The Ayrshire Photographer - Loch Arklet & Rob Roy's Viewpoint, Inversnaid

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It’s 1am & I’ve been keeping my eye on the weather forecast for Callendar & Aberfoyle tomorrow. There are yellow warnings in place from the Met Office due to an incoming weather front named β€˜Storm Gareth’ - but whilst the wind is to be very strong from the wee hours onward, the rain isn’t to start until early afternoon. I’m hopeful for some really dynamic conditions & I prepare for the journey.

[ S L E E P ]



Now morning, I layer up, fill my flask with strong coffee & set off. I drive North, hitting a squall of nasty weather on the Fenwick moors - but this is normal as you will know if you’ve ever been there, haha! Everywhere else is relatively clear with some interesting formations in the clouds. Once I’ve broken free of the morning traffic heading towards Glasgow, my journey continues smoothly & I reach Aberfoyle in good time. I stop to stretch my legs & to consult my map; deciding to start my days photography at Loch Arklet, just West of Loch Katrine & Ben A’an.

I drive along the beautifully quiet road, lined on both sides by the ancient Caledonian Pine Forest. I fight the urge to stop & explore the woodlands as my time is limited if I want to avoid the inbound storm, though I do make some voice memo’s to remind myself. The road twists & turns as I near my first location & out of nowhere, the enigmatic Arrochar Alps suddenly dominate my view. I’m amazed at just how beautiful the scene is as heavy banks of freezing fog roll swiftly across the snow covered mountain peaks. The peaks themselves are fantastic - sharp, jagged & full of natural character as the light breaks through the thick clouds. Still in awe, I pull in to the side of the road & strap on my bag. I’ve reached my first location;



Location 1. The Abandoned Corriearklet Boathouse - Loch Arklet

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After hopping a small fence & scramble across the boggy banks of Loch Arklet I find a promising spot to begin composing my photograph. With the Arrochar Alps forming such an impressive backdrop, the scene simply begs to be photographed! Instead of just jumping in though, I take a moment to study the landscape & contemplate what I want to achieve. Careful consideration is key in moments like this, as it’s too easy to end up with sensory overload which leads to poor photographs. I’d originally planned to make a panoramic if the water was still & glassy - but that isn’t the case now that I’m here.

I decide that I will shoot at 85mm from chest height. This allows me to slightly crop into the scene & really focus on what I want to achieve with the image. I carefully frame the boathouse with the mountains & make use of a simple S-shaped leading line from the waters edge on the right. This divides the frame nicely & leads the eye towards the mountains. I apply a polarising filter to really nail the definition in the water & to sculpt the light on the mountains & a 0.8 soft edged graduated ND filter to add some drama to the clouds & to accentuate the light on the peaks. Once all of this is completed, I check my exposure & boost my ISO to give me a shutter speed of 1/125 whilst shooting at f11. It’s very windy & I’m not leaving anything to chance by shooting at a slower shutter speed.

I make a couple of test exposures & wait for the light to hit the boathouse at the same time that the mountains are relatively clear. The rain comes & goes- but then the light appears & I make my exposure. Moments later, the boathouse is in darkness & the mountains are obscured once more by the fog. Job done!

Leaving my camera set up I make my way back on to the road & make an exposure of the scene that lays before me after setting my focus. Image number two - complete.

The view towards the Arrochar Alps from the roadside at Loch Arklet

The view towards the Arrochar Alps from the roadside at Loch Arklet

Location 2. Rob Roy’s Viewpoint - Inversnaid

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My next location lies a short drive along the road. I cross a narrow wooden bridge as I turn off the main road & park the car in a small clearing before setting off up the hill towards the viewpoint. The hike is absolutely wonderful. The trees block any wind & the air is still. The morning rain has left everything vibrant & inspiring, with moss twinkling underfoot like lumps of emerald. There are many little streams cutting through the woodland & the puddles on the path are a rich red ochre due to the peaty earth, lumps of quartz from the hillside lie scattered throughout the trail & it all feels very mystical!

