A summer visit to the Highlands 2018

The Scottish Highlands is becoming like a second home to us after so many years now of visiting the stunning location. I am learning to not predict the photographic rewards or lack of, that will come from spending a week there, even when the weather looks like it will do its best to dampen any photography expectations.

This particular week was based again in Nairn (east of Inverness), and followed quite a wet, cloudy week in the Isle of Skye! The weather didn’t look much better for the coming week, but it still had some special moments in store.

Chanonry Point

The first of these moments, came with a visit to Chanonry Point, to spend some time hoping to see dolphins. It was going to be a tough challenge to outdo the visit I had back a year earlier where I had an extra special couple of hours of dolphins playing around the shoreline enabling some great photo opportunities (see: Photographing Dolphins at Chanonry Point).

On this occasion the highlight was seeing some newly born dolphins calves swimming with their parents.

Most of the jumping activity happened a good way from shore (except after my battery incident - see later).

However we were all privileged to get great close up views of the pods as they stayed around for a long time:

There was plenty of splashing as well. Including playing with food!

Following the photos of the fish being thrown around, my camera battery ran flat. “No problem", I thought as I knew I had a spare. However I discovered the spare was completely flat as well - I found later it had died a death and was faulty. So I was left to stand and watch as the dolphin activity seemed to suddenly increase with more jumps and breaches close to shore. Sometimes however it is nice to just enjoy the moment without having to look through a viewfinder!

Bow Fiddle Rock

As the week progressed, it looked like the weather one particular morning was going to be suitable to visit the Bow Fiddle Rock at Portknockie (an hour drive). The hope was to again attempt to get the sun rising through the arch - which I had succeeded to do the year before.

Unfortunately the passing weather front was still departing towards the east, and blocked the sunlight of the first stage of sunrise:

However it soon rose above the cloud and once again gave some great photo opportunities. It seems like the tide level is different every time I visit and gives a different take on what may be a similar photo shoot:

It was going to be great weather during the morning, so I made the most of it and explored further up the coast, following a stunning coastal path starting at Cullen.

The shots below were taken to see the different effects of the polariser on the rock pool:

Ben Wyvis Region

The visit to Portknockie had started well before sunrise. By the time I returned to Nairn after a morning exploring the coastline above Cullen, there was still plenty of hours left to head off to the Ben Wyvis region north of the Black Isle to go for a hike. The weather looked unpredictable - epitomised by getting caught in a torrential downpour before I could get my waterproofs fully on! But resulted in a good rainbow looking back to the glen from which I had started:

Having spent 3-4 hours already walking in the morning, my legs suddenly felt like they had had enough for the day, but I was determined to continue and make the most of being out in the wilds.

I walked on up the track passing workers in tractors and machinery laying down gravel, and eventually reached the end of the track at a small mountain river cascading down the mountainside. I decided to follow the river upstream and was continually reminded of Psalm 23, where the Scriptures declare - ‘He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside still/quiet waters, He restores my soul.’ It was such a tranquil location leaving such pleasant memories.

That was the final trip of the week, with the last photo opportunity on the return to our accommodation as I passed this particular ‘landmark’ on the way to Nairn. It seems like every time I drive past this cluster of trees, I have thought it would make a great photo with the right light and conditions. It was definitely part of the way towards those conditions as I returned to Nairn, so had to pull over and click away!

Until the next visit…

A week in the Isle of Skye

It is two years since our last visit to the Isle of Skye. Time flies!

The summary blog of those previous two weeks emphasised how blessed we had been with the weather previously! Arriving at the same cottage we stayed at before, and reviewing the weather apps for the coming week, predicted a lot of rain was in store and not much sun for the time away.

Plenty of rain we had! It became a familiar sight looking across the Sound of Raasay with views like this:

The Old Man of Storr was regularly cloaked in mist and rain cloud when we drove past, making the early morning visits from a few years ago a distant memory:

However, conditions brought some great atmosphere to the road trips that we did:

Despite the rain, we also had times of sun - and the combination lead to many rainbows over the week!

On one particular day the weather improved and returning past the Quiraing, we decided to head up to the ridge to capture the great lighting as the sun kept dipping in and out of the clouds at the back end of the afternoon:

If you look carefully you'll see the Wheatear, that alighted on the rock just before taking the above photo!

One particular morning the weather forecast looked suitable for an early morning photography trip, the details of which can be found in my blog 'An early morning revisit to the Old Man of Storr'. One of the photos is shown below.

With the weather improving after visiting the Old Man of Storr, I travelled a short way down the road to capture a photo I had in mind from a small waterfall that is passed on the way down to Portree. Climbing up the south side of the waterfall enabled views back to the Old Man as shown below:

The following day we planned a road trip to Elgol. However due to a sad event of a fatal accident on the Portree road, we ended up on a large detour and stopped at Sligachan instead. The changing weather between sun, rain, cloud gave some nice opportunities to capture views of the area:

The changing light over Sgurr Nan Gillean created some great atmosphere around the mountain.

With the road north still closed, we headed back via the long detour, but decided to make an unscheduled stop at Fairy Pools. I tend to avoid the location during the day as it is so busy, but with the afternoon spent, and getting there later, we hoped it would be less busy and also meant improved light for any photos. From the car park I made a very brisk walk up to the pools, stopping to get the rain cover out for the camera rucksac due to a downpour - but it turned out to be perfect timing, along with a rainbow appearing just as I reached the main spot that I wanted to get photos from!

