Devon - Summer Ends With A Bang!

This summer has been an amazing few months full of travel, photos, camping and adventures. After an exhausting adventure in the highlands of Scotland last month I was looking forward to a week in a warm comfortable flat, with a bed, a great view decent meals and a shower! My parents were on holiday in the harbour town of Brixham, in Devon, and offered me a free bed as a chance for me to tick off another location on my list of places to shoot.

I didn't plan on going out with my camera the night I arrived, but after a little persuasion I joined my mum and dad on their evening walk down to the harbour. It was only a 10 minute walk from the flat to the start of the breakwater and by that point the sunset was in full swing and I had to rush to get set up. It always feels good to get a decent start so early on in a trip.

The following day I was ready and rearing for a day exploring Dartmoor and finding all the locations I had spent the previous weeks researching. The first thing that struck me about Dartmoor was how vast it was. It took me the whole day to find just a couple of the locations I had researched.

That night on our evening walk I decided to stay nearer the harbour. It turns out that was a good call! The sun disappears quite early on in the evening behind the steep, crowded slopes surrounding the harbour which made it seem to me that the sunset is over in a flash! I was able to capture just a few photos before the colour in the clouds vanished.

Once the sun had set I stayed behind with my dad to wait for the lights of the town to bring the place to life. For the next hour or so I hung around the harbour as my camera made its long exposures. I was able to make the best of the “blue hour” that comes at twilight.

The next days forecast for Dartmoor was still poor. I decided that my best bet would be to stay in Brixham for the sunrise. I was quietly relieved that I didn’t face a really early start.

At the breakwater I kept an eye on the horizon, looking for the sun. Some light cloud picked out some lovely colour and I was able to capture this set of photos looking out to sea. These images really capture the peacefulness of the morning.

As the morning went on and the sun grew closer to the horizon, I turned my attention towards the marina. The stillness of the water made some great reflections of the boats and the clouds. The colour in the sky was certainly getting stronger every minute, but I love the subtlety and muted tones in this shot.

When the sun was up, I started to make my way home but I couldn’t just walk past this shot of the town. I felt really pleased to have had a positive start to the day and felt good about going out later to find more locations on Dartmoor. Little did I know that soon, everything was about to go horribly wrong.

When I set off in the car later that morning I didn’t even make it onto the moor before disaster stuck. I’m not sure what exactly I hit, maybe a rock or a piece of stray farm equipment on the road, but all of a sudden I heard a loud “pop” and felt my car start to wobble. After several hours of waiting with the police for a recovery van, one badly dented alloy and a ruined tyre, I was finally on my way again. Long story short, I had lost a full day of exploring Dartmoor.

Feeling pretty deflated and frankly fed up, I collapsed at home at the end of the day with no intention of going out for yet another sunset of the same harbour I’d been at every day since I arrived. That said… with a bit more persuasion I found myself out with my dad, above the harbour waiting for the sunset. And once again, it turned out to be worthwhile. I had to remind myself that it’s when things go wrong that you need to dig deep and make the most of every opportunity, otherwise you'll regret it.

Even though I still felt pretty unenthused about going out with my camera, I dragged myself out of bed the next day and along the coast to Paignton for a sunrise shot of the pier. The sunrise turned out well with some nice golden light, along with the bonus of a kayaker and swimmer in the sea to add some interest to my photos. But more importantly it helped me feel revitalised about my photography. I spent the remainder of the day at Paignton zoo with my parents.

It was frustrating that it had taken so long to find the shots I was looking for. But the following day, with a bit more enthusiasm, I was able to really sink my teeth into Dartmoor and was able to find the remaining locations on my list. I had been looking for a village surrounded by fields with a church steeple rising above, and that was exactly what I found at Moretonhampstead. It had been bright and clear all day but the evening turned out extremely hazy. I chose to leave early for some well needed dinner and try some shots in the morning.

I knew that the shot I wanted required the sun to be up and shining on the village so I decided not to get there long before the sunrise as I normally would, and gave myself some extra time in bed. I got my hopes up on the drive out when I passed through several stretches of lovely morning mist. Unfortunately, when I got up the hill overlooking the village there wasn’t enough mist to create the sort of effect I was hoping for. After a while the sun began to peek over the hill behind me and I was able to capture the pictures I’d been after all week!

