Inside this issue
The Start of a 365 Project
Amateur Photographer who plays with big cameras and film when in between digital photographs.
As I mentioned in my 12 favourite photographs article at Christmas, for the latter half of 2017 I was posting photos every day to my #365 project website, Lochaber365.com, but I was really cheating by posting images from previous successful shoots instead of taking one image every day. I knew for 2018 I had to bite the bullet and commit to doing the 365 project properly if I was to get the most out of it, so on the 1st of January 2018 I took my first 365 photograph from a point opposite our house in Ballachulish. A layer of snow on Stob Coire nam Beith and Bidean nam Bian topped with some evening colour and hanging cloud worked as a great background for and old lone tree and the coniferous forest around the Glencoe Lochan.
Don't take it for granted
The main goal of my 365 project was to prevent me taking the area we have moved for granted (something that seems impossible when you first arrive here but, like many people living in beautiful locations will tell you, a few months in and you’re starting to be ‘picky’ about what a good day is and sooner or later you haven’t left the house for a week (especially last summer when it rained nearly every day).
Actually, getting out was a little bit more of a challenge than I thought it would be and for the first few weeks it was nearly always at the end of the day when the thought “I’ve not done my photo yet and it’s nearly sunset!” would pass through my head. Fortunately, our house backs onto Forestry Commission land that is particularly ‘roughly’ planted and is now degrading in a rather photogenic way and so as long as I can see to walk safely I can usually find a late composition.
Here’s one taken from the top corner of our garden of a brook that passes through our neighbours' house. On really stormy days you can hear big rocks rolling down this gully.
Get out and scout
One of my other goals with the 365 project was to push me into exploring places that I wouldn't typically visit and after a couple of roadside views I put a few pins in a map as ‘possibles’ and headed out to my first, a patch of land called ‘Tom Ban’ which is just behind the river Coe. Here I found some beautifully lichen-encrusted trees and tree-clad mounds which could be placed against the snowy hills. There is no obvious entry into this area but under Scottish 'right to roam', as long as I'm not intruding on people's privacy, by walking near their homes or on their gardens, or damaging the land, animals or crops, then I can pretty much go where I please. Common sense applies, such as trying to climb over gates at the hinge end, climb over fences near a post or find alternative access, etc. In this case, I climbed over a locked gate and found a fabulous stretch of woodland.
The first weeks of the 365 project developed a bit of a pattern. I’d either drive up into Glencoe to ‘take a look’ and usually get as far as the Glen Etive turn off before giving up; or I would turn left at Glencoe village onto the Kinlochleven top road and do a full circuit through Kinlochleven and back on the North road via the Ballachulish bridge and then home. Usually, I would find a view or detail to take. Occasionally I would drive a bit farther down Rannoch Moor when the weather looked cold and clear skies looked rewarding. In this case, me and Charlotte wandered up to Rannoch Moor before dawn to make the most of a hard frost.
Live with your failures as well as your successes
Only having a small amount of time to explore locations inevitably means the occasional failure but it’s very rare to come away with nothing, even if you only have a half hour to find a photograph. On some occasions, I have to make do with what I find, which is quite painful when the previous day you’ve had a crop of 3 or 4 images you’re really happy with and have only used one of them. That’s the name of the game though. Here are a couple of my less successful images
Here’s a view from our front drive, how lazy can I get! I figure I should only get away with this a couple of times though.
Here's another from an incident where I was cutting things a bit fine and was told off by a local over where I was parking. It turned out that he had mistaken me for another car that had been blocking his drive for the last week and once I explained what I was doing he became really interested - so interested that I completely missed the sunset and my chance to find a composition! A quick rush to the edge of Loch Linnhe at least got some nice colour and a sense of how windy it was.
And finally, on a day that was torrential rain from start to finish, I hid in the bedroom and took a picture through the window… (I know! It's my project though, so my rules! I won't be doing too many of these unless I can find more creative ways of doing so)
Committing to a project such as this as a New Year's resolution really throws you in at the deep end. The days are short and I had a lot of work to catch up with from before Christmas. However, I do have the advantage of being able to pop out over lunch or clock off early for sunset and then do a bit more work later in the evening.
Also, when the weather really does something special, I get the chance to spend more than an hour exploring. Mid-January the weather did just that and dumped an amazing amount of snow on our doorstep. For four days the skies were constantly changing and there was a thick layer of champagne powder blanketing the landscape.
