By Conor Phelan
Ask me about trekking the Machame route on Kilimanjaro, and I can give you the ins and outs of each campsite. Ask me about the best road to take from Ho Chi Minh to Dalat and I can give you a few of my favourites.
However, ask me about the Cairngorms, Glencoe, or Gairloch, and I have shockingly little to say. It’s a strange phenomenon where people never want to explore what’s close by, preferring to fly for hours to get to the other side of the world. Since making the decision to move back to Ireland I’ve been consciously trying to explore more of my immediate surroundings.
When the idea of a Scottish road trip was suggested, I jumped at the chance. The others joining me in the car were a group of adventurers who were also photographers. This intersection of interests happen to be my favourite group of people. Nobody minds being out in the wind and the rain if there’s a chance for a shot.
Each member of our group brought something different to the group. We had our wildlife expert Connie, our climbing guru Jessie and our instagram guru Luke. Anyone who has travelled with photographers before knows just how much gear we bring, so the Landrover was practically heaving with lenses and tripods.
Our trip from Glasgow to Lochcarron was mostly filled with the sounds of Luke on the phone trying to locate the whereabouts of his bag that had been lost in transit. One of the very many difficulties of being a travel photographer!
One of the great things about a road trip versus flying somewhere is that you and your travel companions (roadies?) have time to discuss everything and anything that comes to mind. I distinctly remember that we solved most of the world’s problems on that first day. Unfortunately none of us managed to write it down.
Arriving into Lochcarron, we decided to take a stroll along the waterfront. We noticed that there was an otter hunting right in front of us. After following the otter up and down for a few minutes, they came in carrying a fish. A pretty great moment!
The adventure begins
Day two saw us really get into the Scottish Highlands. The winding roads tailed off into the distance, filled with adventurous possibilities. Something that is often seen as a negative about Scotland is the fact that it has almost constant cloud cover!
Many see this as dull, and might explain why I sought out clearer skies for photography earlier in my life. Now, however, this cloud cover provides gorgeous soft light. It also has the added bonus that when a gap opens up in the clouds, the sunlight breaks through and illuminates a section of the landscape.
Thankfully the Scottish Highland roads are rather deserted, so pulling over at a moment’s notice isn’t quite as dangerous as it could be! This is also where having a Landrover comes in handy. There’s just something about that Landrover look that just seems right in Scotland!
If there’s one thing landscape photographers understand, it’s getting wet. The Highlands of Scotland provides more than its fair share of opportunities to get right into the water. The sea, lakes, streams and some astonishing waterfalls became my literal stomping ground while we travelled around.
One thing I’m always looking for in my photography is an interesting foreground to really lead into the image. I find that getting right into the middle of a river provides a really unique look at a landscape.
My fellow roadtrippers were slightly incredulous as I stripped off my boots and socks to stand in freezing cold water to get the shot. I maintain that it’s always worth it!
A taster trip
With our constant pit stops to take photos, we only managed to take in a tiny section of Scotland. We basically hugged the west coast and only made it as far north as Ullapool. We were shooting pretty much all day and with the late Scottish sunset time, we squeezed in a lot of shooting.
One of the highlights was on our second last day and the pure golden light that was streaming into the Landrover. We of course stopped to take some photos, but the light streaming in through the window looked fantastic with Connie taking it all in!
This trip was supposed to satiate my appetite of shooting in Scotland, but it really only served as an introduction. More than ever I want to get back to Scotland to shoot. One thing I can’t get out of my head is the idea of this very same trip to Scotland, but in the dead of winter.
There were tantalising signs on some of the roads that claimed that the roads may be closed and impassable in winter. The idea that there is a place so close to home that is somehow so remote is one that has stayed with me.
Ask me about the Cairngorms, Glencoe, or Gairloch, and now the main thing that I can tell you is that I will be back.