I purchased my first digital SLR camera in April 2009. My Nikon D300 was my pride and joy and I captured some very special images with it over six and a half years. At the time it was released, the D300 was Nikon’s flagship semi-professional camera and the body alone cost over £1,000. Technology has moved on and you can now bag yourself a second hand D300 for a mere £200! A large chunk of my D300 years were spent living in Edinburgh. I headed up to Perthshire or over to East Lothian at weekends to do photography, always frustrated not to have the time to travel further north. I made a few trips to the Highlands and/or islands each year but the weather was always a lottery – the chances of the best conditions coinciding with my annual leave were slim.
In October 2012 I made my final photography trip to the Highlands as an Edinburgh resident. I spent four nights at Torridon youth hostel, caught the last day of an Indian summer then dodged the rain for the rest of the trip. On my last morning, I lingered on the shore of Loch Clair for a couple of hours with my camera pointed at Liathach, waiting for the light to do something special. Nothing happened and I reluctantly packed up my equipment, got in the car and began the four hour drive back to the capital. I knew that I had a long dark winter ahead of me spent at my desk, out of my mind with stress. As I drove up through Glen Docherty feeling blue, I watched a rainbow form in my rear view mirror. I pulled in at the viewpoint at the head of the glen, twisted a polarising filter on to the front of my lens to enhance the colours, and captured my last image of 2012. I’ve only just processed it now, three years later.
Something inside of me changed during the winter of 2012/2013. I lost my ‘get and go’ and my photography – previously an obsession – became confined to the sidelines of my life. The Bucket List concept later re-ignited my passion for life and I’ve captured a few special images since, but I haven’t exactly been cramming my hard disk full of new photographs. Pulling together a calendar of new images each year has been something of a challenge. For a long time I hoped that my ‘drive’ would return but I’ve learned that, when it comes to creativity, you can’t force it.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the last couple of years getting to know the Black Isle – exploring back roads, tracks and paths, and wandering through harvested fields following my muse. More often than not the camera was left in the boot of the car. I’d grown frustrated with myself for lacking motivation and I’d grown a little frustrated with my D300 too, in terms of its inability to cope with some challenging lighting conditions and its chronic graininess above 400 ISO (very restrictive for photographing wildlife, capturing sharp images of vegetation in a breeze, or shooting indoors without flash). Don’t get me wrong, it’s an excellent camera for what it’s worth, but I felt that the time had come for an upgrade and this just might give me the boost that I needed.
Last month, after a lot of research, I splashed out on the following professional camera equipment: Nikon D810; Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens; Nikon 70-200mm f/4 zoom lens; Nikon 24mm f/3.5 tilt and shift lens; Lowepro Flipside 400 AW camera bag; and a couple of new filters. A few things have survived from my original kit including my 3 Legged Thing X2 Eddie tripod (currently in danger of being replaced!), Nikon cable release and Lee filter system. I’m still getting to know my new camera yet I’m already struck by the sharpness of the photographs, the D810’s stellar performance in challenging lighting conditions, and the camera’s ability to produce clean images at ridiculously high ISOs. It’s an absolute joy to work with.
Back in 2009 a professional landscape photographer advised me to find a specific subject to photograph and to commit to it. Wise words. I wish I’d listened to them! Over the last six years I’ve been travelling the length and breadth of Scotland, spontaneously visiting this or that island, loch, glen or stretch of coastline. The landscapes that inspire me the most are the likes of Assynt, Mull, Harris and Skye with their dramatic contrasts of mountains and coastal scenery. However, I can’t spend my life travelling back and forth to the west coast or catching ferries over to the Hebrides (as much as I enjoy doing so!) and I’ll never compete with the photographers that actually live over there and can respond to the changing weather and light.
I chose to live on the Black Isle because: a) it’s convenient for working in Inverness; b) I can travel down to Perth in two and half hours to visit my parents; c) it’s a lovely rural area with one of the best climates in Scotland; and d) I love islands and a peninsula is the next best thing. I’m now so settled in my life here that I no longer envisage making the move west. I’ve grown to truly love the Black Isle and I’m grateful to it for helping me to detox after a decade in Edinburgh. In July 2014, shortly after launching my blog, I published a post called ‘Introducing the Black Isle Project’. In a nutshell, I outlined how I wanted to get to know the Black Isle intimately and create a portfolio of local images with the hope of eventually getting a book published. Well, I haven’t achieved much over the last year… until now.
Finally, finally, finally, I’m genuinely feeling motivated again to actively pursue landscape photography (and not just Bucket List related adventures with the odd photograph thrown in, although there will still be plenty of time for that!). It’s my favourite time of year just now, I live in a beautiful place and I’m now the proud owner of a full frame sensor camera. This blog post is a little overdue as, ironically, I’ve been too busy doing photography to write about it!
I’ve captured more quality images of the Black Isle in the last week than I have in the last year and I’m jumping out of bed again when the alarm goes off, in order to head out and capture the sunrise. I’m now committing to my project, constantly checking the weather and aurora forecast, tide tables and sunrise and sunset times, as well as pouring over my 1:25,000 Black Isle OS map and coming up with ideas. It will take years to build up a strong portfolio but it feels good to have made a start.
My six years of meandering around Scotland with the D300 wasn’t wasted time as I’ve been developing my style and honing my skills. My two years of wandering around the Black Isle without a camera wasn’t wasted time either. Consciously and subconsciously, I’ve been scoping out locations so that now, when the sun’s setting at X° and I need a photogenic tree as a subject, I have a pretty good idea as to where to go. By living on the Black Isle, I’m able to respond when the light and landscape combine to create something special and I can combine photography with other commitments too. For instance, I shot the image below after a day at my desk, en route to the swimming pool!
Nowadays when someone asks me, “How’s the photography going?”, I don’t have to mumble some lame excuse about bad weather or decorating taking over my life. I can respond positively and pull up some fresh images on my laptop. Long may it continue. Nice too that my ‘time out’ started and ended with a rainbow, don’t you think?
Footnote: I published this post five months ago and am pleased to say that I have been re-discovering my passion for photography ever since. Given the journey I’ve been on, it feels fitting to enter this blog into this week’s WordPress photographic challenge, the theme of which is ‘State of Mind‘ (March 2016).