Time to unwind: Trekking in the Chamonix-Mont-Blanc region of France

An initial selection of images I captured during a week-long break to Chamonix in France. My wife and I spent each day hiking and trekking beneath incredible alpine peaks such as Aiguille du Dru (Les Drus), Aiguille Verte, Aiguille du Plan and Le Brévent in often glorious sunshine, visiting alpine refuges on the way and rewarding ourselves with fresh blackberry and apple tart, washed down with copious amounts of tea and coffee. A great way to spend time together and unwind in the mountains.

Mountain landscape: Mont Blanc and Les Bossons Glacier, Chamonix, France

Mont Blanc summit and Bossons Glacier flowing down towards Chamonix in France. (Click to view larger)

Sharing a panoramic image from a recent non-work trip to the Alps which captures the summit of Mont Blanc and Les Bossons Glacier above Chamonix in France. I’ll share more images soon.

(You can see tourists and climbers on the left of the image for scale plus there's a group of climbers heading up the steep, serac-strewn slopes that are down and to the left of the summit. I think these slopes are the popular Trois Monts (three mountains) route to the summit but the trail stops half-way up at a bergschrund. If anyone can tell me why folk would be traversing under ice seracs at 11am when the sun is shining, I'm really curious to know - my understanding being that's just silly dangerous and folk usually summit Mont Blanc at dawn when the slopes are frozen).

Kintail wanderings: 9 Munros around Glen Shiel

Looking back along the Sisters and Brothers ridges above Glen Shiel in Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. The first summits of the day (A'Ghlas Bheinn and Beinn Fhada) are over on the left horizon. (Click to view larger)

I recently shared a stripped down gear list for occasions where I want to travel light outdoors but still wish to capture professional-quality images. Although the items of equipment I listed in that post are lighter than a full bag of camera gear, they are still too heavy for me to carry on occasions when I’m not working and I’d like to challenge myself a little in the mountains.

My inspiration for challenging days out on the hills comes from the athletes I photograph as well as my friends. I’m definitely not a mountain or a fell runner but I’ve had plenty of photography shoots with professional runners (and follow their adventures online) and the ease and speed at which they travel over rough ground has made me realise that I enjoy moving quicker than walking speed in the mountains (something which I have attempted to do in the past with a full camera backpack but my lower back seeks to constantly remind me).

In 2017, I purchased the lightest-weight camera I own, a Sony RX100 V for personal outdoor adventures where I want to move a bit quicker but still capture decent-quality images, especially when they aren’t the focus of my trip. The images I’m able to capture with the Sony RX100 are on the borderline of what I’d class as being acceptable for professional purposes (I’m happy to use them for editorial submissions and blogs) but the trade off when I’m not working is immeasurable. I can fit the camera into a stretchy front pocket of my backpack and easily fast-walk or jog with it up and down hills without any impairment on my activity, whilst still being able to document my day or take shots I can use later for location scouting purposes.

The type of outing I’d carry along a Sony RX100 on would be a trail run in the Alps, a long-distance mountain bike time trial or an attempt at multiple Munro summits in Scotland, where my objective is to achieve a relatively big thing (for me) in a certain period of time and I don’t wish to be encumbered with a heavy pack.

An example of this was when I was looking for ideas for a challenging day out in Scotland. My focus was on Kintail in the North-West Highlands of Scotland. If I wished to climb a lot of Munros in a day, Kintail’s South Glen Shiel ridge allows for 7 summits to be ticked off in a fairly easy fashion. Opposite them on the north side of the glen, there are 7 Munros that I could do the following day (or perhaps even on the same day).

The record for the most amount of Munros in a single day is 30 by Jim Mann from England who ticked off their summits in 22h 05mins in July 2017. The record for total Munro completions however is Steven Fallon, who’s completed 15 rounds (of 282 hills, sometimes more) over a twenty year period. A qualified mountain guide, Steven is also an accomplished hill runner and his website has a number of running options if you’re looking to join groups of Munros together to make a longer day and set yourself a challenge.

I settled on Steven Fallon’s Kintail Sisters and Brother route, a 39km circular route with c.4000m ascent that includes two nearby Munros and takes in 9 Munro summits. The route starts and ends at the outdoor centre at Morvich and my goal was to complete the round in a certain timescale, using some adjustments I prefer to Naesmith’s formula (which I calculate at 4km/h for every km travelled and 1 hour for every 600m ascent). This isn’t running pace but to achieve it means not stopping so I figured it was a good enough challenge and it would provide me with a day out that would test me but not break my legs (figuratively speaking, not literally). In the end, I didn’t quite manage to complete the route in Naesmith’s timings (it took me 16 hours instead of 15) but I still felt in great shape at the end and it was a memorable day out.

Glen Shiel Sisters and Brothers route (including two additional Munros)

  • Distance: 39km / 24 miles

  • Ascent: 4105m / 13,467ft

  • Time: 16 hours 03 minutes

(Steven’s website records this route as 35km / 22 miles in distance with 3,140m / 10,300ft ascent but my calculations were as above, which I corroborated with a friend).

Munros climbed

  • A'Ghlas Bheinn (918m)

  • Beinn Fhada (1032m)

  • Ciste Dhubh (979m)

  • Aonach Meadhoin (1001m)

  • Sgurr a'Bhealaich Dheirg (1036m)

  • Saileag (956m)

  • Sgurr na Ciste Duibhe (1027m)

  • Sgurr na Carnach (1002m)

  • Sgurr Fhuaran (1067m)

Postscript

One of the reasons I wanted to attempt Steven’s Kintail route was because I have an itch to attempt Tranter’s Round and the time I took in Glen Shiel would give me an indication if that was feasible. It’s relatively tight, with an additional 5 miles and 8,000ft I’d need to cover in the remaining 8 hours (which sounds straightforward enough but at my pace, which will no doubt be slowing by then, it only gives me one hour to play with).

