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Photographing Scotland - The Cairngorms

Updated: Jun 14, 2023

The Cairngorms

Part four of my Scottish adventure sees me visiting the Cairngorms National Park in the north east of Scotland.

I had done a little research on the area and in truth it was going to be a "back up" area in case the weather didn't play ball around Glencoe & Skye which was the case on most days.

The Cairngorms only recently gained national park status in 2003 and is the largest national park in the British isles, and there is another planned expansion of the boundaries for the future.

The Cairngorms is not only home to some magnificent mountain ranges & lochs but also to a who host of rare and protected wildlife and is a really unspoilt area.

I had not been able to find out too much information before the trip so it was very much the unknown for me and that always adds to the adventure but as it turned out it was by far the biggest surprise of my Scottish adventure and the one I can't wait to visit again.

The strange thing is I had read a few accounts of people visiting the area who had been fairly negative about it in terms of photographic potential but at the same time I had seen some wonderful images from here so I had mixed feelings about going.

This account is of five days in Scotland where I visited the Cairngorms at several different times but I will put it all together in the order of which I went.

The weather in Glencoe & Skye was shocking to say the least, almost non stop rain and high winds but the north east of Scotland was actually showing some much more favourable conditions and never one to look a gift horse in the mouth I decided on Tuesday to venture over to the Aberdeenshire coast to go to Bow Fiddle Rock, named simply because of its uncanny resemblance to a violin bow.

I had seen this well known rock formation many times and I wanted to visit it myself and then I could go directly to the Cairngorms national park afterwards.

The weather looked good for sunrise at Bow Fiddle and a plan was hatched to go the next morning.

The alarm clock rang out like a demented harpy and brought me out of a deep sleep full of excitement about the mornings trip, I looked outside and that excitement was quickly replaced with a soul crushing sinking feeling as it was raining cats & dogs, in fact it was probably nearly elephants & Rhinos.

I checked the forecast again and it had changed but there was hope on the horizon, it said the weather would clear around sunrise time and I had thoughts in my head of clouds breaking and epic light punching through over Bow Fiddle rock.

The drive down from Inverness was a fairly long one and the weather didn't really look like it was going to do what the weathermen had predicted, it was still raining very hard and thick cloud consumed the sky.

The further I got into the journey the more I wished I wasn't going as it looked like it would be a long trip for nothing but I was over half way now so I kept going.

The cloud did indeed start to ease and break up a bit and the rain stopped and once again it was looking good, that is until nearly all the cloud went and I was left with that arch enemy of all landscape photographers, clear sky.

I pulled into a housing estate which I knew was the right way but it seemed really strange to think that one of the most photogenic rock stacks was right on the back of houses but as I rounded the bend there was no mistaking the top of Bow fiddle rock looking back towards me.

Bow Fiddle Rock

The journey had taken a little longer than planned mainly due to rush hour traffic and a great deal of optimism on my part with the Scottish traffic and sunrise was due within the next ten minutes.

There was a bit of rogue cloud around and this was what I was after, The sun would be coming up from the side of the rock and I was hoping to shoot with one side heavily lit from the sun with the other edge quite dark and just catching the odd glint of morning light.

In recent times I had stopped shooting sunrise or sunset scenes preferring to capture the light on the subject instead of the sun still being behind the horizon and just getting lots of colour etc...

I made the short scramble down to the rock and waited, there was the briefest moment of colour but the light never really hit the rock with any intensity and in truth it wasn't the shot I wanted but I took a couple for the memory of visiting this wonderful place.

I decided not to wait around on the off chance the light was going to pick up as I felt it wouldn't and decided to head to the Cairngorms instead, While on route I went through some nice rolling fields that were just catching light with a few bails of hay, cliche maybe but welcome all the same.

I passed several of the really well known distilleries too which was nice to see, even though I hardly ever drink.

Autumn Harvest

The road leading to the Cairngorms was beautiful, real countryside full of hills and colours, sadly very few areas to pull over at the most photogenic areas but it was all noted for future visits.

I decided to go to Ruthven Barracks first which was built in the early 1700's as part of the Jacobite uprising and also where they congregated after the defeat at Colloden before their final surrender.

A real historical gem and it had the added bonus that the road back from here was jam packed with lochs and opportunity for some great pictures if I was lucky.

The Cairngorms

Ruthven Barracks can be seen from miles away due to it's elevated position on a hill and as I looked over from the roadside I could see it bathed in light and I couldn't wait to get there.

As I rounded the corner there was some form of roadwork going on and I had to wait for what seemed like eternity but in reality was probably only around 15 minutes as a huge earth moving piece of machinery was carefully moved into what seemed like an impossible position.

Finally there was a green light and I drove on just in time to see the light go in, a few expletives were uttered and I pulled up and waited, and waited some more but the light wasn't playing ball.

I decided to change my position and see if there was a better view available from further down the path, no sooner had I left my spot the light rained down again and I ran back to get it, tripod ready, camera on and ready, hang on where has the light gone ?