The week was turning out really nicely for photos - such a contrast to initial expectations.

Our final full day included a visit to Elgol, that we hadn't managed earlier in the week. It was a long drive down there from our accommodation, but with some great views on the way - including the first sighting that week of a white tailed eagle! 

Elgol itself is a great location with views across to the Isle of Rum, as well as over to the Cuillins:

The amazing honeycombed cliff face on the path to the location of the above photos seemed an ideal location for the local wren to raise its family!

As we finished our time at Elgol, I noticed that the weather was such that there would be a good chance of a decent sunset, so we headed off for the long trip through the island to Neist Point lighthouse. Other than wearing shorts, and forgetting the midge jacket to combat the heavy midge infestation (first really one we encountered during the week fortunately) it was well worthwhile heading over there.

The midges made the photography a real challenge, with the camera at times being covered in clouds of the little monsters, but with some aid from a can of Smidge that I went back to the car to retrieve, it turned out successfully. As we packed to leave, the lighthouse light came on after the sun set and most of the colour had dissipated (last photo below if you look carefully!).

It was a fitting end to the week having such a sunset. A week that turned out completely differently to the original expectations - but just shows the potential that is always there when visiting Scotland!

An early morning revisit to the Old Man of Storr

Revisiting the Isle of Skye again after two years, and staying in the same cottage meant that we were only ten minutes drive from the Old Man of Storr - a great location when planning early morning rises for photography shoots!

It looked like there would only be one particular morning that the weather would be suitable to visit the Old Man for the type of photos I was wanting. Setting the alarm for 4.10am I was awake before it went off, but looking out the window debated whether it was going to be worthwhile after all! I eventually however made the decision to go for it!

Arriving at the near empty car park, I headed up the path checking back towards the direction of the low rising sun and captured a few photos showing the changing light as the sun broke through the low cloud:

The Old Man was currently cloaked in mist and low rain cloud!

Unperturbed I headed up into the mist (actually rain!), deciding to avoid the viewpoint I took the photos from a couple of years ago (see: The Old Man of Storr dawn visit) and found a path that headed towards the back of the rock formation. This gave the view below - where the camera got wet from the rain with continual attempts to wipe the lens to try and get a clean photo!

There is a labyrinth of pathways behind the Old Man that I was totally unaware of, so weaving my way between the rocks, I hunted down a good location to wait and see what happened with the weather.

Looking back along the path at different points, it didn't look like much was going to happen, other than get wet!!

But I found the spot that looked like a good one and with the waterproof cover over the camera bag I waited ... and waited ... and waited.

Then the fun started!

As I was hoping, the mist and rain lifted temporarily and combined with the sun breaking out through the clouds started to change the view dramatically from the photos above.

At the same time the mist lifted towards the south opening up a superb vista.

Once again, it turned out a worthwhile trip, and the effort to get out of bed despite what the weather looked like, had paid off with the results I had hoped for!

The Scottish Highlands and Glen Affric - Winter at Easter!

After our last visit to the Scottish Highlands in December, and having some true winter wonderland experiences, it wasn't expected that during a visit over the Easter period (early April) snow would still be on the agenda during our week stay near Nairn.

We arrived on the day of the full moon (first photo below), and on a few days woke up to fresh overnight snow, as well as experiencing a very clear night one evening (third photo)!

I always follow the weather closely, particularly when visiting Scotland, wanting to maximise the photo opportunities. This trip was no different and after a 3.00am rise on the Saturday for the 10-12 hour car journey north, I realised from the forecast that the following morning was going to be clear and maybe the only chance for a good morning photoshoot during the week ahead. I therefore was up again early at 4.15am, and headed off to Loch Maree in the dark (see also my earlier blog from the winter visit).

The view on the journey when passing Loch a' Chroisg, looking back towards the east was stunning in the stillness at first light of day.

Arriving at Loch Maree, the moon was starting to set behind the Beinn Eighe snow capped mountains providing a beautiful view.

I was hoping for some good reflections at Loch Maree, but it was not to be on this occasion. These photos are taken from the same spot during my December visit. The sun rising further north than the winter months and so changing the light conditions.

The return journey provided some great views back towards Loch Maree, and the surrounding mountainscape.

However the cherry on the cake of this visit came as I passed Loch a' Chroisg again where the air was totally still and displayed the Highlands landscape in all its beauty!

The weather turned after the weekend, with snowfall over the next few days, bringing some drastic changes to the surrounding landscape.

This was most dramatically seen during a road trip down the south side of Loch Ness and via Fort William to Newtonmore.

During the week, the weather forecast predicted that Thursday would to be the best day for sunlight, and so when the day arrived I headed off early to Glen Affric, my favourite Highlands spot! 

It was another still morning, and true to tradition I was able to pick up a few reflection photos on the way up the glen.

The plan for this day, was to hike the Loch Affric circuit, around 11 miles in distance. A straight forward route, but providing super views around the glen. The weather couldn't make its mind up with a mixture of chilling wind, snow, then plenty of sunshine on the return section.

I took the opportunity to rest the feet when I reached the further point of the route, as well as having some snacks and hot drink. On the return route down the glen, the view back to where I had stopped was stunning.

