• October 11, 2013

Journey’s End and New Beginnings

Leaving his trusty Nikon behind, Jim Richardson returns to a favorite spot to photograph, the Scottish Highlands, with a brave new tool—the iPhone 5S.

I told them it would rain. And it did.

Before our National Geographic Adventures trip to Scotland ever left home I made that prediction to the hikers and I was right. But then predicting rain in Scotland is a pretty sure thing. I tried to make it sound like sport, something you shouldn’t miss on any true hike in the Highlands and Islands. That worked for a while until we were coming down from the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye and it really drenched us. Guide David Russell, a true Scot, tried to tell us that since the rain was not coming at us horizontally, it wasn’t really rain. Nice try, David. Wet rats have no sense of humor, and neither did we.

For my part I tried to tell everyone that this dismal weather was a golden photographic opportunity. That any hike into the heart of Scotland without a bit of meteorological angst would be poor pudding. One can only stand so many clear days and blue skies before drama envy sets in. We got it up in the fog amidst the towering crags of the Storr, and we got it the next day when the Bella Jane took us from Elgol over to Loch Coruisk on the Isle of Skye. Magical stuff, in my book. Swirling gray mists wrapping down around us, the sun popping through in wee, feeble drabs, and the river cascading down over the glistening rocks, a brilliant white torrent.

I found it remarkable that my iPhone camera could capture as much of this as it did. Naturally, I chose my angles carefully, both for composition and lighting. Capable as it is, the iPhone is not a powerhouse DSLR that can conquer all situations. Comparing ultimate image quality across platforms is a fruitless exercise best left to the pixel peepers and their resolution charts.

But that wasn’t my goal. I set out on this trip hoping to find a fresh way of seeing a beloved place. I wanted to replace some of the paraphernalia with a spirit of adventure and experimentation. Most of all I was willing to accept that the images I got would be of the moment, not for the ages. Shooting for a National Geographic magazine assignment is a no-holds-barred exercise, sometimes taking years and every fiber of your being. This, by contrast, was a beautiful hike in the hills. All about being there in the moment, and sharing it in the moment. Ultimate technical image quality was less important than capturing the serendipity of travel.

For example: One morning we were waiting for the wee ferry over to Kerrera along with a man who had a pile of groceries in bags and boxes on the quay, along with several bags of beautiful flowers. “Is there a lodge or inn on the island?” I asked, pointing to the bouquets. “No,” he said, “they’re for the parrot sanctuary. The parrots love to eat them!” Who knew a little island like that would be home to a parrot orphanage?

Many images later (total take nearly 5,000 and about 50 posted to Instagram) what emerged for me was a better idea of my true purpose. People connected with the pictures of Scotland, liked the images, and some wrote touching comments. Some quibbled about technical details (“too much noise in the clouds”) and discovered that the images were (as I had predicted they would be) not earthshaking. Some got into the spirit of the trip conveyed in the pictures; for others image quality trumps everything and any flaw is a serious speed bump in the journey.

Most of all what was revealed to me in all the comments and discussions is that mobile phone photography is hot in the minds of a lot of people. That shouldn’t have surprised me, I’m sure, but nevertheless the scope is surprising and the direction it takes a bit unexpected. Perhaps it is simply a parallel universe; one universe clings to the established rules of photography while the iphoneography universe emerges from some aesthetic wormhole into a realm where the old rules simply don’t apply. This could well be more than one kind of camera replacing another. It may well be a dividing point in the development of photography. New times, new aesthetics, new motivations. New photography.

Or maybe it is just a return to the exhilarating spirit of photography that was unleashed more than a century ago when Kodak brought forth the first simple snapshot cameras. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing.

I’m back on assignment now—two days after I got back from Scotland I landed in Ukraine: serious photography about serious subjects again. Big cameras, lots of gear, many logistical nightmares, important pictures (I hope).

I find that the photographers I admire today seem to live effortlessly in several photographic worlds, making deeply considered photographs one moment and dashing off an image to Instagram or Twitter in the next moment. They share one commonality: The photograph is just a vessel for the message, and getting the message out is the ultimate goal.

With that reflection I’ll return now to memories of hiking the Highlands and Islands of Scotland and to the friends I made there. I must thank our two guides, Dave Picken and his assistant David Russell, great Scots who shared so much of their country with us. I’m an old hand in Scotland but they had surprises for me that made me glad.

Follow Jim’s visual voyage on Instagram at #proofscotland. A full collection of Jim’s photo tips can be found here.

Jim Richardson is a Kansas farm kid whose father loaned him a used camera and whose mother allowed him to use her kitchen as a printing darkroom. He has been photographing his rapidly expanding world ever since, often seeking out remote places and always searching for the extraordinary in the commonplace. One of his favorite locations is Scotland.

There are 47 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Simon Aldworth
    November 10, 2013

    Great shots. For me, as a novice photographer, this is an important lesson – just using a phone means you can concentrate on composition, surely the most basic and important of skills that can’t be masked by just knowing all the other features found in DSLRs.

