My parents decided to spend my Fathers 75th Birthday in Lochleven, on the fringes of Glencoe, a place we had visited many times as a family when I was growing up. Of course then I was more interested in Lego and Star Wars movies than in landscape and photography, so much of the beauty of the region was wasted on me.
However in recent years, I have read more and more about Glencoe, and the mecca it is for landscape photographers. So, when my parents said that the holiday cottage they had rented had a spare room, and more importantly dogs were allowed, I knew I had to make the 370mile journey north, and Eddie was coming with me.
Now summer landscape photography takes a lot of effort. The sun rises at about 4:30am, but its getting light a full 40 minutes before then. This far north it barely goes dark at all, so in order to maximise the best possible light the alarm needed to be set for 3:15am. Placing all of my faith in the forecasts from the Met Office (amongst others), we headed for the first location on the wish list.....Rannoch Moor, for what we hoped would be a colourful sunrise.
As you can see, the colourful sunrise didn't happen.
I arrived on the banks of Lochan na h-Achlaise at just after 4am, and believe it or not, I wasn't alone. Another photographer had a similar idea to me. we were both a bit surprised with the complete lack of visibility, but Landscape photographers are generally optimistic, so we both decided to stick around until the mist had been burned off by the suns warm rays.
There was something eerie about the loch, the tiny islands and the mist. Despite being disappointed at not being able to see the mountains, I was soon transfixed by the ghostly shapes. The water was perfectly still, so the lochs surface provided mirror like reflections. The above shots are not long exposures, and have not received any excessive photoshop treatment. This is what we saw....until the mist got even thicker.
After 50 minutes, we decided enough was enough, and we would go on to try somewhere else, where we might actually see something. I did return the next morning, when it was much clearer. Like many of the locations I visited, I think this will look a hundred times better in the winter, when the islands become frosty, the mountains more snowy, and the water frozen. This scene will keep for another day....
I headed back up the A82, at crawling speed through the mist. Even at a snails pace I had to (on two occasions) slam on the brakes to avoid deer who seemed hell bent to come to an abrupt end. I was relieved to reach my next planned location, the entrance to Glen Etive and Etive Mor.
(This is not strictly accurate. I had wanted to take some shots of the famous Black Rock Cottage with Etive Mor in the background. Yeah, its been done before, many, many times, but I thought it would look impressive in the morning mist. When I arrived my heart sank, there was no way I was shooting here today. Someone, in their infinite wisdom had decided that the best place for a portable toilet would right outside the cottage wall. Now maybe its a weird way of telling me not to shoot a cliched shot, but I wouldn't have minded it for a personal memory. Another shot for another day...)
Fortunately the thick mist started to clear as the sun got higher. This provided some great light on the foreground rocks. Eddie (the Beagle) was in the car, so I didn't want to walk far from him (he's banned from coming on shoots with me after disgracing himself near Glastonbury last year. Anyway, by this point he had been walked and had his breakfast, so he was ready for a snooze).
The sun was mostly to my left and behind me, so I was concious that my shadow could cause a few problems. So checking the ground in front of me before every shot I was confident I had avoided any such problems. It was only when I started to edit the photographs that I noticed a strange halo and what looked like my shadow in the distance. Can you just about make it out in the centre of the image below left?
It took a little bit of Google detective work, but I eventually worked out that I had actually taken a photo of strange phenomenon known as a Brocken Spectre (Ghost of the mountain).
Brocken is a mountain in Germany, which is where the legends of the spectres originated. Its shrouded with superstition, but climbers used to fear that whoever saw a spectre was doomed to die the very next day. Fortunately, this didn't happen, I'm still here.
I spent about 40minutes shooting here until most of the mist had lifted. This is such a wonderful place to take photographs. I had hoped to go back later during the week, but the weather conditions didn't suit, and as you'll see in part 2 of this blog, light was at a premium.
I made a mental note of a few useful compositions for another day. This trip was starting to turn into a glorified reconnaissance mission, but I find thats often the case when you visit somewhere new. I could list many places I have been to and didn't get the best from the landscape...but i'll be going back.
It was getting time for breakfast, so I headed back towards Ballachulish where we were staying. At this time of the year the sun is at its highest point in the sky, making the light very harsh. It becomes almost impossible to get a decent exposure just a couple of hours after sunrise, especially with clear skies. The camera was packed away, I assumed until sunset. However.....the mountains infront of me were glowing in the morning sun, and the water of sea loch Linhe was perfectly still. I had to make a detour. The bacon sandwich would have to wait.
I use Lightroom and photoshop for my editing. A recent update of Lightroom (6) has a useful feature for stitching images together to form wide panorama's. This has become quite addictive. The trouble with Scotland is that its so beautiful, its hard to know when to stop shooting. Facing across the loch I started with a shot of a headland with some trees, and some mountains in the distance. I then panned right for one, two, three, four and eventually five and six shots. I thought 'I'll crop that into something sensible later'.
This is the image in its entirety. I would be more than happy to hear from anyone with suggestions where you could crop it.... Because for me its perfect as it is, but potentially useless. I could never print it out at a reasonable size, and you wouldn't make out any details on social media, such as Facebook or twitter, especially when viewed on a smartphone or small tablet.
All in all, not a bad morning, time for some rest and then, maybe a sunset shoot at Appin, back on the shores of Loch Linhe?
I hope you've enjoyed this blog (part 1), the second part of which will follow next week, when I get even more obsessed with good light. Please feel free to use the 'Contact Me' tab if you have any questions, or would like to discuss any of the locations, conditions or subjects touched on above.