This game again, frustrating but I wasn't going to be beaten and with a little patience I eventually got the shot I wanted, driving on down the road blindly to see what else was here I looked in the rear view mirror and could see the barracks lit up again and I liked the curve in the road and behold, a pull in place.

I couldn't get out fast enough and managed to capture a much better image of the barracks and was really happy. Sometimes you have to wait and age and other times it's there on a plate.

Ruthven Barracks

As I drove round the winding roads not entirely sure where I was going but not really worried as the whole area was beautiful and the colour yellow was everywhere, and I do mean everywhere.

Birch trees had started their autumn change and the whole landscape looked almost fluorescent and it really was beautiful. I can't stress just how much yellow was here and how bright the colour was, getting lost had been a real eye opener.

I managed to get several shots just by pulling over on the roadside as scenes presented themselves even though it wasn't a very wide road.

Scottish Autumn

I was enjoying the Cairngorms, it was nice weather, beautiful scenery & colour and it made a real change from the terrible rain I had suffered at Glencoe several times.

I headed to Loch an Eilein which had a small island on it with and old church/castle structure that had long since succumbed to the elements but I wanted to have a look as I had seen some great images of the place.

I pulled in and was surprised to find a pay & display car park as most places had been free so far but it was a very well run facility with toilets etc available but also VERY popular.

The Cairngorms

By this point the weather had clouded over a little bit and all thoughts of capturing some nice light on the surrounding mountains was now gone, I walked down the back and got my first glimpse of the island and I don't know why but it just wasn't how I thought it would be and the grey conditions did nothing to help that and I was pretty gutted to be honest as I just didn't want to shoot it.

Another time and with better conditions and I would be all over this place as it was beautiful but on the day it just didn't look good and I left in search of other areas.

This was the way it went for much of the day to be fair, Several more lochs visited, each one more beautiful than the last but each one not looking their best due to the lack of light and I decided not to photograph them as it would in effect be just a poor snap rather than a picture showing their beauty and character.

I called it a day and headed home but I would return during my time here as I really liked the area and it was without doubt the biggest surprise of my trip and felt much more of an unknown rather than the heavily photographed areas like Glencoe.

The Cairngorm mountains are not as dramatic as other areas like Glencoe, they are far more gradual in their slope and pretty smooth but they had real character about them and I liked it a lot but understood why people visited other areas rather than this one.

During one of my fruitless trips to Glencoe once again in terrible weather I decided to divert and head back to the Cairngorms and chase the better weather, I hadn't gone this route before and was looking forward to discovering new sights.

The cairngorms

As I headed up the A86 road I was full of expectation and I have to say it didn't disappoint, the weather improved and the scenery was fantastic, big mountains, Lochs of all shapes and sizes and green and yellow as far as the eyes could see.

I made several stops and shot several areas, sadly a lot of which were just too harsh on the light to give me the pictures I wanted but once again I was blown away by what the Cairngorms had to offer and decided that I would spend much more time here in the future.

scotlands lochs

The area was largely free of tourists and other photographers and I felt I could shoot on my own terms and take my time more, I sat and enjoyed the views as well rather than just taking pictures and it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience and I wished I had discovered this area sooner as sadly it was nearing the end of my trip.

landscape photography

Several mountains were shot as light fell perfectly on them and several Lochs for the same reason and once again the beast had been fed and I was happy.

I headed back to base camp as the light had changed again and reflected on my trip, I had driven nearly 2500 miles in one week chasing round Scotland and looking for decent weather, I had got a few images I was really pleased with and discovered a lot of areas I wished to visit again.

It had been an experience, I had been unlucky with the weather but determination and going the extra mile (literally) had given me a few decent ones to come home with and a wealth of experience to plan other trips with.

landscape photographer

Scotland is without doubt the most amazing place I have visited for landscape photography and is a photographers dream of which I will be pursuing.

When shooting Scotland you have to be prepared to roll with the punches and adapt quickly, always have a back up plan and back up to the back up because you will need it.

Several people told me, if you don't like the weather wait ten minutes as it will change and that rings very true for a lot of it except maybe Glencoe, Glencoe just rained !

You can view all the pictures from my Scotland trip HERE

I treated this trip as more of a fact finding mission and I fully intend to go back early part of next year as I would like to capture it with snow on the peeks of the mountains, Autumn however had been a great time to shoot the Cairngorms and I'm pretty sure ill be there next year for a dedicated week there.

For now though that was the end of my Scottish adventure but something else was on the horizon, I had booked a week in the Lake District and this is where I was now heading.

I have wanted to shoot the Lake District for an eternity and I was finally going to do it, but it wasn't going to be the trip I hoped for, as I drove from Glasgow to the Lakes the wind was getting up, Storm Ophelia was starting to make herself known and I was driving right into the teeth of it, This promised to be an interesting experience and you can read all about it in next weeks blog.

Thanks once again for reading this Blog and letting me bore you with my adventures and an extra thank you to those who have supported and shared these bogs too, your support and help is truly appreciated.

Until the next time, happy shooting.

Daniel Wretham.

Landscape photography blog

Landscape Photography Blog

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