Photographing Scotland - The Highlands
Updated: Jan 6, 2020
So I had just started my Scottish adventure by visiting the Trossachs National Park and now I was venturing north to get to the Highlands, somewhere I have wanted to visit for so long.
As I drove around Loch Lomond it never seemed to end, it was a vast loch thats for sure, but I was eager to see Glencoe as it was an area I wanted to focus heavily on.
It was around about a two hour journey to the lower highlands and I have to say, very very scenic and enjoyable, it was a Sunday and I knew Glencoe would be busy but I hadn't planned to shoot it, more to have a look and get some ideas while I drove through.
It was raining very heavily now and the sky was flat grey and the least photogenic conditions you could imagine really.
On the way to Glencoe, and just before it in fact is an area called Rannoch Moor and when I caught my first glimpse of it I knew I wanted to come back and shoot it, I had seen several winter photos of the area and it was full of small islands with lone trees popping up and I would have loved to capture some frost on them but it wasn't really that time of year yet but the area was noted.
Finally Glencoe came into view and it was simply jaw dropping, I was excited about this area and when I rounded the corner and saw Buachaille Etive Mor, my heart began to beat faster.
I had seen this mammoth mountain photographed many times before, probably Scotland's most famous after Ben Nevis perhaps ?
The shape was instantly recognisable, and if you were to draw a mountain then this is what it would look like, Sloping sides all heading to the peak in perfect symmetry. Boy did I want to get a few of this.
As expected it was tourist central and people were pulled over everywhere in any gap they could find even though it was raining very very hard people where everywhere.
I drove further on along the Glencoe pass and noted a nice waterfall which I would try and explore at a later date and then the famed Glencoe sisters came into view.
These three mountains were a sight to behold even in flat grey conditions, they towered above the valley way up into the clouds and I really wanted to shoot them. Going further down I came to Loch Achtriochtan which was joined by the River Coe.
It was simply wonderful seeing these areas with my own eyes, I had seen thousands of pictures and knew what to expect but I still wasn't fully prepared for the majesty of Scotland.
As said before I hadn't planned to stop mainly due to the poor weather and the fact there were tourists everywhere (I'm very aware I was now one as well) So I continued north heading towards Inverness and was treated to even more stunning sights along the way.
Loch Leven is a fairly small loch in comparison to others but it really was beautiful and I wanted to visit it during my weeks stay. It joined on to the far bigger Loch Linnhe which was essentially an inland sea and it was vast but not as photogenic in my opinion.
Driving further up to Fort William saw Ben Nevis coming into view and again I really wanted to visit here but hopefully at a much quieter time.
Next stop was Fort Augustus which signalled the start of the mighty Loch Ness and there was a small area of moored boats and half sunken ones which looked very interesting and I knew a return was on the cards.
I had been told to avoid Loch Ness as it was possibly the least scenic loch in Scotland and I have to say, that was a pretty fair description of the area BUT there were still some gems to be had and I wasn't going to discount it just yet.
Loch Ness whilst most famous for its possible resident the Loch Ness monster, or Nessie as it was affectionately known did in fact hold a much more realistic and interesting claim to fame, Loch Ness is the second largest loch in Scotland by surface area and covered roughly 22 square miles, it's a long thin body of water with various bays and areas of interest.
It's big claim to fame however is it's depth, it's the second deepest Loch in Scotland but because of the depth and surface area it actually holds more fresh water than ALL the lakes in England & Wales combined, Now that is pretty mind blowing ! Maybe it could well hide Nessie, who would ever find her there ?!
Whilst driving along the endless shore of Loch Ness I noticed an old rustic and dilapidated jetty which was noted for future visits and of course the famous Urquhart Castle which was once again filled with tourists and rain.
Finally after much driving (Around 6 hours and a few hundred miles) I arrived at Inverness and couldn't wait to relax and plan my adventure.
The following accounts were over a 5 day period, some days I spent in other areas that I will cover later on like the Isle of Skye and The Cairngorms national park but for the sake of this blog I am just sticking with the Highlands.
Looking at the weather it really didn't look great, rain was forecast non stop for the week and that was the last thing I wanted to see, I would have to go where the weather was and formulated a plan to explore other areas and return to Glencoe later in the week.
