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The best laid plans

Always be ready to change what, when and how you shoot
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This wasn't the shot I planned, but reacting to the changing weather meant that I got a shot that I was happy with
From checking the weather forecast, sunrise/sunset times and sun positions, to scouting out the location beforehand, I spend plenty of time planning and preparing landscape shoots. But even after many years there are many times when mother nature decides to throw you a curve-ball, and you simply have to react to the conditions, rather than go with your original plan. This will mean that instead of getting the image that you expected to go home with, you get a totally unexpected shot, but sometimes that shot is even better than the one you had in mind.

This is exactly what happened to me the other morning. I had planned a sunrise shoot in Glen Sligachan, shooting from a small burn that runs into the River Sligachan, with Sgurr nan Gillean in the background. The weather looked promising, with broken cloud forecast for the 7.30am dawn, and the position of the sun would mean that along with lighting-up the cloud, it would side-light the mountains, creating the ‘perfect’ conditions.
So, I got up at 6am, packed the car and drove the 20minutes to the car park at Sligachan. The location I had in mind was around an hour’s walk from the car. Go I grabbed my kit, put on my waterproofs (after all this time shooting in the Cuillins I not stupid enough to fully believe the forecast!) and start walking in the darkness.

Arriving at the location around 10 minutes before the sun was due to appear over the horizon the cloud still looked promising (and it hadn’t rained a drop). I set-up my camera and tripod, poured myself a coffee from my flask – this piece of kit is almost as important as my camera – and waited…..
My heart lifts a little as the cloud starts to colour-up, first in the east behind Marsco, and then gradually heading for the cloud over Sgurr nan Gillean. I take a shot to check my composition, and make a few minor adjustments to the position of the tripod, finish the cup of coffee and feel a little smug…
Then the light hits the top of Sgurr nan Gillean and I take another shot, and then I’m ready for the big finale… and the light disappears. A bank of cloud behind Marsco means that all I have is some pretty cloud and not the amazing light on the mountains that I was expecting.
Hey, that’s fine, it will clear in a minute and I’ll get my shot, so I wait …… and wait….. but the much-anticipated sunlight never really materialises.


After 30 minutes of waiting I decide that it’s time to pack-up my kit and cut my losses. I've got a couple of shots, but they aren't quite what I'd hoped for, and I feel a little bit down, although it's always a joy to be out in the Cuillin, even if you don't get the shot you hope for.
Instead of heading straight back, I head further along the glen ‘just in case’, and along the way I get a couple of shots where the raking light from the sun still low in the sky creates some striking light on the mountains. But these are scant reward for the time and effort that I’ve put into the morning so far.


It’s around 11am and the clouds are still quite light, with plenty of clear, blue sky, although every so often the tops of the Cuillin are shrouded in a heavier, thicker cloud, but everything points to the weather being less interesting than the forecast predicted, so it’s time to head back to the car. With the temperature rising to around 10 degrees C, I decide to take off my coat before I get too hot on the 4 mile walk back.
After around 3 miles with the sun on my back and little breeze I think it’s a good time to take a little breather (carrying my camera kit and tripod make it feel more like double the distance!). I find a suitable ‘sitting rock’, break open the flask again to pour a final cup of coffee and have a snack.
As I’m sitting there the cloud over Sgurr nan Gillean starts to build much more than during the rest of the morning, and looking north to the incoming weather, there’s the unmistakable sight of sheets of rain falling and coming towards the glen. So I quickly pack away my flask, put my coat back on (and feel glad that I had left my waterproof over-trousers on) and try to find a vantage point to get a view back down the glen towards Marsco and the river.
Just after I have set up my camera, the rain hits…. But rather than put it away, I just cover it with a plastic bin-bag that I always carry for just such an occasion, and wait for the rain to head down the glen.
With the rain still falling I see the shot appear before my eyes – the sun breaks through the cloud, sending a shaft of sunlight into the middle of the glen, with the sheets of rain around it backlit by this fleeting light. I uncover the camera, re-frame my composition to take account of the new focal point, and get my shot (while trying to shield the front of the lens from as much of the rain as possible.
Then, almost as quickly as it had started, it stops raining on me and the camera, and I can get my shot without too many water droplets on the lens (I had cleaned it a few times already, though). Then the clouds clear through the glen, and the whole scene returns to the calm serenity that had pervaded all of the rest of the morning. But I’m ecstatic, as I had captured this fleeting moment, surpassing all of the shots that I had taken (and planned) all morning.
So having rushed around for the last ten minutes chasing this elusive shot, I just stood for a while and thanked the weather ‘gods’ for providing that special moment in an otherwise unsuccessful day…..

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