilities and indeed, mixed desires. 

I take a long time to get to know the areas that I work in, in order to understand the wave and sea swells patterns, how wind affects the area and slippery conditions. I am trained on first aid and also a trained outdoor lifeguard and we carry first aid equipment. 

But more than any of these basics, I listen and pick up when people are uncomfortable, cold or just want to have a warm cup of coffee. This is something there is no training for! 

So please rest assured that although you are going to the very north of Scotland in the winter months, safety is important and your comfort and happiness is an equally big consideration!

1 Comment

  1. Bill Duncan

    This is really interesting, Margaret.
    I’m keenly anticipating the Orkney retreat, and have been thinking about some of the issues you raise, particularly in the light of recent weather, and the unpredictability of what the weather can do in Orkney.
    What you say here seems to me to be to be reassuringly sensitive in its responsiveness to individual needs and its acknowledgment of individual feelings, and possibly, anxieties.
    Personally, I’m hoping for at least one day with a stiff westerly blasting across the Atlantic,, in order to experience Yesnaby in its sublime glory. Sometimes it’s good to feel the ferocity of the elements. Few better places for this than Yesnaby.


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