I am not long back from a wonderful week in the Torridon area of Scotland with photographer and vlogger Ben Kapur. An excellent week as we were lucky to have very unseasonal weather. Of the seven days spent travelling to and in Torridon we had not a single drop of rain to hamper our experience. Not that this meant that the weather was perfect; it was still challenging, an odd warm front meant that it was rather still and extremely hazy. It did though mean that you could wear a t-shirt, in February in the Scottish Mountains, madness you will hopefully all agree…
The photography started with a stop on the way up at Loch Lomond. It was a very welcome break, as we had travelled over 7hrs to get there. We visited a well known location only to find that the dry weather had left our intended subject, the famous Lone Tree, was a little high and dry. This however did open up another opportunity with some very nice rocks in the Loch. They created an excellent leading line into the hazy mountains that make the back drop of this scene. I had contemplated doing an extra long exposure here, but in the end opted to keep the ripples in the water, and less movement in the clouds. I am glad I did, as I love the end result.
We stayed local that evening, with the plan that we would head to another iconic location in the morning. The rather wonderful Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle, I have shot this a few times, and I know its what is known as a ‘cliché’ shot, but for me it also offers a little bit of family history. I am a Campbell, and this used to be the ancestral home of the Campbell clan, so in effect it is mine! I would have loved some mist or interesting clouds here, but we can’t have it all! What we did get was an amazing sunrise (behind us) and as I had hoped, it made its way just into this frame. I used the reeds as my lead in, and then just a hint of colour in the clouds that complimented the whole frame. Oh, and of course some lovely reflections. I should have focus stacked here really, but chose not to as the haze was softening the hills definition anyway.
It was now time to continue our journey to the Torridon area. The drive through Glencoe, and onwards was stunning with plenty of stops to admire, if not capture, the views …
Gairloch & Loch Maree
We arrived in Gairloch late afternoon, this was to be basecamp for a week. We had stocked up on supplies and unloaded the car into our digs. It was time to explore. First off we headed out to Loch Maree. One of the many things I wanted to accomplish on this trip was to test out how a lens I had had my eye on as a potential super zoom would perform for landscape photography. It was the Sigma 100-400 mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM Lens, one from their ‘Contemporary’ range without a mega high price point. As a landscape super zoom (for me anyway), the f5-6.3 should not be an issue at all. How would it perform when I attached it to my Sony a7r3 via the excellent Sigma MC11 adapter?
It was time to find out. The area of Torridon and Loch Maree are synonymous for me with the Scots Pine trees, and I have often drooled over images of them from people like Simon Baxter, and others. I wanted to find my own to capture. There was some late afternoon light around, so we set off to find a composition on the edge of the Loch. I settled on this image and composition below for mine. There was a family of pines sat out on the end of a small peninsular, and a backdrop of the mountain coming right out of the water, all I needed to do was separate them using a shallow DOF. Simple really, but I like it.
As it had been a very early start (a theme for the whole week) we elected just to shoot local at sunset. There was a beach near us called Big Sands, so we thought we would go check it out. Sunset was somewhat of a damp squib but the patterns on the sand, and a semi-interesting sky ended up giving me an image I was happy with.
Loch Clair & Loch Coulin
I think we are on official day 3 now, and as already suggested, it started early ready for 1st light. With some hindsight I think our choice of Gairloch as our basecamp was maybe not that perfect, it was just a little bit further north than we needed but did not hinder us greatly. However if you are exploring this area then I would say stay as close as you can to the actual town of Torridon if you can. Anyway I digress, today we were heading over to Loch Clair and Loch Coulin to have an explore.
We started with a before dawn shot looking right down Loch Clair, it was rather cloudy but some light was breaking through and hitting the mountains in the background. However I am still unsure on this one, as the foreground is very dark, and the river is not the perfect lead in line? I had a vision on the morning for this shot, but its not quite worked out.
This was only the start of what would be a long day, After our dawn shots we headed off to walk around the two Lochs. This is simply a stunning part of the world, and the walk alone is a nice one, especially with a pair of Sea Eagles flying above us! With cameras its also full of opportunity, and we were both fully loaded. I carry all my gear now in a Vanguard Alta Sky 51D bag, it’s a good bag which is comfortable on long hikes, and has all the space I need for my stuff. A couple of Sony a7 sized bodies, 3 lenses, Gopro, Canon m50 Vlogging camera and 1 lens. Kase Filters, batteries, tripods, 1st aid kit, and there is some room left for water and waterproof gear. I think I could squeeze in a drone too if needed. However it is rather heavy with all that!
As we were walking around Loch Coulin, I did see something that personally caught my eye, it was a bit of driftwood on the edge of the water line. The sun had just started to creep through also in places, so I saw the opportunity to grab a quick high contrast long exposure.
In the above shot you will also notice that there is a white building on the horizon. Maybe that in itself might make for an interesting image, out came the Sigma 100-400mm to find out. Turns out that this is a holiday cottage, and what an amazing location, right at the heart of this highland’s estate. We spoke later to the nice couple staying there.
The area around here is again dotted all over with the wonderful Scots Pines, and I was keeping my eyes open for a great composition with one of these amazing trees. As we neared the top of Loch Coulin, I spotted a potential lone tree. We headed over to it and boy it was a fabulous tree and a stunning location to boot. The conditions were good with some interest and light in the sky. I managed to get a few from here. The compositions worked in many ways, and the clouds and light changed all the time.
After this tree we then continued our hike around the two lochs. It was there that we spotted the wonderful Highland Cows grazing nearby. It would have been rude not to grab a shot of them in their natural habitat. What I did not notice though until after was that I had captured a funny moment as well as the cow, I had caught it dribbling! Maybe it liked the look of the Sony a7r3 with the Sigma 100-400 lens attached or maybe it was me, after all I was born in a barn! (true story for another day).
