Into the wilds? 6th December 2018
A day on from the walk to the Coyles of Muick, I was going out again. I had two options in mind, either walking to Lochnagar or to Mount Keen, both of which are included within the Wild Land Area. I felt that this would be a good opportunity to compare the images gathered with those from the previous day and see how the terrain varied.
Rain was forecast for the day, although only the latter part of it, likely the walk back. There were also to be strong winds. The wind could make the higher reaches more dangerous, particularly if I was wanting to walk along the cliff top of Lochnagar itself. I didn’t think that this was likely, as my initial plan was to walk around the loch itself, to the burn flowing out. Alternatively, I could walk out towards Mount Keen, which would be the landscape that I had some images looking out towards from the previous day.
I opted for the latter option, as I felt that it would give me more of an opportunity to directly compare the two shoots. I was conscious that time may be an issue, as I set out at 10.30, and it was likely to be dark by 16.30. Ideally, I would have headed out earlier, although sunrise was around 09.00 which to have got the best light, I would have had to have set out to get into the area I was hoping to capture the key images prior to then. As it was more of an investigation of the area at this stage, I hadn’t one key area. Despite missing the sunrise light, I would still make the blue hour.
Setting out, the temperature was 5*, and although it would dip into the minuses by the evening, it offered quite a different look to the previous day, there was no frost, rather a slick coating of dew on the ground and the track was muddy. There were signs warning of shooting activities on the hillsides, reinforced by a sunken shotgun cartridge on the path a few steps through the gate.
f8, 1/30 Sec, ISO 400 @ 50mm.
The walk itself despite being in the area deemed as ‘Wild Land’, didn’t feel as remote as the previous day. I had to pass houses on the walk to the gate, which were still in use, and didn’t feel that they were left that far behind during the walk. Although the area I was walking in was is no longer habited, there were signs of previous buildings, now ruins, in the likes of the Shiels of Glentanar, and near Lach Na Gualainn, and although I didn’t walk to it, Etnach, I believe is habited. It didn’t feel that it would be too bleak an area to still be able to fashion an existence in this area. The scattered shooting butts also added to the feeling that this was not free on man’s influence.
This feeling was reinforced by the fact that I was passed by mountain bikers on a few occasions, and even stopped by the game keepers to enquire about my plans, due to a shooting party on Cairn Leuchan. It did make me try to unpack what ‘wildness’ meant to myself, and I think key amongst my definition would be a feeling of solitude. This was something that I had felt was present when walking up the Coyles of Muick, which is out with the Wild Land Area, yet this walk which within it was lacking this component. As well as there being people using or working upon the hillsides, there were also visible buildings, with there being some building work visible, either as a house, farm or some sort of road maintenance. Along with this the sound lacked the serenity of the previous day. I yet again kept a track of the sounds from the day:
The clatter of building work in the distance
The rumble of cars
The rustle of leaves moving on the wind
The squelch of mud under my boots
The gurgling of a stream
The strain of cranks on an uphill cycle
The panting of the cyclist short of breath
The passing of pleasantries between passers-by
The thump of a shotgun echoing through the hills
The braying of a stag
The click of my jacket togs striking the tripod legs
The rip of Velcro
The slap of the mirror pulling back, and the click of the shutter
The whir of the film advancing
The howl of the wind through the glens
The creak of a gate, crying out for oil
The warble of the grouse, bursting forth from the undergrowth.
Despite this lack of solitude, as a photographer I found that the trip had more on offer than the previous day. This was down to the light, with a stronger light cresting some of the hill tops adding to the beauty of the scenes. This is something that able to capture with the telephoto lens, as the effect was lessened when using a shorter focal length.
f11, 1/30 Sec, ISO 100 @ 135mm
The light as well as working in colour, I felt when shooting could work in black and white, due to the contrast within the snow-capped mountains, and the light on the forest, which is why I aimed to expose for the highlights and lose some of the shadow detail in the trees. This in my mind would give an interesting effect in black and white which would be ultimately stronger than going for a midtone exposure.
f11, 1/30 Sec, ISO 100 @ 135mm
The black and white image is just a quick tweak and has not had the same scrutiny applied to the edit as the colour image. Despite this I think that it could make a good print. I was conscious that for the Exposition, that I didn’t want to have a mixture of black and white images alongside colour. To this end I opted only for colour images. I did also take images on the medium format Mamiya C220, which will allow me to print black and white darkroom photos if there are useable negatives within the collection.
f11, 1/125 Sec, ISO 64 @ 50mm
Due to the shooting party at Cairn Leuchan, I opted to take the path to Lach a Gualainn, and then head towards Mount Keen. This had been my initial plan anyway, although I was aware due to time constraints that I would not make it to Mount Keen itself.
