“𝑇ℎ𝑒 𝑜𝑛𝑙𝑦 𝑡𝑟𝑢𝑒 𝑏𝑜𝑟𝑑𝑒𝑟𝑠 𝑙𝑖𝑒 𝑏𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑑𝑎𝑦 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑛𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡, 𝑏𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑙𝑖𝑓𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑑𝑒𝑎𝑡ℎ, 𝑏𝑒𝑡𝑤𝑒𝑒𝑛 ℎ𝑜𝑝𝑒 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑙𝑜𝑠𝑠.”
Photographically, I’d been planning a trip to Smailholm Tower for a wee while; watching the weather & holding back until the nights were a bit longer so that I could spend more time finding potential compositions & watch the play of light. Located just outside Kelso on the Scottish / English border, Smailholm Tower is a fine example of a “pele” tower which is currently maintained by the National Trust for Scotland. The tower stands upon a bed of rock overlooking the lands that surround it & features many different compositional opportunities. From my research I had found that the tower car park would be closed from 17.00 - but after studying my map I found that there would be plenty of space to park courteously on the farm track that runs past the site. This meant that I wouldn’t need to concern myself with time limitations when I should be focused on making photographs instead. Another consideration I had was that of livestock. The lands surrounding Smailholm Tower are working farms, which would again mean that accessibility may be limited. I was lucky on the day though, as all of the main fields were empty & I could roam freely; closing all gates behind me of course.
I arrived at the tower in good time & set about finding compelling compositions. It’s easy to be influenced by a feeling of sensory overload in new locations so I made sure that I took my time & thought critically whilst using my intuition or ‘eye’ to guide my search. My first stop was at the only spot that I had really planned for - a small reed-filled pond which offers slithers of reflection if you take the time to find them. I wanted to make a photograph from the pond with the tower reflected on the waters surface with framing at the sides utilising the reeds in the pond & the rock faces that surround the pond. My main goal was to photograph the tower in moody, overcast conditions so as to aesthetically accentuate the historic nature of the location & the weather was ‘perfect’ in this respect. The rain managed to stay off whilst the clouds were heavy & ready to burst so while I had the opportunity I set up my camera on the tripod, screwed on my polarising filter to dial in the reflected light on the waters surface & applied a 0.6 soft-edged graduated ND filter for a natural reduction in the highlights above the tower. I made my exposure & happy with the image I moved on to see what else I could find.
I first circled the perimeter around the tower surveying the scene through a wide lens, looking for potential angles. Due to the height of the tower & the warped perspective though, I didn’t find anything that was very attractive to me & I opted to move a bit further out & try longer focal lengths for a more realistic perspective. As I climbed over the hills, two potential sites caught my attention. The first was a small plateau facing towards the tower which was carpeted in lovely wee violet flowers, though I’m sorry to say I couldn’t identify them, there was also a decent sprinkling of gorse bushes & a few scattered boulders to work with. The second subject which caught my attention was a summit cairn with a beautiful backdrop featuring the hills spanning the Scottish/English border. The sky was just right to make an exposure there and then, so shooting at 300mm, I found my composition & made my exposure through a 0.9 graduated filter to reduce the exposure in the sky & add a bit of drama in-camera.
For my exposure on the plateau, I waited until the Sun was setting - as the clouds were beginning to glow nicely & I knew that they’d “explode” with colour. The position of the Sun meant that the North wall of the tower would catch the light & a large grin forced itself onto my face as everything turned flame orange & the shadows grew nicely creating some lovely contrast across the frame. Compositionally, I wanted to frame the tower & the lower frame with the diagonal cloud base & capture a bit of foreground - so I shot low to the ground, using an 85mm lens for a slightly wider perspective with a nice crop.
With the colour draining from the sky & blue hour now settling in across the landscape I descended from the hills to return to the car. Upon reaching ground level I had a last look at the sky & decided to quickly move back to my first composition featuring the Tower at the pond. I set up very quickly, with the same composition & no filters. I made an exposure, not thinking that it’d be as good as my first after it was processed but upon editing the image it’s become my favourite of the day - so much for all of my planning & taking my time!
"𝐿𝑖𝑔ℎ𝑡 𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑑𝑎𝑟𝑘 𝑡𝑜𝑢𝑐ℎ 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑎 𝑓𝑒𝑤 𝑚𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑠. 𝐼 𝑢𝑠𝑒𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑤𝑖𝑠ℎ 𝑑𝑢𝑠𝑘 𝑤𝑜𝑢𝑙𝑑 𝑙𝑎𝑠𝑡 𝑙𝑜𝑛𝑔𝑒𝑟,
𝑏𝑢𝑡 𝑖𝑡𝑠 𝑞𝑢𝑖𝑐𝑘𝑛𝑒𝑠𝑠 𝑠𝑒𝑒𝑚𝑠 𝑡𝑜 𝑎𝑑𝑑 𝑡𝑜 𝑚𝑎𝑘𝑖𝑛𝑔 𝑖𝑡 𝑠𝑝𝑒𝑐𝑖𝑎𝑙.”
Camera & Optics by Sony / Samyang / Nikon / Olympus.
Elite Filter System by SRB Photographic.
Tripod by Vanguard Photo.
Bag & inserts by Karrimore UK / Lowepro.
Outdoor Clothing & Boots by Jack Wolfskin / Karrimore UK / Forclaz.
Post Processing performed in Adobe Lightroom & Affinity Photo.
Transport by Land Rover.