Mountain landscape: Kirkjufell ('Church Mountain'), Iceland

I visited Iceland recently on the request of Extreme Tris to shoot their inaugural Ísland Extreme Triathlon. My intention after the event was to spend some time exploring a unique image I felt I could create of the famous Kirkjufell, or Church Mountain. The common ‘Instagram’ composition of this peak, which is next to Grundarfjörður on the Snæfellsnes peninsula, is a wide angle lens from c.150m away, with a waterfall in the foreground. The shot I had in my head was a drone-style image which I wanted to capture from above the mountain, after climbing to the top of the cliffs to the west of the peak, which would give some indication of Kirkjufell’s location on the coastline with the remote west fjords of Iceland in the background. Unfortunately, some really poor weather put paid to that shot and all I managed was some quick images of the peak from the side of the road as I photographed the race. It gives me a perfect excuse to go back.

In the Land of Fire and Ice: Ísland (Iceland) Extreme Triathlon

In July 2019, despite some challenging weather that included thick mist and driving rain, I had the pleasure of shooting promotional photographs for the inaugural Ísland (Iceland) Extreme Triathlon on the Snaefellsnes penisula in western Iceland. The race, a long course triathlon where competitors are challenged with a 3km swim beneath Kirkjufell, a 180km cycle around the Snæfellsnes Peninsula and a marathon 42.2km run over the side of Snæfellsjökull, a glacier-capped stratovolcano, is the brainchild of US race directors Aaron Palaian and Tony Saap, who operate a company called ExtremeTris.com and put on the Ísland Extreme Triathlon with support from local athletes. Aaron and I first met in 2017 when I photographed him ahead of his participation in the Celtman Extreme Triathlon and we kept in touch. It was good fun to catch up with Aaron (and to trade insults, as only friends can do) but also to meet Tony and to visit the wonderful country of Iceland and meet other new friends. I’m definitely keen to go back.

Ísland Extreme Triathlon 2019

  1. Geir Omarsson (Reykjavik, IS) - Finish Time: 10:09:43

  2. Raphael Vorpe (Ittigen, Switzerland) - 10:48:17

  3. Pétur Gundnason (Reykjavik, IS) - 10:51:48

The first female home was Erin Green (Wilmington, NC, US) in a time of 15:34:39.

Gear I use: Travelling lighter (Photography equipment)

David Hetherington scrambling on steep slabs high above Llyn Llydwa during an ascent of Y Lliwedd on the Snowdon Horseshoe in Wales.

David Hetherington scrambling on steep slabs high above Llyn Llydwa during an ascent of Y Lliwedd on the Snowdon Horseshoe in Wales.

Professional photography equipment is heavy, there's no getting away that fact. Metal cases, mounts and barrels on the larger camera bodies and 'fast' lenses raise durability and quality but they also increase weight. By the time other equipment is factored in for a job (e.g. wide-angle lenses, telephotos, fish-eyes, strobes/flashes, radio triggers, batteries, light stands, modifiers, etc.), you can easily be looking at 10kg+ of equipment needing carried to create images.

Sometimes, I don’t need or want to take a lot of gear (even with an assistant) or I’m physically not able to. On such occasions, here is a list of 5 pieces of equipment I'll use when I need professional-quality images but I want to reduce the weight (e.g. I'm shooting someone on a hiking or biking expedition or the trekking stage of an adventure race);

  • Nikon D810 camera body - My main camera these days is a Nikon D4s for sports and a Nikon D810 for landscapes but, if I’m looking to reduce weight, I’ll happily take the D810 for sports (or, if the weather is poor, perhaps fall back on a D700 camera body I have used for a long time (I’m much less bothered about my D700 being ruined than I would be with my D810, even with camera insurance).

  • Nikon 16-35mm F4 lens - The lightest option I’d take would be a Nikon 24mm F2.8 lens (which works well with my older D700 camera bodies) but the high resolution of the D810 camera body is very unforgiving and I prefer newer solutions such as the 16-35mm F4 VR or 24-70mm F2.8 ED VR lenses. (My eyes always stray to my awesome Nikon 24mm F1.4 lens but having a versatility of a zoom trumps it when it’s a ‘one lens to do all’ day out).

  • Westcott 5-in-1 reflector - Not taking any lighting equipment means you're a slave to the ambient light, which isn't always ideal. If you plan to shoot environmental portraits, a 5-in-1 reflector is a lightweight alternative that enables you to, e.g. diffuse the light, fill in shadows or change the warmth of your shots to match the sunset. A Tri-grip reflector would be easier to hold but I find the original, collapsible models easier to pack.

  • Joby Ultrafit Sling Strap - A simple camera strap that screws into the bottom of the camera. It's easy to adjust and I find it comfier to use than the default camera straps. I wear it across my chest and it's long enough to cinch the camera down near my hip when I'm moving.

  • Zing Pro SLR neoprene case - I used one of these years ago on an expedition to the Southern Patagonian Ice Cap but it appears to have gone to that place things go where you're sure you've not thrown them out or sold them but you can't find them anymore. I recently purchased a new one and it's a really neat solution for protecting your camera against bumps and moisture, being a single piece of thick neoprene that you place your camera in and seal over the lens.

  • Exped Packsacks - AKA dry-bags. Professional cameras are fairly weatherproof but they're not invincible, as my frequent repair bills will testify to. Using the Zing camera case means my camera and lens is not as protected from the elements as, say, in the Lowepro Toploader Pro camera bag I usually carry outdoors. Placing the camera inside a dry bag inside my rucksack or camera backpack when I'm not using it gives me a really compact and weatherproof solution I have complete confidence in.

So there you have it. Six pieces of photography equipment I find useful when I want to travel light but still take professional-quality photos.

