Glen Affric trip – Day 1

Here starts a short series of posts containing various rambles about my photography trip to Glen Affric in the Scottish Highlands.

I’ve been lucky to be able to visit Scotland for a few days photo holiday each year for the past few years. In 2009, I went with Light and Land to Knoydart, including touring by boat around Skye and the Small Isles. In 2010, I cycled the Outer Hebrides, from Barra to Lewis, with a camera. In 2012, I revisited the Outer Hebrides, this time arriving by car and concentrating on a nsmaller, but stil substantial, area – the islands of Lewis and Harris. The drive there routed me through Glen Shiel and the Isle of Skye.

Glen Affric, looking towards Sgurr na Lapaich. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film

As I planned a trip for 2013, my mind considered various possible locations.

Scotland as a whole is my favourite place for landscape photography. It’s a big empty place (by UK standards) and yet if you randomly sampled images of Scotland on photo-sharing websites you might form the impression that Scotland consisted only of five square miles surrounding Buchaille Etive Mor.  As lovely as the Buchaille / Buckle / BEM is, I’d find it pretty hard to come up with a new interpretation of a mountain that has been so comprehensively photographed.

I considered returning to the Isle of Lewis, with the idea of staying for a week near Cradhlastadh / Crowlista on the west coast, and attempting to portray the bay and hills in some detail. I had photographed there for a few hours in 2012, but it’s a very isolated spot with little accommodation, and I knew I would need to return to a base for a week to get the most from the location. Whilst it’s fun to cover a wide area when first visiting a country or region, I am attracted to the idea of limiting myself to a smaller area and working hard to find images in thrs iat area. I may return to that plan in future, but decided instead to visit Glen Affric.

This was my first visit to Glen Affric, and I was pleased with my decision. It’s a really beautiful and quiet area. In the six days I stayed there, I never saw another photographer, and only a handful of walkers and cyclists (this was mid-November). I stayed at Glen Affric Holiday Park, and until the last night, I was the only guest !

Little tree, big trees. The River Affric; Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

I was concerned that strong winds would blow the leaves off the trees before I got there, but in the end I need not have worried. Whilst the colours were reportedly at their peak the week before I arrived, there was still plenty of colour and an extra bonus was that there was snow on the hilltops, giving extra visual interest, but not on the roads, so I could get around.
2013-11-10, RZ67, Velvia 50, Back 3C, River Affric , 9

Glen Affric is certainly not undiscovered, but it’s much less well know to photographers than, say, Glencoe or Skye. A search on flickr showed that the most popular spot for photographs seemed to be a marked viewpoint not far from the last car park at the end of the road, looking west up Glen Affric …. so therefore I’m not going to show any of my own images from that viewpoint !

Mamiya RZ67 and Velvia 50
Mamiya RZ67 and Velvia 50

The village of Cannich, where I stayed, is close to two glens (valleys) – Glen Affric itself and Glen Cannich. My original plan was to walk and photograph in both of these glens, in Glen Strathfarrar a little further away, and possibly to visit Loch Ness to the east.

Riverside walk, River Affric, Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50
Riverside walk, River Affric, Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50

In the event, I found so much of interest to photograph in Glen Affric that I spent four full days photographing in Glen Affric, one day in Glen Cannich, never got to Glen Strathfarrar at all, and only saw Loch Ness (no monster !) on the way home. In the past I have sometimes travelled far and consumed much fuel only to end up somewhere that was, at best, just as good as my starting point – so staying put was a good thing.

Loch Affric reflections - Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia. I normally take less saturated images then this, but it did really look like that !
Loch Affric reflections – Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia. I normally take less saturated images then this, but it did really look like that !

As well as concentrating on a smaller area, I also took less photo equipment than I have sometimes been guilty of. In 2009 I took digital, 35mm, and medium format. On the 2010 Outer Hebrides trip, my cycle transport forced me to slim down to one 35mm camera with 50mm and 24mm lenses. Returning to  Lewis and Harris by car in 2012, I again took 35mm, digital, medium format, and even half-frame 35mm!

However I have found that taking too much kit is a problem. For example, if I take both film and digital images, then the digital images inevitably get viewed before the films are processed, which reduces the impact of seeing the film images when they are ready. The 35mm kit was very appropriate for the cycling trip, but when 35mm and medium format images are mixed together, I’m unlikely to be satisfied with the 35mm images.

This time, I decided to take just medium format film cameras. I still ended up with three of them:

  • Mamiya RZ67 with 50mm, 65mm, 110mm, and 250mm lenses. The 250mm got traded in during the week at Ffordes, which is only about 20 miles away, for a 180mm, as the 250mm was a little too long for my purposes. I never carried more than three lenses at once.
  • Yashicamat 124G twin lens reflex, for occasions when I would be walking further than I wanted to carry the Mamiya.
  • Holga WPC Pinhole, which takes images on 120 film in either 6*9 or 6*12 cm format. I only used one roll of Fuji Acros, i.e six 6*12 images

At the last minute, a 35mm camera did sneak in to the car … I was testing an Olympus Trip (paid £2 for it) which had a roll of Portra 400 loaded and I decided the holiday would be a good opportunity to finish the roll.

2011-11, Glen Affric, Yashicamat, Portra 160, 24_
Fasnakyle damn, Yashicamat 124G with Kodak Portra 160 film

For the past year or so, I’ve been using mostly Kodak Portra film, but when Fuji announced that Fuji Provia 400X was being discontinued, I got all nostalgic and ordered 5 rolls, which were packed alongside some Velvia 50 I had in the freezer. The slide film certainly provided images with a degree of impact which I wouldn’t have got from Portra alone. I also purchased some Tetenal E6 chemicals so that I could develop the slide films at home in a Jobo processor. If you have a Jobo to maintain the temperature and rotation, processing slide film isn’t any more difficult than processing colour negative, and I would say that I got better results from home-processed slide film than from home-processed Portra.

In theory, using the Mamiya RZ67 with it’s removable film backs and a choice of slide or negative films should provide flexibility to select the right film for the subject matter and lighting conditions. I reasoned that I would carefully spot-meter the scene and, if the dynamic range was within the range of slide film (no more than 5 stops) than I could choose slide film; if the dynamic range was wider, or I wanted a more subtle intepretation of the colours, then I could choose colour negative film, or black and white.

A small pool near the River Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160
A small pool near the River Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

In the event, it didn’t quite work out like that, because (a) I probably wasn’t careful enough with my metering, and (b) there were some times when I only carried the Yashicamat, which doesn’t have a removable film back, so I was stuck with whatever film was loaded. I ended up with some slides that had shadows too deep, or the snow on the top of the mountains too bright. I even ended up with a couple of Portra images where the white top of a mountain is not easily distinguishable from a pale sky. Given the legendary wide dynamic range of Portra, I must have messed up those exposures quite badly.

There's a snow covered mountain in the distance which I didn't manage to distinguish well from the surrounding cloud.  Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160
There’s a snow covered mountain in the distance which I didn’t manage to distinguish well from the surrounding cloud.
Mamiya RZ67 and Kodak Portra 160

All of the images on this page were taken on the first full day of photography in Glen Affric. I’ll leave you with one of my favourites from the trip, which was actually taken with the lens I later traded in …

Inverted reflections, Glen Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film
Inverted reflections, Glen Affric. Mamiya RZ67 and Fuji Velvia 50 film

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