Tag Archives: highlands

Night Lights

In some ways it feels a bit surreal finally getting the chance to catch up on some of this winter’s photography while it’s 20+ degrees outside and it’s only March, but when the weather was colder and I was further north in recent months one of the genres of photography that I found myself becoming increasingly engaged in was night and low light work.  Mind you with some of the settings and in particular Aurora Borealis opportunities I have just had it would be hard not too!

During the course of an excellent week in the Cairngorms in January we took full advantage of the fantastically clear conditions by engaging in some evening and dead of night photography.

Here you can see Nigel making the most of the clear conditions to capture an image that (had he turned his camera about 45 degrees to the right) might have looked something like this:

There are certain key elements to this type of night photography and if it’s clear pinpoints of stars that you are after as a rough guide on a 24-70mm lens you really don’t want an exposure of much more than 20 seconds or so. There is a precise calculation for this by the way but I’m all for simplicity of thinking!  What this means is that you need to trust the high ISO capability of your SLR and shoot reasonably wide open in terms of aperture (this was around f4). You must trust your histogram too as your camera’s screen will make things look much brighter than they have really been recorded given it’s the only real light source out there! A really good tripod, mirror lockup and cable release (or self-timer) are also key.

The same steadiness of hand came into play when we tried out some low light shots of the ice formations on one of the nearby streams as well.

Here though it was a question of looking for the right sort of slow shutter speed to give the level of blur in the water that looked most appealing (this was around 30 seconds or so) and in order to emphasise the coldness of the shot and setting a cool white balance was set manually. I just loved some of the detail that could be found in the ice here!

Earlier this month I spent a week in Northern Finland and Norway and stayed in a location that has to be one of the best I’ve been to for opportunities to photograph that wonderful spectacle that is the Aurora borealis or Northern Lights.  I was really pleased to have honed my approach to this type of photography already this winter as when the opportunities came (and boy did they come – we had 4 clear nights and some amazing displays) I wear able to slot into the groove and thinking straight away.

There has been a lot of media coverage and interest in this awesome phenomenon this year as it has been unusually visible in parts of Scotland too, but what makes northern Finland so special in my opinion is that not only is it so light pollution free but it’s weather systems are unaffected by maritime influence so the chances of the lights showing are increased.  All of these images were only on level 3 in terms of potential intensity – it goes up to 9 or 10 I believe.

What all of this meant was plenty of opportunity to experiment with looking for big sweeping motions, deciding if landscape or portrait orientation worked best and also playing around with white balance as well.

All of the images bar this last one were taken on a relatively cool white balance, this one however on the warmer setting I tend to use for my wildlife work – I like the greener effect it gives to the lights themselves but am not so keen on what it does to the snow. It’s a matter of preference though so good to be on your game enough to try things out and when you have found a style and approach that’s working then it’s simply a question of standing back and revelling in what nature has to throw at you too.

Although it’s not the main purpose of the trip (I’m not sure how Northern Lights really can be as it’s so weather dependant) I will be staying at the same place again for 4 nights as part of the new Arctic Winter trip with Natures Images next March so if you fancy the potential to practice your night light photography…..

Highland Highlights

Last week seems a long way away already, especially as this one has been a bit of a blur getting ready to head off to Florida for the next couple of weeks – camera very much in evidence and a Natures Images trip as part of the mix as well.

It’ll be quite a contrast to the cold but sunny conditions in the Cairngorms last week – I might have preferred a bit of snow, but if that’s not to happen then this is a very close second as it can be constantly grey and glum there for sure at this time of the year. It meant that temperatures rarely got above freezing giving us plenty of scenic and detail close-up opportunities with the ice to be found on Loch Morlich and the nearby streams.

It also gave some interesting opportunities for close ups of the local Mallards enjoying (if that’s the word for it) the cold too!

On the broader wildlife front, trips into the Northern cores of Cairngorm and around the ski areas elsewhere gave great opportunities for the hardy Ptarmigan and their more common relatives in the form of Red Grouse. You have to admire the way they both cope with these challenging conditions, particularly the hardy Ptarmigans who cope with the wind and the at times extraordinarily bleak conditions of these high peaks.

The additional highlights of the week was some quality time spent with local photographer Neil McIntyre who was helping us and our guests out with his Red Squirrel and Crested Tit feeding sites.

These are both species I’ve worked with before but these 2 setups were simply top class, and we were able to make full use of them in the glorious conditions too – all in all these were for me the highland highlights of the week for sure!

Guess it’ll all be a little different in Florida won’t it?

Highland Highlights

I’m not long back from a week in the Scottish Highlands – the Cairngorms to be precise -and it’s a part of the country that I truly envy those fellow pro’s who do live there for having on their doorsteps, particularly at this time of the year.

The main purpose of the trip was a Highland Raptor weeekend I was running for Natures Images and we certainly had some treats in terms of birds and conditions to work with – my particular favourites being a characterful Peregrine and an absolute belter of a male Merlin – even more stunning when we were treated to some late afternoon light to die for!

With particular thanks to friend and fellow pro Peter Cairns I also managed to have a couple of mornings (as did a number of guests) in his Red Squirrel hide, and although conditions weren’t great on either morning (oh for some snow I had prayed the night before, to no avail) you can’t help but enjoy these fellows when they scramble about in front of you.

In the free time I had at the beginning and end of the trip though I’d hoped to make my way onto the top of the Cairngorms in search of Ptarmigan once again, but conditions were never really ideal when the time was available but the presence of fresh and falling snow in the ski-lift car park area had brought the hardy resident Snow Bunting population into regular sight, so after some strategic seed placement a couple of enjoyable sessions waiting for them to arrive and then looking for clean settings whilst I lay in the snow were enjoyable and productive too: I do love the simple images these conditions can offer if you look!

The final day did allow a walk in the hills though and yet another to add to the list of amazing Mountain Hare experiences I’ve been fortunate enough to enjoy over the years.  You always hope to find one that sits rather than scarpers as you stalk them (it’s a very low percentage however good your stalking skills are) and this little fellow, nestled in his hollow out of the wind was completely aware of us from several hundred yards out, but slow, steady, patient and visible approaching meant no surprises to him, and after settling in as close as we dare (almost at the minimum focussing range of the lens in the end) a fantastic half an hour of enjoying the highland winter with one of it’s hardiest inhbitants was the reward – a true Highland Highlight!