Torridonean Drama or how the Foreground makes the image…

Bit by bit I am processing the images we took in Scotland a month ago. After processing the film and scanning, I am having the first “drafts” of the final images.

I am posting here today one of those images which make a whole trip. During our stay there, we spent a week around the Torridon area. I had not seen many images from the place before leaving home, but a quick tour with Google Earth really made me understand the great potential of the place: a long and deep loch getting from the sea into the land, surrounded by a great concentration of peaks like the Liatach, Beinn Alichin and Beinn Eighe.

This image is the result of a combination of planning and a deep location finding-scouting in the field. When I say planning, I am talking about using topographic maps, Google Earth, Photographer Ephemeris and the sunset-sunrise time and direction for the dates of the trip. Using all those tools, I realized the strongest image would be captured looking “into” the land and not from there into the sea. For that, we would need to really go as close to the sea as possible along the loch, looking for a high vantage point to obtain a composition where the loch itself is leading the eye towards the mighty peaks in the background. That would also create a united composition which would capture the essence of this place: loch and mountains, sea water and rock.

However, all this planning was just the tip of the iceberg. As really strong images are made up of tiny details and aspects which cannot be seen on maps, google earth or any other kind of tool, it is once on the field that you can study how to create an unified composition which make an image memorable. This, which applies to all images in general, is specially more important in my opinion for the case of panoramic images. There is always a big temptation to fall under the spell of the appeal of the panoramic format and focus your lens just to the infinity, getting a wide view of the distant land. Sometimes, this is the way to go (see my first post with a Scottish image of sun beams across the clouds, where there is anyway mid-distance land and background to create depth and a play of tones and light to reinforce that illusion), but more often than not, it is the foreground which really makes the photograph extraordinary. In this case, I really wanted a strong foreground element. I wanted an image which would also tell a story, the story of the past of this land, of how all this landscape was created. Some millions of years ago, huge glaciers run from inland into the seas (which were at a much lower level), grinding the valley and shaping the land into those U valleys we can see so well in the Highlands. Today, after those gigants dissappeared, the only features left by that past are deep lochs (created when the sea inundated the valleys when rising its level), those rounded slopes in the hills and scattered erratic boulders left by the ice.

For this image, I really was looking forward for a good foreground element, and it dawned on me that the best element would be a nice erratic boulder. It would help anchor the composition, inject depth into the image, tell the whole story and also provoke emotionally the viewer with that sight of a lonely element comtemplating the scene as if alive. So when we arrived at that area marked with a X on our map, we scouted looking for it. What I did not foresee was finding THE boulder, the perfect one, with perfect shape and form, and really dominating the whole landscape.  I had the image. Or almost.

Basically, in this case I had incubated the concept even long before arriving in Scotland, and almost visualized it. This was on of those times when things seem to have been put for you, just for your image, when Nature seems to collaborate so that your concept comes alive. This location was love at first sight, and so we came back four different afternoons. For a couple of days, we got foggy and almost blizzard conditions, the whole landscape being covered in snow. I realized i did not want snow on the foreground. Even in winter, the grass there in Scotland keeps a really nice golden colour, which can shine when the low winter sun kisses it for a few seconds. The nice rock forms also would make a great subject for the foreground, and the fact of having a dark interesting detailed foreground with a darker tone would really help to separate the background from the foreground layer, adding depth and stability to the image. Too many things which would have got missed with snow covering the land…

It seems nature also cooperated with us on this regard, since in a couple of days the temperature rose a bit, and the snow line quickly raised to higher altitude, uncovering the boulder and the vegetation, but leaving a hint on the distant peaks, making them look even higher. That was the contrast I was looking for: golden colours given by the setting sun in contrast with a bleak and dramatic ominous background. Now the only thing missing was the light, that golden light…

We kept coming for another two occasions, and the last one, we got the light we were after. At the end of a really broody day with overcast skies, the clouds began to open a bit on the West, giving us hope. A few minutes before sunset, the sun pierced the sky, and for a few minutes spotlights bathed the landscape in golden light. For a few seconds we got the boulder lit by the light, bringing alive the whole area, creating that striking contrast of oranges and blues and giving a ton of depth to the image by revealing the texture and rugged character of the foreground. A minute later the light switched off, and the show finished. Using film with a camera like the 617 I wondered whether I had the image or not. I would know it a month later. Sometimes, going to the lab is like having Xmas…

Thanks for reading and great light to you all,

Click on the image to see it bigger!!

categories: Composition, Travel, Voice for a photograph
tags: Composition, Travel, Voice for a photograph.


  1. Alister Benn says:

    Another very fine tale and clicking on the image reveals a true feast. Your attention to detail is evident in the composition, down to the separation of the erratic from the loch shore behind. Will make a fabulous print amigo.

    • Thanks Alister!Yes you are totally right…the distance between the tip of the boulder and the upper shore of the loch was really essential. You can see the no-merging mcuh better in the 100% image, however I wonder whether I might have needed to make the distance bigger…but I wonder too whether in that case the tip of the boulder might have “looked” severed by the bottom shore of the lake. Appreciation here can just change for a few milimeters!
      Now, imagine composing this on the ground glass tiptoeing to reach the camera (i needed to set the tripod as heigh as possible)…
      I am glad you like it…dont you fell homesick?? ;-)
      un abrazo and thanks for the comment!

      • Alister Benn says:

        These details make the difference. I think you got the gap about right… Homesick? Maybe a little sometimes, but the world is a big place and I love Spain too..

        un abrazo amigo.

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