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

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“𝐸𝑣𝑒𝑟𝑦 𝑑𝑟𝑒𝑎𝑚𝑒𝑟 𝑘𝑛𝑜𝑤𝑠 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑡 𝑖𝑡 𝑖𝑠 𝑒𝑛𝑡𝑖𝑟𝑒𝑙𝑦 𝑝𝑜𝑠𝑠𝑖𝑏𝑙𝑒 𝑡𝑜 𝑏𝑒 ℎ𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑐𝑘 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑎 𝑝𝑙𝑎𝑐𝑒 𝑦𝑜𝑢'𝑣𝑒 𝑛𝑒𝑣𝑒𝑟 𝑏𝑒𝑒𝑛 𝑡𝑜, 𝑝𝑒𝑟ℎ𝑎𝑝𝑠 𝑚𝑜𝑟𝑒 ℎ𝑜𝑚𝑒𝑠𝑖𝑐𝑘 𝑡ℎ𝑎𝑛 𝑓𝑜𝑟 𝑓𝑎𝑚𝑖𝑙𝑖𝑎𝑟 𝑔𝑟𝑜𝑢𝑛𝑑.” - 𝐽𝑢𝑑𝑖𝑡ℎ 𝑇ℎ𝑢𝑟𝑚𝑎𝑛

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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 ‘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

Loch_Arklet_Boathouse_Arrochar_Alps_Scott_Wanstall

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!

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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 ‘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.
 

'Breaking Through'

'Breaking Through'

Photojournalism : A Brief Foray into the World of Press Photography

PT. I - The Events as they Occurred.

 

In the past week I’ve encountered two different scenes that I deemed worthy of press and as such, I shot both scenes in gross detail. Scene one consisted of a large fire which had had spread through a pine woodland and gorse bushes near Irvine, North Ayrshire, due to a period of rather intense heat & distinct lack of rain. I was on my way home from a productive business meeting, cruising alongside the expansive & bustling beach park. I’d travelled approximately half a mile from Irvine harbour when I found myself driving through a dense cloud of acrid yellow smoke and heavy, grey ashes. 

As I turned the next corner I came upon four fire engines & stopped the car. I got out & headed into the brush, following the trail that the firefighters had left behind them as they rushed to tackle the blaze. I got as close as I could to the woodland, to the point I could see and hear everything that the firefighters were doing and saying, without impeding them or diverting their attention from the task at hand. I shot a series of images & a short video before heading back to the road and phoning my contacts for the local press. 

Fast forward fifteen minutes and I was back at Irvine harbour, seated in a local coffee shop & editing the photographs before utilising the free wi-fi to upload my work. Tipping generously for the lemonade I’d just drank I left and went home. Between leaving the coffee shop and getting home, the story had gone from local to regional press!

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Scene two consisted of a relatively serious RTA (Road Traffic Accident) that took place at Prestwick Train Station. After a lazy Sunday morning I was on my way to my Grandmothers house (directly across the street from the train station) when I found the road down to my usual parking space cordoned off & blocked from view by an ambulance and road traffic Police vehicles. I quickly parked my car elsewhere and rushed to the scene, praying that my nephew hadn’t run onto the road or any other terrifying scenario which races through ones mind in a situation such as this one. 

As it happened, a (rental) box-van had attempted to pass under the railway bridge at speed & being too high (the maximum height for vehicles is well signposted), collided with the bridge & very almost split in two upon the sudden impact. Once I had established that the passengers were OK I retrieved my camera from the car & proceeded to make photographs of the scene while onlookers gathered around the Police cordon, phones at the ready. I then rushed into my Grandmothers house, made a phone call & sent the images to the press for their approval.

 

RTA, Prestwick Train Station

 

PT. II - A Question of Motive.

 

“The picture that you took with your camera is the imagination you want to create with reality.”

Scott Lorenzo

 

Primarily a Photographer that specialises in Portraiture, Product Photography & Landscape Photography, I am usually able to establish an idea for a shot, plan my compositions to the n’th degree & execute my designs in a relatively controlled manner. However, photojournalism is almost entirely spontaneous - requiring immediate response & a keen sense of ’sight’ in order to capture a situation effectively.

It was on both of the above-mentioned occasions that I felt compelled to document the events that were unfolding before me. I also made the conscious decision to exhibit their happenings on the broader spectrum, choosing to connect with those whom were able to amplify my experiences in a daze of pure adrenaline & some underlying & multifaceted psychological driving force. I wonder, then, what it is that compels the mind to act in such a way. Yes, it is true, that on both occasions I made sure that the situations were under control before I reached for my camera, however, I still query my own motives for doing so. 

 

“We are making photographs to understand what our lives mean to us.”

- Ralph Hattersley

 

I have found that through the lens of critical self-reflection, there exists an egomaniacal satisfaction in being the first to document a scene; even more so wherein one becomes the one & only source of its visual documentation in the public eye. Becoming the conduit by which others may experience the existence of an incident outside their own private lives promotes a sense of self-importance, or of power, in the individual. 

In the thinking mind, cognitive dissonance manifests itself between the act of documenting a scene and its subsequent amplification; whether it is undertaken purely as an act of collective altruism or as a personal conquest. What then, is the driving force behind making a photograph of someone else’s misfortune, or, of natural devastation? Is it an instinctive urge to make ones tribe aware of danger? Is it revelry in the face of misfortune given ones current position of safety? 

 

“Essentially, the camera makes everyone a tourist in other peoples reality,

...and eventually in ones own”

- Susan Sontag

 

It is on this particular wavelength, that whenever I see a phone raised to capture a snapshot of a scene that is unfolding before an individual, I can disdainfully (& with ease) envisage some dystopian future wherein the individual seeks not to aid those in peril or to enjoy a pleasurable experience. Instead, they compulsively reach for their smartphone in order to duplicate a moment in time in some vain attempt at proving that they, in fact, existed.

I'll conclude this piece with another compelling excerpt from Susan Sontag's thought provoking compendium of essays 'On Photography'. Thanks for reading!
 

 

" The possession of a camera can inspire something akin to lust. And like all credible forms of lust, it cannot be satisfied: first, because the possibilities of photography are infinite; and second, because the project is finally self-devouring. The attempts by photographers to bolster up a depleted sense of reality contribute to the depletion. Cameras are the antidote and the disease, a means of appropriating reality and a means of making it obsolete."

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. 

 

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 ‘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 ‘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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The Lamentations of an Elder Citizen

Oaft! It’s the first of January 2018 - A new year, a fresh start and another 365 days worth of opportunities to be embraced!

Having met with the Princes Trust, attended in-depth business seminars and submitting a rough copy of my business plan / proposal to their funding panel, I’m happy to announce that I will be receiving the funding that I require to take The Eye of God Photography to the next level - to run it as my first business. This is a venture which I am extremely excited to explore - to ride the tiger, as it were.

I have a lot to do to make this happen in January though. I need to finish my website, sort out my finances, get in touch with the Inland Revenue and put the final touches onto my plan for the year. However, once these small hurdles have been cleared I’ll be ready to get out there and get stuck in.

I’ve got some pretty big things planned, things which I can’t reveal as of this moment in time - but, what I can reveal is that I aim to get my YouTube channel off the ground (having posted my first video in December here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SovGqZFF2_Q&t=3s) with more videos detailing my photographic journey to come, to start offering one-to-one photographic workshops, to work with a lot of interesting people and to generally grow as a person and as a professional - I also plan to get out a lot more. This means full on and intensive extended trips into the Scottish wilderness (Rain, Hail or Shine), journeys further afield than I’ve previously been thus far and generally discovering places that I haven’t seen before. Most folk want to visit other countries, but I want to devour my homeland before I go anywhere else. I want to explore every nook and cranny and to experience everything that this amazing place on Earth has to offer.

It's with all of this buzzing around my head that I enter a new year. I’ve never enjoyed Hogmanay before, but standing on the harbour, between the land and the sea - embracing the winds of Storm Dylan with Chelsea in my arms and Cooper at my feet - I was actually excited for the clock to read 00.00. 

-

The image below, taken while everyone was out celebrating, details a sculpture in Ayr town centre known locally as ‘The Fish Cross’. The sculpture stands amongst a slew of empty shops - a dismal spectre and representation of the town today. The figure stands, looking down at the fish in his arms - symbolic of the Ayr of yesteryear; a successful place built upon local trade - now just a shadow of itself, falling apart all around him.

I took this photograph not to revel in Ayr’s creeping decrepitude, but to inspire myself to enact positive change - no matter how small a fish I may be (pun intended). I personally remember Ayr as a thriving social hub full of small businesses and that’s the way I’d like the future generations to remember it too. It is for this reason that I pledge to donate a portion of my profits as a business into local development charities and into local food banks.

Why the food banks? Well, during the process of starting all of this up I was owed a considerable sum of money. I was rapidly reaching the point where the money I was borrowing was running out, my overdraft was breached and I was really struggling both financially and mentally. Though I knew the money I was owed was coming, I realised how bad it must be for those who live in that constant state of desperation through no fault of their own. Walking through the supermarket a week before Christmas feeling sorry for myself, I came to the realisation that there were people in my community that were truly suffering; and I wanted to actively combat such a corrosive social ailment if I could. 

While the powers that be seem to act in a manner that suggests that we don’t matter and that our towns are simply a hindrance to their plans, it is up to us as a COMMUNITY to support those greatest in need around us - the Princes Trust are helping me, so it is only right that I extend a helping hand too. Should you have the means, I’d implore you to do the same. 

It may be an un-realistic Utopian ideal, but lets actually do something for each another in 2018, so that no one needs to wake up in the morning feeling like there is no point in carrying on.

 

 

'The Lamentations of an Elder Citizen'

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 ‘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; ‘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 ‘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!

 

[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 ‘of its own’, meaning that there'd be no ‘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.]

 

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.
 

 

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!


 

'Atop Ben A'an'