I spent Monday on the Isle of Skye and Tuesday was spent in the Cairngorms region which I will cover in the next two blogs, but for now it was Wednesday and there was a rare glimmer of hope on the horizon.
Glencoe had been forecast non stop rain but on Wednesday there was sun & rain forecast for a brief spell of two hours in the morning, this was the chance I had been waiting for so I set off full of expectation and hope.
The journey down to Glencoe wasn't looking hopeful, well in fact it was looking downright terrible but I kept going putting my faith in the weathermen.
I arrived at Glencoe just before sunrise and my plan had been to get shots of the mountains as first light clipped the top of them but this was looking highly unlikely as the cloud just kept building and the rain falling.
I decided to have a little explore and see if the weather changed, I headed for Glen Etive which was famed for featuring in the James bond film, Skyfall and of course the epic Braveheart.
The road was quite small and more of a single file area with passing places and it was cascading with water and I have to admit, at this point I was becoming quite nervous driving down it, I'm sure in the dry it would be a much more enjoyable road but I was nervous to say the least.
The River Etive runs alongside the road and had many spots where waterfalls cascaded down it and looked very inviting, if only the rain would stop.
I tried to get a few images of the valley but it was very frustrating in the rain and high winds and a lack of light was really making it a bit of a non starter to be fair.
I turned around and headed back up towards Glencoe to get to the waterfall area by Buachaille Etive Mor which is a world famous picture and while its been done to death, I really wanted to see it and shoot it for myself as it was this shot that really peaked my interest in Scotland when I first saw it.
The weather had started to get a bit better by the time I pulled up, the rain had nearly stopped and the cloud was breaking up slightly and some blue sky visible behind the thick grey.
This area had seen a lot of rain over the past few weeks and words can't do justice to just how waterlogged the ground was.
The very short walk from the car park to the waterfall took an age as my boots were getting stuck with every step.
Finally I got to the waterfall and it was indeed, everything I had hoped for and more. The raging torrent of the river was thunderous in the ears and it was up way higher than in any pictures i'd ever seen.
It was also producing a lot of spray and as I shot my first few images I was shocked at just how much had collected on the polariser and cleaned it off.
It was literally a case of one shot, clean, one shot clean again and it was very very frustrating but I knew it would be a lot worse if I had got home and seen all the images had been ruined.
Trying to get a new composition at an area like this that has been hammered is nigh on impossible and I didn't feel to bad about capturing the "Classic" shot as it were, but I walked a bit further up and shot back down the waterfall looking at some beautiful autumn colours on the trees and hadn't seen that angle shot before (although I'm sure it has) so I was quite happy.
With that the heavens opened again and I tried my best to trudge back through the sodden ground to the car where I bumped into a bus load of photographers from Holland who were as keen as I had been to see the sight, and to those Dutch, Hallo Vrienden :)
This is how it is at Glencoe, it's a world class location and therefore attracts a lot of people so I was just going to have to get used to it and work around it.
I really wanted to get some shots of the sisters but rain was stopping that and the lack of light, I kept waiting and waiting for it to get better as the weathermen had said but it just wasn't happening.
I decided to go further down the Glencoe pass to the large waterfall I had seen as that wasn't so light dependant, I shot a few but my heart just wasn't really in it so I abandoned those shots and decided to wait until the light was right at the three sisters.
It was an odd and erie feeling here, knowing the history of Glencoe and the massacre that had taken place there made you think deeply about those times and the fact the name Campbell dare not be uttered to this day there.
I wondered if the spirits of the MacDonald clan were the ones playing havoc with the weather in protest to their horrendous slaughter in the past.
I decided to head back to Rannoch Moor in the hope that the weather would be slightly better, in short it wasn't and after much back and forth along the areas I was still not getting any shots.
I decided it wasn't going to happen and I was going to head back looking for better weather along the way.
As I was driving through Glencoe a rare bit of light peeked through the clouds and I rushed to find an area to pull over, It wasn't the best place but a few shots were taken as the light rolled over the mountains.
It seemed very much that the area of Glencoe was constantly raining but either end of it wasn't too bad and this was confirmed by one of the locals so I decided to head back towards Loch Leven in the hope I could ambush the better weather.
