Glencoe Adventure - Part 1, The Workshop

The Importance of Adventure

I have talked about the importance of practising the art of photography on this blog a number of times.  For me, and I expect this is the same for many photographers, most of this practice will take place in your own back yard.  Not literally of course, but most of the time you are out with a camera it will be in your local area.  For me, this is Devon with the occasional visit across the border to Cornwall or Dorset.

While there are many benefits to shooting locally, such as time and familiarity, there is nothing quite like the challenge of pushing the boundaries of your photography by going on an adventure!  Adventure means different things to different people, but for me, it's the excitement of travel, of meeting new people and of course photographing something new.  All these elements can really push your photography in a way that you sometimes just can't get locally.

Though I have visited Glencoe a number of times and even grew up not far away, this will be my first time in the area as a dedicated photographer.  So while the area might be familiar, the prospect of photographing it was exciting, to say the least.  Well worth the 3 days off work (plus the weekend) and the 10 hours drive each way!  

This week, in the first of two Glencoe blog posts, I will be sharing my memories, thoughts and photographs of the Dawn 2 Dusk Photography Glencoe photography workshop that I attended.  Next week, in part 2, I will be sharing the images and video that I took with some of the extra time I had in Glencoe.

Why Workshops are Important

So why didn't I just spend all the time I had in Glencoe doing my own thing?  Well, for me at least, workshops provide a number of unique benefits that I can't get by shooting on my own:

  • Practical and Artistic Development -  Tuition is still a big part of my development as a landscape photographer and for the Glencoe workshop, I had access to two of the UK's leading landscape photographers, Ross Hoddinott and Adam Burton.  Having access to this level of photographer not only helps with the artistic side of my photography but also with some of the more practical aspects of photography (read how later in the blog post).
  • Being Social - The life of a landscape photographer can be a solitary existence, especially if you favour early mornings like me.  However, every now and again it's just good to be around like-minded individuals.  Just by chatting during the day you can not only learn about how your photography looks to others, but also learn from their photography.  At night, normally around the bar, it is a great chance to share those funny, odd, or disastrous trips out with the camera.
  • Local Knowledge - There is only so much planning and preparation you can do on the computer.  In order to maximise time with the camera when you arrive at a new location, it's sometimes useful to have access to some local knowledge.  For me, workshops provide me with an introduction to the photographic possibilities of an area and while I could do this myself I don't always have the extra time.

So now that we've talked about the importance of adventure and the value in workshops, let's get into the most important aspects of this adventure, the photographs!

Day 1:  Castle Stalker

The 2.5-day workshop started with a briefing at our base of the Clachaig Inn just outside Glencoe village.  Adam and Ross managed to suitably embarrass me by remembering my birthday with a chocolate cake and singing happy birthday!  After the very sociable start of coffee and cake, we all headed down for a sunset shoot at Castle Stalker on Loch Linnhe.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8, @ 200mm, f/8, 1/60th second, ISO 100, Lee Filters ND Grad, 16:9 crop.

As you can see from the shot above, the descending sun illuminates the side of the castle rather nicely.  I was hoping to get a similar shot to this with water surrounding the island, but as the tide came in the light became flat thanks to some heavy cloud where the sun was setting.  

It was still a good start to the workshop and we all headed back to the hotel for some well-earned food and drinks.  

Day 2:  Lochan na Fola and Stob nan Cabar

As you might expect with a landscape photography workshop it was an early start to the 2nd day.  Fortunately, the drive to our next location of Lochan na Fola wasn't far from our hotel so the alarm call wasn't too early.

When we arrived at Lochan na Fola the water was beautifully still giving us some wonderful reflections of Stob nan Cabar.  Just as we setup though some cloud rolled in blocking the view of the mountain.  As we waited I decided to try out my new drone the DJI Mavic Pro.  The arrival of the drone caused a bit of excitement amongst the group as I demonstrated some of its capabilities.  While I couldn't get find a gap in the cloud to fly a little higher, I did get the chance to grab a quick group shot.

We didn't have to wait to long for the cloud to clear though and all of sudden it was battle stations as we were presented with some truly epic scenes!

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 @ 18mm, f/11, 1/20th second, ISO 100, Lee Filters Circular Polariser.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 @ 26mm, f/11, 1/20th second, ISO 100, Lee Filters Circular Polariser.

I can't decide which of the two images above I like the most.  Both of them greatly appeal to me with their near perfect reflections and frosty reeds in the chilly lochan.  It would have been so easy just to go back to the hotel and have an early breakfast when the cloud came in, but everyone was glad they stuck it out.

Day 2:  Lochan na h-Achlaise and Loch Ba

After a very successful morning and a big Scottish breakfast, we headed up to Lochan na h-Achlaise.  Shooting around midday is always challenging though and coupled with the bright blue sky I did struggle a little bit to get some images.

However, by exploring along the shore line of Lochan na h-Achlaise I did find this interesting composition.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 @ 34mm, f/13, 30 seconds, ISO 100, Lee Filters Circular Polariser and Big Stopper.

