a day in the life…

This post is taken from the Day in the Life feature in Photography Monthly/Turning Pro magazine, May 2010

A Day in the life: Landscape Photographer

Torrential rain, midges and to-die-for scenery – it’s all in a days work for landscape photographer Craig Easton as he shoots in Scotland for  Virgin Books.

Beginning his career at The Independent’ newspaper, Craig Easton learned fast. He recalls making wet prints in the darkroom and running to the picture desk with them to fill a hole in the front page that was about to go to print. If that sounds old hat, it’s not that long ago; the early ‘90’s in fact.

Alongside his Fleet Street career, Craig always liked to shoot landscape images. Preferring transparency film he started shooting for books where the reproduction would do them justice. Today he does a lot of location based advertising work as well as continuing with the books. In the course of his working life, he has travelled all over the world, but for his latest book, a collaboration with writer Brigid Benson, he stayed in the UK. The result is 52 Weekends by the Sea which celebrates the diversity of the British coast.

Craig takes us with him on his travels over a 24 hour period shooting for 52 Weekends.

5th July

9.00am: I had risen early to shoot some quiet morning pictures of the Crinan canal in Argyll, having shot the wooden boat festival the day before. Then over breakfast I check the weather and decide that maybe today is the day to shoot Sandwood Bay in Sutherland. I want the images to illustrate a chapter on wild camping titled ‘The necessity of Wilderness’ after a quote by John Muir. The beach lies four miles from the end of the nearest road and with an 11pm sunset and 4am sunrise in midsummer, camping on the beach is the only way to shoot. The only problem is that it’s a 250-mile/7hr drive just to get to the start of the walk.

5.00pm: I’m parked up at the end of the old peat track where the walk to Sandwood begins. Although still isolated and remote, this is now a popular route and especially appealing on long summer days. All the kit I need is in the van, and I have provisions for supper on the beach too, having stopped off at the stores in Kinlochbervie.

Travelling as light as possible, but with the right clothes and equipment is critical. You won’t take good pictures if you’re too cold or if you have been bailing water out of a leaky tent all night – or in Scotland if you can’t concentrate for all the scratching of midge bites. My backpack is loaded with tent, sleeping bag, Trangia stove, food, water, head torch, Skin so Soft spray to keep the midges away, OS Map, waterproofs, hat, gloves (this is the North West Highlands) and swimming shorts (it is July!)

I am shooting digitally and take two cameras, both with two spare batteries: see kit panel overleaf for my full list of gear.

Nikon D3X with 15-30 f.2.8; 24-70 f2.8; 70-200 f.28: I left the long lenses behind – too much weight Leica M8 with 21 f2.8; 35 f1.4; 50 f2. Plenty of CF cards for the Nikon and SD cards for the Leica Filters: 0.3/0.6/0.9 ND grads; Tripod: Gitzo carbon fibre with ball head Lowepro bags Zip lock bags to keep the gear dry and clean

7.00pm: I arrive at the bay and pitch the tent then go for a recce walk to check out the locations and views that I want to work with. The obvious landmark is Am Buchaille (The Herdsman) – a magnificent sea stack, but I am so familiar with that view that I’m looking for something else. I’m struck by the extent of the dunes and the freshwater Sandwood Loch at the back. Aware that I already have the chapter opening double-page spread for this chapter from a previous trip when I’d shot the picture ‘Midnight at Oldshoremore’, I’m looking for something for the following two pages. Still with plenty of time before sunset, I can’t resist and dive in for an icy swim – carpe diem!

8.00pm: The sun takes a long time to set in the far north-west at this time of year, but I’m aware of gathering clouds out to the west. I shoot one or two simple pictures, but nothing that I’m really happy with and it’s maybe 50/50 whether the clouds are going to ruin the next two hours or really help the mood of the place with the setting sun. I decide to make a quick bowl of pasta – this could be a long night!

9.30pm: The clouds gather overhead, but there were still gaps of sunshine illuminating the beach and the dunes. I choose the angle that I want to shoot and decide on a wide triptych to run right across the double page. This allows me to really get a sense of the whole scene. I can keep the recognisable stack out at sea, but also shoot the light across the dunes and catch a glimpse of the loch and mountains behind.

I just get the pictures before the clouds claim the sun for the last hour of daylight. A minute after the picture is made, the sun is gone and a flat grey light covers the scene.

10.15pm It’s getting cold, so I head back to the tent to make sure all the kit is packed away and waterproof and zip up the tent before the midges came out in force. Overnight the clouds burst and pour torrents of rain onto the tent, I wake up at 4.30 to check the light, but it’s flat grey and still raining.

6th July

5.30am: Check again and there’s a hint of a break in the clouds, so I get up and wander out onto the beach. Although there are heavy clouds the atmosphere is serene and I enjoy an hour to myself in a most magical place. I have photographed all over the world, but at this moment I don’t want to be anywhere else.

6.30am: Within the hour the mood of the weather has changed and I need to pack up the kit and get back to the van as soon as possible.

7.15am: Just as I reach the top of the track leaving the beach, I feel the first spits of rain and the wind that comes with a gathering storm. Looking back, there is the last glimpse of the sun as it breaks through the storm clouds illuminating Sandwood Loch and haunted Sandwood Cottage. I have about ten seconds to make the picture, which goes on to win the homeland category in the Travel Photographer of the Year. I often find it ironic that despite all the planning, preparation and patience required to be a landscape photographer you still need luck and a newspaper man’s ability to work fast and make quick decisions when it really counts.

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