Mountain landscapes: Glen Coe, Scotland

Each year, in Summer, I like to take a few weeks out of the Scottish mountains to let the temperature cool down and remove the scourge that is the Scottish highland midge. By the time we reach the cooler months of September and October, I’m looking forward to ending my self-imposed exile and re-charging my own batteries, so to speak, as I head back out again into the hills.

My plan for this occasion was to sleep atop a mountain peak and photograph the sunrise for a personal client and scope out a location for a mountain running shoot I had pencilled in for later in the year. The internet is such a valuable resource these days for a landscape photographer. With many useful tools such as Google Maps, Google Images and the Sunseeker mobile app (or an alternative, e.g. the Photographer’s Ephemeris), you can plan out in detail exactly which locations should be worth going to and when, with the huge advantage of knowing in advance where the light will fall. An awful lot of work can be done at home or in the office in research mode and, for your shoot, it’s simply (ok, it’s never really that simple) a case of waiting for the right spell of good weather.

After some research, I settled on an ascent of Stob Coire nan Lochan, a rocky summit, 1115m high, that is part of the Bidean nam Bian massif in Glen Coe in the West Highlands of Scotland. As I packed my camping gear and camera equipment, I looked forward to heading back to Glen Coe. I’ve shot there before and I decided to go back for good reason. The landscape in such a small place is incredibly varied.

I parked at the popular Pass of Glen Coe at 6.30pm, trekking up Coire nan Lochan as it got dark. The ground was familiar as I’d been in the corrie before, en route to a popular winter climb called Dorsal Arete. Scrambling up the rocky flanks of Stob Coire nan Lochan by head-torch was somewhat tricky but good fun. When I arrived on the summit, there was a slight breeze but the air was dry. Settling in to my bivvy, I listed to the sound of stags braying loudly in the glens below and soon feel asleep.

One of the benefits of heading out in Autumn is you don’t need to get up super early to catch the dawn. Sunrise was expected at 7:37am and I was up at a very pleasant time of 7.00am. As I expected, I was on my own, with an uninterrupted 360-degree view of multiple beautiful Scottish glens and mountains. I hadn’t brought a stove (to save weight), so, after a few arm swings to warm up, I set up my tripod, camera and wireless trigger in the gloomy light of pre-dawn, pre-visualised what frames I thought would be worthy to photograph and waited to see what would happen. As it turned out, there was no spectacular sunrise but I was witness to some wonderful views as clouds filled the glens and wild rays of light were projected onto the landscape east of Glen Coe. I kept shooting as the sun rose higher in the sky, despite the fact it was cloudy. Lower clouds had lifted from the floor of the glens and had started to drape over the mountain ridges and I was duly rewarded, once again, when shafts of light began to break through the higher clouds and atmospherically lit up the landscape. 

In all, I spent a very special few hours above Glencoe in beautiful silence switching between wide angle and telephoto lenses and shooting as many different compositions as I could. When the light died down, I packed up and headed out to visit the summit of Bidean nam Bian (one of the 282 ‘Munros’, Scottish peaks over 3,000ft high). From there, I had an enjoyable walk along the ridge to a second Munro, Stob Coire Sgreamhach, before I retraced my steps to the head of the beautiful Lost Valley and headed for home.