(Another option: Check out Nikon’s latest mirrorless cameras. Or perhaps Sony, whose full-frame camera bodies are lighter than Nikon or Canon’s. (I carry the Sony RX100 for outdoor photography when I’m not working for a client and I want to travel really light but still wish to capture decent quality images)

Gear I use: iWorkCase on-location workstation

Ultra runner Donnie Campbell (Salomon Running) photographed in front of Mont Blanc above Chamonix in France. An opportunity for me to use the iWorkCase to review and rate shots with a client on location to help speed up time in post-production and delivery.

Ultra runner Donnie Campbell (Salomon Running) photographed in front of Mont Blanc above Chamonix in France. An opportunity for me to use the iWorkCase to review and rate shots with a client on location to help speed up time in post-production and delivery.

When shooting outdoors, it’s often difficult for me to view images on my camera’s LCD screen and check focus, especially when it’s bright and sunny outside. For personal work this isn’t too much of an issue (the autofocus technology on today’s cameras is very reliable) but for commercial work - although I’ll always pitch to shoot at dusk/dawn or in late afternoon light - a brief often dictates the need to shoot all day and it’s imperative an Art Director and I can see the LCD screen, even at high noon, so we can check composition and ensure critical focus.

On really sunny days, I’ll make use of a Hoodman loupe, a lightweight device which fits over my LCD screen and shields it from the sun so we can see my images. It works perfectly but I find it tricky to simultaneously hold the camera, play back the images and zoom in whilst using the loupe.

iworkcase-location-workstation.jpg

The iWorkCase is an on-location workstation specifically designed for Apple Macbooks. I believe it’s an ideal solution for outdoor photographers on commercial advertising shoots and for portrait and architectural photographers and others who have a need to shoot outside the studio and check capture on location.

I’d first seen the iWorkCase in YouTube footage posted by US photographer Joey Lawrence. It was in the background of a ‘behind the scenes’ video Joey had posted of an environmental portrait session he had with US actor Michael K Williams. After a bit of research on Google, I worked out what the product was and I sent the manufacturer an email.

iWorkCase is the brainchild of Daniel and Immanuel Maeir from Germany. The principal parts of their iWorkCase location workstation are simple. Included in the price is a waterproof and shock-resistant laptop case (which Immanuel confirmed as a Pelican 1490), a firm, pre-cut foam inlay matched to the dimensions of your Macbook (I purchased an iWorkCase 2 Retina / Special Edition for a 2013 Macbook Pro but you can buy other inlays to suit your model of laptop - also available are 15" and 17" Macbook versions), a foldable screen to shield your screen from the sun, a thick cloth that enables you to completely block out the light, a piece of plastic that lifts your computer off the foam unit to aid the circulation of air and an external coupling plate that accepts traditional screw-in or Arca-Swiss tripod attachments. There’s also an additional, optional iWorkTablet attachment (not for iPads, which I first thought, but for using a mouse or Wacom tablet) and Hyperjuice 1.5 150 or 1.5 220 batteries for working as long as possible.

(What’s not included in the iWorkCase is the means to transfer images from your camera to your laptop. After some research, I opted for a Camranger wireless transmitter device to send images wirelessly to my Macbook and a Tethertools USB cable as a backup).

What I like about the iWorkCase

I really like the ability to see and share images on a big screen immediately after I’ve shot them. I also love being able to take my laptop out in the field in a super protective, waterproof case. These advantages however are the forte of the CamRanger wireless transmitter and the case manufacturer, Pelican, rather than the iWorkCase itself.

What Daniel and Immanuel have done is build on the above and designed a really fast, simple way for a photographer or digital technician to set up a laptop for tethered shooting on location. The parts they’ve chosen are top quality materials, they’re simple and they work well - the foam inlay and accessories (purchased separately) are situated underneath the laptop and the sunshield unit and black cloth sit on top. The sunshield especially fits quickly and securely and you’re ready to start shooting in minutes. Neat touches like the feet on the case for using it without a tripod, the velcro attachment for the cloth (and the air circulator) and the air circulator itself show that they’ve thought about the product in use and it appears they’ve designed it (and updated it after feedback) for optimal use.

What I’d like to see improved

  • Comfort - The carrying strap provided with the iWorkCase isn’t very padded and I found it uncomfortable after a period of time. I use a spare strap from a Lowepro Toploader AW75 camera bag.

  • Space - I’d prefer to be able to store more items underneath the laptop (e.g. tethering cable) so all the technology I needed for on-location photography was in one place. The iWorkCase 2 workstation has pre-cut space to accommodate a few memory cards, a Hyperjuice MBP 1.5 150 or 1.5 222 battery, a CF card reader and up to three portable hard drives, depending on size (definitely not three WD ones). If I choose not to take a battery, the CamRanger does fit in, as does a tether cable, but it’s a very neat fit and I’m wary about damaging the laptop when I close the case (something the manufacturer warns against). There’s also a risk I’d run out of power plus there would be less foam and therefore less protection for my laptop. It’s not a great hardship for me to carry the additional tethering items separately

Alternatives

Lighter weight options - All the options above are fairly heavy and not always appropriate for shoots far from the beaten track. If I do have a need to view images on a separate device on location and I want to travel lightweight, there’s the option to take just the black cloth from the iWorkCase plus the CamRanger and carry my laptop in my backpack. I could also share images from my camera to an Art Director’s iPad or iPhone with the CamRanger and use the cloth to shield the screen. These solutions aren’t always ideal, but they do work.


Gear I use: CamRanger Wireless Transmitter

Testing the CamRanger in my home town of Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival Fireworks

Testing the CamRanger in my home town of Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival Fireworks

I first took notice of CamRanger when I saw the wireless transmitter device being used in a video posted on YouTube by German action sports photographer Lorenz Holder. He was using the CamRanger to trigger his camera remotely using his iPad, which was also replicating what his camera was seeing (similar to Nikon’s Live View).

Naturally, I was curious (not just because Lorenz’s work is excellent) but because, as part of an on-location workstation I was setting up, I was interested in technology that would enable me to capture images on location and immediately view them on my laptop or iPad without the need for a tethered cable. CamRanger, I’ve found, is such a device. It offers a number of other solutions (e.g. off-camera live view as Lorenz was using above - plus the ability to adjust your camera settings as you view the live view - as well as focus stacking for macro photography) but I mainly use it for its ability to share and rate images on-location so I or an Art Director can confirm we’re capturing images that meet the client’s brief.

CamRanger is simply a small plastic Wifi router. It works by generating its own Wifi signal - in town or in the backcountry - that you can connect your mobile device, tablet or laptop to. Plug the CamRanger device into your camera using the USB cable provided, switch it on to generate a Wifi signal and then, once the devices are paired, you can control your camera or share images to a third party device using the CamRanger app.

These are the CamRanger features I find of most value;

1. Sharing images on my iPad - Client Mode on the CamRanger app provides you with the ability to take photos and have your images display as high-resolution JPEGs on your (or a client’s) iPad. To do this, you set your camera to shoot Raw files + Basic JPEGs and make sure the CamRanger app is installed on the iPad and Client Mode is switched on (Note - Client Mode is not available for the iPhone). You can then simply hand the iPad to the client or Art Director and ask them to use the in-built Rating system (1 to 4 stars) to mark up their preferred images for selection or for further review.

2. Sharing images on multiple iPads or mobile devices - Separate from the CamRanger app is the CamRanger Share app. You can download the CamRanger Share app to a number of separate devices and then use the main CamRanger app to wirelessly shareimages to multiple people, e.g. a Creative Director and an Art Director or an Art Director and the client. A nice feature of the Share app is you can selectively share images and only share the images you choose.

3. Sharing images on my laptop - US-based photographer Von Wong provides details on his website for how to synchronise CamRanger with your laptop and import images into Adobe Lightroom using the ‘watched folder’ functionality.

The reasons I prefer using my laptop (as part of my on-location workstation) rather than an iPad or iPhone are;

a.) I can use the full-screen option in Adobe Lightroom to view images more clearly

b.) I can have a backup - I carry a Tethertools USB cable in case the wireless approach doesn’t work (it’s not yet not worked but I like the comfort of an alternative option)

c.) I can backup images on location to a portable hard drive using an automator script or GoodSync software. So I have a copy of my images on card, on my laptop and on a hard drive before I’ve even got home.

4. Camera LiveView - Sometimes, when shooting landscapes, you don’t want to or it’s difficult to look through the viewfinder. LiveView on the CamRanger app allows you to position your camera anywhere within a reasonable distance and view the composition directly from your iPad or iPhone.

What I like about CamRanger

  • It’s small and lightweight - which is always a bonus when I have to carry gear into remote places

  • The ability to be able to review images on a bigger screen - all images have a tendency to look in focus on a small LCD screen

  • It forces me to shoot slower and really think about the work I’m producing - valuing quality over quantity

  • It enables me to receive sign-off for images on location - meaning I can focus on these images in post-production and deliver work quicker for my clients

What I’d like to see improved

  • A proper full screen view on the iPad - rather than a 7/8th view with a logo along the bottom

  • Pinch and zoom - The CamRanger is always reminding me to double-click to zoom in on images on playback

  • The ability to set Client Mode on the iPhone - simply because it’s more lightweight to take outdoors than an iPad

  • Longer battery life - I find using the CamRanger chews through my Nikon D4S camera batteries much quicker than normal. The CamRanger battery life I find more than sufficient but I carry a spare just in case

Alternatives

Sea kayaking and hillwalking in Scotland: Ladhar Bheinn, Knoydart

An editorial feature I produced for Emily Rodway, editor of The Great Outdoors (TGO) magazine in the UK, describing our experiences on a sea kayaking and hillwalking trip to Ladhar Bheinn, a Munro on the remote Knoydart peninsula in the West Highlands of Scotland.

Paddling Loch Hourn with the summit of Ladhar Bheinn in the distance

Paddling Loch Hourn with the summit of Ladhar Bheinn in the distance

"My experience of 2 days of kayaking is that it's knackering on its own", my friend Kirsty replied to an email I'd sent her asking if she and her partner Steve were interested in a sea kayaking trip to climb a Munro (a Scottish mountain peak over 914.4m/3,000ft high). "But a hill thrown in? You'll need to get training!".

As a photographer who specialises in outdoor and adventure sports, I know a little bit about a lot of outdoor activities. I do endeavour to pick up hints and tips from athletes during photo shoots but when it comes to sea kayaking, I'm still very much a beginner. Kirsty's words therefore rang loud in my head as I focused on my technique and concentrated on making an energy-efficient paddle stroke as we left behind the tiny settlement of Kinloch Hourn on Scotland's remote west coast and headed out on a two-day sea kayaking adventure to climb the Munro, Ladhar Bheinn.

Ladhar Bheinn, 1020m tall, is one of my favourite Scottish mountains. Partly, this is because it is only accessible by boat or by foot. Getting to the peak involves travelling 9km by boat from Mallaig to Inverie (popularly known as being the home of Scotland's most remote mainland pub) or hiking c.13km of rough terrain from Kinloch Hourn (itself a 35km drive along a single track road).

Most visitors looking to climb Ladhar Bheinn from Kinloch Hourn will hike in. The idea for a sea kayaking approach came to mind two months previously, during a particularly gruelling mountain backpack through deep snow in the Cairngorms National Park. Conversations that usually focused on the joys of light packs in Summer and afternoons spent relaxing outside sun-soaked alpine huts turned to the potential for a waterborne approach to climb some of the hills on Scotland's archipelago-like west coast.

