Summit camp on Bidean nam Bian (Glen Coe): West Highlands of Scotland

A key attribute for an outdoor photographer is obviously good health. In March 2018, I opted for surgery to address increasingly uncomfortable nerve pain I’ve been having since 2011 in the soles of my feet whilst I go walking or running. A skilled surgeon recommended that he break (you may use the term 'sawed through') three metatarsal bones in my right foot and re-adjust them to give the nerves a little more space. After 16 weeks recovery, and the ability to start cycling again (including a 62-mile commute home on my mountain bike following the route of the Tour de Forth), I felt my foot was strong enough to cope with an easy hill walk. I wanted to take advantage of a great spell of weather we've been having in Scotland so I decided that I'd combine my first trip back with a summit wild camp.

File reference: chenderson_bidean-nam-bian-0718-510.jpg

As I packed my camping gear and camera equipment, I looked forward to heading to Glencoe in the West Highlands of Scotland. I’ve shot in Glen Coe before and I decided I'd go back there for good reason. The landscape in such a small place is incredibly varied. In 2017 I bivvied on the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan and watched beautiful clouds that filled the glens at dawn. I returned not long after to sleep on top of Am Bodach on the Aonach Eagach across the glen and was treated to a lovely golden sunrise that turned the hills purple and lit up the sleeping spot I’d chosen on Stob Coire nan Lochan. 

My plans for this return trip were to ascend from Glen Coe up into the corrie above Loch Achtriochtan, beneath Dinnertime Buttress, and continue up towards the mighty crags of Stob Coire nam Beith before I'd break off west onto the bealach beside An t-Sron. I’d then spend time making photographs as I continued up the ridge to camp for the night on the summit of Bidean nam Bian (which, at 1107m high, is a Munro).

The internet is such a valuable resource these days for a landscape photographer. With many useful tools such as Google Maps, Google Images and the Sunseeker app (alternatively the Photographer’s Ephemeris), you can plan out in detail exactly which locations should be worth going to and when, with the huge advantage of knowing in advance where the light will fall. An awful lot of work can be done at home or in the office in research mode and, for your shoot, it's simply (ok, it's never really that simple) a case of waiting for the right spell of good weather.

I had the summit of Bidean nam Bian all to myself. There were two people on the summit of Stob Coire nan Lochan for a short while, which is a kilometre away (I think they had scrambled up a route on DInnertime Buttress), but once they'd gone it was just me and the uninterrupted 360-degree view I had of multiple beautiful Scottish glens, lochs and mountains. I'd read that just to the west of Bidean's rocky summit there was good ground for camping and this proved correct - there's a lovely lawn-like area with minimal rocks underneath the ground that is ideal place to pitch a tent. (You could also take a bivvy bag but I opted for the extra protection in case of due to my anticipation for midgies, which thankfully never arrived. I did though manage to lose a bag of semi-frozen grapes, which I'd HUGELY looked forward to in the heat of the ascent, to a crow. There was almost a murder).

At midnight, I stopped shooting and set my alarm for 3.00am (plus, as a precaution, 3.20am, 3.30am and 3.45am). Sunrise was scheduled for 4.30am but it never really got dark and at 2.30am I popped my head out my tent to find it remained relatively light and there was still a lot of colour in the sky. I decided to get up and I spent a very special few hours in a beautiful silence picking out landscapes on the horizon as the sun came up and allowed me to capture a range of new mountain landscape images that I'm really happy with and Iook forward to sharing with clients.

As for my foot? Unfortunately, it's still not strong enough. An innocuous slip on the way down caused me to put all my weight through it and it didn’t cope well at all. After a painful and lengthy descent (and a recommended x-ray from the hospital - which thankfully showed I hadn't re-broken it and it was likely tissue damage) I’m unfortunately now back on the mend and highly mindful of a friend’s advice, which was to be careful and, 'remember, feet are forever”. I think it's wise for me to take some additional time out and concentrate on capturing studio portraits instead.

Camera equipment

  • Nikon D4S (I’d rather hire a Nikon D810 / D850 or a Phase One for the higher resolution)
  • Nikon 24mm f1.4
  • Nikon 70-200mm f2.8
  • Calumet wireless transmitter/receiver
  • Manfrotto 055XB tripod  
  • Filters (Circulariser polariser / Graduated ND filter)

Summit panorama: Lochaber peaks from Bidean nam Bian in Glen Coe

The panoramic view north from the summit of Bidean nam Bian, a Munro in Glen Coe in the West Highlands of Scotland, looking over Stob Coire nan Lochan, the Aonach Eagach (plus most of the Mamores) to Ben Nevis (the UK's highest peak), Carn Dearg, Aonach Mor, Aonach Beag, the Grey Corries, Stob Coire Easain and Stob a' Choire Mheadhoin. (Click image to view larger).

Second time out: Sony RX100 V in the Lake District

I shared in my last post some thoughts I had about the suitability for the Sony RX100 V camera for personal outdoor adventures or mountain sports. I bought this admittedly expensive compact camera, with its 1.0 inch sensor, for occasions where I wasn't working but I still wanted to be able to capture images that were good enough quality for me to add the images to my stock image library and use them, at least, for editorial photography submissions.

My second trip out with the Sony RX100 V camera was to the English Lake District, when I visited with a friend who was scouting out locations ahead of a 24-hour mountain running challenge. In regards to the camera itself, I'd stick with my initial thoughts about the controls being difficult to use in big gloves. I was essentially using it as a point and shoot camera in conditions below freezing with strong winds. I also had trouble with the on/off switch, when I was 100% sure on occasions that I'd pressed it - without gloves on - but the camera didn't recognise my input. And, whilst I felt that 24-70mm gives a good choice of focal range, I think I'd prefer 24-105mm on this particular camera (compared to my Nikon DSLR, on which I prefer using prime lenses - a 24mm f1.4, 50mm f1.8 and 85mm f1.8, which I supplement with two zooms, a 17-35mm wide angle and 70-200mm telephoto lens).

Overall, my first impressions of the Sony RX100 V still stand and it appears to be an excellent camera for my intended purpose. I'll add more thoughts as I use it more. In the meantime, I'll share how much I enjoyed the Lake District. It's roughly the same distance from Edinburgh as it is to Glen Coe (approximately 3 hours) and it opens up a whole new range of mountains for me to explore. I've already started some location scouting of my own, as I prepare for a mountain running photo shoot I've scheduled for later in the year. I'm really looking forward to going back.