Tips for seeking out photography locations - Scotland
Every week I am contacted by people planning a trip to or within Scotland. For some it’s a once in a lifetime trip, for others it’s a chance to visit a new part of Scotland. Some common questions come up and one of those is where to go to get the best pictures. Here are my tips for getting the most out of a location, especially if you are on a once in a lifetime trip.
Research from your couch before you leave. Nothing can ever replace the knowledge that comes from getting to know a location intimately, watching it through day and night and over the seasons. But if you are visiting somewhere for the first time on a trip never likely to be repeated, this isn’t going to help you. Do as much preparation as you can by researching locations you are visiting on Instagram and 500px, reading through local guidebooks and consulting google maps. Questions to ask yourself when viewing images:
What time of year was the photo taken?
What time of day?
Where is the nearest parking spot, how long a walk is it to get to this location, what will I need to take with me?
Does the location work better at sunrise or sunset? Where and when will the sun rise and set? (and is there anything blocking that e.g. a mountain). I recommend The Photographer Ephemeris app for this.
Make friends with local photographers in the area you are visiting. Reach out through social media to those whose work you admire. Invite them to meet for coffee to share tips and techniques or to head out together on a photography adventure. Alternatively ask for advice from locals when you are on holiday. From the receptionist at the hotel to the waiter in the local restaurant. They will all have their favourite locations and tips that aren’t necessarily covered in the guide book.
Stay away from visiting iconic locations at peak times. Summer in Scotland is peak tourist season and the hours between 10-4pm can be very busy. Luckily for us though, summer is the season of never-ending light stretching to as much as 18 hrs. Head out in the early hours to capture the soft dawn light and take in a sunrise (an experience within itself) or venture out with a picnic dinner and make the most of the last few hours of the day. The light is more beautiful and you will likely have some of these locations all to yourself. Outwith peak tourist season, you will have less tourists around but the same principles apply. Head to locations that you want to photograph around the cusp of daylight breaking and leaving.
Sign up to attend a local photography workshop. There are many fantastic photographers offering unique and informative photography workshops in Scotland. Type in your preferred location and photography courses and a whole range will come up. Do your research and read reviews before investing.
Visit local galleries. Not only can you find a beautiful, permanent memento of your trip but it will give you an idea as to the most alluring, must see locations in the area.
Consult the weather forecast but don’t be a slave to it. The weather in Scotland can be quite fickle. Embrace it and try to capture how it feels in your image. Some of my best images have come from shooting at the tail end of a storm when the sky is wild with shard like light piercing the landscape (in fact I’d absolutely recommend heading out immediately after a storm). Likewise, I don’t always put my camera away when it’s raining. I love to capture the atmosphere and mood under conditions like these.
Capture the small details that make up the location (local wildflowers and wildlife, interesting buildings, wildlife etc).
Work on conveying how it feels to be there. Are you overwhelmed by the vastness of it all. How can you convey that? Sometimes i include people within my landscape images to give a sense of perspective. Often in snowy scenes, the silence is one of the first things to strike me and I’m usually inspired to create more simple compositions.
Just wander. Follow your curiosity. Look for unique vantage points. Get up high, get down low. Take your time to absorb it. What is it that you love about the place? How can you communicate that feeling to viewers? Following this approach often leads to serendipitous moments that i could never have planned for.
Sketch with your camera. A bonus of the digital age is that we can take many photographs and review them instantly to establish what works and what doesn't. I recommend taking this practice further and studying all your images on a computer. Review them critically. Firstly identify which ones stand out to you and why. What doesn't work and why. Use these lessons to inform your future location scouting and image making.
Know your camera and all its settings like the back of your hand before you go. You don’t want to waste any precious shooting time on this.
Composition. This is a separate topic that is too large to cover within this article but i would direct you to this post which has lots of helpful hints and tips.
Scotland is such a beautiful country that no matter what, you will go home with beautiful images but these tips will hopefully give you something to work on in the run up to your trip.