on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

Transformed by Light

An enlightening trip report

I recently spent an amazing four days in Perthshire at the tail end of autumn. In truth the weather was far more wintry than autumnal. I encountered reedy frozen lochans, birch trees in deep glens covered in hoar frost, and snow capped mountains. However, the highlight of the trip actually started off with typical Scottish weather – drab, dull and cloudy!

I came down off the hills about an hour before sunset to thick clouds with no definition. I had still to check in to the B&B and the tug of a hot shower was pretty strong. However my time on this trip was relatively short and so I decided to spend the last hour of daylight finding a number of locations for the next few days.

I headed up the South road of Loch Rannoch until I came across a part of the shore where the trees thinned out next to an outflow of a stream. I parked at the conveniently placed lay-by and headed down onto the shore.

Due to the fact that the current water level of Loch Rannoch has been controlled by the Hydro Board there were plenty of dead trees sticking out of the water up to ten feet from the shore. I found the trees aesthetically pleasing, almost sculptural - they looked very unusual poking out of the loch. I instantly saw photographic potential realising that if I isolated the trees it would make for a very interesting composition.

I had started to play about with several ideas using the nearest tree which seemed to mimic the tree further into the loch and there was some lovely low lying cloud but the light was far from interesting.

I liked the replication of shape of both trees.

I was not completely sold on the composition so I gently waded further into the loch until the water was perilously close to the top of my wellies. I was now much closer to the more interesting tree and started to frame my next shot, isolating the unique and framing out the ordinary. I did not spend too much time on the shot as it was more of a reminder so I could come back to the same location at a later date. I was thinking about heading back now but being the eternal optimist (and hating that feeling I have experienced all too often for not waiting long enough for the best!); I decided to stay put until the bitter end.

A more simple and pleasing composition, I loved the sculptural quality of the tree.

By this time the clouds had started to break apart at the West end of the loch. The sun was making an appearance for minutes at a time but due to the dynamic range of the scene and the fact I could not really get a better angle on the tree due to the depth of the water I could not make any meaningful shots. I watched with envy as the low cloud further up the loch was being illuminated in warm sunlight.

Intense light was piercing through the cloud but I did not like shooting straight into it

The ribbon of low cloud stretched all the way down the loch to my location and swirled around Meall Druidhe. My flight of fancy at that moment was for a sufficient break in the sky so that the cloud at my location would be illuminated with the same warm light. I watched, spellbound, as clouds parted further and that wonderful golden light slowly crept up the loch, punctuating the sombre tones of the scene with rich vibrant colour. It took a few minutes for the light to reach my location. The saying “the more I practice the luckier I get” applies very much to landscape photography in so much as if you are out often enough (and are prepared to wait) you will come across fantastic light regularly. It was most certainly true on this occasion.

I watched with childlike anticipation as the lovely light slowly illuminated the low cloud.

When light as good as this occurs you are very wary that it can disappear as quickly as it came. Without changing my composition I made the shot when the light eventually illuminated the cloud at the Eastern end of Meall Druidhe. I need not have been so hasty. The light seemed to linger here for quite some time. I was struggling to control the highlights at the right-hand side of the frame and did not like how the mountain was sitting in the frame so I fine-tuned my composition.

The finished photograph.

The photograph I finally settled for gave proper prominence to the mountain beyond. The orange-tinged ribbon of cloud swirling around a peak with a subtle dusting of snow seemed to dictate the composition. It felt right to place them there. The tree’s position was a by-product of this and, as oftentimes can happen in landscape photography, sat perfectly in the frame. Often, as mentioned by Tim and Joe in the first screen cast of ‘First Light, Still’, it is easy to over-intellectualise photographs when we view the finished result. Actually, most of what we do compositionally happens through primal instinct of what feels right and also our pre-conditioned way of seeing the landscape.

I find comparing the first and last photograph very interesting. In what is essentially the same photograph, the difference is startling. The wonderful light has transformed an essentially dull photograph to something beautiful. Checking the EXIF data there is an almost exact ten minute difference from when they where taken. To me, it illustrates perfectly that, even though you never can tell what the weather will do, we should always wait until the very end before deciding to pack up and go home.

David Langan is a photographer from Aberdeen. You can see more of his work at his website http://www.thenorthlight.com or see his workshops website at http://www.thenorthlightphotoworkshops.co.uk/

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