Stay the night
Kill two birds with one stone, and get two very different shots, by shooting at dusk and dawn
There’s always going to be that postcard shot you just have to get. It’s a cliché. Everybody’s been there and you’ve probably seen the image a hundred times. But it’s popular for a reason. Breathtakingly beautiful scenery just has to be shot, especially when it organises itself into a textbook example of photographic rules.
This was my final night in the highlands. The hot, sunny days of the past week had started to wane, and clouds had pushed in over the mountains of Glencoe. It was okay, though, because Scotland looks good even in thick cloud. I planned to shoot that night and then retire to bed, waking before sunrise to get another shot.
I knew Buachaille Etive Mòr is probably the most photographed spot in Glencoe, if not the whole of the Highlands, but I already had every other shot I wanted to get in the bag, and so treated myself to a cliché. I parked up down the road and walked to the best spot to find that thick, squelchy mud covered the entire area. The ground had been churned into mud by the footfall to get to ‘the spot’. Deep, recessed footprints had been left in the ground, so much so that I had to go back and change into my wellies. After finally trekking back, I first tried framing up horizontally, to be a bit artistic and ‘different’ to all the other vertical shots I’d seen, but this didn’t work; there was just too much dead space either side of the falls. The vertical orientation worked much better, putting the waterfall at the bottom third of the frame and the tree and mountain in the top third.
After framing up handheld I started to position my tripod, and noticed that the legs slotted exactly into tripod dimples that pre-existed in the mud! I carried on regardless, telling myself, “It’s just one of those shots you have to take.”
I placed a ten-stop ND and two-stop ND grad on my lens, which blurred the water and darkened the sky respectively (see left). The light had already gone because of the cloud cover, but I planned to return in the morning to capture the sunrise.
I got there before sunrise and the warm tones were great, as was the stratus cloud overhead that softened the light. I was so lucky to get a great morning on the only day I set aside for this iconic shot. And then my heart sank. Someone had hiked out across the stream and was stood right on the island in the middle of the scene. This is something I’d seen before in Iceland: one keen amateur with no respect for other photographers spoilt an entire shot by walking on otherwise pristine snow in front of Mount Kirkjufell. In this case, though, the culprit had stood right in the way of someone else’s shot. I urge anyone who reads this to consider others when out photographing, especially at busy spots. It’s a mutual respect we, as photographers and artists, should have for one another. I just had to grit my teeth and readjust to the left to frame him out. A horizontal orientation wasn’t even on the cards this morning, even if I wanted to experiment, so I went vertical again. Nevertheless, a break in the clouds behind me shone a rich orange on the mountain and lit up the bare branches of the silver birch. With the cool blueish tones below, I was still very happy with my postcard shot.
With thanks to Kate Thompson and all at Volkswagen UK for supplying the VW California Ocean cam per van. For more on all things VW visitwww.volkswagen.co.uk