By this point it was apparent that I wouldn’t have time to shoot all of the locations I had planned to, but I was happy with the places I had left to try. So that afternoon I went along the road at my dad’s recommendation to Goodrington. The beach at Goodrington is lined with some quintessentially picturesque beach huts and also one very unique feature - a steam train!

The last day of my trip was a bit of a washout but I wanted to make the most of the last sunset before I went home. I had to decide between the two Tors that I had scouted earlier in the week. I made the decision to go up Cox Tor and photograph the array of wind swept Hawthorn trees that are strewn across the hillside. Traffic had really held me up and I had to rush to get into position. The cloud blocked out most of the sunlight for the duration of the evening but I was able to make some dark and moody images of the battered trees. It wasn’t the grand finale to the week that I’d perhaps hoped for but I’m actually quite pleased with the final results.

Whenever I go away on a trip like this I always try to find a few locations that would work well in poor weather conditions. These are normally woodland areas under a lot of cover or waterfalls. For this trip, that shot was Hisley Bridge – a small stone bridge over a river in a nice wooded area. Perfect.

This summer has been an incredible adventure. I feel privileged to have been able to spend the past few months travelling to some of the most beautiful parts of the country. I’ve had an exhausting and extremely trying time, but it’s overwhelmingly rewarding. What’s more is I’m feeling even more enthusiastic about my photography than ever.

I can’t wait for autumn to arrive!

Assynt - The Wild Highlands

For almost 8 years I have dreamed of seeing the wild beauty of Assynt in the north-west highlands of Scotland. So when the time came to plan some photography trips this summer there was only one place in my mind. I was going to be wild camping for a week – something I've never done before. I had to figure out where to camp, what to eat, how to power all my equipment and more. All of it made me nervous and doubt that I would be able to last the week. One thing was for sure - this would be my biggest adventure yet!

When I started the mammoth journey up north, I was excited to be heading on a photography trip with a promising forecast for once. After 7 and a half hours I turned off the main road to find a spot to pitch my tent. I found a suitable spot and had my little camp set up by 5 o’clock. It was then that I had my first encounter with a swarm of Sutherland midges – but more on that later.

As soon as I was settled and fed I went to locate a suitable place for photos in time for the sunset. I went to a small beach on Loch Lurgainn just 10 minutes from my camp, looking back up at Stac Pollaidh. It was perfect camping weather - sunny, warm and beautiful. But I was glad to see that some clouds gathering and conditions beginning to look pretty perfect for photos. Within minutes of finding a composition on the beach with the reeds in the foreground I found myself in the most vicious swarm of midges I’ve ever seen in my life. I considered myself to have experienced my fair share of midges on my travels, but I had yet to experience a Sutherland swarm. They started out by looking like the dust in sunbeams, but before long the cloud of beasties were thick and beginning to cause problems. They began crawling all over the front of my lens and filters and I could see them in my photos. I made the mistake of using my cloth to try and brush them off. All that did was smudge them all over my lens. I had to develop a technique of simultaneously blowing them off my camera while I made an exposure, whilst trying to avoid getting in the way of my own picture. I was now worried that they would be crawling inside my camera somehow… When they became unbearable I would run back and forth along the beach trying to avoid them, and once they caught up I would rush back to my camera, try to take a photo and retreat again. The midges were now all I could think about. I was annoyed at myself for not enjoying and appreciating what was turning out to be a truly amazing sunset. I hoped that I was doing enough to capture the best photo possible.

The initial photos I had been taking were not turning out as special as I’d hoped, but I knew from my research that this image would be at its best just after sunset. To my relief, that was exactly the case. Shortly after the sun had disappeared, the sky lit up deep red. When it got dark I ran back to the car – quickly – feeling satisfied that my suffering had not gone unrewarded. I spent the rest of the evening taking cover in the car whilst polishing dead midges off my filters… I hoped desperately that the images hadn't been ruined.