  2. ashutosh naik
    November 8, 2013

    I find you every where. Your are part of my life, i can’t leave without NGC….

  3. Mónica Villa
    November 7, 2013


  4. Paula Fonseca
    November 7, 2013

    A true artist doesn’t need a Nikon, as we see on these shots.

  5. Judith Neal
    November 7, 2013

    What super photos! I find it amazing that the quality is so good, although I am only using a 16.5″ screen. The main thing which comes across in the editorial is just how much Jim enjoyed himself. Whatever equipment you’re using photography should be about enjoyment, even if it’s simply the enjoyment (satisfaction) of creating the image you wanted. Also, who could NOT enjoy themselves on a week walking in Scotland!

  6. Simone
    November 7, 2013

    Absolument fabuleux. Compliments à vous !

  7. Galina Videnova
    November 7, 2013

    Incredibly beautiful!

  8. Jan Ng
    November 7, 2013

    You must have felt a great sense of freedom doing what you did? I am sure you truly enjoyed travelling light..

  9. Bettina Graf
    November 7, 2013

    Important is what you see not what you get
    I also experience that iphone pictures turn out to be amazingly brilliant
    thank you for your wonderful report

  10. diana saenz
    November 6, 2013

    realmente tal belleza te deja sin palabras …… Dios nos a dado las mejores oprtunidades de soñar y vivir

  11. Gaurav
    November 6, 2013

    lite byte photography…scintillating!

  12. DOEY DOE
    November 6, 2013


  13. Jason Schack
    November 6, 2013

    Jim your photos are amazing, and to find you used your phone made my day. I use mine exclusively only because I am between jobs, and cannot afford to upgrade yet. I applaud you for using yours in those amazing places, and capturing some amazing photos. Thanks for sharing!!

  14. Dana C
    November 6, 2013

    I like the images. It’s still beautiful and interesting even though the pictures were taken with an iphone5S. Great composition. You’ve captured the moment very well. I also enjoyed reading the description that you’ve written. Thanks for sharing!

  15. azmat ali
    November 6, 2013

    Wonderful shots.Amazing grace of nature when its peaceful!

  16. lisa
    November 6, 2013

    It is amazing what the cameras on the newer phones can do these days! little bit of photo editing, good to go!

  17. Colton Bradshaw
    November 5, 2013

    I count myself blessed to have accompanied Jim on his recent hiking adventure through the Scottish Highlands. He had forewarned us through a preparatory email prior to our departure that he would be traveling “light”–little did we realize truly how “light” this was until we met him for the first leg of our tour in Edinburgh. Thinking initially that surely this iPhone 5S was a temporary flirt with a new toy, he stated most emphatically during a more formal lecture later that evening that his iPhone was to be his only camera for the entire trip…. Silence greeted him, as we 14 fellow travelers had more serious photographic intentions (or so we thought) with the typical Nikon and Canon DSLRs + assorted lenses peaking out of our respective camera bags.

    I had never before been granted the privilege of observing a true National Geographic caliber photographer in action. Despite the fact that many of us were half his age, undeniably some more physically elite than Jim, not one–and I repeat–not one of us worked harder or pushed ourselves farther than did he in his creative efforts. Forever he would continually search for a better photographic angle, focus onto more minute details, reposition himself either higher or lower or farther away or deeper into the particular landscape focus of the moment during our march of the day. Exhaustedly picking at my dinner after our 4th long day of serious trekking through miles of mesmerizingly captivating Scottish scenery, I asked Jim how many photographs he had taken thus far. Despite the limited capabilities of the iPhone he revealed having already captured over 4000 photographs–easily twice more than me. And I could not have imagined taking even one more than I did yet still remain within visual contact with our ambitious hiking crew that rarely paused–everlooking for the next scenic wonder over the next knoll or mountain peak (and rarely being disappointed!). Amazing!

    I have had about a month now to sift through my photos–deleting hundreds upon hundreds. I ultimately snapped my shutter 3,513 times. Dozens, if not hundreds of times, I would carefully assume the same posture and footprints that Jim had just abandoned (literally following in the footsteps of a photographic giant)–attempting vainly to simulate/recreate the same vantage point he had just assumed, reaching for the same photographically magical moment…. As the point has been well made, it’s not the typewriter that makes the masterpiece author; nor is it the camera that makes a great photographer. Only two–that’s right, just two–of my exposures came anywhere close to those exhibited by Jim despite his using an iPhone camera and me using a digital SLR 10 times more expensive, even with my “stealing” from his legendary camera approaches and uncanny eye for “the picture”. Without a doubt, he is a uniquely gifted artist–blessed with an innate ability, finely-tuned by years of fastidiously rigorous work–capable of capturing a slice of life through a camera’s lens unlike anyone ever known to me.

    Yes, I was blessed indeed to follow in the footsteps of an unassuming, yet precise, friendly and gregarious living legend that happened to carry an iPhone around bonny Scotland one week. Oh, and one more thing; I just bought an iPhone 5S today….

