Scotland is without a doubt one of my favourite places to visit. It is hard to think of anywhere that offers greater reward in return for the ease of travelling to than the Highlands.
With each trip north I learn a little more about the place and how best to go about photographing it – mostly from being caught out and making rookie mistakes! Such is life.
So in this post I am going to simultaneously share some tips that I have picked up along the way and also encourage you to add the Highlands to your travel bucket list and visit this magical part of the world that is so conveniently on our doorstep.
1. Allow plenty of time
Journey times in this part of the world always take longer than you might expect compared to the conventions of normal distances on normal roads. Indeed, the “Highland Mile” is a real thing and the going is often slower than you want.
But there’s no rush. So take it easy on the roads and factor this into your planning to give yourself plenty of time to ensure you don’t miss that sunset appointment at the beach.
2. Stay dry
Never has the phrase “hope for the best and prepare for the worst” been more appropriate than when planning a day in the Highlands. As a bare minimum make sure that you have a waterproof jacket and trousers with you at all times.
I’m careful with my gear but not overly-protective. In a light drizzle I will most likely leave my camera out. But when it gets heavier, a waterproof cover for your bag is vital. A small microfibre towel to quickly dry off your camera or lens is also handy.
3. Bring a tripod
I have a love hate relationship with tripods. I love that they open up creative options and force me to think more carefully about compositions. But equally I hate carrying one. It doesn’t matter that it’s carbon fiber: it’s extra weight I’d rather not hike with.
But the simple fact is the Highlands will undoubtedly present you with a multitude of scenes where you desperately wish you had one: flowing waterfalls and streams, churning waves, or for capturing motion in threatening skies.
4. Pack one fast lens
For me that would be a 50mm f/1.8. It is my favourite focal length for general purpose use because it gives me the option of shooting (tight-ish) landscapes, portraits and is also a good option for picking out details in nature.
The option to shoot wide open is one I use a lot when in Scotland, especially when it comes to photographing autumn leaves, mushrooms, or flowers. If nothing else if gives you something to shoot with when the light level falls and you couldn’t be bothered to carry your tripod...
5. Utilise natural leading lines
The Scottish Highlands offer so much to photographers: dramatic weather, impressive scenery, all manner of light. Another benefit is that the landscape has so many natural leading lines to work into your compositions.
It could be a single track road winding through a glen. Or a hiking trail cutting through the mountain valley. Rivers, fences, trees, ferns – all are useful compositional tools so look out for them and see how you can work them into your scene.
6. Wear decent boots
More a general tip than a photographic one but probably one of the most important. I most often visit Scotland in the autumn and the thought of traversing the terrain without a pair of waterproof boots doesn’t bear thinking about!
There will be mud, peat bogs, rocky trails that batter the soles of your feet and, of course, rain. There’s no point packing all your camera gear if you can’t get anywhere to use it. What might initially look like a trainer-suitable path can quickly deteriorate and prevent you getting very far.
7. Be selective with filters
As much as the traditionalist in me likes using glass filters, the fact is I don’t use them as much as I used to. I prefer to pack light and so I tend to restrict myself to a circular polariser to remove unwanted reflections from lochs and a six-stop ND filter.
I still occasionally bring a ten-stop as back-up but I’m not one for super long exposures and on more overcast days when I am more likely to reach for an ND, six stops is usually sufficient to bring the exposure time down to my desired level.
8. Embrace the gloom
When the light hits right in the Highlands it can be simply magical. But you need luck and persistent – two things that might be in limited supply during a short trip. You can’t change the weather so if the forecast doesn’t look good, embrace the gloom.
I try to use overcast conditions as an opportunity to get creative with my editing to exaggerate the mood. When I have images without great light I give myself more latitude to experiment in Lightroom – and the outcome of those experiments might surprise you.
Got any tips from your own visits to the Highlands? Share them below!