I stomp my way through a peaty bog & then begin to ascend up through the trees, using a natural stairway in the roots & stones to pull my way up through the mud. The ground begins to level out as I pass through a pine archway & up the final couple of meters towards the viewpoint. The wind suddenly hits me like championship boxers right hook as I break through the trees & cast my gaze upon the epic views across Loch Lomond..

With the wind this strong & with the storm now in front of me, I hurriedly set up my tripod, camera & filters. My first photograph is a panoramic view of the Arrochar Alps, comprised of; Ben Narnairn, Creagg Tharsuinn, A’ Chrois, Beinne Ime, Ben Vane, Beinn Dubh & Ben Vorlich with Kenmore Wood framing the bottom of the range. There is a small band of light running through the peaks & this helps to set them out against the dark woodlands & the quickly darkening sky. I make a series of 5 exposures, to be stitched together in my post-processing software whilst weighing down the tripod in the wind.

My second (& last) composition is a wider view of the viewpoint itself. Shooting at 28mm, I compose my image to include the lonely bench & the bare Birch trees in the foreground with Loch Lomond & the rolling hills to the South-West filling out the background. Needless to say, there were no boat tours on the go!

Rob_Roy's_Viewpoint_Inversnaid_Loch_Lomond_Scott_Wanstall

With the wind now severely picking up, I quickly pack away my gear & head back down the hillside to the car. I drive down to the waters edge at Inversnaid Hotel & the rain comes down on me like steel rods as I watch the roaring waterfall ferociously pushing its way into Loch Lomond. I decide against making photographs & retire into the hotel for a cup of coffee & a freshly baked scone by the window instead. By the time I leave, Storm Gareth is in full force, the mountains are no longer visible, the weather is becoming dangerous & I make the decision to (slowly) make my way home.

All in all, I made more photographs than I expected to. I’m very happy that I made the effort to get out there, even with weather warnings in place. It certainly pays to explore in all conditions - even in the face of abject conditions. I often find that my favourite Landscape Photographs are made just before or just after a storm!



Equipment Used;


Camera & Optics by Sony / Samyang.
Elite Filter System by SRB Photographic.
Tripod by Vanguard Photo.
Bag & inserts by Karrimore UK / Lowepro.
Outdoor Clothing & Boots by Jack Wolfskin / Karrimore UK / Decathlon.

Post Processing performed in Adobe Lightroom & Affinity Photo.

Transport by Land Rover.

Philosophy : Art Versus Education

While it is true that the ready availability of information on the web has catalysed the development of many a keen mind, it has also given rise to a steady decline in articulation across the board. Those whom previously may have fallen by the wayside, due to a distinct lack of quality in their work, have been given a platform by which they can saturate their chosen markets, without the hindrance of personal reflection and/or learning curves. 

As creative professionals, we no longer need to study our chosen subjects in order to develop an unspoken understanding of our field. Instead, if something comes up that we don’t understand, we can open a browser and look it up - or, if we don’t want to make that sort of commitment to our craft, we can simply start a thread on a social media platform and let others do the legwork for us. The same rules also apply to those under a course of study. A subject or technique is briefly discussed before subsequently becoming the go-to until the next is introduced to the individuals (of which there are many).

Though it’s very easy to be cynical in a society which is (increasingly) cut-throat at best, the important thing is to figure out the issues at play and to set about incurring change. Even if it’s only on a personal basis. As creatives trying to develop our skills and to forge a path for ourselves in an increasingly difficult working environment, we must strive towards excellence. In the age of availability, we are told that the hustle is more important than quality of work, and this, is a integral part of the problem we all face.  

We must focus on our artistic integrity, while nurturing our own creative development. We must stoke the fires of productivity in order to compete, yes, but we must also place an unwavering value upon our work without the incessant need for β€˜content’ clouding our collective judgement. We must resist crossing the threshold unto falsity in order to meet targets and instead rely upon our skills to get the job done to the highest standard possible at that point in our development. We must never give in to the pressures of the modern age, wherein beautiful works of creative expression are nullified within seconds. 

