Interestingly, the pair of commended images were made on the same week long trip to Assynt via Torridon that I made in November 2013. What an adventure that was, full of ups and downs. But It was also a very productive trip especially considering a couple of images did well at SLPOTY.
I remember writing about the trip for a magazine submission. Sadly the article was never printed but I thought it was worth sharing now that the images have been recognised. I’ve collated it into a short eBook which you can download here.
Over a year later, the memories of that trip are still fresh, particularly the morning I spent on Stac Pollaidh where I made one of the images in question.
The day before I was in the depths of despair. The clamp on my My Really Right Stuff ballhead had, for want of a better word, exploded on me. The pin holding the lever onto the clamp popped out and dropped into the boggy vegetation of Torridon, never to be seen again. Needless to say having a broken tripod was a major downer on my day and threatened my whole trip – I hadn’t even reached my destination at that point!
However the fantastic Lizzie Shepherd responded to my SOS call over Twitter and despatched one of her spare clamps to me by next day delivery. The replacement clamp was waiting for my return to the hotel the very next day. Thanks again Lizzie!
The morning that I climbed up Stac Pollaidh I was still tripod-less, but I had determined not to let it ruin things. In fact, being able to leave 2.5kg in the back of the car probably helped the climb up.
The conditions on the top were incredible, and it’s such an amazing location. I could hear the wind howling over the ridge as I made the final, steep ascent and was blasted by an arctic wind as I got to the top.
Stac Pollaidh seemed blessed that morning. The weather forecast had talked of strong winds and heavy showers coming in from the west, which was pretty spot on. However the showers seemed to part on the prow of Stac Pollaidh and move down the glens either side. For the most part I was standing in blazing winter sun, while the glens and distant mountains came into and out of view through the heavy rain showers. It was like watching Mother Nature from the best seat in the house.
As brooding squall after squall marched down the glens, the bright sunshine light the air in front of me with incredible rainbows, the like of which I can’t recall seeing before. Rainbow after rainbow danced upon the wild and wondrous landscape.
I tried to make the most of my situation, sheltering behind and bracing myself against rocks to stabilise myself and the camera from the fierce winds. When hand-holding like this I’ll switch to Auto ISO to help maintain a sufficiently high shutter speed to avoid camera shake, preferring to deal with a bit more noise than a blurry picture. My lens's image stabilisation certainly helped too.
A polariser was needed to bring out the colours of the rainbows. Without one rainbows often appear dull and faded compared to how we remember them. With it, their vibrant glory is restored.
I spent several hours on Stac Pollaidh’s ramparts, watching and photographing in wonder, until the sun’s position was such that the rainbows had dulled and moved out of shot. I was on such a high having seen nature’s light show over such a wonderful landscape that I didn’t feel the chill wind until I started to descend again. The pain in every other step reminded me of the ankle I had turned the previous week, almost ending my trip.
From utter despair to pure elation in the space of 24 hours. It almost seems like a photographer's life in microcosm. In the doldrums one minute, buzzing with creative energy the next. Not everything goes your way, you just have to go with it and make the most of it believing that something amazing is just around the corner.
From a gear perspective, I love tripods. They open up a world of shutter speed possibilities. I love the time to think and precise adjustments they allow. But you can live without one if you have to. Yes, it restricts your options, but perhaps also offers fresh opportunities too. I can’t bear to think about missing the best morning of my photographic life because I’d chucked in the towel over a broken tripod.
To this day I find that if something goes wrong – a piece of kit malfunctions, I’ve forgotten something, or things just aren’t working out – that I get very down and can be very hard on myself. I always use the “Stac Pollaidh and the Tripod” experience to put things into perspective and pick myself up again. Ironically enough, my tripod failed on me again this morning - the leg fell off! Oh well, I'm sure tomorrow will be a better day! :)
(Here's that link to the free eBook if you missed it at the top.)