I have this hopelessly romantic notion that ‘spirit of place’ is a metaphysical reality; that as humans we can be in a place and somehow communicate with our surroundings, allow ourselves to feel the emotion that’s wrapped up in the ‘spiritual energy’ of any given location.
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Lochan By Torchlight


‘Lochan by Torchlight’, Lochan na h’Achlaise, Rannoch Moor, Highland
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, 17-40mm f/4 L @ 36mm, 2 minutes @ f/10
Unfiltered.
Manfrotto 441 tripod, Manfrotto 322RC2 Heavy Duty Grip Ball Head.
Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Photoshop.

“It’s an eerie experience standing there in the middle of Rannoch Moor by the edge of a loch in near complete darkness.”

Lochan By Torchlight

I was travelling up to Glencoe and had hoped to get to this wonderful loch before sunset. I arrived an hour too late. Not to be deterred in my quest for a magical image in the blackness of darkening twilight, I decided to create my own illumination using a large hand-held torch.

I set up the camera on the tripod at the edge of the loch using a hot-shoe spirit level to ensure a level horizon. There was still enough light to see well enough to set up the composition through the viewfinder and focus on the tree but the light was fading fast.

I made some test exposures with a wide open aperture and high ISO sensitivity to avoid too long a wait for initial evaluation of the histogram. I then switched to manual mode and calculated the correct exposure at around f/11 and 100 ISO for optimum quality. I determined that an exposure of 2 minutes would slightly underexpose the background to provide extra contrast once the island was being illuminated by the torch.

We can’t rely on the LCD rendered image to determine correct exposure; the histogram is the only reliable means of doing this. However, the LCD is very helpful for examining the relationships between different image components and the overall balance of illumination.

I finally created the image by shining the 5,000,000 candle power torch for 1 minute on the tree and for 30 seconds on each side. It’s an eerie experience standing there in the middle of Rannoch Moor by the edge of a loch in near complete darkness.

This is an iconic location for landscape photographers and compositionally, the scene is hard to fault but I think this particular image also works because of the simplicity created by the use of artificial light and long-exposure. The blue twilight palette is complemented by the orange-brown hues of the island illuminated by light of a warmer colour temperature. When the white balance is corrected in post-processing to ensure naturally appearing illumination of the island by the otherwise tungsten coloured light of the torch, the background blues super-saturate emphasising the colour contrasts even more. The two minute exposure has helped to “smudge” the clouds as they moved across the scene and ensure a mirror-like appearance of the lake, further simplifying the composition.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.