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Travel Photography - The Golden 'Rush' Hour (Part I)


It’s 4:30am in the morning and I am in a self-catering cottage on the Isle of Skye Scotland… It’s dark as I scramble around pulling on layers of clothing trying desperately not to disturb my wife who is sleeping peacefully.

Many of you will be familiar with this scenario, especially Landscape Photographers who worship the light of the ‘golden hours’ that shines when sensible people are either fast asleep or sitting down to dinner!

Photography on a family vacation is going to require compromises. Partners and children may wait patiently for you to take your photographs (unlikely) but you need to remember that this is their vacation as well as yours.

I have learned to utilise the hours around dawn as a window for my vacation photography. There can be 2, 3 or even 4 hours of good photography to have before breakfast. I usually don't get an opportunity to return to bed at the end of the mornings shoot which means that in any 5 day vacation I might just manage 1 or 2 mornings out shooting or risk exhaustion :)

In this article I'll run through a single mornings photography from a vacation to Skye in Scotland

The Golden 'Rush Hour'

I was staying on the Peinchorran peninsular and the map to the left shows my car journey on this particular morning as I rushed around the area to capture photographs at various locations.

Good dawn light can be fleeting and it is generally not a good idea to spend the morning tearing around the area trying to find an interesting scene while hoping that the light will play ball. There are however some steps you can take to improve your chances of capitalising on the photographic window.

The first thing to do is to avoid disturbing your sleeping family as you leave your accommodation.

Plan Ahead - Make sure that you have suitable clothing and your camera gear for the morning prepared ahead of time and ideally located in a room away from the bedrooms.

Silent Alarm - I have a Fitbit band and find that the 'Silent Alarm' feature is very useful for waking me up without disturbing my wife.

Light in the darkness - Obviously don't go around turning on all the lights. I have found a head torch to be useful and the flashlight built into mobile phones works well and is not too bright.

Peinchorran Peninsular

Get out before dawn - Having successfully left the cottage before dawn I followed the road along the Peninsular. I could not resist stopping and taking some photographs over the water in the pre-dawn light. The blue hours can result in some interesting and tranquil scenes.

Peinchorran peninsular  on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Watch the Weather - I keep a close eye on weather forecasts to select the optimum days for heading out. 'WeatherPro' on the iPhone seems to be generally accurate for 24 hour forecasting and 'Dark Sky' is good for minute by minute predictions for rain starting and stopping in the area.

Peinchorran peninsular  on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Plan Locations - I frequently use 'The Photographers Ephemeris (TPE)' to help me plan locations. This excellent App displays a map with indicators for the direction, times and angles for the sun (and moon) throughout the day. There is also an interesting add-on available in the form of 'Skyfire' which predicts the likelihood of a colorful sunrise or sunset for given map locations. I have not used it extensively but it seemed to work the few times that I tried it out and is worth checking out the free trial.

Peinchorran peninsular  on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

It can be hard to predict that a morning will produce any dramatic light and the uncertainty can easily lead to hitting the snooze button on those dark mornings. There is an element of luck and chance and even un-promising looking days can surprise.

Peinchorran peninsular  on the Isle of Skye, Scotland

As the color in the sky faded I decided to continue my drive.

Research - I had checked out some likely locations before the trip. I find that 500px is an excellent resource for ideas and inspiration. I planned on heading North towards the iconic Old Man of Storr to try and capture it's reflection in the nearby Loch Leathan.

The early morning light was still good and passing showers added some interest to the sky. I parked my car by the roadside and found my way down to the waters edge where I was buzzed by midges and soaked by a passing rain shower.

The three rowing boats were drifting about in the morning breeze but lined up nicely as the sun broke through the clouds. This is one of my favorite shots from the trip.

Three Boats - Loch Leathan, Isle of Skye, Scotland

I stopped for a wider shot of Loch Leathan as I headed back to the car. The breeze was building by this point but the reflection of the distant mountains is still interesting.

Three Boats - Loch Leathan, Isle of Skye, Scotland

I was keen to take advantage of the decent morning weather and as I drove South I decided to continue down to the Bridge at Sligachan for some further Photography. 

The morning light was getting past it's best by the time that I arrived at Sligachan but you can't be in all places at once.

The Black Cullin Mountains, Sligachan - Isle of Skye, Scotland

In Summary

 I wonder if I made the right choices with taking on three locations. I think that the order that I visited them was probably right for the type of image and lighting.

Had I been at Loch Leathan or Sligachan in the moments before and after sunrise I would have captured some quite different and possibly better images. The compromises of available time and good weather led me to the decision to rush around the area for 3.5 hours on this day. Overall I am pleased with the photos from the morning.

I returned to the cottage at around 9:00am in time for breakfast. I showered and went out hiking with my wife for the day.