Exploring just a little further I found this scene just off the road at Loch Ba.  This is a more pleasing image thanks to the horseshoe arrangement of the foreground rocks and the reflection of the mountain in the water.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70 f/2.8 @ 40mm, f/13, 2.5 seconds, ISO 100, Lee Filters Circular Polariser and Little Stopper.

I also had just enough time to try and capture a panorama of the area using my DJI Mavic Pro.  

DJI Mavic Pro - 7 images stitched and processed in Lightroom.

Day 2:  Blackrock Cottage

Blackrock Cottage is probably one of the most photographed locations on Glencoe, but it would have somehow seemed rude not to photograph it.  After all, we were passing it on our way to get coffee from the cafe at the ski centre.

I rarely convert to black and white but in this case, the image seemed to work better without colour.  The texture on the mountain (Buachaille Etive Mor) really stands out.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 62mm, f/11, 1/25th second, ISO 100.

Day 2:  Glen Etive

Towards the end of day 2, we headed down the long and windy road of Glen Etive towards the head of Loch Etive.  Here the stunning mountains reach right down into the sea loch and it's an ideal location for capturing the last light as it touches the tops of the mountains.  

As I waited for the light I was still able to capture some striking images of the north east shore of Loch Etive.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 26mm, f/11, 198 seconds, ISO 100, Lee Filters Big Stopper, ND Grad and Circular Polariser.

As I've written on this blog before it's always important to see what is going on behind you.  It appeared that the sun was shining on the mountains diretly behind me!

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 150mm, f/8, 1/5th second, ISO 100, Lee Filters Big ND Grad.

In my hurry to get to the head of the loch to capture last night on the mountains I completely missed another great composition.  It wasn't until I was heading back to the car that I found a few of my fellow photographers shooting this interesting scene.  

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 @ 19mm, f/11, 20 seconds, ISO 100, Lee Filters Circular Polariser and ND Grad.

I had actually walked by this location in my hurry to get to the head of the loch.  Perhaps I should have taken just a little more time to explore this area before settling into my chosen location.  

Day 2 was certainly a busy one.  Would day 3 be just as good?

Day 3:  The Study

After the successes of day 2, the weather had a change of heart and went typically Scottish.  Lots of low clouds, and lots of rain.  Our initial plan was to do a pre-breakfast shoot of Buachaille Etive Mor.  We would go down to the river Coupall to shoot the waterfalls with the mountain in the background.  Only trouble was you couldn't see the mountain or anything really.  Reluctantly we headed back for an early breakfast and discuss our next move.

With the weather forecast predicting a stop to the rain, our tutors suggested we shoot from The Study, a slightly elevated viewpoint with excellent views of the mountains (The Three Sisters).  Sure enough, the rain stopped and we were back in business.

I don't often shoot panoramas but this viewpoint seemed like the ideal location to do so.  Fortunately, Adam Burton was on hand to give me some excellent tuition on how to setup the tripod correctly and the best way to rotate the camera.  Taking my new found knowledge I managed to capture this image of The Three Sisters.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8 @ 24mm, f/11, 1/100th second, 10 vertical images stiched and processed in Lightroom CC.

I then decided to opt for a much tighter composition giving me one of my favourite images from the workshop. 

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 90mm, f/11, 1/40th second, ISO 100, Lee Filters ND Grad.

Day 3:  Stob Dearg and the River Coupall

There is no doubt that this location has been photographed a lot.  However, that doesn't make it any less worth shooting.  There are always new compositions to be had, different weather conditions to manage and personal style to put into an image.

The key element for this location is a visible Stob Dearg (Buachaille Etive Mor), something that was missing that afternoon.  This made my decision a couple of days earlier not to photograph this very scene because "I'll be back in a couple of days", even more heartbreaking.  

However, with probably an unjustified amount of optimism, I put on my wellington boots, got into the river and set up my shot.  All I needed was for the cloud to clear from the mountain.  So I waited, and waited, and waited.  It came so very close to being completely clear, but as the sky darkened I knew it wasn't going to happen.  

Though you can't see the whole of the mountain in this image, I still like the end result.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 16-35mm f/4 @ 19mm, f/13, 0.8 seconds, ISO 100, Lee Filters Circular Polariser and 0.3 ND Grad.

Though it had been a challenging day with the weather, it was still a successful day out with the camera.

Workshop Summary

At the start of this blog post, I mentioned the three things that I look for on a workshop; personal development as a photographer, social interaction, and local knowledge.  

There is no doubt that my artistic eye has developed a little bit more and that I'm now better prepared to shoot panoramas.  I also got to spend a couple of days with a great group of people who shared my passion for landscape photography.  We all shared some great stories in the bar!  And finally, thanks to some excellent planning and local knowledge, the weather and conditions rarely caused a problem with the flexible itinerary.  

I've come away with some great images and some even better memories, so it was definitely worth a few days off work and a very long drive!

In Part 2...

In part 2 of my Glencoe Adventure blog post, I will tell you about the images I took during the spare 24 hrs I had before the workshop started, including a video of my very early and snowy ascent of Beinn a'Chrulaiste!