This not only provided the opportunity for some classic winter photographs but also to test our 4x4 car and camper and some new winter tyres (which I have to say were amazing - compared to all season tyres the grip is phenomenal and I found myself rescuing a couple of cars using our campervan, much to their embarrassment).
Here’s a photograph that was taken from a layby which I was using to test whether could get in and out of patches of thick snow. I had a set of snow chains with me just in case I couldn’t get out normally. Just as I was about to start driving back out again I saw some light appearing behind the Buachaille. Ten minutes later I had this in front of me and another fifteen minutes and it was snowing again! Oh, and I got out without putting the chains on. Bonus!
Here’s another from that spell of great weather, this time from the other end of Rannoch Moor, about 30 minutes away from our house. This was one of those moments when it pays to be familiar with a location’s environmental idiosyncrasies. I parked at the far end of Lochan na h’Achlaise in the official layby on the road up to Black Mount. However, the whole area was completed fogged in. I had encountered these conditions before and had an inkling that the weather would break up from the Glencoe side of the lochan. I parked over at Loch Ba and was treated a wonderful scene as the mist broke up. On driving past my original parking place, the photographer I had said hello to was still waiting for it to clear.
Sometimes it just gets too popular on Rannoch Moor though. On one Saturday during this fantastic snowy period, there were so many people driving up to the Glencoe ski centre that six-mile tailbacks formed all the way back to the Black Mount car park and there were herds of photographers gathered around the Glen Etive road like red deer in rutting season. Me and Scott Robertson decided a better course of action was to retreat to Glen Nevis where we only saw two other people and they didn't even leave the roadside. A winter playground!
All good things come to an end though, and one of the difficult things with the idea of a 365 project is that, even though you have loads of images accumulated over the previous week, it’s the shot of the day that counts, however good or bad it is. There’s no resting on laurels.
And so once the weather broke and we were back to overcast and slush, I continued to comb our local area for opportunities. This sometimes meant more photographs from the garden and also a few more roadside captures of the prevailing weather conditions (usually when it was too late to find a composition to match). And there's always the Three Sisters car park to fall back on!
At the start of February, I was lucky to be included on a workshop combining mountaineering with Photography (Run by Alex Nail and our local mountain guide, Rich Pyne) and a couple of photographs taken during these days were captured with my iPhone.
The first photograph was taken on the iPhone during a quick 'fitness' walk. Why the iPhone? Because I’d forgotten to take a camera battery and the light was absolutely incredible after a rainstorm had broken with sun and blue skies not far behind.
The second was taken on the iPhone again because the slope we were on was too steep to get the big camera out safely. Both images worked very well and I was more than happy to include them in my 365 portfolio.
An unexpected revelation for me during my new 365 routine, was how much the sun moved around on a day to day basis. I have never had the opportunity to observe this effect across multiple locations before and I think it’s enhanced by the three-dimensionality of the landscape where raking light at sunset and cast shadows move visibly across the hills, this is particularly apparent nearer the equinox (20 March).
This next photograph was only really possible with the low light illuminating the top of the Aonach Eagach and allowing me to use the reflected light in the River Coe. I returned on following days and sun had moved around enough to be occluded by the mountains - only when it shone through the gap between Meall Mor and Meall Ligiche did it work this well.
Exploring new locations around Glencoe
Some of the best moments so far have come from exploring areas that don’t at first look particularly productive. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Glencoe on holiday but there is always the desire to make sure you get good results when you have such limited time and with that, there is a tendency to repeat locations where success has been had in the past (or you've seen other people produce good work. Now I'm living here, I’m not limited by having to produce ‘great’ pictures and only having a small amount of time. Instead, I can just ‘try’ a location out and see what happens. Two of the biggest success I’ve had doing this have been from an area across the water from Ballachulish where there is a strip of what looked like a straggly forest which turned out to actually have some quite beautiful areas.
And the other area has been exploring the river Coe from Glencoe to the Clachaig. Most of this is woodland is quite ‘bitty’ but there are a few stretches that show great potential.
One of my favourite surprise moments so far has been on a day where the dew point and the temperature coincided and there was mist and cloud floating around the valley and loch. I drove down to take some photographs around the Isles of Glencoe and just as I left Ballachulish, the sun came out and illuminated Eilean Munde (The Isle of St Munde) whilst mist hid the far shore.
I know if I had not committed to going out photographing once per day, every day, I would not have chanced upon magical moments like this. These are the rewards for repeatedly practising our art.