At the time, a discussion on the merits of kayaking into a mountain was just a means of taking my mind off the weight of a winter backpack on my shoulders and freeze-dried food in my belly. Fast forward to May 2016 and we'd made it a reality. Kirsty, Steve and I were joined on our Ladhar Bheinn adventure by Ben Dodman, a professional sea kayaking instructor with Rockhopper Sea Kayaking, a Corpach-based business near Fort William that offers day and overnight trips. Kirsty and Steve had been on trips with Rockhopper before and, when we approached Ben with the idea, he was keen to come along.

"There's no real need for lightweight sea kayaking", Ben had said when I'd asked him if it was worth limiting the camping equipment I'd planned to bring with me. "A kayak carries a lot of gear so you don't have to skimp on the nice-to-have's". Kirsty and Steve - our volunteer cooks for the weekend - demonstrated similar principles in the menu they had prepared. Not the usual backpacking fare but pancakes, honey and banana for breakfast, fresh salad vegetables, tomatoes, wraps, tuna fish and mayonnaise for lunch and pasta, home cooked tomato, vegetable and chilli sauce and freshly-baked muffins for dinner. The latter three to be washed down with fine Italian wine. It had all the makings of a great weekend.

As we paddled Loch Hourn, the water's translation from Gaelic, the Devil's Loch, became apparent. One of the benefits of sea kayaking is it allows you to get close to nature. Kayakers on the west coast of Scotland have reported sightings of otters, seals, basking sharks, all habitual visitors to our islands and, on occasion, orcas. Shooting down the loch, metaphorically speaking, taking advantage of the tide and wind, we saw no sign of life. Nothing in the water nor in flight above the steep slopes either side of the water. We didn't mind though, as dominating the view, partially covered in cloud, was the lower slopes of Ladhar Bheinn.

I'd climbed Ladhar Bheinn twice before. My first time was via likely the most popular route up the mountain, from the small settlement of Inverie. We'd headed first for Mam Barrisdale before breaking off up steep, fern-covered slopes onto the curious feature of Aonach Sgoilte, or split ridge. My second ascent was during a 4-day backpack of all the Munros in Knoydart, when we reached Aonach Sgoilte after first climbing two nearby Corbetts, Beinn na Caillich and Sgurr Coire Choinnichean. Both times were in excellent weather and we could see all around as we continued up the scrambly north-west ridge of Ladhar Bheinn to its summit.

The classic route up Ladhar Bheinn is to follow a horseshoe around Coire Dhorcaill. The headwall of this great mountain corrie is ringed with crags and it is enclosed by two great, narrow, steep-sided ridges, Stob a'Chearcaill and Stob a’Choire Odhair. As we crossed Barrisdale Bay, we could see right into the corrie. The wind caused the chop on the water to increase as we headed into more exposed waters - the bay opens out into the Sound of Sleat offering access to Glenelg, Inverie and more - and care was needed as we negotiated a stiff cross-wind. Barrisdale bay however is not big and we soon reached the shelter of the shore and looked for a place to stay the night.

Outside the comforts of Inverie, there are three overnight options when you climb Ladhar Bheinn. You can wild camp almost anywhere, courtesy of Scotland's refreshing outdoor access code, or stay in one of two private bothies nearby, Barisdale bothy or Druim bothy. Neither bothy is maintained by the Mountain Bothy Association and both charge a fee for staying at their accommodation. Barisdale however has the advantage of not needing pre-booked.

"Keep an eye out for a place to camp", shouted Ben as we kayaked along shoreline. (I'd learnt that normal conversation was quite difficult on a kayak, soft-spoken words far too easily getting whipped away on the wind). We'd agreed as a group that we should take advantage of travelling in sea kayaks and wild camp on the shores beneath Ladhar Bheinn, only taking advantage of the bothy if the weather was really bad, After a short paddle, Ben found a suitable spot in a sheltered bay and we beached the boats safely away from the tide, pitched camp and ate a quick lunch.

Despite the fact we'd started paddling at an early hour, there wasn't much daylight left when we started our ascent of Ladhar Bheinn. From our campsite, there were a few routes we could have taken up the hill but we really wanted to do the classic route, via Coire Dhorrcail. To reach the corrie from our campsite involved a 2.5km traverse along the coastline, which involved some fun, but slippery coasteering and a river crossing. This made for an interesting start for our ascent, but it wasn't long before we'd left the waters behind, gained some height and entered the mouth of the corrie. 

"What an awesome location", I shared with Kirsty as we followed Ben and Steve further into the corrie. I had envisaged a natural mountain amphitheatre and the terrain didn't disappoint. As well as its steep outer sides of Stob a'Chearcaill and Stob a’Chiore Odhair, Corrie Dhorrcailhas two mini corries within it, separated by a steep rocky nose. It's quite a special place. 

In 1999, Knoydart had a burst of media attention when the local community raised £850,000 to purchase the land from the then estate owners. The east boundary of what became the Knoydart Foundation’s land (www.knoydart-foundation.com) ran along Ladhar Bheinn’s north-west ridge and, three or so hours after we had left the kayaks, we crested the headwall of the corrie and broke out onto this ridge near the summit of Aonach Sgoilte. The Knoydart peninsula is known as the 'rough bounds' for the wild nature of its terrain but we hadn't found the ground so far too bad and had gained height relatively quickly. We had however been sheltered by the corrie headwall from the prevailing wind. As we stood on the ridge looking up towards the summit, we were more exposed and we quickly donned the extra clothing and waterproofs needed to keep warm as the wind whipped ominous-looking clouds across the steel-coloured sky. It was clear we were going to have some squally, windy weather on our way to the summit. To reinforce this fact, when we looked down to Loch Hourn 'white horses' had already started a race across the water all the way back east towards Kinlochourn.