At one point I was really struck by the majesty of the mountains round about and reminded me of some lyrics of a song speaking of Almighty God:

Your steadfast love extends to the heavens
Your faithfulness reaches to the clouds
Your righteousness is like majestic mountains
And your wisdom like the depths of the sea

A stream nestled in the mountainside made it's way down to River Affric with some pretty waterfalls along the route back (last two photos above).

By the time I made it back to the car my feet felt totally punished! A strong indicator of needing some new socks before my next adventure in the Highlands during the summer. I still stopped off at some waterfalls on the car drive down the glen on the route back - rounding off the trip nicely.

Winter Wonderland #2 - Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve

The final adventure of the holiday up in the Highlands of Scotland over Christmas 2017 and the new year was a trip to the Beinn Eighe Nature Reserve by Loch Maree. This was very much a bucket list location for the holiday - but up to this point the weather conditions were not right to make the most of it for photography.

On new year's day however, everything was right! Analysing the phone weather apps the night before predicted a high possibility of very low wind levels giving opportunities for Loch Maree to show reflections, and the skies looked as if they were going to be clear. So I set off early for the one and a half hour journey from Nairn to the Kinlochewe area to get there before sunrise. One advantage of Scottish winters is that sunrise is around 9.00am, so no need for middle of the night rises like my summer adventures.

As I headed north the landscape around me changed with more snow and road conditions that deteriorated, requiring greater care and less speed! The views however were superb.

Although I felt on a deadline to reach the location by sunrise, I had to stop on a few occasions to get some records of the views - such as the above panoramic looking back down the glen, and the photos below descending towards Kinlochewe, with Loch Maree in the distance

From a distance Loch Maree didn't appear to be still enough for reflections, but you can imagine my excitement as I drove up the road by the loch on the way to the nature reserve car park to see reflections beckoning to be photographed!

Passing a small pull-in area I noticed a jetty that looked ideal for some photos, and after initially starting to walk back with the camera from the car park, I decided to drive back to save time (still not wanting to delay the ascent up to Beinn Eighe nature reserve).

The great regret I have with the above photos was putting myself under time pressure - if I had only thought about it and waited an additional 5-10 minutes I would have been able to have the sun rising over the trees in the distance which would have transformed the photos - but it wasn't to be and is now a plan for a future winter visit. Lesson learnt!

Driving back to the car park I set about getting some photos of the reflections to capture the atmosphere both before the sun lit up the mountains and then again with such different lighting with the sun. The impact of the golden hour sun in transforming a photo is so clearly seen when looking at the first two pair of photos below:

But time was rushing on, and with cloud further north I prepared all the equipment including ice axe and cramp-ons in the rucksack, ready for the ascent up to the nature reserve. Having been here before in the summer I knew the route would be tough, even taking the easier track through the woodland for the first part. 

The views were amazing as I gained more height and looked back down to the loch - with the reflections already a thing of the past.

The pathway however was treacherous and at one point I had a nasty fall onto my hand and arm compliments of an icy rock and heavy rucksack. I was not to be deterred, and continued up the path of ice and snow, wondering whether I ought to get the crampons out - especially on the return route. However I managed without them and eventually reached 'level' ground with an incredible winter wonderland before Willow and I.

We continued to follow the path in the snow made by previous walkers on previous days, aiming for a higher point with a wider perspective of the mountains round about us. The conditions were near perfect - what a day!

Looking back at these photos reminds me of the feeling of looking out over such a landscape, with totally calm conditions and no sounds except the infrequent drone of high altitude planes passing over. It felt like being on the top of the world, being in the right place at the perfect time! Willow was good as gold off the lead, such a transformation from what she had been like for the first few years of her life.

With cloud moving in from the north, it was soon time to consider heading back down - with a little apprehension about tackling the icy rocky downhill path. It didn't take long for the conditions to change significantly - reinforcing what a blessing those previous hours had been with the weather.

As I safely (!) descended through to the final woodland stages of the route, it started to drizzle and by the time I was back to the car it was full on raining. It seemed like each part of the day had worked out perfectly with the timing.

This had to be one of my favourite walks and locations, and leaves me with plans for the future to wild camp up amongst those mountains for some summer sunset and sunrise photos, as well as hopefully returning one winter to get that 'missed' shot of the sunrise at the jetty.

The Scottish Highlands (Dec 2017)

In deciding what to write for my next blog I thought I would post a selection of photos from our recent visit to the Scottish Highlands over Christmas 2017 and the new year.

There is never a shortage of places to visit for photographic opportunities, the only influencing factor being the weather, as always.

One of my favourite locations for nature photography is the RSPB reserve at Loch Garten. I hadn't visited for a few years, so going prepared with a suitable selection of fat blocks and peanuts, I headed off early one morning with the plan to photograph the crested tits. Here's a selection:

When the weather conditions are ideal, I'm always looking for opportunities such as those taken below on the journey back from Loch Garten:

We often stay around Nairn (an old fishing town). These are some of the photos taken down near the harbour with a mix of weather conditions.

The final set of photos are from the day I revisited Loch Glass, a location nestled in the Ben Wyvis mountain range. Willow and I walked (she ran) to the end of the loch and back, which was a 10 mile round trip - she must have covered a good few extra miles with all her hunting and tracking! Here's a selection from that day, including some sighting of deer on route!

Winter wonderland - Glen Affric (Dec 2017)

When visiting the Highlands of Scotland I inevitably will schedule a trip to my favourite glen, Glen Affric that is situated west of Inverness and runs through the Kintail mountains.

