That Winter Photography Thing

I’m a member of an electric vehicle owners group on Facebook.  Over the last few weeks it’s become clear to me that I’m either stupid, reckless or inadequate.  Maybe I’m all 3.  You see the thing is that in over 30 years of driving, I’ve never had a set of winter tyres on a car.  In fact until a couple of years ago I thought winter tyres had studs & spikes, or even chains and were only for Volvo driving Scandinavians.  I have a feeling they just like that kind of thing - who am I to judge?

Anyway on the Facebook group over the last few weeks it seems that for the majority of members, the latest must have accessory is winter tyres.  I hope Santa’s elves got their market research right this year so that there won’t be any teary eyed Moms or Dads on Christmas day when the big round presents under the tree turn out to be a drumkit.  

I’ve had to be careful what I say in the group as a result, as any further losses could actually see my number of online friends going into numbers a lot like the temperature of the last few days.  (I’m talking Celsius, just in case there are any Americans out there who read.  this.  (oops there may be an unfortunate extra full stop there for comedy value). 

Anyway I’m waffling when I really should be getting to the point of this blog post…On contemplating my stupidity/recklessness/inadequacy I decided that I would take myself off into the Scottish wilderness (alone obviously as I have no friends any more except that odd chap from Wigan, and even he has winter tyres on one of his cars - the git), and I would soothe my soul by doing that winter photography thing.  

I’d waited in until about 2pm as I was expecting a new tripod to be delivered, but it hadn’t arrived and I was starting to run out of available daylight.  (The tripod did arrive while I was out, but it was totally different from the one I’d ordered so it’s already on its way back to the rain forest).  When I set off the weather was clear, but a little chilly with a temperature of about -3 degrees, as it had been all day.  My intention was to see if I could find a good location for sunset, and then take advantage of the clear skies for some night photography.  I was kicking myself almost immediately though as I’d only gone a couple of miles from home when I saw a fog bank covering the River Clyde near the Erskine Bridge. I love taking photos in fog and if I’d realised I would’ve set out much earlier.

My first stop was on the road leading to Boden Boo, which is a small woodland area that sits virtually underneath the Erskine Bridge.  When I saw this scene I liked the way the road leads into the misty distance, and the colours of the fallen autumn leaves on the road contrast with the green moss on the stone walls.  The way a few stubborn leaves are still clinging to the branches of the tree on the left, while the branches of the other trees have been turned frosty white by the freezing fog.

The next photograph was taken only a short distance along the road, but the feel of the location is totally different, I wanted to make a minimalist image with the fence just disappearing into the emptiness of the fog.  I like the way the colours are almost completely suppressed by the frost and the fog.

Less than a mile along the road again and I saw the sun trying to break through just before it set.  I didn’t have time to do anything other than pull over and take a shot as the scene was disappearing as quickly as it had appeared.

As the sun was now just about setting I set off to find a location for some night time photography taking advantage of the clear skies.  As I’d driven further north, the fog and frost had given way to an ever increasing covering of snow.  “Smashing” I thought…just what I want to make the landscape stand out against a starry sky.  My plan was to head for Rannoch Moor and possibly even Glencoe, but first I needed to stop at Crianlarich to charge the car.  While the car was sucking up free electrons (another thing to love about living in Scotland) I went for a wander up to the railway station and took a photo of the station yard.

I remembered to set the car’s heater so it was lovely & warm when I got back to it which is a real bonus in this kind of weather, especially as I’d driven the previous 20 miles or so with the heater turned off just to make sure I made it to the charger without having to resort to running on petrol.  Now I know some people might think that I’m just being mean not wanting to run on petrol, but that’s not really it.  It’s like a personal challenge to myself not to have to use petrol…planning the route so that I can get a charge before the battery runs out,  and adjusting my driving style to take advantage of the energy available (or not).  It feels like failure when the petrol engine kicks in.

No failure with regards to the winter tyres though.  They said it couldn’t be done!…in spite of some icy patches where runoff water had washed the salt off the roads and then frozen, I’m happy to report that my lack of winter tyres did not result in any kind of difficulty, mishap or impersonations of (insert the name of your favourite Finnish rally driver here),  either on the main road or on side roads going up & down hills on hard packed snow & ice.  

I stopped at the edge of Loch Tulla, but I didn’t get an image I was happy with there.  I was trying to use the Lensbaby Sweet 35, but with only starlight illuminating the scene I struggled to get the focus right, although I didn’t realise this until I got home and I could see the images on the computer screen.  While I was taking photos with the camera set up on the tripod in the viewpoint car park above Loch Tulla, I had thought I was alone until a noise made me aware of a large dark shape approaching from my right.  I couldn’t make out what it was at all so I reached into the car to turn on the headlights.  I don’t know who was more surprised - me or the stag!  He was some size though.

Again I didn’t get the shot I wanted here…there were too many cars passing to enable me to get the long exposure I needed without distracting light trails.  After about half an hour I decided to move on to Loch Ba.  I knew that the view I could get there wouldn’t be as badly affected by passing traffic.  Nevertheless I spent quite a long time here before I felt satisfied that I’d got the picture in the bag.  At one point I set up the camera for a 20 minute exposure.  Did I mention that it was a bit chilly out?  There was no way I was standing out with the camera for that length of time so I went back to the car.  At that point I noticed that the temperature readout was showing -11.5 degrees!  That’s the coldest I’ve seen for a good few years, although with the lack of wind it wasn’t actually unpleasant being outside as long as I kept my gloves on.  

This is the best of the photos I took at Loch Ba, with the frozen loch, snowy mountains and the Milky Way.  I really need a faster wide angle lens as the widest aperture of the 17-40mm lens I was using is only f4, and although I have a 50mm f1.8, the field of view wasn’t enough to capture the scene I wanted.

I hadn’t really planned my day out very well at all.  I’d had an early lunch, and it was now 10.30pm on a Sunday night in the Scottish Highlands…plenty of food around, but it runs faster than me!  I decided that I’d charge the car at Glencoe Mountain Resort and then head home.  I plugged the car in and it said 20 minutes to charge, so why not use that time for a cheeky long exposure star trails shot?

I made it home…tired & hungry, but not too cold.  I’m quite pleased with some of the day’s photos.  Some of the others could’ve been better, but it’s a learning process and the times I fail just make the times I succeed so much sweeter. I’d love to hear any comments you have about the photos, the trip, or even my blog itself.  I wonder if anybody on the electric car group is still talking to me…?

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