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Issue 33 - Snap happy

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 33
June 2007


This article is 11 years old and some information provided may be time sensitive. Please check all details of events, tours, opening times and other information before travelling or making arrangements.

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Snap happy

Scotland is one of the most picturesque places in the world, so Kate Ennis gets some insider information on how to capture it on camera

Postcards of inspiring vistas to make friends and relatives back home envious of your holiday destination are never in short supply in Scotland. It has to be one of the most picturesque countries in the world, with its contrast of sweeping landscapes and dramatic lighting, which is why the great Scottish outdoors has long been a magnet for professional and amateur photographers alike.

Although it clearly helps to have such a naturally beautiful subject in front of the lens, it cannot guarantee a great picture, of course. So to return home with holiday snaps that do Scotland as much justice as those postcards, I asked the country’s top photographers for their expert advice on the most visually appealing locations and the best times to visit them.

Photographer Andy Hall has travelled extensively around Scotland shooting images for both volumes of his book A Sense of Belonging to Scotland, which captures the favourite landscapes of Scottish celebrities. “I’m very fond of Perthshire around Crieff and Dunkeld in autumn or Assynt near Ullapool in winter when the snow-covered peaks are bathed in the afternoon light,” says Andy. “However, my absolute favourite shot is from the tiny island of Iona on the glorious white beach at Traigh Bhan under an azure blue sky with the Ross of Mull in the distance.” For East Lothian based photographer Glyn Satterley, his location of choice is the Outer Hebrides for its wonderful feeling of timelessness. He is also drawn to the dramatic atmosphere of the North West Highlands, particularly the landscapes around Torridon. The sense of drama is aided by the great lighting and the often changeable weather – yes, for once Scotland’s unpredictable climate can be an asset. “You rarely ever experience the same conditions two days running,” says Glyn. “Even in high summer you can easily experience all the seasons in one day,” he admits.

With every season having its own photographic delights – whether that’s spring wildlife, summer flowers, autumn leaves or winter snowscapes – the time of day for heading out with the camera is also crucial as the key to successful landscape photography is the quality and direction of light. “As a rule, early morning and evening are best because they produce lovely warm light and evocative shadows,” says Glyn. He recommends getting up and out as early as possible. The early bird certainly catches the worm where photography’s concerned. Andy concurs that the ‘quiet hours’ before and after sunrise or sunset provide immeasurable opportunities for wonderful photography. “I’m particularly fond of the last hour of the day when low golden light paints the landscape and brings out shadowed texture,” he says.

Of course, these are not the warmest times of day, so it’s vital to be prepared with comfortable clothing and kit, particularly when moving around in variable conditions.

It’s also imperative to be familiar with your equipment before heading out on location, or that perfect shot might be missed if still figuring out how to use a new camera. A tripod will also be needed for those low light conditions.

With camera finally at the ready, take a considered approach rather than a snap decision by exploring different angles, particularly as a landscape image may sometimes be better framed as a portrait.

Andy Hall also recommends looking for a way to lead the eye from the foreground into the centre, such as a rock, river, tree or wall, which will give a photograph more depth. “Smaller details, such as a delicate flower or a colourful rock lend intimacy to your photographs and say just as much about a place as a wide vista,” advises Andy.

The extra patience and consideration required will eventually pay off, which is why photographing the country’s wildlife offers even greater challenges and rewards.

Scotland is ecologically rich in terms of habitat and wildlife, with some of the rarest species found in the UK, as experienced wildlife photographer Mark Hamblin explains: “The Caledonian pine forest supports vibrant populations of red squirrel, crested tit and capercaillie and the high Cairngorms host sub-alpine plants and specialised wildlife such as ptarmigan, dotterel, snow bunting and mountain hare all of which can be photographed on foot using careful stalking techniques and a quiet considered approach.” Although photographing wildlife is always a challenge, some locations harbouring certain species will stack the odds in favour of the photographer. “Seabird colonies around Scotland’s coast such as Bass Rock offer some wonderful photographic opportunities for puffins, razorbills, guillemots and gannets,” says Mark.