As I rounded the bend I could see golden light pouring over the mountains around Loch Leven and I cursed myself that I had persevered for so long at Glencoe.
I was out of the car and catching some nice images of the boats on the Loch and the surrounding mountains as the light passed over them, This was more like it I thought to myself !
This area had some great colours on the trees and was a joy to shoot, or maybe I was just elated to be out of the rain and finally shooting again, either way I got some images I was pleased with.
I headed back towards Fort Augustus as this is where the better weather seemed to be coming from, While driving back there was some nice light forming over Loch Lochy and I couldn't resist a shot of an old weathered jetty which I couldn't get to but found a spot further back where I could include it.
The heavens opened again and that pretty much concluded wednesday and I headed for home keen to get out into other areas of the Highlands and avoid the constant barrage of rain at Glencoe.
I had heard some good things about an area in the north called Torridon and after a bit of a google search I was keen to go so this would be the focus of Thursdays assault. Once again the weather didn't really look to promising but I was in Scotland and I was going to make the most of it.
I had seen an area called Loch Clair that I fancied and it nestled between the Beinn Eighe mountain range too, with the mighty Loch Maree close by so that would be the area I was going to head for.
The drive up was in the familiar drizzle and grey sky that I had got so used too this week and not a lot looked like it was going to happen. As I drove through the Beinn Eighe range still in quite dark conditions I was struggling to pick an area I wanted to shoot. I arrived at Torridon and if i'm honest I just wasn't feeling it and sunrise was about to happen, the sky had started to clear a little and there was a touch of pink forming and I was struggling to find an area to shoot.
This was the last thing I needed after a week without any decent sunrise or sunsets there was now about to be one and I hadn't got a shot lined up.
As I drove back up the Torridon road I rushed over to a small area of water with some trees poking out but it just wasn't what I was after and the colour was pretty much the other direction, there was only one thing for it, a mountain shot from the road, it wasn't what I was after really but it was all I could get.
The colour faded almost as fast as it had started and I was left with flat grey sky again and a serious lack of light. I went for a walk around Loch Clair which was indeed beautiful but conditions just weren't there so I decided to leave it and head out to Loch Maree instead.
This loch is huge and never ending and there are some lovely areas with lone trees, small bays and of course mountains and I would have loved to have shot it but with no light around and dull, lifeless rainy grey sky it just wasn't what I wanted so I decided to leave it rather than take a bunch of poor shots that in reality I would probably never use. While driving along the shore of Loch Maree I saw a sign for Victoria Falls and quickly diverted. I do like waterfalls a lot but I have become a little tired of them but today this one was most welcome as the light wasn't so important for the shot.
I have to say Victoria falls was a pleasant surprise, once again no parking fee and a beautiful three tier waterfall cascaded down the mountain.
I had a lot of foliage obscuring it and shooting from the viewing platform wasn't really doing it justice, The main tier of the falls at the top was the most impressive and I decided to walk up the hill and see if I could get a better angle to shoot it.
There was a shot there for sure but it did seem a shame to only get the one tier in but beggars can't be choosers in this situation and I shot it nonetheless.
I decided I was going to head back towards Inverness where the weather seemed to be better according to the forecast, Whilst driving back I suddenly saw why people had raved about this area, it was beautiful and there were shots available everywhere, or there would have been if it hadn't been pelting down with rain.
I cursed my luck once again and made a mental note to visit the area again in better conditions.
Whilst driving home there was the odd bit of light popping out and no sooner would I pull over and get the camera out it would disappear, This game of cat & mouse went on for an hour and it's very fair to say I didn't win at all.
With hardly any shots from the day I saw a sign for Rogie Falls and thought I would investigate it just in case.
A short walk down the path and I could hear the thunderous sound of water cascading over rocks.
Rogie Falls was very impressive and I was glad I had stopped.
Once again the camera was out and I tried a few compositions and finished up with a shot or two that I was happy with.
Rogie falls had a suspension bridge there which meant you could shoot the falls head on which would have been great if it was a solid bridge but the suspension bridge would rock if there was so much as a sparrow farting near it let alone tourists trampling all over it so I had to make do with a shot from the far bank, the colours however did make up for it, Truly stunning and I would recommend anyone to visit here.
The rain was back like a cloud that followed me around so I headed back to base camp in Inverness.