By now we were getting a little tired and hungry, so we headed back towards the car to grab some food, and plan the rest of our day. I captured nothing else amazing until right back at the car park, where we were presented with a Stag just hanging around. Sadly I suspect that this particular deer, is a frequent visitor to this car park, and has learnt that there will always be food around. We did not feed him, but we did take a shot. Later this week we also learnt that the stag has a name, the very same Simon Baxter instagramed a shot of him and said something along the lines of, “Glad to see Derek is still around”. You will know if it is Derek, as he has very uneven antlers, must have picked on the wrong stag at some point.
This was also the last image I captured this day that I am happy with, we stayed out all the way until sunset, and explored a couple nice locations, did some vlogging, and b-roll for Ben, sunset itself was not that great, but never the less nice to be out.
The road to Applecross and Haze
Day 4 started even earlier than the others, this was because we had chosen to go explore the area around ‘Bealach na Ba’, this is the amazing road that goes from Loch Kishorn to Applecross. We wanted to be up at the top for dawn. The problem was that we had never been here before, and were not sure of the best vantage point for a good composition. The next problem was that the colours from sunrise were, well, too nice! Any image I have taken here looks all wrong. The one I am showing below is a panorama, just to give you a sense of the place, and a glimpse of the colour. However the experience of being up there on this stunning, still, and colourful morning was just amazing. I love sunrise, there is something amazing about witnessing the start of a day; lucky really as a landscape photographer!
After witnessing this amazing start to the day, it was time to move on, and we continued along the road towards Applecross itself, then after a pitstop we headed around the coast back towards Loch Torridon. The rest of today though was going to be a battle with the haze, as visibility was awful. But if life gives you lemons, then its time to make lemonade, they say? It was time to break out the zoom and see what layers I could capture, or what trees were looking good? I quite liked the layers available through the haze, and concentrated on those for the next two images.
We were now heading back towards our digs, as all the early mornings had caught up with us, it was time for a granny nap, and hopefully this weather would change a bit…
After our recovery, we were disappointed to look at the window and see that the haze was still firmly in place. The rest of the day was spent checking out locations and yes more Scots Pines. I only have one shot I am really happy with from this.
Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve and Elgol, Skye
Our plan for day 5 was simple, get up amongst it in Beinn Eighe National Nature Reserve, which is around Loch Maree. Annoyingly it was still very hazy, but off we trekked anyway up the side of the mountains. I have at least 15 years on Ben, so steep hills for me are attacked in a slow and plodding way. I sent Ben off in advance as he was eager to get upwards and into the ancient pines that are around here. I am not sure if we took the wrong path (you have a choice of two mountain ones from the car park) or if it was just the haze, but as nice as the views were from high up, I did not see anything I wanted to capture. I did however get a very good work out from it and a nice walk. We spent all the morning up there and with better conditions it would be ace. After some lunch we had to choose where to go next. The weather had not changed, haze with some sunshine, Nice diffused light but not ideal for where we were. I suggested to Ben, why don’t we pop over to Elgol, on the Isle of Skye? It was not that far, and he had never visited it, plus maybe the weather would be different?
It wasn’t, but it was still a spectacular place. There are not many places in the world where you can get views across the sea (Loch) to wonderful mountains the other side. We arrived at about 3pm and spent the rest of the day and light here. Elgol has always been a place that I have had bad weather conditions, but today I at least got a shot or two I liked. Also as per normal there were loads of photographers here, including guys that I know via Kase Filters and social media, it was good to see you all.
Loch Maree & Scots Pines
By our final full day, we were both rather fatigued, all the walking and early mornings had taken it out of us. We chose to take it easy and just shoot around Loch Maree. We spotted a nice scene to start us off, another family of pines with Mt. Slioch as its background, it even had a little stream to lead you into the scene. Also we were starting to get some light and I wanted to try and separate the pines a little, so went for f4 on this shot, the background did not matter for sharpness.
This location also lent itself to another pano attempt. Not sure I am totally happy with this shot, but it was a great landscape. I have edited this in mono, as I think it works better.
After mooching around here for a good few hours we then headed back to Loch Clair to see what we could capture here, the light was rather harsh by now, but still worth a look. I captured here what I though was an excellent image on the back of the camera, only to find out I messed up on the focus. This is what happens if you don’t check and double check!
I guess the final highlight of this day was bumping into Mr Torridon himself, Simon Baxter. Was nice to have a chat with him, he had just arrived in the area to run a workshop the following week. The forecast was looking better with a chance of snow; I kind of wish we had got some snow ourselves, but you can’t chose the weather, only chose what to shoot when it is not perfect!
It was time to leave, it had been a great week, but we had quite some journey to do to get back down to Devon. We were up at 4am and on the road soon after. The plan was to stop in the Glencoe area for breakfast and some final photos. The conditions were starting to look amazing, no snow but loads of mountain mist (oh why did we not get this all week!). I wanted some final images for an article I was writing for Sigma, on using the Sigma 100-400 mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM via MC11 adapter for landscape work. So that’s what I did; focusing in on the details of the famous Buachaille Etive Mòr as it wore its scarf of Hill clouds.
That’s it for this trip, hope you have enjoyed the read, and like the pictures. I would like to thank Vanguard UK and Kase UK for supporting this trip, it was great fun, and both myself and Ben had a great time.
Ben has done some great vlogs from the week, so make sure you check out his Youtube channel for those. This one is my favourite.
And of course check out these links for more info on my kit for the week.