This turned out to be an extra special trip after having had significant snow fall around the time. The journey itself once we reached the base of the Glen near Cannich promised to be interesting with ice and snow on the roads which only got worse as we ascended the single lane road heading for the last car park up near Loch Affric. The scenery was amazing, trees were coated in white, as their branches hung with snow, and created a true winter wonderland experience.


As we progressed further up the glen, we passed Loch Beinn A Mheadhoin, which grabbed our attention and immediately paused the journey, due to the mirror like reflections from the total stillness of the air over the loch.

We eventually made it to the car park after a close miss with a snow plough, and an unplanned slide manoeuvre onto a narrow wooden bridge that was covered in snow. The views were amazing. This was Willow's first major snow experience and she loved every moment.

With the Scottish daylight hours being so short during winter months, we decided to stay around for sunset, and headed off up the side of the glen in search of a suitable location for further photos.

It was then time to start heading back to the car, catching a photo of Loch Affric in the fading light of dusk.

This photo below was taken after we returned to the car park with the moon rising higher in the sky after sunset.

With it being a clear night, we decided to stop again at the loch that had such cool reflections earlier in the day. A great opportunity to test out some night time long exposure photos.

That brought the end to a super day. Just leaving a careful journey back down the snow laden roads to return back to the family.

Autumn again in Burnham Beeches (mini-blog)

It's always a rewarding experience wandering through Burnham Beeches in the autumn. Particularly if the sun is out, which has a transforming effect on all the colours on show.

I try and get out to Burnham Beeches each year around this sort of time (see my previous blogs from 2016 and 2015). This year was no different, although waiting for the right weather conditions wasn't fairing too well until this weekend, when the Sunday afternoon promised to give a reasonable amount of sunlight.

Whereas a fair number of the trees around us had discarded most of their leaves, the canopy in the woodland was still full of colour:

On this particular visit my attention was drawn to the variety of shapes and sizes of the trees. Many of them dating back hundreds of years, twisting and turning their way upwards towards the light.

It was quite a windy afternoon, and many leaves were being discarded as the sun kept disappearing behind passing clouds. Here's a lone leaf making its way down to the woodland floor:

One leaf .... of the many million that lay on the ground under the trees of the wood. A carpet of bronze, red and orange colour.

A few hours of wandering through the woods, and it was time to return home, thankful as always to have such a location near home to visit. 

Making the most of a day while in North Wales

It had been a mixed bag of weather during the week in Wales. Arriving on the first Friday night the Android weather apps predicted a week of cloud and rain ahead! However it turned out better than expected and as we approached the end of the week the Friday forecast promised a cracking day with clear skies morning and night and plenty of sun during the day.

With plans prepared, we therefore headed off early on Friday morning on the hour plus drive to Barmouth, to the Panorama Walk location to get a view up the estuary towards the mountains for the sunrise. It was a perfect location to see the changing colours as the sun slowly lit up the different mountain slopes, eventually lighting up the spot where I was soaking in the view.

Next stop was another approximate hour drive to Llyn Crafnant. A lake nestled in the mountains north of Betws-y-coed. The plan was to get some reflection photos - a location recommended in a book on photographic locations in North Wales. From the weather apps, it appeared the calmest point of the morning was going to be around 10.00am. However we arrived later than expected at the north end of the lake to find the surface rippling in the gentle breeze, with very little reflection. With a tinge of disappointment I drove to the end of the lake and turned around to come back, considering whether to stop and get some 'record' shots anyway. As we approached the north end of the lake again, the wind suddenly died down leaving a mirror-like reflection across the surface of water - perfect conditions to get the photos I had originally planned! Incredible.

Even Willow got in on the action, managing to make her presence known on a photo I took from the mobile phone

It was time to move on and get some lunch - stopping at Llanrwst for an excellent meal at Tu Hwnt lr Bont Tearooms, before heading back past Betws-y-coed to stop off at Fairy Glen for some photos. I would love to revisit this location with the sun directly above the glen and misty conditions!

Time was moving on, and with sunset photos in my mind, we decided to head back to Barmouth (a west coast town) to capture the setting sun from the beach. It was turning out to be a classic day! And the sunset didn't disappoint either.

It also provided an opportunity to have a go at some abstract type shots of the sunset colours as the light rapidly faded.

Normally this would be the time for packing up the camera and heading home, but a local resident mentioned about a firework display that was to take place on the beach at 7pm, so we delayed our return to our accommodation and out came the camera again! 

What a day it had been, but it wasn't over yet! Arriving back at our accommodation, the night sky was a sight to behold. Even with the moon out, the amount of visible stars was amazing, and I couldn't resist the opportunity to walk up to the nearby fields to capture a selection of night photos, particularly after the moon had set and the sky was totally dark! An amazing spectacle.

It had truly been a special day. So much crammed into 18 hours, and so thankful for the weather! A difficult day to beat!

Rutting Season 2017

Time really flies! I was thinking about my previous visit to Bushy Park during the rut, and when searching for the blog found it was two years ago, not last year as I originally thought! - see Bushy Park rutting season.

Well, it was that time of the year again, and having been watching the weather closely for a few weeks, finally this Sunday morning promised to be sunny with clear skies. With the unusually warm temperatures for October there was less likelihood of the misty spectacle that I had back in 2015, but I set off before sunrise into London in anticipation of what lie ahead!

