On reflection, I suspect this is probably the closest I have come to a 'grab shot' in my landscape efforts thus far, due in relatively equal parts to the prevailing weather conditions and a schoolboy error level lack of preparation on my part. So, brace yourself for a nugget of screamingly obvious photography advice. If you are planning on taking photos in Scotland, in November, outside, then don't forget to pack the expensive waterproof cover you bought to protect your relatively, but not entirely, waterproof sensitive electronic camera equipment.
Needless to say, on this occasion I had left this essential piece of kit safe in a warm, dry, tidy drawer at home which meant that I was now forced to sit in my car staring at the intermittent wind driven showers, trying to mentally calculate how long it would take me to get from the car to my chosen spot, set up, take the photo, repack and get back to the car and whether I could achieve all this before the rain closed in again.
Fortunately this was not my first visit. I have been lucky enough to have passed through Glencoe a number of times over the years and sat in the same spot around 12 months earlier while preparing to take a less wet and windy but significantly colder image of Buachaillie Etive Mor. As a result I had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to be and what the shot would roughly look like.
I believe in sporting circles this is known as 'visualisation'. The idea being to imagine yourself scoring a goal, winning a race or making a successful putt etc, whatever your sport of choice may be, so that when you are in that situation for real you are better prepared and ready for it. I'm not entirely convinced as no matter how many times I imagine winning Landscape Photographer of the Year I have had no luck so far but, from a photography point of view, I think there is merit in having at least some idea of what you are hoping to achieve before you get to a location. I'm not suggesting you should stick slavishly to a single preconceived idea and ignore all other possibilities. After all, as photographers, we pride ourselves on being a creative bunch, but I think having a starter for ten in mind can often help when the window of opportunity is narrow due to fading light or fickle weather. Of course if I had visualised putting my waterproof camera cover in my bag, I might not have been in the situation I now found myself in.
After entertaining myself for a while by visulaising a mug of hot coffee and a large slice of cake I finally got my break. Patience is indeed a virtue. I left the sanctuary of my car and carefully picked my way across the rain sodden grass and heather to the edge of the river, just a bit to the right of the main waterfall.
Prepare yourself again for a second nugget of screamingly obvious advice. If you should find yourself making the same walk in similar conditions, I beg you to be careful. It is far too easy to put your foot just a few inches wrong and find yourself more than ankle deep in mud and water when you thought you were on solid ground and a twisted ankle, or far worse, can result in the blink of an eye. You can see cars on the main road from here but they can't see you should you fall and, if you are on your own, you could find yourself in a whole universe of trouble. This time I made it in one piece but who knew landscape photography could be an extreme sport?
My plan was to try and introduce some movement into the water and clouds but I didn't want it to be too extreme so the 10 stop ND filter stayed in the bag and I went with the 6 stop version, the 'Little Stopper' in the Lee filter catalogue, coupled with a reasonably small aperture. Although the weather had been miserable for the most of the day I now found myself with a surprisingly bright sky and even a couple of patches of blue, so I added a 0.9 soft ND grad to try and even things out and went for it.
Overall the result pretty much came out is I had imagined so maybe there is something to this visualisation thing after all? If I am honest I think I cropped a little too tight on the waterfall in the bottom right hand corner but I guess that happens when you are rushing, about five minutes after I took this the skies closed in again and it rained solidly till it went dark. On the plus side, I guess I am just going to have to go back and try again.
Camera: Nikon D800
Lens: Sigma 17-35mm
Focal length: 17mm
Filters: 0.9 ND Grad (soft) and 6 stop ND
The camera was mounted on a tripod with ball head and triggered by a cable release. The mirror was locked up to reduce vibration and the viewfinder blind was in place.
(No waterproof cover was used on this occasion!)
Other things to photograph
The Glencoe area is a veritable feast of photographic opportunities. The iconic Buachaillie Etive Mor is possibly the most widely recognised target, but there is plenty more to keep the even the most enthusiastic lens jockey entertained. It really depends, as it usually does with these things, on how much time you have and how far you are prepared to walk.
For me one of the highlights is Rannoch Moor, just a couple of miles along the A82 from where the feature image of this article was taken. I managed a nice image a couple of years ago looking across Lochan nah Achlaise towards Black Mount which was effectively taken from the roadside.
I also suggest investigating the side road which takes you past Buachaillie Etive Mor, over River Coupall, and carries on through Glen Etive (where James Bond and M stopped to stretch their legs in Skyfall by the way) and eventually ends, yes I am afraid it is a no through road, at Loch Etive itself which is worth the detour on it's own. If large bodies of water are your thing, Loch Leven is worth a visit. Easily accessible by car, you can do a full loop of the Loch and be within striking distance of the water the majority of the time giving a good amount of choice and variation for your images.
When to go
I tend to prefer my skies to be a bit more 'dark and brooding' than 'bright and sunny' which perhaps explains why this image, and the one of Buachaillie Etive Mor were both taken in November. What they both serve to illustrate is that, in November, Glencoe will be either cold or wet but probably both. But that's ok as I think blue skies and sunshine don't really work with this kind of terrain. Rannoch Moor and the Glen itself are both demanding environments, beautiful no doubt, but demanding none the less and I believe images of such environments seem to work better when we play to their dominant characteristics.
So, Autumn or early Winter it is. Bear in mind that we are in the Highlands here and when Winter really takes hold it can be spectacular but extremely treacherous so if you do come when the snow is deep, come properly prepared and listen to any advice you are given by the locals. They live there and they know what they are talking about.
If you are in this part of the world you are going to be hard pressed to avoid Glencoe as the A82, effectively the main route from Oban to Fort William, cuts straight through the middle. To get to the parking spot I referenced above you need to keep an eye out for signs to Glen Etive. If you are heading north the turning is on your left. The parking area is a rough layby big enough for about three cars just before you get to the short bridge over the river. You should be able to get your bearings from there.
For more detailed travel information and tons of other stuff about the Glencoe area, far more than I could include here, I recommend you have a look at the Discover Glencoe website.
About the author: David Stanley is a freelance photographer concentrating on landscape images. For more articles, along with a selection of his work available as prints, please visit his website at www.davidstanleyphotography.com.
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