In order to truly forge a path for ourselves in the modern age we must look at our working environments with a cynical eye. Social media, online profiling, marketing & all of the modernistic tropes are simply tools by which we may solidify our place in the world. Without a well planned and critical approach we are doomed to fall by the wayside, leaving nothing behind to account for our endeavours. No matter what you are trying to do, you must first consider how your output will benefit your growth. Nurture your efforts and allow them to bear fruit. Strive to reduce the dross in which you will become consumed and allow yourself to operate on a level which is both conducive to your own personal targets and to those around you.
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'Breaking Through'

'Breaking Through'

Field Notes : The Heads of Ayr.

While it’s generally true that only the best photographs from a shoot will appear before the public, I thought that in the name of transparency it might be a good idea to put out some of my failed shots. Nothing is ever perfect - sometimes things go to plan, but most of the time they don’t. The weather in Ayrshire and in Scotland changes rapidly and sometimes without warning, as does the light required to add that special touch to a composition.

The first image I’ll share in this series is an exposure made upon a headland on the Heads of Ayr, which you can see below.


Conditions;

The air was quite humid with an element of fog which remained unseen until I switched on my headlamp to head back across the fields towards the road. I was shooting from a very exposed headland wherein the wind changed direction inconsistently - both blowing my tripod (which was weighed down) and pushing dense cloud across the sky & obscuring what little stars I could actually see. 

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Heads of Ayr, Failed

The Image;

That morning, I had purchased a 10-20mm lens, which has an amazingly wide field of view. The main issue I faced with this lens however, was that I had bought a Nikon fit (which I’m adapting to fit my Sony body with a β€˜dummy’ adapter). This means that to change aperture, I have to manually set the aperture pin on the base of the lens until I either a) purchase a manual adapter with aperture control or b) purchase an electronic adapter. Having just shot in Dunure, I’d set the lens to f 3.5 - reducing the depth of field & allowing more light to enter the sensor.

A few issues arose in the moment, such as being unable to magnify the stars in order to attain pin sharp focus (I’ve since rectified this issue) and being unable to truly gauge my exposure (+2 stops was equal to -2 stops underexposed) - making up for this with a high ISO which in turn, introduced some colour β€˜noise’ - which is anathema to me! With all of this in mind, my image suffered from shake due to the high winds, lack of focus due to my inability to hone in on the stars and high noise due to using a high ISO and boosting the exposure in post production. The result is an image which is both soft and features trailing of the stars.

I do love the juxtaposition of the clear blue night sky against the cloud which is glowing orange due to the light pollution from Dunure/Girvan/Cars - the colour is exactly what I’d hope for. I also like the composition, which has a lofty atmosphere - so it’s not all bad. All in all, I was able to rectify the issues that befell me on the night. I’ll return when the conditions are a bit more favourable for long exposures and get the shot I wanted that night! Without the f*** up’s, I wouldn’t have the skills to ascertain what the issues are. It’s a simple case of trial and error - which will pay off when a shot comes up which requires immediate attention.

Culzean Castle - The Nature of Coastal Photography

As I sit and look over a soothingly calm sea, towards the well-lit mountains of Arran, I feel the heat of the afternoon sun warming my back as it slowly begins to descend towards the horizon. It’s been cold and bleak so far this year and today is the first day that I’ve been able to sit comfortably on the sand in just a t-shirt, soaking up the ambience of the coast.

I’m sitting on the beach below Culzean Castle at low tide and I’m waiting for the sun to set for the day. I’ve got a nice composition set up, my camera locked in place on its tripod, filters carefully selected and settings dialled in ready for the brief moment of golden light that will illuminate the scene, bringing it to life. So far, everything is looking good for a clear sunset, though the wind has begun to pick up and there’s a worrying amount of rain clouds passing overhead across the sea (it’s been blue skies all day)!

An oystercatcher soars somewhere abovehead, calling out to the others foraging amongst the rocks. The sound reverberates and echoes around the shallow bay, amplified by the rocky cliff face before diffusing amongst the trees on the outermost cliffs - a wondrous effect! Everything else is silent, barring the gentle ebb and flow of the waters edge and the tweeting of songbirds amongst the trees.