The path to Mount Keen had some interesting plant life that was lacking or at least not evident to myself during the earlier portion of the walk. I came across some liverwort(?) amongst the grass and heather. This is something that I have seen a lot in the cairngorms, and some other boggy mountainous locations in Scotland, but not too many other places. It could be something worth looking in to, to see if it thrives in certain conditions, that may align to some of the conditions that would deem a place wild. I think it is worth looking into the smaller elements that make up the landscape, as prior to this I have been concentrating on the wider vistas, and setting the scene, rather than the minutia which may prove a stronger option to ‘selling’ the idea of wild, if the flora or fauna only thrive in certain locations. It could be a vessel for imparting the message of the project.
f8, 1/30 Sec, ISO 400 @ 50mm
f8, 1/30 Sec, ISO 400 @ 50mm
The path itself was well signposted, which had been the case since the start of the walk. This is something that I also felt detracted from the feeling of the area as a ‘wild space’. There was also fencing in places too, albeit, I reckoned the fence was perhaps a visible border along the edge of the WLA, although on reflection with the map from SNH, I had already crossed the threshold, after I turned off the Cairn Leuchan path. With this in mind, upon reflection if I didn’t know that there was a transition into the area deemed as a Wild Land Area, it would not be apparent to me in the landscape itself. The path did ford a stream in places, but I do not think that this is where the border lies either.
The borders to this space seem to be too straight in my mind to fit wholly using the criteria with the SNH’s study. This will be something that I will have to read further into the study to investigate whether there has been a way of working the borders/boundaries so that they line up with the criteria, or if there is a distancing from certain structures or the like that feed into the planning to where these edges lie.
f11, 1/125 Sec, ISO 200 @ 50mm.
As the light faded, I was wary that I would have to head back, I felt that this fenced area would be a suitable point to turn around. This was the case due to the fact that I had a good view of Mount Keen itself, possibly the best view I would have of the mountain itself on this path. The sky was starting to have a bit more colour in it, which strengthened the views themselves, this coupled by the warm light that was illuminating the heather laid the foundations for some compositions in my mind. Due to the heather adding some strong contrast with the light striking the tops and then deep shadows forming in the shade. This allowed me to use the 21mm and 50mm lenses and include foreground in the images building up towards the peak in the distance. If the light hadn't been as strong then I would have opted for the telephoto lens, to allow me to bypass the extent of the foreground. I felt that this option would have likely isolated Mount Keen from the other hills around it, and this in turn would have reduced the impact of any potential images. I did try a series of images at the lower end of the telephoto, opting for 78mm, although these images were shot with a panorama in mind.
f11, 1/10 Sec, ISO 100 @ 78mm 8 images stitched in Lightroom
The image has been stitched together but has had little else done to it yet. I think that it needs a bit of work to make it an option for printing. The tones in the foreground need to be warmed up to bring in line with what I remember the grass looking like at the time. My issue with it though is the image looks unbalanced with the interest being in the right side with Mount Keen, but the left has little to it to attract the eye or provide a starting point to ‘read’ the image. This wouldn’t be as much of an issue if the image was a 2x3 crop with the mountain in the right side, as with the previous image as there is still enough within its surrounding landscape to anchor the peak without it looking too dominant. This dominance in the panoramic is partly down to the descent of the ridge towards the left side, which naturally draws the eye towards its peak, this mirrored with the lines of the closer hill, jarringly pull my scrutiny away from that left side.
As the light faded, I found that the hills took on a new quality, this was during blue hour, and I felt that this would be the optimum time to be shooting in the future to get the most out of mountain ridges like this. The hills became soft outlines, and when using a longer focus length, which flattens the image and can convert these mountains into layers within the frame. This gave an impression in my mind of watercolour like paintings. This would have been ideal for the telephoto lens, unfortunately due to prevailing high winds at this time, I found that I was restricted to only shooting with the 50mm lens. This still gave me a visualisation of what I had been thinking about and going forward if I could find a similar lighting levels on a calmer day, I would be better suited to try again.
f8, 1/125 sec, 800 ISO @ 50 mm.
This is currently unedited, but there may be some interesting options in the selection with this light, as especially in the distance, the light has a haze to it which adds to this soft feel. Unfortunately, the cloud is a bit distracting, and I would have to work out which image would give a balanced looking skyline, whilst keeping some of the intrigue with these layers of hills. The foreground doesn’t add too much to the image, which does make me think the telephoto would have been a better option, for the future.
I ended up with a small selection of images which after editing I was very happy with, which made it into the selection for the exposition and subsequently into my ongoing portfolio. This was encouraging this early in the project, as it made me feel that as well as a potentially strong concept, with a lot of avenues to explore with my research, that there could be strong images to add to the quality of the delivery of the concept. Although this did bring about questions, to the validity of using what I deemed aesthetic landscape images, versus a more documentary approach. I feel that this is something I will need to unpack further and assess what role the imagery is going to have for the project. If I am looking to display the images as the main focal point, with individually mounted images, or if I am thinking of including them as part of a series in a publication. These are points for further consideration.