The wellies are now dry.
At the end of January I went up to the west highlands around Torridon on a tour with Ian Cameron. Ian lives over on the Moray Coast (East coast) of Scotland, so this area is fairly close for him and he’s explored it for a number of years now. If you are going to somewhere for the first time, it really pays to have someone who really knows the area show you around.
I travelled up on the Sleeper from Crewe with my friend Phil Corley, boarding the train at just before midnight at Crewe, we spent some time in the er… lounge. I’d call it a bar, but there wasn’t actually a bar. There was a guy who would sell you a beer, which he produced out of a hidden fridge like a back street drug dealer. After I’d attempted to drink something called “Deuchars” which was the fizziest, nastiest 80’s like canned beer I’ve tasted since the actual 80’s, we retired to our cabins. Here’s a note for anyone who travels on this train in the future – when you board the train, turn the goddamn heating off! My oven was at full roast and even with the heating now turned off, I had to resort to propping the door open to lose some heat. It calmed down by about 4am.
The train, which is mostly used by the oil workers had seen better days to be honest. My first class ticket meant I didn’t have to share. That was about it. Oh – that and the little bag of toiletries, and a nuked airline style breakfast. However, all of this fades into nothing when, at 7:30, I awoke and pulled up the blind on the window to find the train was rolling through the Cairngorms at 30mph or so, with 2 foot of snow over everything. The mountains, the spruce trees, the meadows – everything. It was as if we had been transported through a back of a wardrobe, to a fantasy world.
An hour later we rolled into Inverness, and a little after that Ian picked us up in a Seat Alhambra fitted with winter tyres. We picked the other 3 guys up form various hotels and B&B’s and headed off to the Torridons. We stayed at The Old Mill near Talladale for the week. It’s not normally open at this time of year, however Paul and Pauline opened up for Ian and I have to say it was one of the nicest places I’ve stayed in. Right in the middle the trees, over a small stream at the base of a hill, the deer, pine martins and eagles came into the grounds. The pine martins would come for some raspberry jam on bread. The eagles came for the pine martins.
Pauline’s breakfasts are legendary. When we returned form the dawn shoots, we started with porridge – great with some brown sugar and salt, and then the full Scottish. This is like the full English (or Full “wherever you happen to be in the UK”) but with Haggis. Then we went out to shoot for the rest of the day – until about 8pm and then back for dinner. Rinse (your filters) and repeat…
Ian’s website isn’t called “Transient Light” for nothing – the light comes fast and furious up in the highlands. One minute it’s snowing, the next there’s thick black clouds, then with the sun peaking through it, to full on sun, and back to hail and snow. You can shoot the same scene over and over in an hour and get very different images.
Ian took us to some great locations, in the mountains, salt flats, overlooking bays, and on the beach. The weather was ever changing, sometimes challenging – especially the wind, however when you are there to make pictures, you find the pictures that suit the weather whatever that may be – just hang on to your tripod 🙂
A patch of that transient light (I may owe Ian a fee every time I use that term :P) landed on the trees, creating some colour in an otherwise monochromatic scene.
Over at the salt marshes around Annat, the rest of the group were working out angles on the snaking channels the water cuts into the snow covered grassy ground. The backdrop of Tom na Gruagaich bathed in this ever changing light, in a wide angle with the channels in it, would have been small and distant though, so I spent the hour shooting this mountain at 70mm over and over as the clouds raced by.
When we got to the little harbour with the small boat above, it was lashing it down. James and I got out to try and make something of it. It was also blowing a gale. I shot 3 shot brackets using an old Nikkor 20mm AIS. I used this rather than the more modern and super sharp 14-24mm as that lens has a massive piece of glass at the front which would have collected enough rainwater for a cup of tea.. I blended and tone mapped the files in Oloneo Photoengine, and converted to monochrome (well duotone tbh) in Nik/Google SilverEfex Pro. The D810 helps here by finally (for Nikon) allowing exposure bracketing of more than 1 stop.
This shot is a rare panorama – I hardly ever do these, and I don’t really do them to create massive images (although this 6 vertical shot 156mpixel pano will print about 7 feet long at 300dpi). It’s about getting a wide view, while retaining that flat perspective from a longer focal length so the background is not overpowered by the foreground.
A more single shot image, still at a long focal length of the same loch from the beach at Annat.
The location with the most drama, was dawn at Loch Clair. The image at the top of this post is my favourite from this location, and here’s another, less dramatic and more serene dawn from the first trip we took to Loch Clair at dawn.
Having a guide who knows the area, the locations what the light does in those locations is invaluable on trips like this and I thoroughly recommend Ian Cameron’s tours. Ian offers workshops and 1:1 tuition as well, if you’re new to landscape photography. All in all, trips like this stand or fall by the company you end up with, and on this occasion the company was also very agreeable. I have no idea what most of them shot as they were using film – in Pentax 6×7, Nikon and Leica 35mm cameras. Ian used his Pentax 6×7 and a Fuji XT-1 and there are some images up on his website from the trip. James Boardman Woodend, one of the other digital shooters on the trip made some great images including this one of half submerged trees and exposed roots which I really like. Phil Corley also has some excellent shots from the trip up on his website made with his Pentax 645Z.
All in all a very enjoyable trip – even if I did spend 20 minutes submerged in a mud pit. Scratch one phone, but everything else survived – even my Lee filter pouch after some thorough rinsing. I’ll leave you with this image of Phil and Ian working up to maybe taking some pictures 😛