Unfortunately, as time drifts by, the clouds have grown much heavier and are now diffusing the available sunlight. This is worrying. Though my plans were now under threat, I seize the opportunity to capture a very moody monochromatic shot of the castle from the sands of the beach - briefly lit by a break in the clouds as they drifted westward. Kneeling in the wet sand to capture this shot, I notice little trails which I discover are caused by molluscs travelling between the rock-pools at low-tide - something I’ve never seen before!

I go back to my original composition as it’s now Golden Hour - though the cloud has become so thick that the light is all but useless for my composition. I decided to leave and simply edit a daylit long exposure shot that I’d captured earlier on.

Do I regret wasting hours of my life waiting for the final image? No. By simply being in the moment I witnessed a brief but dramatic change in weather, enjoyed the sun on my back while gathering agate on the shoreline, met new people and generally found time to think about my overarching plans for The Eye of God Photography. While I didn’t get the shot I had planned, I got a couple that I’m very satisfied with instead.

- Go Outside, It's Good For You!

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Why I Didn't Wait for the Sun to Set at the Summit of Ben A'an

I awake suddenly to the sound of my alarm ringing out in the darkness - it’s 5.30 in the morning and its still pitch black outside, but most importantly the skies are still crystal clear and the ground is still frozen… Coffee time!

Last night during a sudden drop in temperature (to a balmy -5 degrees) I made a snap decision to ascend and to photograph β€˜Ben A’an’ the following morning - if the conditions remained as they were. Situated in the Trossachs - a two hour drive from Prestwick - I’d have to leave early if I wanted to reach the summit by sunrise.

Coffee in hand, I defrost the car. I’m fully awake due to the excitement and anticipation and I hit the road, making good progress until I almost come off the road just outside of Callander due to some very thick ice lurking in the darkness. Arriving at the Ben A’an car park in very good time I put my (roasting) new 3-in-1 jacket on, humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag over my shoulders onto my back and put Coops on his lead so that we can cross the road safely. I let him off at the foot of the path and literally hit the ground running. Or so I thought. 

I get approximately 30m up the steep path from the road and suddenly realise to my horror that I can’t breathe; the sudden cold air and the weight of my bag are constricting my lungs. Gasping, with my heart pounding like a pneumatic hammer, I come to an embarrassing halt in order to regulate my breathing - deep breaths; in through the nose and out through the mouth. (Thanks Mr. Wright). The fresh mountain air quickly revives me and I head (slowly) to my next rest stop - a wee bridge connecting the initial path onto the mountain trail. My thighs are burning at this point, my bag feels as though it weighs the same as me and every step upwards fills me with apprehension.

With much effort and a concerted struggle to persist, I reach the halfway point chuckling as I notice that someone had vomited on the man-made two-foot high stone steps. My legs feel as though they are about to give way as the path suddenly becomes much steeper and I look up to see the summit looming what seems to be an aeon away from my position. This does nothing to ease the feeling of plausible defeat in my heart - I see Coops bounding through the trees (full of energy) way up the trail, not for turning back and remember the SAS adage that my Papa was always so keen to relay to me; β€˜He Conquers Who Endures’. This provides me with a well-needed kick up the arse and I press on making decent progress against all odds.

As the path curves upwards into the shadow of the peak, it morphs seamlessly from thick man-made steps to rough, extremely slippy, natural crags. Due to its constant shelter from the sun, a thick layer of sheet-ice has settled in nicely, leaving anyone brave enough to continue towards the summit at risk of seriously hurting themselves. I stop to take stock of the situation, then continue my ascent using the fresh snow at the edges of the path to provide the grip that I required. At this point, the summit is about fifty metres away and I catch a second wind (one of the best feelings in the world when climbing). My blood is flowing freely now, my breathing regulated and my muscles warmed up. The rest of the climb is assuredly pleasant and I hit the summit and suddenly lose my breath again…This time, it’s the panoramic visions of splendour hitting my retinas like a six-tonne truck that stop me in my tracks; snow-covered mountains as far as the eye can see, bathed in the golden light of the rising sun; deep emerald woodlands rising up to meet the pure mountain air and the vast expanse of water that is Loch Katrine reflecting the land surrounding it.