The forecast wasn't great but I was going stir crazy being inside so I decided to go to Loch Ness to the area I had spotted at Fort Augustus and also the old jetty that was tucked away.
As I drove the long road down Loch Ness I kept looking to see where this jetty was, I remembered it only being visible while heading the other way but I was convinced if I saw the area I would know it.
After a few errors of judgement on the way I finally found the pull in point and could see the jetty a bit further down a lane that had a metal construction gate over it.
I wasn't too sure if I was allowed in the area but it didn't seem to have any houses around and didn't look dangerous and the gate was ajar so I decided to go for it.
The light wasn't great in all fairness but the jetty was fantastic, a real old war horse that had been battered and weathered and was in a real state of decay.
As I stood in the water shooting the jetty I had a strange feeling, I was stood in Nessie's dinner bowl !
Now I don't believe in the Loch Ness monster of course, but right then and there I did think twice about it !
I headed down the road to Fort Augustus and pulled in, I liked this little area a lot and it was full of potential.
There was one single small island known as Cherry Island which was the only island on the whole of Loch Ness, I found a nice view point of it and waited for some light.
It started coming in and out and I got a couple of pictures, not the best but I was out.
I moved further down the bank to a partially sunken boat that was old and weathered and really looked great.
The sun had come out again and lit up the side of the boat and at that point I was over the moon to finally start getting some decent shots.
This area is full of sunken boats and I had to wonder how they had all met their ends ? maybe Nessie had indeed struck ;)
It was now getting close to sunset and I knew at the very other end of Loch Ness there was some nice old jetty posts sticking out of the water and I wanted to investigate but that was around 30 miles away and I was pushed for time but I decided to go for it and boy what a revelation that would prove to be.
Driving along the other side of Loch Ness for the first time I went up a large hill and when I finally got to the top my mind was absolutely blown.
This area was stunning, high up views right over to Inverness and with mountains to the right of me and Lochs to the left I was amazed and wished I had found the area earlier.
I didn't have time to shoot it now and the light wasn't quite right for it so I pushed on to the end of Loch Ness but around every turn I went I wanted to stop and shoot as it was simply stunning.
When I finally got to the top of Loch Ness the conditions had once again turned for the worst and while I took a fair few shots I didn't end up using them and wished I had stayed at the other end, but lesson learned.
It was friday now and it was time for me to head home sadly so I decided I would spend the morning at the newly found viewpoint and then go back via Glencoe again for the third time to try and get lucky.
The day had started off rainy, for a change but the forecast said it would get better by around 10 am.
As I headed to the viewpoint it was dark, very very dark and not looking too good but you could just see there was change coming.
As I got to the top of the hill it was raining and 50 mph winds were battering me but the cloud was breaking and I just couldn't miss this.
For the next 20 minutes I was treated to ray after ray punching through the cloud and lighting up certain areas and I was loving it.
To compensate and try and get a much faster shutter speed I ended up shooting at ISO between 500 and 1000 as even with the rock solid tripod set up I was getting blown all over the place.
That said it was probably the best moment of the trip and this was the type of photography I enjoyed most, light rolling over mountains.
Soon it had gone almost clear and my mind turned back to Glencoe, maybe today would be the day I would get my shots, I pointed the car south and hit the accelerator.
All the way it looked pretty positive but true to form as I got around ten miles from Glencoe the raindrops appeared on my windscreen and with them washed away the hopes I had of a decent shot.
Driving through the pass it was solid rain and high winds, I drove up and down several times looking for something, anything but it never came.
I headed down towards Rannoch Moor in the hope it might be kinder, there was light on the horizon but I just couldn't get a shot I was happy with so I decided to call it a day and head back.
The highlands had been exceptionally cruel to me but at times they had given up their gifts and when they did they were perfect, I knew I wanted to return.
This whole trip had been a bit of a fact finding mission really, I wanted to know the areas better for a return trip when there were snow capped mountains, that was the real goal and I felt I had found some good locations and learned where I had gone wrong too which would all be put to good use in the future.
Part 3 - The Isle of Skye will be out next week.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the ups & downs of my Scottish trip.
All of the pictures from my Scotland trip can be seen HERE
As always, Happy shooting.
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