Despite the somewhat bleak weather, we were enjoying ourselves. Ladhar Bheinn's summit flanks are a fantastic viewpoint and, as well as the view to Loch Hourn, we could see south-east to its neighbourly Munros, Luinne Bheinn and Meall Bhuide, and west out over the Corbett of Sgurr Coire Choinnichean towards Mallaig. Ladhar Bheinn's north-west ridge is also great fun. It's quite rocky and there's a handful of scrambling on it, grade 1 at most, but nothing overly technical or exposed. (You can though stand on an obvious prow of rock halfway up that overhangs a drop of several hundred feet. It makes for a great photo opportunity). 

I was almost disappointed when we climbed the last of the summit slopes and joined up with the connecting ridge that goes out to Stob a’Chiore Odhair. All that was left was an enjoyably airy walk that took us across Ladhar Bheinn’s final summit ridge and on to its summit cairn. As is all too often the case on Scotland's mountains, we didn't hang around for too long. Rain had been falling for most of the previous hour and thoughts of being back at camp eating dinner had started to cloud my thought process. (This was despite the banana and walnut muffins Kirsty had produced out of her rucksack on the way up. "There's enough for two each if you want them", she triumphantly proclaimed. There was definitely little concept of 'light and fast' on our trip and, I must say, it was all the better for it). 

It was after 5.30pm when we started our descent. Despite not having to go back to our starting point at Kinlochourn, we still had a fair way to go to get back to our tents. The decision we'd made was to reverse our steps back along the summit ridge and then complete the horseshoe of Coire Dhorcaill by a descent of the mountain via Stob a’Choire Odhair. One of the benefits of wild camping is you're not restricted to existing routes up or down mountains and, as we descended the ridge, which is enjoyably narrow, we realised it made sense for us to break off towards Bealach a’Choire Odhair. After a few steep descents, we could see our tents below and we headed straight down to the shores of Loch Hourn. All that was left was a final short burst of coasteering before we reached our tents, the stoves were lit and dinner was served as we sat on our kayaks and watched it get dark. 

Sidebar

Planning a sea kayaking trip

Whilst our paddle on the way to climb Ladhar Bheinn was greatly assisted by the outgoing tide, our journey the next day back to Kinlochourn was needlessly harder as we paddled through the narrows at Caolos Mor straight into the tide (only because everyone was kind enough to stop in Barrisdale Bay so I could take some photos for this article). Paddling against the flow of the water is hard work and, energy-wise, it meant we all had to work at least 2 times harder than if we were going with the flow. It makes much more sense to plan a sea kayaking trip around the tide. If you don’t know how to do this, go with a professional. Rockhopper Sea Kayaking (www.rockhopperscotland.co.uk) is based in Corpach, near Fort William, and offers half, full and multi-day sea kayaking trips through 'some of the most spectacular coastal, mountain and island scenery in Scotland'. All you need to do is turn up and play. 

Basic sea kayaking equipment

  • Wet or dry suit

  • Sea kayak

  • Spray deck

  • Buoyancy aid

  • Paddle

  • Map (For Ladhar Bheinn we used OS Landranger 33, Loch Alsh, Glen Shiel and Loch Hourn)

  • Compass

Nice to have

  • Dry bags (lots of them)

  • Rubber shoes

  • Hat and gloves

  • Tow belt

  • Spare paddle (at least one between a group)

  • Waterproof camera case

Other kayaking / hillwalking trip ideas

  • Loch Quoich / Ben Aden

  • Loch Scavaig / Skye Cuillin

  • Loch Veyatie / Suilven

  • Loch Mullardoch / Benula Forest

  • Loch Monar / Monar Forest


Wordcount: 1831 words (main article), 274 words (sidebar)

Published in: The Great Outdoors, Spring 2017

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Seeing the light - A photographer's workflow

Dawn light piercing clouds in Glen Coe. Captured one Autumn morning after I’d spent the previous evening camped on the summit of Bidean nam Bian, a 1150m high Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

Dawn light piercing clouds in Glen Coe. Captured one Autumn morning after I’d spent the previous evening camped on the summit of Bidean nam Bian, a 1150m high Munro in the West Highlands of Scotland

(Or, how I organise, edit, find and not lose my digital images)

Long before I started my photography business, I had thousands of photographs on various computers. I had no real idea which ones I liked best, when they were taken or whether they were worth keeping. More worryingly, I had no back up copies of any of them in case of a disaster. In short, my photo organisation was a mess.

When I adopted an professional approach, I upgraded my equipment and created new business processes. At the time, I wasn't shy of learning from industry experts (I'm still not), so I downloaded a copy of Michael Clark's 'Adobe Photoshop Lightroom: A Professional Photographer's Workflow', took time out to read it cover to cover (many times) and decided what worked best for me.

My photography workflow

The three components in my photography workflow today are;

  1. Import files

  2. Rate, remove and rename

  3. Archive and share

To support this, I have two photography folders on my desktop computer - a ‘Temporary Folder ‘ and a Photo Archive’. The temporary folder is used solely for any initial imports and is cleared out once images have been rated and moved to my photo archive. Doing it this way reduces disk space and cost as I’m only archiving the photos I want to and not any that need rejected (e.g. because I've captured an athlete when they've had their eyes shut, I don’t like the composition or they're out of focus).

