I was pleasantly surprised to learn that two of my images had been 'Commended' in the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. It's always nice to receive peer recognition for images, and I look forward to seeing the images in print in the upcoming SLPOTY book that will be available in March 2017.
The two images were commended in the 'portfolio' category, and I had entered a few images from my trip in November 2016. The two chosen by the judges were quite different in their circumstances and visual aesthetic, but were both taken on the same day...
I always find it hard to title my images but the competition request it, so this one was given the name 'Last Goodbye'. It was taken on the final day of my trip and it seemed fitting as Scotland decided to deliver one heck of a day of changing light and conditions, surely to tempt me back again.
At the end of a long 12 days of traveling, walking and image making (tough life eh?!) I got up later than I wanted to and bumbled into the car cursing my own laziness.
As I drove north up the A385 towards Ullapool there was the mother of all sunrises starting to unfold before me. It's got to be one of the most spectacular shows of light and colour I've seen in all my travels, the combination of water, mountains and this light produced a magical effect, Scotland offering me it's last goodbye. Still inwardly beating myself up for my tardy start, I tried to calm the natural excitement and think "where can I stop, where could there be a good composition etc?". Having spent a few days earlier in the trip based in Ullapool I knew I was just 5-10 mins away from the harbour and I could easily park, jump out the car and try and do justice to the amazing light before it no doubt disappeared as quickly as it had arrived.
I parked and scrambled from the car, didn't bother with a coat or gloves (a decision I firmly regretted when getting back in the car and trying to use my fingers!), I even left the tripod in the car, no time to waste! I played with a few compositions using different aspect ratios but all the time knowing time was not on my side. Other photographers know the feeling when a transitory union of light, colour and shape occur, it's a heart thumping moment and keeping clear headed is key to maximising the opportunity. The final image is literally straight out of the camera, I added +5 contrast in Lightroom, just to pep up the RAW file slightly, and didn't move another slider. The simplest of edits (about 10 seconds!), as I say this was a magical display of light and colour.
There are some issues and compromises that are made with all images; I would have liked to have totally separated the boats, if you look carefully there are two back to back, but to do that fully involved moving position by a good few feet and having tried that it compromised the rest of the composition in other more damaging ways. If I separated them cleanly it would have negatively affected how the mountains rose and fell throughout the frame, and especially the darkest foreground hill which I needed to drop the boats at the foot of, also for separation reasons. The spacing of the buoys would also have been affected so a compromise was made that is hopefully not too disturbing. After all, the focus of the image is not the boats, although they add scale and depth, it's the light and atmosphere and recession of the mountain shapes.
Believe it or not but this was taken later on in the same day as the first image, it was truly a crazy day for changing light where I experienced blazing sun, dark clouds, high winds, rainbows and rain...only in Scotland!
I'd taken the long way round towards Clachtoll on the gorgeous B869 (never did a letter and 3 numbers wholly understate the visual quality of a road!), and it was around lunchtime. The wind was really howling and there were intermittent bursts of rain and then the sun would keep bursting through the dark clouds. I had a quick look around the area and the acute shapes of these rocks grabbed me, the sun illuminating a slip of the sea behind also helped and this was another attempt really to capture the feel and atmosphere from the location.
Choosing the 'right' shutter speed the sea was calmed a little whilst retaining some nice texture and colour (a real feature of the area), the perching birds on the main rock obviously led to the image name (click the image to see it larger and spot the birds) and I must say this was more of a technical challenge than the first image because of the howling wind. I was literally hanging on to my tripod (with my camera bag dangling off it as well!) to try and keep it steady during the exposure of a few seconds. With the wind coming head on this wasn't always easy as it brought plenty of sea spray that I was constantly having to wipe off the filters and camera.
Again the image is not without its issues; the far left rocks didn't have a particularly natural or clean end so that area of the image still feels a bit abrupt for me, I try and avoid lines leading up out of the frame like that. However, the matching diagonal lines perhaps balance it a little although the image is too heavy generally on the left side. I'm not convinced this is the best aspect ratio either (I shot it at 16:9 in camera and opened it up a little in the edit to 16:10). A square crop addresses some of the balance issues mentioned above but after some experimentation it seemed this version allowed more visual context by letting the mountains behind breathe a little and the pocket of lighter sky on the right where the sun is creeping through remains uninterrupted.
Buy The Book
Should you wish to purchase the SLPOTY book it will be filled with some wonderful images from many landscape photographers, including yours truly of course. Scotland is a beautiful country with some spectacular vistas and scenery so this book is sure to delight and inspire.