Before I get into my creative process, I’d like to provide a wee bit of background information regarding the shoot. The scene consists of M.V. Dayspring, a shipwreck on the banks of the Corpach shoreline, lapped by the waters of Loch Linnhe & featuring a jaw-dropping backdrop including Fort William & Ben Nevis!
I’d only visited the location once before & made a photograph during a period of rather dreich conditions across the Scottish Highlands. I appreciate the photograph, with it’s monochromatic blue tones & moody atmosphere; but it wasn’t the shot I was after.
Luckily, the opportunity to return to the location arose & armed with the knowledge that conditions were to be 10x better I opted to organise a sunset shoot. After spending the day exploring Glencoe, I headed North towards Fort William & eventually the coastline at Corpach - with plenty of time to plan & observe the conditions as they developed.
Composing the Image & Setting Up for the Final Exposure
The first thing that I did upon reaching the pebble beach was finding my composition. I tried a couple of positions with different lenses for different perspectives & once I’d settled on my final position & a focal length of 85mm (full-frame) I experimented with my camera on the tripod - high, medium & low. I wanted to utilise the natural ‘S’ shape of the coastline to lead the eye, but I didn’t want the water to create too much negative space, so I opted for the lower position which gave me a nice aesthetically balanced composition.
I found that shooting at 85mm gave me a very nice crop, allowing me to balance the image without any of the elements within the frame weighing one way or the other. I positioned the vessel on my right hand thirds & tilted the tripod head to ensure that the shoreline on the lower left hand side was placed just off the corner.
Once my composition was finalised, I dialled in the camera settings, opting to shoot at f11 with an ISO value of 50 to keep any unwanted noise to a minimum in the final exposure. Initially, I used a .9 ND Graduated filter to lower the exposure of the sky, but this was a bit much & I opted to use a .3 Soft Grad instead. With the addition of my polarising filter to key in the reflected light on the waters surface I ended up with an exposure time of 1/15th of a second. I checked that my focus was pin sharp & then fixed a 10-stop ND Filter to give me an exposure time of two minutes & fifteen seconds; enough to soften the water & clouds & really allow the main elements of the photograph to come into focus.
Waiting for the Perfect Moment
As the Sun began to set, I was able to quietly study the landscape in order to ascertain the ‘perfect moment’ to pull the shutter. Golden hour began & the natural shadows across the scene began to grow as the Sun made its way towards the horizon behind me. Whilst the yellowy tones were beautiful, I found they were a bit too harsh for the shot that I had in mind, so aside from a few test exposures, I waited.
The yellow began to darken into a burnt orange & I was nearing the point of no return. I kept waiting though, as Ben Nevis was in deep shadow due to the low-altitude cloud. I maintained my composure, crossing my fingers & hoping that as the Sun got just a bit lower it would cast some light on the snowy peaks..
It happened! I let just a tiny bit of light begin to creep through the valley in front of Nevis’ peak & then pulled the shutter. As my exposure completed, the Sun dipped below the mountains behind me & everything began to lose it’s warmth - I checked the image preview & a massive smile forced its way onto my face; I’d done it!
After some very light editing, I sat with the final image & contemplated how it had turned out. A detail that I hadn’t noticed on-location suddenly struck me; follow the ‘S’ curve from the bottom, towards the bush & then notice that the shadow from the neighbouring hill actually leads the eye towards the vessel - framing it in ever such a subtle way!
I really love this photograph, from the rich ochre tones of the final light in the foreground, to the soft lighting upon Ben Nevis, it is very well balanced, super sharp & overall puts a smile on my face; that’s what really counts! If I’d waited any longer, I’d have missed the best of the light - it always pays to research in advance & know the fall of light to the best of your ability. You may be able to edit your way out of un-perfect conditions, but you can’t replicate the perfect harmony of beautiful lighting upon the landscape! :)
If you’d like to join me on a workshop, or order a print of this photograph, please get in touch!