Although Ben Nevis sits just to the east of Fort William, its height of 1,345 metres (4,413 feet) not only makes it the highest mountain in the British Isles, but also means that it is visible from a number of places on the Peninsula. One such place is Lochan Doire a' Bhraghaid and this is where I took the photograph below. It was taken on a cold January morning when the pink light from the Sun rising in the south-east was caught by the mountain’s south facing upper slopes and the clouds that covered what is an extremely elusive summit. A summit that, perhaps one day, I’ll be lucky enough to capture.
The summit of Ben Nevis is notorious for unpredictable and often harsh weather conditions that are constantly influenced by North Atlantic weather systems. The mountain is in an area that experiences a significant amount of precipitation, averaging around 4,406 mm of rain annually. This, combined with the mountain's height, creates a perfect environment for cloud formation. The warm and moist air from the Atlantic meets its high peaks, resulting in the frequent presence of clouds. In fact, its summit is only visible for an average of 30 days per year, making it extremely elusive and therefore a challenge to photograph. However, I am hoping that with a little planning, patience, and persistence, I will eventually get the shot that I have in my mind’s eye.
Planning is the cornerstone of successful landscape photography and involves thorough research and preparation before heading out to a location. In this instance, the factors to consider are weather conditions, time of day, and the position of the sun. For the shot I’m after, I’m looking for an unobscured snow-covered summit with warm sunlight falling on the sides of Ben Nevis that are visible from Lochan Doire a' Bhraghaid some 17 miles to its southwest. This means that the shot needs to be taken on a morning during a cold and clear spell of weather in the months of December, January and potentially February because this is when the sun will be rising in the right place. I used various topographic maps and sun tracking apps to help me pick these months and various weather forecasts help me decide which days to go out on.
Next up is patience. Nature does not always cooperate, and capturing the perfect shot often requires waiting for the right moment. The ideal lighting, weather conditions, and natural elements may not align immediately so I often find myself waiting an hour or more before I feel that the time is right to press the shutter button. On the morning I took the image above, I arrived before sunrise to see that the summit of Ben Nevis was clear. I therefore set up my tripod, framed the shot and waited in anticipation of Sun rising to bath it in a warm pink glow. However, it was not to be because a bank of cloud rolled in from the north and obscured the summit just as sunlight began to fall on the mountain.
So finally, this is where persistence comes in, because it involves a commitment to returning to a location time and time again until the conditions are just right. In this instance, the lighting may have been perfect, but the weather did not cooperate. It was tantalisingly close, but that 1 in 12 chance of the summit being clear conspired against me and I didn’t quite get the shot I was looking for. In fact, I have returned to Lochan Doire a' Bhraghaid a few times since to capture that “elusive peak”, only to be met with no success.
Never mind though. The thrill of landscape photography is often to do with the “chase” and when the conditions eventually do align, the resulting image will be more than enough reward for all the planning, patience, and persistence. Until then, I look forward to the day when I can share the image that I have in my mind’s eye with you.
There’s something magical about watching the beginning of a new day, especially on mornings as perfect as the one when I took the photograph below from the hills above Acharacle while looking north-east over Loch Shiel to Ben Resipole and the distant peaks of Ardgour beyond. Although it is only a short climb, the view you get from up there is simply amazing and this makes it one of my most favourite places to do one of my most favourite things, which is to watch a sunrise.
I’m a morning person and naturally wake up early, but I do realise that not everyone is like this. Therefore, I thought that I’d give some reasons why I think it is good to at least once, get up early with the birds, head to a favourite place and watch a new day begin: