The Scottish landscape is absolutely unique, in the United Kingdom it remains one of the last true wilderness areas that remains mostly untouched in remote mountainous areas. Glaciation during the Ice Age was responsible for shaping the vast sharp mountains, deep glens, corries and Lochs with tremendous harsh features developed in the geography that have made it impossible for anything other than basic sheep farming and gamekeeping to exist. For many people, including myself, the appeal of the Scottish Mountains has to be the remoteness and almost untouched feel that you get by being in the Glens when you venture away from the roads.
The winter seasons in Scotland can be very harsh on the landscape, with a beautiful and almost arctic feel to it. Being closer to the arctic circle than any other part of the isles the mountains are often in deep winter conditions well in to May and June when the rest of the UK has gone well past spring and heading into Summer. This season Scotland has seen one of the hardest winters for a long time, with temperatures recorded as low as 19.7c in the North Western Highlands and certainly one of the best winters since 2010. I feel like I have been waiting for winter to really kick in the past few years so that I could explore my interest in the scenes and mountains during its winter season. My inspiration for Scotland has recently come from Colin Prior, who's amazing large format work of Scotland really hit a note for me as well as Joe Cornish's work from Scotland. As you can tell by my photography in recent years I have developed a preference for panoramic landscape formats and before I had really ventured to Scotland I had not known of Colin's work, but as soon as you hit the highlands you cannot avoid his presence as many of the tourist spots have his work for sale and on display as well as his annual calendars. When I saw his photography I immediately knew I had hit on someone that could inspire my work for the Scottish landscape and as much as I have probably imitated some of his work, I have also sought to go and find my own through that exact inspiration.
This image below is definitely a rare format for me now, a 5x4 image that I took from Stob Coire nan Lochan on 1st April and as you can see it is still in deep winter conditions. I have begun to start and explore the upper areas of Glencoe more to find suitable viewpoints and areas that I might return to camp at. To speed up my knowledge and skills in this area I sought a professionally qualified mountain guide who I met whilst on the workshop at The Cairngorms, which you can read in one of my other posts. Richard, the owner of Rich Mountain Experiences, has lived in this area for many years now, and spends nearly everyday in these mountain ranges having local knowledge and an awareness of the winter dangers. So it made sense to hire his skills and knowledge and he didn't fail to deliver what I wanted. Although I am sure he took me the scariest route up to test me out. A route up through the Lost Vally, which is nice and gentle but ended with a climb up to the saddle below Bidean nan Biam, topping out after quite an exposed climb I was met with what appeared to be a vertical ridge and immediate exposure to sea level. Which you can see in the image. I think that sudden exposure prevented me from going any further up, being familiar with the Lake District area there is usually a lot of land on the tops of mountains. But here it's a very different story, small ridges, long drop offs and areas covered in ice that would lead to a fatal drop if not well prepared certainly pushed me past my usual comfort zone. However, I was well aware that these mountains are going to take me a bit to get used to and of course I will return to get confident in the areas I have now explored.
Glencoe is an extremely popular location for photography, having visited several times I do have some favourite locations that I try to capture at different seasons of the year. Lochan na Stainge is one of those places that is so easy to get to and a very popular stop off for tourists or anyone passing through at the right time of day. You can see why in the photo below. It literally is right near the roadside. The Lochan itself is actually quite big and most people refrain from exploring a little further over Rannoch Moor due to the saturation of the ground, but it is definitely worth the small walk and the wet feet you will inevitably get. In winer it is likely that the Lochan will be frozen and on days where there is no wind the reflections at Sunrise are fantastic. Before I met with Rich the following day I decided to stay in my car overnight around Rannoch Moor and see what the morning would be like. Clear skies and no wind were forecast and usually this in not such a good combination for landscape photography, as usually a little cloud cover is what will reflect the light. I did calculate that I might get a nice pink glow on the mountain range though and a low framed shot would eliminate the sky to focus more on the landscape features. What I didn't know was that the full moon would be setting the exact same time as Sunrise, directly opposite each other so a rare alignment and perfect conditions.
Nikon D610, Tamron 90 mm f/2.8 Di Macro, f/22 @ISO 100. A 10 frame panorama stitched in photoshop.
A great start to a fantastic winters day, I love this little spot and I have many photographs that each have a different feel to them. As I know the location so well I was able to pull up, head to my usual spot and fire off my frames confident that I have a great photo. A quick check for sharpness and exposure and I was satisfied I got this in one. 5 minutes on location and I was done, now to wander around the location and enjoy the morning before coffee.
The rest of the day involved hiking up into the mountains to Bidean nan Bian and Stob Ciore nan Lochan, both amazing view points well above the 1000 meter mark. Although not making the former, I was able to get an idea of the views I might be able to get for future trips as well as being able to visually see right across the other mountain ranges to visualise what that might look like too.
Nikon D610, 18-35 mm f/3.5-4.5 G. Looking across to Beinn Fhada whilst stopping for lunch
Topping out on the Saddle between Bidean nan Bian and Stob Ciore. You can see the ridge leading up to Bidean behind Rich as he gets a firm anchor with his Ice Axe to pull himself over the edge.
The route from the view point car park, with a POI star to mark a future location I can return to