Caledonian Light Review – a photographer’s view of the Highlands
Scotland is a country that naturally lends itself to great photography. My latest trip to the Highlands sees three of the Scotlanders join up with Caledonian Light for a Scottish Highland photography tour of some of Scotland’s most picturesque spots. Starting and ending in Tyndrum on the well-travelled road north, today is all about seeing what are for me very familiar locations through the lens of my camera. What follows completes one of my favourite days of the year so far.
The Caledonian Light team of Gordon and Tommy couldn’t pick a better place to start than Glen Coe. Steeped in tragic history, hauntingly and spectacularly beautiful….there really is nowhere like it. From the barren and desolate road trip approach through Rannoch Moor, creative minds will start working overtime. Writers, poets, photographers, artists et al could make a merry living hanging out around here. Miles and miles of nothing contrast with the slap back to the land of the living that is Buachaille Etive Mor and the beginning of one of the country’s favourite visitor pulls.
Our first stop is the iconic shot of the whitewashed cottage that has this untouched landscape all to itself. Laughing off the fact that some barbarian had erected a portaloo alongside the property, we set to work putting the vista to use. With different cameras and abilities between us, the guys could not have been better at breaking down the complex nature of the modern snapper. All those buttons……it’s little wonder that so many users play it safe and never deviate from the Auto settings. It’s a confidence and a patience issue – while the latter is on you, the former relies on a safe pair of hands to steer you.
Both Tommy and Gordon love what they do and, despite having different styles to their photography, have an extraordinarily flexible approach to the process. Working with IT and technical hogwash as I do day-to-day, there is often only one way you should ever even contemplate doing something. Or god help you. The guys don’t take that view at all with cameras and we spend some time weighing up the factors to consider in best capturing your memory. Lighting, angle, foreground, filters, movement, lens, the merits of black and white…..there are so many ways to achieve a Twitter-worthy result. While we are all instinctively drawn to the obvious shots that grab the eye and scream “PHOTO!”, taking a few seconds to consider some more subtle snaps can be even more satisfying. It’s a lesson well-learnt – consider your surroundings and make the camera tell a story. Today it’s on-and-off damp and luscious in summery green but this is still Glen Coe, a sombre location shrouded in mystery and bearing a heavy soul. Going off the track and capturing some simple shots of the natural landscape can tell their own story of the photographer’s interpretation of the experience. Being a miserable git, my shrubbery close ups perhaps balance out the more obvious eye-openers of the day, but for me still say much about the Glen and the impression that it leaves on me.
Much of the rest of the morning is spent stalking out the Glen. With the weather being generally co-operative, some of the vantage points made for superb shots. Twiddling about with my once-foreign settings, I’m thrilled with my almost immediate progress. In the weeks since, I’ve become appalled at the mediocrity that I used to produce. As a travel blogger, my focus has always been first and foremost on the writing but as time has gone on, audience interest has become more and more geared towards the visuals. While admittedly a little saddened that the travel industry is increasingly moving away from text, it ups the ante and necessitates that I know what I’m doing with my camera. With material like this on my radar, it would be a crime not to. Gordon and Tommy have laid out the day to be one of ease and meals are covered by the fee. Knowing their way around these parts, your objective is just to sit back, relax and absorb yourself in the great Scottish outdoors.
After lunch we head off to our next top spot, and it’s another iconic one. Much like Glen Coe, Glenfinnan is synonymous with a controversial chapter in Scotland’s history. The spot where Bonnie Prince Charlie rallied his somewhat dubious supporters for the last Jacobite campaign, it has the convenient additional advantage of being visually glorious. The view over Loch Shiel is in itself mind-blowing but throw in the viaduct (made more famous by Harry Potter), the panorama of peaks and, in our case, the Glenfinnan Highland Games below and I’m cursing the fact that I didn’t bring a second camera battery. Tommy also has a keen interest in history and has an excellent knowledge of the locations and their significance. With today combining my two biggest Scottish passions – history and the outdoors – it was always going to result in a happy blogger.
The final stop is at one of our most superbly located historical treasures, Castle Stalker. Located just off the mainland’s west coast, Stalker stands majestically on its own little island and has long appeared on calendars, postcards and fridge magnets as the quintessentially romantic Scottish castle. With the light fading fast, this presents us with a new challenge. Capturing colour is proving difficult and this is the perfect opportunity to utilise the hidden magic of black and white imagery. Taking in the entirety of the coastal landscape, it’s not an approach I would ever have previously considered (were I on my own I’d have given up for the day and began the retreat back south by now) but the end result captures the mood at the time superbly. As the sun sets and a busy day ends, a lonely shot of an island fortress on an uninterrupted waterline is the perfect way to close.
Tommy and Gordon are two fantastic guys. Following their passions, they love Scotland and they love what the camera can do to her. Although still in its early stages, theirs’ is a concept that is sure to grow and expand and it is fantastic to have been there front and centre as it starts to build momentum. Handpicking three wonderful spots in Glen Coe, Glenfinnan and Castle Stalker, there is so much material for any level of photographer to work with. Couple this with a personal and thoughtfully tailored service and this becomes a tour that I’d recommend to any Scotland and/or photography enthusiast, irrespective of your level of experience.
Although the guys have wisely picked out the above top locations, nothing is set in stone. The stopwatch does not come out at any point and it’s always worth mentioning in advance if you have some ideas of your own. In this part of the world, it’s hard to go wrong. As you will be reminded before setting off on your tour, ensure your camera is fully charged (a spare battery is no bad idea either) and wear appropriate clothing. It rains in Scotland from time to time you see. While I certainly recommend bringing your own camera if you have one, they have plenty of spare gear available and weighing up the pros and cons of the different makes and models was an education in itself.
Although I was invited as a Scotlander to experience this tour free of charge, I would not be promoting it if I did not think it made for a great experience. Caledonian Light is a fantastic concept and very well run by Tommy and Gordon, who could not have done more from beginning to end to ensure this was a day to remember.