The first visit to a new photo location is a funny thing. I use the first encounter with a landscape to learn the lay of the land and find inspiration for future exploration. Before a trip, I’ll plan some key locations—usually inspired by other photographers or hikers I follow on social media—then I connect those dots by road. As I’m driving, I start to see things of interest to explore on foot. Sometimes I have time to explore there and then; sometimes I make a note for a later date. This image was taken right at the end of my first encounter with the landscape of Coigach and Assynt—as I began to explore beyond the dictates of the road atlas.
The mountain behind the loan tree is Stac Pollaidh. I like the sense of youthful rebellion standing tall against the elements and the trunk of an ancestor tree in the foreground. When I arrived in the northwest Highlands, I had just started reading Entangled Life by Merlin Sheldrake, and I could almost feel the subterranean relationships between the trees as I worked the scene. I’d like to return to this birch grove a couple of weeks earlier and catch the peak autumn leaves, but equally, I am very happy with the warmth of the ferns in the understory contrasting with the silvery bleak sky.
Technically, this was an awkward shot to get. I had to shield the camera from rain buffeting in from all directions, and there was a fern very close in the foreground that was moving. I shot at f18 and iso1000 to get the depth of field and shutter speed needed. As such, while I took a few versions of this composition, this was the only one I executed well. I shot with a 4:5 crop in mind, but the height of that lovely cloud requires a 3:4 crop to give it the space it needs.
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