Having driven all the way to Torridon (a bit more than four hours from Edinburgh), I wanted to squeeze in another hill the day after my walk up Maol Chean-dearg. Unfortunately the weather forecast was very pessimistic, (or should I say realistic) with 70 mph winds forecasted, and it seemed pretty much guaranteed that the bigger hills would be shrouded in thick cloud cover. By the look of things there was a decent possibility for reasonable weather early morning, so I decided to leave Torridon behind and drive up to Inverpolly to walk up one of the greatest little hills in the country: Stac Pollaidh.
When I woke up in my tent (yes, we landscape photographers, with the exception of Peter Lik of course, don’t lead glamorous lives) near the foot of the hill after a wet but not too windy night, it seemed that there was a decent cloud cover, but having traveled this far it would be crazy to not give it a go. Walking up a hill in the dark can be an eerie experience, with route finding obviously being a bit of a challenge, but this time navigation was easy as I had done Stac Pollaidh before. As usual, I was still worried I’d miss the best light, so I charged up the hill way faster than was strictly necessary.
Upon reaching the ridge I was pleased that the showers had brought a nice dusting of snow to the tops of the Inverpolly hills. I was less pleased to be greeted by a wall of wind, as this would make scrambling up the slippery and icy western summit a bit trickier, but most of all I was worried about potential effects on image quality. If it’s barely possible to stand upright, then there’s little hope for a steady tripod at shutter speeds of a second or more.
I swallowed my pride and abandoned my plans to get to the western (higher) bits of the ridge. Instead, I headed over to the eastern side. While views from here are very nice, there’s a large rock in front of the eastern-most edge of the ridge which would create some compositional problems as it would block the views over Loch Lurgainn and the lower slopes of Cul Beag.
Enough with the waffling already. I have added some of the more decent (or at least sharp and acceptably exposed) shots taken during the transition between the blue hour and the post-sunrise murkiness.
The colours were quite spectacular with more than half an hour to go before sunrise. The sight of patchy red clouds weaving through dark blue clouds was really something special, and I don’t think I’ve witnessed many sunrises which would rival this one. I had to use far lower levels of saturation for the sky to keep it fairly realistic and to prevent the red channel from blowing out. I find setting the white balance for scenes like this quite challenging, as it’s always tempting to get rid of the blue tones. I think I used something of 9500K here, and it did a reasonable job of mimicking the hues that morning. The hill on the left is Cul Mor (photos from a wild camping trip on its summit can be found here) while Cul Beag is on the right. On the far left parts of Canisp are visible as well.
15 minutes later the sun started to announce itself on the horizon. Knock knock. I had to move uncomfortably far towards the edge of the ridge for the next two shots, in order to include as much of the snow-covered slopes of Stac Pollaidh as possible.
I think it’s fair to say that the blue hour has now given way to a proper sunrise.
I have said it before, and I will say it again: I’m usually liking the pre-sunrise shots more than the real sunrise shots. I think the same applies here. I can’t help to think that sunrises can looks cheesy real quick, lacking the dark atmosphere at twilight I love so much. I very often even pack my gear away the minute the sun shows itself. Other people seem to go mad about sunrise and sunset shots though, so perhaps I’m missing something. And if there’s a market for sunrise shots, it would be a bit crazy to stop shooting here. Especially given the amount of time (and dare I say money) spent on getting here.
Being the sunrise-hater I am I was glad to see that it didn’t take long before the sun disappeared behind the clouds again. But instead of turning into mud, the colours went crazy. The contrast between the yellow/orange stripe of light above the horizon and the grey-ish clouds was phenomenal, and there were subtle hints of flaming red highlights cutting through the thick layer of clouds, making it look like the end of times was near. In the photo below I wanted to get as much of the snow-covered ridge of Stac Pollaidh in as possible, with the heather plants cutting through it adding that valuable little touch of je ne sais quoi.
While all the photos in this post are compositionally related, I also tried to get some photos of the hills in Coigach, south of Loch Lurgainn, but the wind was picking up now and and generally a lot stronger on the southern side of the hill. Hence I was not surprised to find out that all my photos were affected by various degrees of camera shake. Ah well, I’m sure I’ll come back another time 🙂
I couldn’t have timed my descent any better, as by the time I got back to the car it started drizzling, and it didn’t take long before the drizzle turned into a monsoon-like rain.
Looking back, I had an enjoyable day and a half in the hills, and I may have even come back with some decent photos. But the trouble with visiting stunning places like Torridon and Inverpolly is that as soon as I leave, I start planning my next trip:-) I can’t wait, see you soon great hills of the North!