  18. Nasser Hassanzadeh
    October 26, 2013

    Amazing photos. I really like it

  19. artist praveen g nair
    October 23, 2013

    the image of explorer … grate

  20. jWoodson
    October 22, 2013

    Dear Mr. Richardson,
    I sincerely commend you on your effort to show the purists that it’s not necessarily all about the equipment that can make or break a photograph. I’m just starting out myself armed with an iPhone 4 and the Snapseed app (trying to save for the new 5S and one of those newfangled NEX series cameras with a monster lens from Sony – I don’t think I’m quite ready for DSLR just yet) and while I fully understand the limitations of my equipment, I also understand that there are literally scores of other folks out there just like me noodling on their phones and creating virtual galleries on Instagram, Flickr and Facebook that have created this crazed boom of self-proclaimed photographers that makes me wonder if I am truly on to chasing my passion, or if I am merely a drop in the ocean of hipster chic. It takes a “good eye” with a subconcious knack for composition to stand out in the crowd and make a statement, and I’m thankful to NatGeo for the opportunity to have their photographers show the rest of us how it is done and what it’s really all about at the end of the endless selfie and sunset rainbow. The fact I can post this and have you read it is giving me shingles! Regards, JW

    October 20, 2013

    adoro vida animal e paisaigems

  22. Carlos Jara Garay
    October 18, 2013

    The pictures of this wonderful people should be every day in all TV channels of the world and we all should do our part to make people, specially children to SEE this marvelous word of ART of Nat. Geo. and this lovely crew.

    To expand this amazing work, count on me as one more person who loves your work.

    My love to you guys, and to NAT GEO. My favorite place to see LIFE AND ITS BEAUTY.

  23. rajendra ray
    October 18, 2013

    All photos are lovely and incredible.

  24. faith
    October 17, 2013

    wonderful. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing your photos on instagram.

  25. Rohan
    October 17, 2013

    Seriously loving this new hangout. Everything appears a little different on Proof. As it should. Many thanks for this awesome destination!

  26. Hermann
    October 15, 2013

    Tolle Bilder und a fantastic Place !!

  27. Jim Richardson
    October 14, 2013

    Thanks for the kind comments, one and all. Hope to see you again here at PROOF.

  28. Maminéfâ Diarra
    October 13, 2013

    l’aventure et la passion!

  29. karim diarra
    October 13, 2013

    j’adoré montré mon pays en image qui est le Mali et vos photos me vont vaoyagé par tout sans quitté mon Mali

  30. asadhana de la Vega
    October 13, 2013

    Tengo pasión por la fotografía, es arte y expresión que expande el alma…

  31. bediha
    October 13, 2013


  32. michael alexander
    October 12, 2013

    I think that did You got a fantastic journey…”!!

  33. César Trujillo G.
    October 12, 2013

    Excelent images

  34. George
    October 12, 2013

    I like these natural photos of yours.Natural real and at the right moment captured.

  35. Ric Maniquis
    October 12, 2013


  36. gladys ariza
    October 12, 2013

    les felicito por esta excursión tan exótica… fotos muy divinas; lo hacen transportarse a una a estos espacios

  37. Bubacr
    October 12, 2013

    Realmente bonitos fotografias

  38. Bubacr
    October 12, 2013

    Fantastic fhotografies

  39. Ashton
    October 12, 2013

    Great article! I enjoyed hearing about your travels and your perspective on the future of photography! It will be interesting to see where it goes, but one thing is for sure, I’m along for the ride!

  40. vheekay marathe
    October 12, 2013

    cheerful & pleasurous.
    I love nature.

  41. Lucy Rosado
    October 12, 2013

    All your photography that I’ve seen, is awesome no matter what camera you use. It’s all about the beauty of the subject you chose. What you see in that photo you take, the angle, those things around it, light, whatever, they ate simply breathtaking. I truly enjoy each and every one of them, whether they be scenes or living creatures, there is always something captivating about them. Simply, AWESOME! Thanks for sharing them with us!

  42. Kathleen
    October 12, 2013

    I sincerely enjoyed this piece. Thank you

  43. Roberto Franco
    October 12, 2013

    Excelente trabajo.

  44. Joannie
    October 12, 2013

    Your photos show that, indeed, genius is in the eye of the photographer and not in the equipment. Your photographs are beautiful an inspiring – even if some tech-nerd thinks that there is too much “noise” in the clouds.

  45. Malinda Hartong
    October 12, 2013

    Loving Proof. Thanks Jim & Nat Geo for sharing these ‘everyday’ tools and experiences. I really enjoy shooting iPhone & sharing on Instagram. Everyone has a camera in their pocket these days. Its exciting to see what folks both pro & ‘newbie’ come up with. I love teaching how to get great shots regardless of the gear you’re using – maybe try new things, experiment. And most of all have fun & appreciate the things around you – maybe even in a new light. 🙂 thanks again, Malinda

  46. Kriket welsh
    October 12, 2013

    Awesome moments! Enjoyed and a little lighter than the usual equipment. What an amazing adventure

  47. ابو مريم العزاوي
    October 11, 2013

    مصور رائع ومجهود متميز بأختيار لقطات تستحق التصفيق

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