I arrived to the car park in the dark, with dozens of cars and other photographers already there, much more than my previous visit. I promptly headed off to track down where the action was occurring. There was very little rutting going on, but plenty of bellowing from various quarters of the park.

I was particularly waiting for the sun to rise to bring out the great colours golden hour and the autumn leaves all around. It didn't disappoint:

The cherry on the top of the cake for me was when one particular area of the park nearby that was transformed as the sun caused mist to rise from the damp ground. It created a truly superb atmosphere and some great photo opportunities.

There was one moment which was an 'interesting' encounter with a buck, where I was trying to capture the sunlight behind him. He seemed to be completely unfazed by me taking the photos as he approached me while I kept running backwards to get the right positioning for the shot!

Here's a few more from the sequence of trying to capture the photo I had in my mind.

With a few hundred photos already taken, I checked the time and was surprised to find it was only 8.17am, less than an hour after sunrise and I realised it was good timing to start walking back to the car and get back home to the family and in time for our morning Church service.

A few more opportunities crossed my path as I made my way back to the car park! And that was going to be the last of the sun for a few hours as I noticed a bank of cloud blowing in from the west, wiping out golden hour colours, and concluding a fantastic ~1.5 hours of photography.

Looking back to a week in the Scottish Highlands (August 2017)

Having had an amazing week in Assynt, North Highlands, our second week of the holiday was based in Nairn.

I had a few photo projects as a bucket list for this second week. One included attempting to capture the sunrise through the arch of Bow Fiddle Rock, Portknockie, and the other was a wild camp with my dog Willow on some mountain top to capture a sunset and hopefully sunrise while camping.

Arriving at Nairn, the first evening delivered a super sunset that enabled me to get some photos by the pier:

It was then off to bed reasonably early due to setting a 2.45am alarm with plans to drive over to Portknockie to get the planned sunrise shot. The weather looked perfect from the forecast and despite cloud on the horizon while driving over there, the visit met expectations!

The next few days had a real focus on attempting to get some dolphin photos. Not as straight forward as planned, with the unpredictability of nature, along with unfortunate timing on one of the visits. The full story and selection of photos can be see in my Photographing Dolphins at Chanonry Point blog. Here's a taste of the sort of photos I was privileged to take:

After one of the failed dolphin visits, I drove around Black Isle to explore the coastline and scenery and found a great walk with Willow that went up Fairy Glen and included a number of really picturesque waterfalls and streams:

Once again, there was a superb sunset at Nairn on the Monday evening. Discovering a new location further up the beach provided great opportunities for some variety in my 'Nairn sunsets'!

As the week progressed I was slowly running out of time to get the wild camp arranged. However the forecast on the Wednesday evening looked good and so packing the rucksack with tent and other 'essentials' I headed off with Willow to Drumnadrochit to climb Meall Fuar-mhonaidh, a mountain I've climbed both in snow and good weather!

At only 699m, it isn't very high compared to other mountains in the area, but with a 25kg rucksack on my back, camera in a harnessed case on my front and boggy terrain, it was a gruelling 1.5 hour hike to the top - with Willow on a lead due to lack of trust with endless moors and deer/sheep/grouse scent! It was a lesson on redefining 'essentials' when wild camping. Next time I plan to cut back by 10kg hopefully!

It was all worth it by the time I reached the top, with great views in every direction. I set up the tent as the first task, and gave Willow some extra protection from the strong chilly wind.

It was then time to concentrate on getting photos of the setting sun and surrounding landscape. It is tough to beat being in such a location with these sort of views on a clear sunny summer's evening!

With the strong wind rattling the tent, it didn't seem like much sleep was caught during the night and waking around 4.30am with the hope of a decent sunrise was not quite as expected when I unzipped the tent door! The only photo worth taking was with the mobile phone to serve as a reminder of the low lying cloud and lack of view, and the cold! This photo below was taken when there was a momentary glimmer of colour in the sky from the sunrise, before being engulfed again with mist/cloud!

There wasn't much else to do other than pack up and head back to the car, driven on by the anticipation of a big breakfast and hot shower when I got back to the flat we were staying in - along with plans of having a lighter rucksack next time!

So another holiday in Scotland drew to a close, following a fantastic couple of weeks. As we returned home we called into my brother and his family just north of the Lake District to see his work on the excellent Stocks Wood Outdoor Centre business he has started. Then as we started the final leg of the journey home we found a suitable spot to capture the last sunset of the holiday!

A week in the Scottish North Highlands

Over the years we've had the privilege to visit various locations throughout Scotland for holidays. This has included the Isle of Mull, Isle of Skye, Cairngorms, as well as the west coast. This year we visited Assynt, an area to the north west of Scotland in the North Highlands.

The weather forecast for the week didn't look too promising, but knowing the unpredictability of Scottish weather I looked forward to exploring new areas of the Scottish coastline that we hadn't visited before.

The weather over the weekend of our arrival wasn't too good, the photo below being a view with 'typical' Scottish weather as we travelled from Ullapool to where we were staying.

The photo below was on the road north from Ullapool with clearer weather out to the north:

We stayed in Lochinver, a small town on the north west coast. From the house we had great views of the harbour and Suilven mountain which overshadows the town.

Despite the poor weather during the weekend it started to brighten up on the Sunday evening and so I travelled back to a small bay that we had passed on our trip out earlier in the day. It turned out to be a cracking sunset. 

Loch an Eisg Brachaidh

It was even possible to get some great shots using the mobile phone.