When I return from a shoot, I'll religiously stick to the following process;

  1. Download the images to a 'Raw files' folder that I’ve created in my Temporary Folder

  2. Create a new Adobe Lightroom catalogue (e.g. Catalogue_2019) or use an existing one

  3. Import photos from the Raw files folder into Adobe Lightroom with generic keywords relating to the shoot

  4. Rate photos in Lightroom - 1 (delete), 2 (happy to keep) or 3 (images that best meet the brief)

  5. Filter to view 1-star images and remove these from Adobe Lightroom plus my hard drive

  6. Batch rename all the remaining images in Lightroom, both 2-star and 3-star, using a consistent naming model, e.g. c_henderson_location_MMYY-123.NEF (using the ‘Library>Rename photo’ option in Lightroom’s top menu)

  7. Go back to Mac’s Finder application and move the Raw images (now filtered and rated) from my Temporary Folder into my Photo Archive folder. Then I'll go back into Lightroom and use its synchronisation functionality to re-connect my catalogue with the files in their new location

  8. Complete the keywording exercise in Adobe Lightroom then process the 3-star images and export them to a 'Processed Images' folder that already exists in my Temporary Folder ready for submission to my clients (For client sharing, I'll use either Photoshelter or Dropbox Pro).

  9. Exit Lightroom, choosing to back up the catalogue

  10. Once a client has made their selection from the proofs, I'll mark the select images up to 4-star, complete the processing of them as required in Adobe Photoshop and share them with the client as high-resolution TIFF and/or JPEG files to finish the job.

Backing up images

It's key that I don't lose any images. All my files are backed up automatically throughout the above process by Apple's Time Machine (though I do manually if I've made a lot of changes). I also back-up manually to 3 separate portable hard drives, two of which are in different locations off-site, plus I have an automatic back-up in the cloud. So there's eventually five different copies of any single file, in different locations, for archival purposes. (Plus a sixth copy on the memory card I captured the images on, until I'm happy to format it ready for my next shoot).

Summary

  • All my photographs and catalogues are backed up in multiple places

  • All my images are rated 2, 3 or 4

  • All images are named and tagged consistently with my name, the activity, location, keywords and date

  • I can deliver quality work for clients very quickly and easily

Hiking and trekking: Tour Glacier near Chamonix, France

Alex Haken checking out a crevasse on the Tour Glacier near the Albert Premier (1er) refuge in the French Alps

Alex Haken checking out a crevasse on the Tour Glacier near the Albert Premier (1er) refuge in the French Alps

Aiguille du Tour is a 3542m high peak in the European Alps, north of Chamonix, that borders France and Switzerland. It is generally regarded as a simple peak, its normal route graded Facile, or Easy.

A friend and I had chosen Aiguille du Tour as our first attempt at an Alpine summit. We’d asked along another friend, Alex, who was much more competent than us at the time (and still is). When we arrived in Chamonix, the valley residents were experiencing a heatwave and it was a joy to gain height into the cooling air as we took the gondola from Le Tour and followed the trail up to the Albert Premier Refuge at 2706m. This was my first visit to the Chamonix valley and the domed summit of Mont Blanc, which glistened high above the valley, dominated my attention.

The following morning, we left the Albert Premier refuge before sunrise (my first true alpine start) and roped up as we ascended the Tour Glacier. Above our heads we could see the prominent rock table on the Couloir de la Table route. We were headed for Col Superior du Tour, following the first part of the famous Haute Route. At the col, we looked down onto the Trient Glacier in Switzerland. We had seen photos of terrible crevasses on the Trient Glacier but it was early in the season and thankfully the crevasses were full of snow (although breaking through a snow bridge and falling into a hidden crevasse would still be a risk).

I struggled to climb Aiguille du Tour on this occasion, mainly due to illness, and I chose not to continue to the summit. Which disappointed me but we continued with our plan and trekked over the Trient Glacier, with its spectacular views of Aiguilles Dorées, to spend the night at the Trient Hut in Switzerland. In the morning we retraced our steps back to France and took the time to check out the more broken parts of the glacier. In terms of climbing, it was an unsuccessful trip but I’ve learnt not to measure Alpine adventures simply in terms of summits I’ve reached. A lot of the joy I find is in the journey and, especially so, in the moments I can capture.

Sea kayaking: Patagonian Expedition Race

Team East Wind sea kayaking with a Peale’s dolphin down an unusually calm Strait of Magellan in Southern Chile

Team East Wind sea kayaking with a Peale’s dolphin down an unusually calm Strait of Magellan in Southern Chile

The Patagonian Expedition Race is an adventure race par excellence held in the wilderness of southern Chilean Patagonia. Teams of four are challenged to navigate a remote 700km+ course, with minimal support, that demands advanced skills in the disciplines of mountain biking, trekking, mountaineering and sea kayaking.

Team East Wind are a professional adventure race team from Japan who compete in expedition races around the world. They are led by team captain Masato Tanaka, a venerable adventure racer who continually proves that the best way to lead is by example (Masato continued competing in the 2016 Patagonian Expedition Race even after a mountain bike accident on stage 4 of the race fractured his nose and forced him to wear an immobilising neck brace). Masato is an experienced captain who skilfully picks his team according to their strengths and, most likely, their appetite for suffering.

I captured the photo above during stage 17 of a Patagonian Expedition Race, as Team East Wind kayaked the Strait of Magellan ahead of their final 100km mountain bike into Punta Arenas. I was aware Peale’s dolphins swam in the Straits of Magellan, having researched the history, flora and fauna of Patagonia thoroughly for a book I’d written on trekking in Argentina’s Los Glaciares National Park. I also had a feeling they would follow boats on the water, based on my understanding that dolphins are naturally inquisitive. It was a combination of this knowledge and, likely, some luck that led me to drive down a dirt road in a 4x4 along the shore as I followed the kayakers and waited for a dolphin to emerge. Every time one did, and sometimes there was more than one, a cheer arose from Team East Wind, their enthusiasm buoyed as they battled their way to a second place finish.

Gear I use: F-Stop Satori 62 litre Camera Backpack

F-Stop camera backpacks. Quality solutions I believe for carrying camera gear when you’re photographing outdoor and adventure sports activities

F-Stop camera backpacks. Quality solutions I believe for carrying camera gear when you’re photographing outdoor and adventure sports activities

A few years ago, to save space, I went through an exercise to rationalise all the rucksacks and backpacks I owned. I did have a few. There was an 80 litre expedition pack by Aiguille Alpine, two climbing sacks from Deuter, a Lowepro Photosport camera backpack, a Lowepro Vertex AW300, a lightweight OMM adventure racing pack and a tiny Camelbak for day trips. Amongst a few others.