The next morning I drove 2 minutes along the road to the end of the loch where I was camping. I dozed in the car as I kept an eye on the sky in my mirror. The sky was a blank canvas of blue – the kind of sky you dream of waking up to on a camping trip, and the kind of sky I dread to see when I’m out for photos. As I feared, conditions were just too boring for photos. I went back to camp for a nap and some breakfast. I sat in the sunshine, admiring the view, picking midges out my tea.

I spent the afternoon climbing up Stac Pollaidh in the scorching heat to scout out a sunrise shot of Suilven before going out Achnahaird Baywhere I went back to for the for the sunset. As it had been throughout the day, the sky remained clear blue and the sunset ended up lacking some of the colour and atmosphere I had hoped for. I started worrying as I knew the forecast was the same for the rest of the week.

I went to bed that night a little unsatisfied with what I’ve managed to capture that day, desperate for a more fortunate morning - a sunrise up Stac Pollaidh.

At 3am I I started trudging up the hill, armed with just my head torch. I made it to the top by 4:40am in plenty of time to see sunrise. I was excited to see an orange glow beginning to form behind the shapes of Suilven and Cul Mor, but again disappointed to see a lack of cloud to give me a bit of interest in the sky. I already knew I would be back up again the next day.

I took a moment to rest and try to take in the scene before me. When I began to set up my camera I had to take special care over erecting my tripod as I knew I’d need to stitch together a panorama. When the sun rose over Cul Mor I spent an hour or so wandering around the summit taking photos of the amazing views and rock formations that made up the summit of Stac Pollaidh.

The rest of the day I spent going further north to find Stoer lighthouse before trying for another sunset at Achnahaird. Unfortunately, the sun was lost early on in the evening in cloud that hung off the coast and I didn't even take any photos at all. What made it worth while was that I was able to watch a small pod of dolphins in the distance. I turned in early for the night in preparation for another early morning hike up Stac Pollaidh.

Once again I donned my head torch and camera bag and hoped for a spectacular sunrise when I reached the top. This time a few small strips of cloud broke up in the north and things looked more promising. I spent another couple of hours on the summit and the shots turned out far better. But it still wasn’t the shot I’d dreamed of.

That day I slept till almost 12. I guess the early mornings, fresh air and exercise were taking their toll. After a pit stop in Ullapool to restock  some essential supplies I drove back up to Stoer. When I got there the sun in behind the cloud but I could see that it would emerge again before it set. I knew this one would be worth sticking around for!

The sun did eventually break out of the cloud for a brief while and lit up the cliffs reaching down to the sea. Even though there was some great light and I knew I was getting some good shots, I felt ready to come home. This week was always going to be an experiment and I didn't know how long I would last in a tent by myself.

A third morning up Stac Pollaidh proved to be the toughest yet. It took a lot longer to reach the top and once I got there I could see that the cloud which had been forecast was no where to be seen. The wind had really picked up and I was freezing standing around on the top of the mountain. I gave up early and walked back down. Even the walk down was exhausting.

It was now my last day and I was unsure where I wanted to shoot. The wind felt like gale force now and I though that Stoer and Achnahaird would look great with some huge crashing waves. In the meantime I went to find a waterfall that I’d read about in my research. Conditions were perfect for shooting waterfalls. It was overcast and dull enough to get a slow shutter speed to capture the movement of the water.

In the evening it rained and I decided to get an early night before the long journey home. It was a rough night. The wind was strong and I barely slept. My alarm was set to get my up for a last potential sunrise but it was still raining and blowing a gale - I made bravely elected to stay in bed. Fortunately the wind had died down and I was able to pack up the tent with relative ease.

I left my camping spot at half 9 that morning and arrived home at 4 o’clock that afternoon. I went for a shower.

It was an memorable week. I survived. I enjoyed it. I can’t honestly say I got all the shots I wanted, or that I was happy with every one I’d been able to take. By as my girlfriend wisely pointed out – this certainly won't be the last time I explore the wilds of the Highlands.

I met a man from Keswick on my first climb up Stac Pollaidh who managed to unwittingly sum up my summer perfectly. He said, “Keswick (where I visited at the beginning of my summer) is very ‘pretty pretty’ but this is a wild kind of beauty”

I think that perfectly describes the experiences I’ve had over the past few months, but I still haven’t decided which I prefer.