It was a similar story the next day, with the weather not being too great during the day, but by evening the skies were brightening and so I revisited the same location as the night before but took up a different position on the hillside by the bay to watch the sun go down and the rising moon.

Loch an Eisg Brachaidh - revisited

The weather did improve during the week and provided opportunities to tour the beautiful coastline and lochs that made up the area of Assynt and Sutherland between Lochinver and Durness.

On the route from Lochinver towards Durness


Another opportunity for sunset photography came following an early evening ~7 mile run that took me up the hikers trail towards Suilven - a great way to explore! I took a few photos shown below with the phone while on the run, with plans to return later that evening for the sunset by Loch Druim Suardalain:

Loch Druim Suardalain

It was the right decision, with gorgeous colours cast across the loch during the golden hour and at one point the wind completely dropped resulting in the loch becoming almost mirror-like, reflecting the pastel colours of the sky and mountain line:

Remembering the weather forecast prior to our journey to Scotland, I felt well blessed with all the opportunities of what we had seen and the weather each evening so far.

Still more opportunities were yet to come when we took a road trip to Durness, to see Sango Bay along with the evening that followed.

Sango Bay - Durness

I would strongly recommend visiting Sango Bay, an amazing beach with great rock formations and an exciting surf!

With the weather so good, we decided to stay in the area for an evening meal with plans to catch the sunset. Sango Bay facing north wasn't ideal for getting sunset photos so I drove a short distant to the next bay, Balnakeil Bay, and headed off with the camera equipment and tripod to find a suitable spot to capture what turned out to be a stunning golden hour and sunset!

Balnakeil Bay

Below is a panoramic shot showing an unusual cloud formation like fingers extending down from the cloud base:

The weather turned wet towards the end of the week which itself emphasised what an amazing time it had been with so many photos opportunities to capture the North Highlands in all their splendour.

A place we will no doubt revisit in the future.

Photographing Dolphins at Chanonry Point

Visiting the Scottish Highlands inevitably includes a trip to Chanonry Point with the hope to get views of the dolphins. With the unpredictability of photographing nature, little did I know what was in store this particular week.

I turned up on the Monday morning, a few hours after low tide, and had difficulty parking due to limited spaces; it being a very popular location. After waiting 15-20 minutes to get the car parked, I grabbed the camera stuff and walked around the lighthouse to the viewing point to find a massive crowd of people at the water's edge, and to be informed that I had missed the dolphins by about twenty minutes where they had been displays of them jumping etc. I stayed a while, and got a photo of a dolphin in the distance heading out to sea before leaving and making a decision to come back again the next morning.

Tuesday I arrived at low tide (~7.15am) to guarantee a parking spot and settled down on my fold-up chair by the water's edge, ready to wait until high tide (six hours later) to make sure I didn't miss them. Unfortunately they didn't turn up, only showing on the horizon some miles out in the Moray Firth, appearing to have found a good source of fish. As high tide approached it was obvious it had been a fruitless morning.

Not having any particular plans for the next morning I decided to come again at low tide, arriving around 7.30am. Suddenly, around 9.30am there were exclamations from the crowd of people that the dolphins were here. What followed was an incredible near two hours of dolphins jumping, playing, and giving amazing displays of their behaviour.

The challenge to get decent photos then commenced. Not knowing when they will appear, breach, or jump, it was a continual process of keeping the camera pointing in the rough direction of where you expect them to come and then swing around and shoot when the fun starts.

Many shots end up of the fin or tail such as below!

Sometimes success was partial as below, with a sequence starting with the best potential shot having the dolphin partly out of the frame followed by getting the remaining frames aligned!

Early into the 'show' there was an incredible jump from one dolphin which I managed to catch a sequence of frames.... so high!

Having taken over 250 photos over the two hour period I was pleasantly surprised how many successful photos there were amongst the others that needed deleting.

The dolphins so often just seemed to be having fun, playing games of jumping over each other as below:

Or almost as if showing off in front of each other:

Playing with fish also was included in the games!

Here's a collection of some of my other favourite photos from the few hours:

It truly was an incredible day, beyond my wildest dreams of both seeing such beautiful creatures close up in their natural habitat, but also capturing such a range of behaviour in photos to look back to in the future.

Experiencing the Scottish Highlands in April

It has been well over ten years now that my wife and I have had the privilege of visiting the Scottish Highlands and surrounding area each year. Normally this would be over the new year, and then in the summer. Always an opportunity to spend time with the part of the family that moved up there years ago.

This time we had booked a week in early April, and I was unsure how the different season would change the photographic opportunities.

Travelling the 10+ hour trip overnight, as has become the custom, the first day was then spent resting until after sunset when I went out with the camera down to the local harbour. I was hoping for a chance to see the aurora after checking to my phone apps. It was not to be, but still was able to capture the Milky Way as its tail spread across the sky.  

We were staying in Nairn on this occasion, a lovely location east of Inverness, which boasts fantastic beaches and a renown golf course!

It was the beaches which became a frequent subject of the photos. With a limited number of suitable sunsets/sunrises due to cloud cover, I attempted to make the most of getting out at the opening and closing of the day. The first two photos below were from the beautiful location of Findhorn around sunset, then two different sunrises at Nairn itself.

Despite the weather apps showing cloudy weather each day, more often than not it turned out sunny, with opportunities to get out further a field with Willow into the mountains.