I’m filled with a deep sense of joy, of accomplishment and of wonder. There’s literally nothing in this world that could counter the euphoria of such a moment and I smile. Meanwhile, Coops is on the summit - looking at me as if to say β€˜is that it!?’… after all, his first ever walk was Cairn Gorm! I scramble up the to the summit absolute to devour my sandwich and to down an ice cold can of red bull in order to restore my spent energy reserves. The conditions are perfect; no wind, no solar haze and most importantly of all; NO RAIN!

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[NOTE; In landscape photography (especially when a strenuous ascent is involved), well-maintained energy levels are vital to focussing the mind in the field, as without them one may as well just go home empty-handed. I’d already decided that each shot was to be carefully considered, crafted and β€˜of its own’, meaning that there'd be no β€˜b-shots’ or duds. I wanted each photograph from this adventure to serve as a testament to the natural beauty of the location and to pay homage to my struggles while ascending the summit.]

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My first image is a composition overlooking Loch Katrine and the Trossachs, with the hills remarkably well-defined summit framing the shot, kissed by the beautiful, golden, morning light. I depress the shutter release and stand back at a loss for words… I know that here and now I’m experiencing a life-affirming moment in time.

Hearing voices behind me as I stand in awe of my own work, I turn my head and see that a large family has joined me on top of the world, spearheaded by a fellow that looks strikingly familiar to the American singer-songwriter Father John Misty. They greet me warmly (having come all the way from Canada) and heap attention onto Coops before settling down onto the rocks to soak in the views and to crack open their collective Thermos. 

I lock-on to another composition, this time featuring the summit-peak in the foreground. I take the shot, outwardly expressing my excitement for the image. The group behind me are now getting ready for a family portrait, standing in front of the sun. I take a moment to suggest that they take position at the spot where I captured my first image as it’d serve as the perfect backdrop for such a picture and happily end up taking the shots for them - putting a massive smile on their faces.

By the time we finish sharing stories, the summit has become a buzzing hive of activity. I count no-less that twenty-four people and three (well insulated) dogs - its amazing to think that such a place (located in and atop the middle of nowhere) can be so busy! Interestingly though, I didn’t see any other photographers! I spend the rest of the daylight hours watching the light and meeting lots of lovely people with interesting stories to tell, from South Africa to Stoke, making my experience all the more rewarding! 

The sun begins to set and I decide to head down from the summit to utilise the last of the golden light on capturing compositions I’d seen on the ascent, as I’d already captured images that I was more than satisfied with. Anything else from today would simply be a bonus! The first of these compositions is threefold - an extremely moody monochromatic shot featuring Loch Achray from the Northern side of the Summit, an abstract shot of the crag covered in icicles set against the clear blue sky and a close up of the heather above the snow - with large icicles hanging off of a single small bush.

My final descent is just as arduous as the ascent - the sheet-ice was making things fairly treacherous in the twilight, and the steep terrain covered in snow obliterated any semblance of a swift descent! Nonetheless, I make decent time and reach the aforementioned mid-way point and take a shot of Ben A’an from the path. It’s a great shot, but the deforested foreground casts a wee bit of a malaise upon my state of euphoria. Just as I reach the bottom of the trail and the end of my adventure I hear two Kestrels calling out through the twilight and stop to enjoy the moment. I tune into my ears and hear the soft warning calls of smaller birds nesting amongst the heather - it fills my mind with wonder.

I get back to the car, taking stock of the days adventure. The feeling of wellbeing is overwhelming - not only did I overcome any semblance of physical or mental stress, but I reached the summit to behold one of the best panoramic vistas that Scotland has to offer - the kind of place that requires no real effort in order to capture its innate natural beauty. I humph my overtly heavy duffel-bag into the boot, gulp down a litre of water and set off homewards through the darkness - avoiding the frozen road which very almost claimed my life this morning.
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I'd like to thank everyone that I met atop Ben A'an for their generosity, stories and encouragement - your company took my already exemplary adventure to a whole new level! Until next time we meet - lang may yir lums reek!


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'Atop Ben A'an'