Despite having a choice of many packs, I’d never quite felt comfortable with the options I’d purchased for carrying the bulk of my camera gear when I was out on a photo shoot, away on a few days trip or planning an expedition.

Aside from the obvious choice of Lowepro, there were a few dedicated camera backpack companies I was aware of, from reviews on the internet and from word of mouth. One of them was the US company F-Stop (www.fstopgear.com). What put me off F-Stop initially was their cost - they’re not cheap - and back in 2015/16 they had well-documented supply chain issues (I’ve never seen so many negative comments about a company that remains in business). What intrigued me though was all the positive comments from existing customers, even some who had been waiting for their purchase for a while (an indication perhaps as to how much value can be placed on the power of a good brand).

In June 2016, I took the plunge and ordered an F-Stop pack from their website. To my surprise - given some people’s feedback of lengthy delays - it arrived within 7 days. The speed of my delivery was perhaps due to the fact that the product I’d ordered was an F-Stop Satori, which was a previous model F-Stop were selling at a discount on their web store. (At 62 litres, the Satori was the largest backpack F-Stop offered until they introduced their Sukha (70 litre) and Shinn (80 litre) models as part of their 2015 Mountain Range series).

The F-Stop Satori 62 litre backpack appears to have been a classic of F-Stop’s previous range (along with the 37 litre Loka - which I’ve also since purchased), before they overhauled their range in 2015 and brought out their replacements. What remained unique about F-Stop’s proposition (until I believe LowePro came out with a similar solution) was the application of their Internal Camera Units (ICUs). These ICUs are a system of storage cases that fit inside all F-Stop backpacks, leaving space for your spare clothing and equipment. The packs have a really friendly user interface because the shell of an F-Stop pack opens from the back as well as the top which makes accessing your camera equipment very easy.

The ICUs I use are;

  • X-Large - This takes nearly everything I would use on a mobile shoot (2 Nikon camera bodies, 3 lenses, 3 speedlights, Pocketwizard transceivers, etc.). It’s only really suitable when not much clothing is needed, e.g. if I’m shooting from or close to a vehicle. I can, however, still easily fit a warm jacket, hat and gloves, plus waterproofs inside the pack.

  • Medium Slope - For overnight trips where I want to carry sleeping equipment along with my camera gear, F-Stop’s Medium Slope ICU is ideal. In the space around the ICU, I can fit all my bivvy gear (a synthetic -7 degrees C sleeping bag, a bivvy bag and a sleeping mat) plus a dry bag with hat, gloves, light fleece and a duvet jacket, as well waterproofs in the outside pockets. This is on top of the ICU holding one large camera body, two large lenses plus my remote camera triggers and other bits and pieces. When I’m not on the hill, the ICU easily converts to neatly store all my Speedlights and lighting gear.

What I like about the F-Stop Satori backpack

  • Laptop sleeve - I didn’t like this initially as it’s too big for my 13 inch Macbook Pro (it’s sized for a 15 inch laptop), but when I use a Medium Slope ICU it’s an perfect size to fit a folded up Thermarest NeoAir winter sleeping mat and a bivvy bag.

  • Big zips - The pack is built to last and there’s nothing in the quality of construction that makes me want to baby it.

  • Wand pockets - These are not all mesh. A small thing perhaps but it means they’re less easy to damage when you carry heavy equipment in them, e.g. a tripod.

  • Comfort - I find the pack super comfy to carry (I’m 6'2" tall). It’s stable enough that when I’ve filled the pack with bivvy gear and a Medium Slope ICU I can actually jog down hills with it.

I could go on as I really like this pack. No-one paid me to communicate this and I’m super fussy.

What I’d change

Really, very little. If I had to be picky, it would be that, out the box, unlike F-Stop’s similar model, the Tilopa (and, previously, the Loka), the only way to attach a tripod to the Satori pack is on the side and not the front. Carrying a 2kg tripod in one of the side pockets makes the pack very unbalanced (I could purchase a carbon-fibre tripod to save weight but I like the one I have). There are straps you can buy for the Satori, which should, I think, enable you to mirror the Tilopa way of carrying a tripod on the front but they are very expensive - 30 euros including postage back in 2016 for just two straps. (I don’t mind paying premium prices for good gear but I draw the line at paying 30 Euros for two nylon straps). I’ve resorted instead to carrying my tripod using a strap over my neck and shoulder and resting it on my belly (risking, unfortunately, that I look like I am pretending to hold a machine gun).

Other very slight niggles are I’ve not yet found a way to attach a 56cm Lastolite EzyBox Softbox to the outside of the pack (but neither have I on any of my other packs) and if the pack was slightly bigger - probably like the Sukha - I could carry a stove and a warmer duvet jacket inside for open bivvies in the Winter. Finally, although it doesn’t take long to take the pack off and get your camera out, nothing I have beats a Lowepro Toploader AW75 camera holster for ease of use when I’m shooting documentary-style and I need to capture action as it happens (e.g. when I need to move with athletes whilst on a trekking shoot or mountain biking expedition).

Alternative options

  • F-Stop Tilopa - very slightly smaller and, as mentioned above, possibly better ‘out the box’ at carrying a tripod

  • F-Stop Ajna - At 40 litres, more suited I’d imagine to day trips (and they’ve chosen what I feel is a poor way to enable you to carry a tripod)

  • Lowepro Whistler - A similar solution from Lowepro (I used their Vertex 300AW model before switching to the Satori)

  • Shimoda Designs - A company started by Ian Millar, who I understand was F-Stop’s chief designer before they parted ways