One such trip was to Loch Glass, a long loch tucked away in the wilderness near Ben Wyvis. I have great memories of an adventure with my boys six years ago at the same location. It was in the middle of winter with the loch totally calm and displaying incredible reflections. Back then we walked the length of the loch and then made our way back over the snow laden mountains in the dark, nearly getting lost in the process! No such adventure or reflections on this occasion, but a great time with Willow enjoying playing in the loch.

Below is a comparison of a photo from those years ago and this visit!

On another day I headed out with Willow to my favourite area of Glen Affric. Although a cloudy morning, the weather apps gave promise of brighter weather during the afternoon. Rather than just take photos near the car park, I decided to head off over the mountains, about a 9 mile hike. The route chosen took us up past the mountain Sgurr Na Lapaich that I hope to scale one day, and over the moorland towards Gleann Nam Fiadh, reaching a river about 4.5 miles from the car park. Willow had the time of her life, demonstrating her true stamina as she covered vast areas of the moorland running and chasing down the scents she was picking up.

Another day, another trip, and this time it was to Portknockie. It was very much a recce from a photographic perspective, as it would be the ideal location for sunrise and sunset photos when the lighting is always much better. However, it really gave me a taste of the potential. A location I plan to visit again for sunrises in the summer when we are back up in the area. It was also great to meet Neil Hamilton, another photographer while I was there. Neil has a place locally and if you check his superb images on his website, they demonstrate the true potential of the location for stunning photographic opportunities.

Below is a selection taken as the tide started to come in:

As always is the case, it was a great week and has stirred up ideas and thoughts about the next trip in August. To finish off, here is a evening photograph of the pier at Nairn Harbour looking east as the sun was setting, with the gulls riding the strong stormy winds:

A cold weekend

It had been a week of cold temperatures and hard frosts. With sunrise being around 8.00am it was too late before a working day to be out with the camera, so I was really pleased when checking the weather to see that the weekend was going to continue the same way! Wishing to make the most of it I was out with the camera Saturday morning soon after 7.00am - a very civilised time for starting the weekend compared to later in the year!

My first brief stop was at the river, in order to capture the stillness and glow of the pre-sunrise golden hour:

The main aim however was to get to a location I've visited a number of times in the past in order to get the sun rising over Windsor Castle. As I parked up on the eastern side of Eton Wick, the mist was lying like a cold blanket over the frost hardened fields. Windsor Castle could be seen in the distance as Heathrow airport air traffic disturbed the quietness of the early morning.

Gathering up the camera bag and tripod, I headed off to 'the field' for the main photoshoot and waited patiently for the minutes to tick by as the moment of sunrise approached. It was a perfect spot to capture the sun as it broke above the outline of the castle casting its limited warmth across the field, the glow of orange disguising how cold the temperatures actually were:

Before heading back to the car I took the opportunity to capture some records of the frosty environment with the field coated in icy white crystals under the clear sky where the crescent moon was still visible:

It was then time to move on and return to the car and enjoy the rest of the weekend. But that wasn't the last time I would be out with the camera. As Sunday afternoon drew to a close I was back out down the river wanting to make the most of the still conditions to capture the sunset and reflections.

Taking the opportunity to enjoy the quietness of the moment, I took a walk down the river and by the time I returned as the last light of day ebbed away, Venus could be seen up above ushering in the night sky. A fitting end to the weekend!

Llyn Ogwen and Y Garn Experience

Visiting North Wales over the Christmas week of 2016 had the potential for some great photo opportunities, but as always would be dependent on the prevailing weather! Arriving on the Friday before Christmas, the weekend looked like it was going to be very wet, and followed true to forecast! However, by Monday the weather was on the turn and some great photography outings ensued with visits to Llyn Ogwen bringing my favourite moments.

Llyn Ogwen is lake about 9km north east of Snowdon, part of a welsh valley hemmed in by Tryfan (917m), Pen yr Ole Wen (978m), Y Garn (947m), Glyder Fawr (1001m) and Glyder Fach (994m). It is a lake known for great reflection photos under the right conditions, reportedly sunset being the best timing during winter.

On the Tuesday we headed there mainly as a scouting trip to judge opportunities for later in the week. As we passed the lake, the wind was rippling the water with no sign of good reflections and so we parked up and headed up the path towards Llyn Idwal, a lake in the basin of Y Garn and Glyder Fawr. I didn't get very far, being distracted by a really pleasant waterfall under a bridge where I spent all my time as the family continued up the path.

As the sun dropped lower in the sky and we headed back in the car past Llyn Ogwen again, I noticed signs of some reflections and so parked up. I was well pleased to have what turned out to be a window of stillness on the lake that provided some great moments:

I couldn't resist the obligatory panoramic before heading back to where we were staying!

We were going to be back here sooner than I expected! My brother was visiting North Wales that evening, with the intent of wild sleeping on top of one of the mountains, as he had seen the potential for a cloud inversion the following morning with the temperature conditions overnight. The decision was therefore made that Joshua (my son) and I would get up early and meet him at the top of Y Garn before sunrise!

So leaving our accommodation before 5.30am the next morning, and well before any sign of morning light we were back to the same location. While in awe of the amazing starry night we made the gruelling walk to the top of Y Garn! My backpack loaded up with camera gear and a good sized tripod, the climb was tough and totally exhausting but ultimately well worth it!

