Friday 15 February 2019

Highlands in Winter

Highlands in Winter

By Karen Kennedy

Well here we go again, heading for Glencoe and Rannoch Moor, one of the most beautiful areas of Scotland.  Our Duster is all filled up, Tsavo is in the back with some of the luggage and we're off.  First stop as usual is the Shee Base Cafe, Glenshee, Cairngorms, for lunch in their dog friendly restaurant and a stretch of the legs in the beautiful snow filled mountains.  We had heard there was plenty of snow this year and Glenshee confirmed it.  Unfortunately, Scotland doesn't always get snow in winter any more as global warming is making these deep snow years even less frequent.

Glenshee nursery slopes
Our two worst weather dates, when we had no snow at all and even worse rain or sleet at times, were in the Cairgorms and Glencoe and both of these times were when we chose to take a model with us: guess we should leave them behind in the future.  The first was with Lulu Lockhart and the plan was a Snow Queen shoot at a lovely little bridge just down from Glenshee.  For weeks before all seemed on schedule, in fact our only concern was how we would get there, as up until two days before the snow gates were shut.  Then in true Scotland style the night before the shoot it started to pour down all over Scotland and didn't stop.  When we arrived at the bridge in the morning, it was horrendous rain and wind, Lulu suggested we go for it anyway and use the bridge for some shelter, so we waited until the rain calmed down and took the shots.  The whole shoot took about 10 minutes with Lulu out of the car for seconds.  Please ignore the quality of these images: not the best but does show you just how mad some of these models are.

The Snow Queen kneeling at the river.
Lulu fighting with the wind.

The second was a trip to Glencoe with Rachelle Summers and again we had great snow leading up to it and all seemed to be going to plan.  This time we had a whole weekend planned, with an overnight stay in the Ballachulish Hotel. The idea being we should get several opportunities to get the photos.  Yes you guessed it, rain, rain and more rain for the 2 days before and over the whole weekend.  This trip ended up being a weekend of whisky and tourist trips to Ben Nevis and the Glenfinnan Viaduct.

Buachaille Etive Mor - no snow but plenty of cloud.

Rachelle Summers was determined to find some snow: if you look closely, she's lying on it.
This weekend was going to be different, we could feel it.  Not only was there thick snow all month but the temperatures were below zero and the forecast said no rain.  However, this is still Scotland, so we live in hope!

Lunch over, we headed along the picturesque road through Pitlochry and Crianlarich and onto Rannoch Moor.  There it was: Loch Ba and it was frozen. Round the corner we were met by the infamous Buachaille Etive Mor mountain and all of it was covered in snow.  Well it may have been dry but it was also very cloudy on the Friday. No light limits the quality of your pictures but we took a few anyway, just in case of rain the next day. We could always delete if we got better.  We did the recce that day of the areas we aimed to visit over the weekend and checked out the roads for safety.  

The temperatures on Friday were cold but not as bad as expected, due to the clouds. We did have our winter lined Craghoppers on, so were nice and cosy but then the challenges of Scottish landscape photography are some of the reasons why we love it.  Anyone can take a good photo of a beautiful area in perfect weather but to get a really stunning image, you need to get out and about in all weathers. Just get set up and wait for the break in the clouds; it will come and you will get the photo.  After we lose the light, we head for the Ballachulish Hotel for a shower, food and of course whisky.

Howard setting up with one of our clients.

Buachaille Etive Mor through the clouds.
On Saturday I woke up and was reminded why I should wear my Tilley hat and sunglasses in snow.  The white snow and low Scottish sun means a migraine. Never good and worst of all it made me miss my lovely Scottish breakfast.  Never mind, by the time we were ready to head out, my eyes were open and off we went.  Saturday's weather couldn't have been more beautiful with gorgeous sun and not a cloud in the sky. Clouds would have added to the photos but photographers are never happy are we .......

It was a wrap up day on Saturday. No clouds means very cold and time to get out the Icebreakers and Meindl boots as well as Craghopper winter lined trousers and of course Tilley hats.  A down jacket is also a great body warmer under your waterproof jacket and a good camera bag from Lowepro will ensure both you and your equipment are ready for the elements.

