Waiting for the Light

We all know photographers who chase the light, and there are books and books on the subject, but most of my best photos have been taken not while chasing light, but while waiting patiently for it.

I know one photographer who gets up early, scans the horizon all around his house, then jumps in his car and drives towards the brightest part of the sky. He’s a light chaser. Chasing the light is fun and adventurous, because you never know who you will meet or where you will end up. I enjoy chasing the light too, but the amazing thing is my best photos don’t come from chasing light but waiting for it.

When I climbed the hill to take the photo above it was pitch black and it was raining. I was up there to photograph the East Kinnauld broch, and I knew there was a chance of a decent photo of Strath Fleet if the light was right. As the dawn broke, it didn’t look good. The rain stopped but the mist was thick. It looked like the shoot wasn’t going to happen and I’d have to climb the hill another day. It was my third time up there and I still didn’t have the broch photos. After 2 hours of standing around, here’s what I was faced with.

Rather than go home, I headed over to the outcrop overlooking Strath Fleet, set the camera up on the tripod and waited. An hour later, the mists broke and the sun burst through. If I’d been chasing light that day, I’d have been stuck in the house and missed the photo. I got the broch photos too.

This next photo was an unexpected one, again while out photographing brochs. I was in Glen Elg for the Dun Troddan and Dun Telve brochs and it had rained all the way there, which was a two hour drive. The rain did ease off and there were bright patches in the dark clouds, and I did manage to photo the two brochs between rain showers. On the way home, there was a viewpoint overlooking Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail. As we had an hour to spare and I didn’t really want to head home, I set the camera up on the tripod and waited. You might not believe it, but the sun was only out for about half an hour and then it clouded over and started raining again. If I’d been a light chaser, I’d have stayed home and missed this completely.

Rain and cloud is a common thing in the Highlands, and sunshine is something of a novelty. Such was the case on a day trip to the Island of Stroma. It had been arranged by the Wick Camera Club and there we all were, on the pier near John O Groats, and it was raining and bleak. The boat owner suggested we head home and try another day. However, I’ve learned that chasing light can miss you a lot of good photos, so we all agreed to go. It rained the whole way over in the boat and it rained for about an hour after we arrived. Most of us took shelter in the old abandoned ghost houses and waited.

About an hour later, the rain stopped. Cool, time to set the tripod up somewhere. Found my spot, set the camera up, held the remote shutter release and waited. And waited. And waited. It was about another hour before the sun brightened the clouds enough to get the shot I wanted, in this case a 2 photo stitch. If I’d been a light chaser, this would never have happened. Learn patience. Learn to wait for the light. Even if it doesn't come, it might next time. Better than going home with nothing.

Waiting for the light rather than running around chasing it everywhere gives you time to breathe and think. Rather than a thousand worlds whizzing by you in a blur, waiting allows you to spend time with real life. While in Berriedale one morning, the skies were thunderous, the wind was blowing a gale, and the showers were quite heavy. The cloud layer was broken in one or two places though and because the clouds were scudding across the sky, the light was constantly changing. I set the tripod up, put a waterproof cover over the camera, and waited. The light was coming through sometimes like spotlights, and often there were four or five shards stabbing down, lighting up different parts of the coastline. I needed the cliffs and the shore lit up, but it didn’t look as if it was going to happen. Patience is everything when waiting for the light. After about an hour and a half standing there, the light was perfect and I got the shot.

Sometimes waiting for the light can take days. I got up one morning looking for a specific sunrise shot, set the camera and tripod up, but it rained and rained and I went home. The next morning I tried again, but the light was garbage. Once the sun is up, there’s no point waiting around for a sunrise shot! I tried again the next morning, and the next, and the next. It was on the sixth day it all came together. And would you believe it? A boat chugged out to sea just as I was getting the shot.

Chasing the light is fun. It’s adventurous and it’s an excellent day out. What’s more, you will get the occasional lucky shot, but even while I’m out chasing light, my best shots still come from waiting for it. Earlier this year we were driving around the west coast, chasing light. However, while on Achmelvich beach, I saw a shot. The only thing wrong was a heavy bank of sea mist hanging over the beach. The wind was blowing off the land and the sun was burning off the mists, so I decided to wait and set the camera up. An hour or so later and I had my shot.

I often hear photographers encouraging newbies to go chase the light, and I’d have to agree with them, it’s fun and rewarding. However, I’d encourage you to spend more time waiting for the light if you want to catch the big fish.

Credits -  All photos copyright George Maciver, ScottishBrochs.com, all rights reserved.