This was a shot taken about half way up after an innumerable number rock steps. We were already getting a taste of what it would be like from the top and then the pressure of getting there before sunrise kicked in!

Although my legs and body were screaming to stop we pressed on,  speaking to myself frequently to just keep on with one step after the next! We finally reached the top, to find my brother relaxing there in his fold up chair waiting for us!!

The views truly were worth the pain, as we watched the sky brighten up by the sun rising:

We spent a good while at that location, taking photos, consuming food to replenish energy and hot drinks to keep us warm!

The decision was then made to not return via the route up but head off towards Glyder Fawr to make a descent via Gribin. Seeing the quality of light over the mountains in the distance provided the motivation for further uphill labours, to get the shots below!

From the slopes of Glyder Fawr the views were breathtaking! As well as the layers of light seen in the photos above, we had great views across to Snowdon:

Finally we headed back down along what was a reasonably 'challenging' (understatement) route down the Gribin ridge! On the way down we were able to get some good views across to the route we took up Y Garn:

Totally exhausted, we returned safely to the car, but that was not the end of the day! Heading back to our accommodation and knowing how clear the night was, a few hours later we packed up the camera stuff again and headed out to return to the small waterfall. Checking some photography apps on my phone about the Milky Way position before we left, I hoped to get some shots of the waterfall with the Milky Way behind it. It was a fitting end to a great day!

Shifting Shadows of Autumn

I thought I was going to run out of time this year to find a window of opportunity with the weather to get out and record the autumn colours, before all the leaves left the trees. After a very wet day yesterday (Saturday), the forecast looked good for the Sunday, so another early alarm and out I went will Willow in tow!

I first headed off to the fields where I train/run Willow, so that I could capture some shots of the sun rising by Windsor Castle on this Remembrance Sunday. A very atmospheric start to the morning with the low lying mist dissipating as the sun rose

I then headed off to Burnham Beeches with the objective of trying to capture some early morning light and shadows.

While walking around the woodland, I had some ideas of what the area might look like with the sun in a different location, so decided I would probably come back in the afternoon after church to see what changes in the shadows and lighting would occur with the sun further across the sky.

I wasn't to be disappointed. With the shorter daylight hours after the clocks went back a few weeks ago, the sun was already lower in the sky and casting new shadows across the woodland.

Early Autumn Sunrise

I always enjoy the autumn months, they provide great opportunities to capture the landscape around us in different light to the rest of the year. This morning was one of those opportunities. Waking with the alarm to get out that bit earlier before sunrise (which is much more reasonable that a few months back), I headed off with Willow down to the river.

I was initially disappointed that some low cloud obscured what would have been a spectacular display of cloud colour about twenty minutes before sunrise, but as the minutes passed the disappointment was replaced with the enjoyment of catching the changing colours around me with unusual cloud structures, and the usual gaggle of geese heading off to their feeding grounds after a night on the river. 

Below is a gallery of the photos showing the progression of the sunrise and changing light. It was definitely a special morning!  

Best moments of the Isle of Skye visit 2016

Here is a gallery selection of my favourite photographic moments from two superb weeks in the Isle of Skye during August 2016. The weather was beyond all expectations, enabling multiple early morning outings to catch the sunrise and then trips out again in the evening to get the sunset - catching some of the best light that the days had to offer. Staying up near Staffin Bay was an ideal location for reaching the north west side of the island as well as the Old Man of Storr, and the Quiraing range.

Some of the locations needed panoramic shots to get the full impact of the view:

My dog Willow even had a great time getting some sprinting exercise on the beach at Staffin Bay most days!

Sea eagles and dolphins - Isle of Skye

As our time on the Isle of Skye approached its end, we booked a photographic boat trip from Portree, with the hope of being able to view some sea eagles (white-tailed eagles).

The weather was perfect: sunny, very little wind, and as we headed away from harbour we had great views across to the mountains.

It wasn't long before we had our first sighting of two sea eagles, sitting in trees high up on the cliff face. They didn't seem very interested in the fish that was cast over board, maybe not surprising as it was a late afternoon boat trip. So we moved on and started to cross the Sound of Raasay when we suddenly caught a glimpse of two porpoise. We were told they don't like boats and so they dropped below the water surface shortly after, but I managed to get a shot of the dorsal fin in the distance!

As we continued the trip, we had some great views of common seals on the rocks, as well as the cormorants that were sunning themselves:

We continued to another potential sea eagle location and scoured the cliff edges and trees for any occupants. It looked like it was going to be unfruitful when we noticed a lone sea eagle flying in and landing in a tree. This one also didn't seem interested in food, but at one point it left the tree and flew around for a while giving us some really nice views (although from a distance):

The most exciting part of the trip came as we headed back across the Sound, when in the distance we saw a pod of dolphins approaching us at great speed. Leaping out of the water as they came, it was a great moment.

With the boat bobbing up and down in the water, it was a real challenge to get an accurate focus point on the photos, but fortunately I managed to get a few shots which were almost right:

The dolphins came right up to the boat and swam around it before heading off - a very cool moment!

As the boat engine was started up again, I noticed a couple of gannets close by and managed to snatch a few photos as they took off and past behind us

As we headed back to Portree we passed the spot where we saw the first sea eagle. It was still sitting in the same tree, showing no interest in the fish that was cast out for it! 

Soon we were back on land after a very enjoyable couple of hours, and would very much recommend such boat trips, especially if taken in the early morning when the eagles are likely to be more interested in the food.