Travel photography: Scotland 2015 - Part 2

June 27, 2015

This is the second part of the article series on Scotland. If you haven't read the first part, please start there.

Loch Ness and surrounding area

Loch Ness is the largest Scottish freshwater loch by volume with an area of about 56 km² and a maximum depth of about 230 m. In fact it contains more water than all the lakes in England and Wales combined!

Of course it is well known for the multiple alleged sightings of the Loch Ness Monster which caused a variety of scientific investigations about its actual existence (including searches with submersibles and large scale sonar examinations). Before you get your hopes up – this article does not contain any pictures of Nessie.

Urquhart Castle at the shore of Loch Ness. This picture was basically the result of pure luck. I drove down the road from Inverness to Drumnadrochit where I came across a parking bay with a gorgeous oversight over the Loch. I spotted the Castle at the western shore just in time as the last daylight was still touching it. I still had the 500mm lens attached from the previous shoot so I just grabbed the camera and took a couple of pictures. The air was so perfectly clear on that day that despite being about 3 kilometers away the scene is captured with perfect image quality, absent of any heat haze or other distortions. Just about ten minutes later the remaining ruins of the keep were completely in the shade. This image is a fine example how wonderful long telephoto lenses can serve for landscape work.
Another view of the remains of Urquhart Castle. The bright light in the background is not the sunset but the streetlights of the city of Inverness. This high sensitivity, long exposure photograph was taken at half past two in the morning - to the naked eye the scene was almost pitch black.
Sheep and rainbows – two very common sights in the Highlands. Rain and sunshine at the same time is not exactly an infrequent weather phenomenon. I have photographed about three times as many rainbows within two weeks in Scotland than I did my entire life before.
Especially enjoyable is the fact that in northern regions it is frequently possible to take pictures in pleasing light outside of the sunrise/sunset blue and golden hours such as this one, due to the generally low sun and interesting weather effects.
A centuries old stone wall at Loch Meiklie.
This grey heron is fishing at the mound of river Ness in Inverness.

Glen Affric

Glen Affric, west of Loch Ness is often regarded as the most beautiful of all Scottish glens. It mainly consists of the River Affric, Loch Affric and Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin and seemingly endless pine forests.

View over Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin from the narrow road leading into the glen. I don't know if this is actually the most beautiful glen, but it is definitely among the top 5 prettiest places I have ever been.
The picturesque River Affric runs through the 30 km long glen.
Dog Falls is a small waterfall not far below the dam of Loch Beinn a' Mheadhoin. I did not really shoot much flowing water before so this was actually more of an experiment. Unfortunately, on this day I chose a shutter speed (20-30s) that was way too slow, so the features of the water are too strongly blurred. Ideal would have been between one and five seconds. A mistake I will not repeat.
Coire Loch is beautifully situated amidst the hilly pine forests and can be reached easily via a scenic hiking route.
A solitary scots pine in the late afternoon light. The Scots pine can reach an age of up to 600 years and was very common a few centuries ago, but went extinct all over Britain except for parts of Scotland due to over exploitation. Glen Affric contains a major part of the remaining trees.
The Glen and Loch Affric at sunset.

Eilean Donan Castle

One of the most famous castles of Scotland and maybe the whole world, Eilean Donan Castle, was founded in the thirteenth century as one of the seats of Clan Mackenzie.

The castle was actually destroyed during the Jacobite rising in 1719 and lay in ruins until its restoration in the early 20th century. Nowadays it is among the most photographed Scottish monuments with hundreds of thousands of visitors every year.

The stronghold during high tide before sunrise. When taking pictures of the castle, special emphasis should be given on the water level. During ebb tide the water retreats far out into the bay, the muddy ground becomes visible and there is of course no reflection of the castle in the water possible. A not very pretty sight that should best be avoided.
The arched bridge that connects the small island with the main land was also added about a hundred years ago during the restoration.
The main keep seen from Eilean Donan (Donans Island).

When I arrived at the scene several hours before sunrise I had to make a decision – from where exactly I wanted to take the actual photo during sunrise. The first option was to stay down below – where I had taken the previous pictures. The obvious advantage of staying close to the castle is that it would have been possible to quickly change position and be able to capture a variety of different shots during the brief moment of interesting light.

The alternative was to hike onto the neighboring hill in the hope of finding a good vantage point from where the spectacular landscape could be overseen, which would hopefully set the castle in context with its surroundings and thus create a much stronger image.

This approach was promising but risky. I hadn't had the opportunity to scout the location before so I couldn't be entirely sure if a pleasing composition would be possible from above. Due to the time needed to get up and back down again I'd miss the sunrise if I changed my mind later. Additionally, even if there was a good view from above it would be the only shot I'd get, because the large distance between me and the subject would require a drastic change of position to make an actual difference in perspective – which wouldn't be possible within the limited timeframe of perfect light.

The choice however came easy when I remembered what a famous photographer once said: If you go where everybody goes, you will take the pictures everybody takes. Taking the pictures everybody takes is my worst nightmare as a photographer, so up I went.

When I saw the first light gently touching the hills on the opposite side of the loch I knew that I had made the right call. The one minute exposure nicely blurred the moving clouds and evened out the water surface to create some superb reflections.

I knew that the perfect moment would be brief, but I wrongfully thought it would be as soon as the sunlight would touch the castle itself. When I arrived at the – in my opinion – best possible shooting position I still had easily enough time to set up the equipment and take a couple of test shots. In fact, I miscalculated the moment of the actual sunrise due to the hills being higher than expected, so I had to wait for quite some time, but since I had invested all this time and energy in getting there, I might as well take some pictures in between. The photo above is one of those.

The later image – the one I actually had intended – is interestingly by far not as impressive as the earlier, before sunrise shot. You can also see clearly the negative effect of the receding tide – just compare the small island (right in the frame) in both pictures.

The journey continues

The next article in this series describes my experiences on the Isle of Skye.

» Continue to part 3 »

Thanks for reading!

Back to top