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Blaming the dog

We always blame the dog, but in our case, we don’t have one. Up in Swaledale, the wind was immense, gusting well over 80 kph. It rocked the 4x4, me, and everything else in its path. The Kyle of Lochalsh bridge was closed to most vehicles and we were off across there in a couple of days. With the clouds scudding in from the north west, laced with hail, the light when it did break through, was stunning. This was the first stop on our trip up t’North, the classic north Yorkshire Moors and Swaledale in particular. But that wind. A tripod was out of the question. Okay, I know I am slight (sic) of build, but even I had difficulty standing still. The dry stone walls helped to a. shelter behind and b. rest the camera lens on, wedged between the perpendicular keystones, but mixing ISO and aperture was the order of the day to keep speeds high.

Checking stability of the images in the field was, as ever, a necessity. As it was, in editing on the laptop later, a few errant images had slipped through. The ponies on the moor, much hardier and stockier than those in the New Forest, although I have plenty of images of those with a covering of snow in their backs, looked pretty fed up, seeking any shelter they could find. Those that have been with me on workshops know that I am fascinated by weather systems. Not to an obsessive degree you understand, but knowledge of the weather and trying to anticipate its next moves do help the photography.

The forecasters all week had been warning of ‘…significant snow falls in the central southern area of Scotland …’ on the days we were due to be there. Could we beat it? We would see. A day or so later, as we climbed that fabulous A82 for the second time in just a few weeks – a workshop last time – the snow was starting to lie. Stopping off in Glen Etive as you do, I had some monochrome images in mind while I left Julia reading her book. The hail storm of all hail storms erupted as I stood legs akimbo at the bottom of the ‘waterfall by the tree’. I don’t usually shoot the ‘waterfall by the tree’, preferring a little stream a little further along the Glen. It is less well known and is a better shape. Nevertheless, I thwarted the hail, and continued with my quest. Changeable weather again but not good light on this occasion. Nothing ventured nothing gained though and enough lying snow to make things interesting. A stop in Ballachulish for the night, all warm and cosy – well it is Scotland and a dram or three is compulsory – also revealed the honed forecast for the following morning had not altered. If we were to get to Skye, we would have to head off in advance. The glorious Glen Shiel past the Five Sisters and the usually glorious Loch Garry, was touch and go. As in the battle with the Jacobites here in 1719, the weather was not good. Our advance however, kept ahead of the worst and Skye was made ahead of time and the predicted 10” of snow fall.

Skye snow doesn’t stay snow for long, but the Cuillin, Storr and Quiraing, held onto it longer than usual. Throughout the week the weather halted our shooting a number of times. Climbing the Old Man early one morning, the snow thickness stopped progress when my best attempts at prodding through the snow could not reveal the route past the pinnacle to shoot in the direction planned. A couple of failed attempts and snow up my nether regions meant prudence was required. Utilising a wide angle, small aperture, and the proverbial foreground interest was the best I could achieve in the circumstances.


A couple of days later, with a climb up Coire Lagan towards the small corrie under the stunning Cuillin ridge proved a challenge too far. We had managed past Loch an Fhir-bhallaich easily but the route from there on proved more difficult. Above 1100 ft the snow and ice were tricky. My quest for the frozen corrie with the backdrop of this huge eruption of solidified magma in late afternoon light came to an end however when mist rolled over the top making visibility non existent. Again we tried to stay ahead of the lowering mist for safety. The dew point settling just above the lower loch. Beneath which, good light prevailed. When back at sea level, literally, the wind was up again followed closely by heavy snow showers. Looking back from whence we came, a beautiful rainbow had created half an ellipse over the ridge. I was setting up for some filler-inna shots using the 10-stop Big Stopper when this occurred so the camera was on the tripod. Protecting the front element of the lens from the snow and the whole set up from the wind preventing movement, a couple of exposures were taken giving at least something to take away.

The best of the week however were the alpenglow images taken around Alltdearg and Sligachan on a three separate occasions and locations. As is often the case, once the sun goes down or before the sun comes up the wind is less of a hindrance. Using this, high and low level tripod and wide angle lenses with scrupulous attention to the point of focus and corresponding depth of field, the scenes were made for this. Foreground interest in your face, less than a foot away from the lens on some compositions. Exposures in seconds and then minutes. And to top it all on one of the shoots, a fabulous wandering lonely cloud. If it was in the Lakes District, Wordsworth would have been proud. Luck? Possibly, but if you’re not there you can’t get the luck!

Leaving Skye is always a chore. Such a myriad of photographic choice. Mountains, coastline, lochs, seals, sea eagles and Talisker of course. The Great Glen next and Drum.

Drumnadrochit, the gateway to Nessie World. Can you believe it? Our lodge, perched high above the village was only accessible the day previous so we were told. Snow lain outside although the western slopes were thawing fast. They say that Glen Affric is the most beautiful of all the Scottish Lochs and as beauty is in the eye of the beholder, it no doubt is for some. Certainly the Loch, surrounded by Sgurr na Lapaich, An Tudair Beag and other leviathans, is impressive, but getting a good shot of it isn’t easy from the land. Frightening the frogs as we tramped through their swamps and clambering over stepping stones spaced out for giants as the torrents of ice melt flowed down the mountainside didn’t help matters. The permissible route is just too high from the Loch and the forest too close for my liking. Loch Beinn a Mheadhoin en route to Affric is a better option in my view. There are a couple of choice locations but as with any photography in such deep valleys, sun angle is critical or you could be in for a WOTAM. (Read the Feb 11 Newsletter if you do not understand this terminology.)

Move further north and explore the other rifts and wonders spring before your eyes. Waterfalls, red deer in abundance, weather, good light and bad, it is all here for the taking. As with most photography, preparation is the key. Knowing what you are going to take or at least try to, understanding the weather and above all keeping safe are the key. Know your limits physically and don’t put yourself or others in danger will enable you to continue to take photographs for your passion for many years. Knowledge in most things is key to success so gain that knowledge – where to go; what to shoot; how to take the photographs; practice to make perfect; then someday a bit of luck may come.

Keep practicing

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