Hi there. It has been a couple of weeks now since we got home, and I have been going through the first of the images we took in Scotland this last Xmas…I had the time to get one more, and here it is unveiled. This corresponds to the Assynt area, up there in the North, where mountains start to thin out and they look more like geological monuments, erected in the middle of nowhere.
Of all those mountains, I would say Suilven is the most photogenic of all. Tell the Matterhorn the height of Suilven and it will just shake all its glaciers, laughing out loud, showing no shame at all. However, when I first witnessed this mighty Scottish brute of torridonean sandstone I could not avoid comparing both of them as equally impressive mountains. The fact Suilven rises over a sea of gneiss, all surrounded by lochs and lochans, its exposure to some of the wildest atlantic weather and its phenomenal capability to adopt different forms depending on your viewpoint make it really special.
And indeed, special is also the chance of being able to see it. Normally covered with clouds, during our stay in the area we could just get some glimpses of it. This image shows one of the most photogenic faces he revealed to us…
This is one of those images which are made to show the spirit and essence of a place. If I would need to define in a single frame the spirit of that part of Scotland, this might be my choice. Suilven, lochs, weather and dramatic light. The right touch of snow on the summits, the edge of the clouds showing the quick dynamics of the weather in that area and the dramatic and transient light (like Ian Cameron says), dosed with eyedropper for some seconds and no more.
This kind of images, grand panoramic vistas of the land, might sometimes seem like they demand from the photographer a less strong effort in selecting the subject and looking for the right composition…most of all, when no elements are shown in the foreground, like in the case of this image. Well, the truth is, it is not easy at all, and this kind of images pose some special challenging problems for the photographer to be made…
First of all, there is the issue of perspective. It might sound stupid, but the bigger is your view, the more you need to move to change the perspective, and the harder it gets to give you that successful image you are after…In this particular case, that meant grabbing a good topographical map, playing with Google Earth, and looking for a way to wade through km of drenched bog to find the altitude and the position which gave the topographical composition I had in mind. On this image, the position of the lakes, the no merging of the different layers and the particular concavity where Suilven is placed over were not a matter of luck. My message is: never underestimate the power of your legs, or in other words, never think that the composition is best at 20 meters from the road, because will not change so much if all you want to shoot is that mountain in the background. The wider you want the image to be for the message you want to convey, the more you will need to move to really take that best image, and not just a convenient one. And this is particularly more important when your “foreground” stays at some hundreds of meters, not right at your feet.
Next thing which plays against you in this kind of image is the need of the strongest possible weather-mood-light conditions to make it work. You are not relying on just your eye to reveal an un-hidden intimate detail of the landscape, where surely the most you need from the light is a cloudy sky giving a soft un-directional light. Here you are after showing the whole of the landscape, and the whole of the relationships between land, sky and light. In a way, these images show not only the essence of the place, but also its history, …the intricacy of the natural elements and how all of them are connected. On this particular example, the image shows much more than just a mere description of the subjects; it shows the geological past, the erosive agent which has shaped what we see, and the mood always embodied by the light…
This brings us to the main ingredient of this image, weather and light, which were the big roles here to give meaning to the message. Bad news is that if your image relies so strongly on weather and light, and you happen to be in Scotland, you’d better be patient. In this case, good light and “good” weather to take this specific image meant 5 climbs to the same point, 5 different evenings, some of them in the blizzard and some others in the fog. But then, I was lucky and I was there to grab that chance. Two days before coming back (why is it always in the end that things happen?), a heavy snowfall dusted the summits. The last day, while I was there waiting for the light and giving it the last chance, a number of snowstorms coming from the sea drifted over the landscape and allowed the light to bless the mighty Suilven for a minute. An hour later, the sun set, and I came down having witnessed one of those moments you never forget. Suilven would never be for me a topographical name on a map anymore. I had met the very wild spirit of this ancient land, and I felt humbled, small…and alive.
Take care and great light to you all
Click on the image to see it larger!