Howard setting up a shot at Buachaille Etive Mor

We headed straight for the Buachaille Etive Mor and the river Coupall waterfall.  This is a view all landscape photographers should get.  This is where you will have one of your biggest challenges.  It's not a challenge to get the iconic view, providing the weather behaves; in fact most photographers laugh that they will just use the permanent tripod holes, as its been photographed so many times.  The real challenge here is to get a different picture; the iconic view is absolutely stunning, so getting something else you are happy with is not easy.  On our Experiences we will always encourage you to think outside the box and for our landscape photography clients, this is a good place to learn and practice this skill.  Howard and I have been taking photographs together for over 20 years, but a regular comment we get from all of our clients is just how amazed they are, that our photos are so different.

Iconic landscape view

Iconic portrait view
Get down low and show the mountain over seeing the landscape

The portrait view can draw your eye to the frozen water

Use a friend for scale.

Or take a model with you, in this one Tsavo helps out.
Next stop we headed to Loch Ba and Rannoch Moor.  This area is huge and on both sides of the road, there are plenty of parking spaces.  Take your time here and you will see plenty to photograph from small areas of frozen vegetation to large landscapes of the loch with mountains in the background.

Frozen grasses crisp up in the ice and snow

Loch Ba and Rannoch Moor shine out in the low winter light.

It was then time for a break to spoil Tsavo. He had been very good so far, sitting happily tied to a tree at Buachaille Etive Mor and sleeping in the snow at Loch Ba, so after the pictures were all taken we let him play.  Keeping a husky calm in the ice and snow is usually a challenge in itself, so he deserved a great run and play.

Tsavo sleeping next to the camera bags

Tsavo playing on a frozen Loch Ba

We headed back towards the hotel taking several photos along the way, but as the sun rose it was time to head back for a late lunch and chill.  Tsavo and I took a long walk along the old drovers road while Howard and our clients checked out their images and booked our table for a late dinner.

We headed back out again just before dusk to catch the low evening light.  The reflections on Loch Leven of the Pap of Glencoe were too good to miss.  

Pap of Glencoe reflected in Loch Leven.

Reflections in Loch Leven

Then we headed back in the direction of Buachaille Etive Mor and waited for dark.  The sky was so clear and the Milky Way was due to be visible tonight, this is an opportunity not to be missed for some Astro Photography.  Extra layers were needed when doing this type of photography as the temperatures dropped to -20°C.

Milky Way over Glencoe and Buachaille Etive Mor.

We earned our dinner and whisky that day.  The evening was spent going through our images and discussing the day's activities.

Sunday morning and I finally got my lovely Scottish breakfast: everyone agrees a happy Karen is best.  The weather unfortunately was not as good.  Sunday we got, yes you guessed it RAIN and even SLEET!!!!  So no point in rushing out for early morning shots, we got great ones Saturday anyway, so we took our time and packed the car.  Once the sun was up fully we could stop, whenever the breaks appeared in the weather to create some photos.  No large landscapes this time because the mountains had been swallowed up by the clouds, so we spent time concentrating on smaller subjects, as we headed back slowly towards Aberdeen.

Ice and snow on River Coupall.

If you want to join us next year for our Highlands in Winter Experience click here.

There are also many more PhotoClassic Experiences available here.  Our photography experiences are designed specifically for the photographers we have with us, so it doesn't matter if you're a world renowned expert or a novice, you will find something to suit your needs.  Our Experiences cover Scottish Experiences (landscapes and wildlife), Kenyan Safari Experiences (mainly wildlife) and Model Experiences (studio and location).

Lastly, it is important to us that we leave all these locations as we find them "Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints" but we aim to go further than this and give something back.  Scotland is our home and we love it, but our ancestors have already destroyed most of its wildlife.  Kenya is our second love and it's not yet too late there but it will be soon if nothing is done.  If you have enjoyed our Blog, please feel free to join us and donate to Save the Elephants.  

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