On the west coast, the Isles of Mull and Skye are a stronghold for otters so offer a greater chance of seeing them. For most people the difficulty is getting close enough to obtain a reasonable picture, so Mark advises keeping a low profile and stalking towards the animal with the wind in your face. With this good technique, it’s possible to get as close as five metres away but a telephoto zoom lens is still essential to get those close-ups. In other circumstances, a car can act as a ‘mobile hide’ for spotting species such as red grouse, mountain hare and wading birds in spring.

Again, with wildlife, timing is everything.

Make sure you are up and about very early in the morning as most activity happens then, as Mark explains: “Roe deer and brown hares, for example, often feed in summer meadows for a couple of hours after sunrise but by breakfast time they will have retreated.” Mark’s final piece of advice is to be observant and watch wildlife carefully – many birds and animals follow a routine and if you see them in a particular spot at a particular time, they may well do the same thing again the following day.

Perhaps that is the biggest reward in this photographic quest – allowing some peaceful time to really study and appreciate the natural beauty that abounds in Scotland. Hopefully it should also result in capturing those images that can really put the postcard to shame.


Balmoral Castle

The Balmoral Estates, Ballater, Aberdeenshire, AB35 5TB
Balmoral’s digital photography course held every autumn gives guests the chance to stay on the estate and enjoy the splendour of Royal Deeside, with red squirrels and red deer for company!

The tutor is well-known local photographer Jim Henderson, highly experienced in helping people of all levels to get the best from their digital camera. The course involves field trips, workshops and discussions, plus it also covers the use of photographic computer software. This November, the cost is £690 per person for a week, including all accommodation, meals and tuition.
Tel: +44 (0)1339 742 534

Inversnaid Photography Centre
Inversnaid Photography Centre, By Aberfoyle, Stirling, FK8 3TU
They have a range of expert tutors here including Niall Benvie and Colin Prior – the man who has captured many of Scotland’s postcard and calendar images. For island lovers, Inversnaid has tours visiting Mull and Iona or Lewis and Harris this autumn but for those with less time, there are also shorter courses at the Stirling-based centre, focusing on skills such as Photoshop or black and white printing. Prices range from £415-£1070 depending on the location and duration of course, including accommodation, meals & tuition.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 386 254

Photograph Scotland
Trossachs Gate Main Street, Aberfoyle, FK8 3UG
Leading landscape photographer John McKinlay is guide and tutor, with more than 15 years of organising photography tours. Each course takes a maximum of five people to allow for personal attention and plenty of elbow room on location. Destinations for forthcoming courses this autumn include the North West Highlands, Skye, Wester Ross, Glencoe and the Trossachs. Prices start from £695 for four nights’ accommodation, plus airport transfers, location transport and all meals, with no single supplements.
Tel: +44 (0)1877 382 764

Skye in Focus
Skye Picture House, Ard Dorch, Broadford, Isle of Skye, IV49 9AJ
The Isle of Skye is one of Scotland’s scenic hot-spots and residents Steve Terry and wife Gill run photography workshops and week-long photography holidays here. The breaks run from Saturday evening to the following Saturday morning and include dinner, bed & breakfast at Skye Picture House with use of all facilities, including extensive library and digital imaging suite. Courses on landscape photography, workshops on digital imaging and macro photography are also available. Prices range from £295-£365 for a week’s stay, depending the time of year.
Tel: +44(0)1471 822 264

Wild Shots
Ballintean, Glenfeshie, Kingussie, Scotland, PH21 1NX
Based in the heart of the Cairngorms National Park, expert wildlife photographers Mark Hamblin and Peter Cairns have been operating their unique blend of photo-tours and holidays for ten years, providing friendly, informal and eco-friendly photographic adventures for beginner and expert alike. The focus for upcoming tours includes winter wildlife, Northern raptors and red deer and prices range from £495- £695.
Tel: +44 (0)1540 651 352

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