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A Photographer’s Guide to Scotland

Last Updated: 27/05/2020
Posted in: Blogs, In Focus, Scotland, Guides

If you love photography and have a passion for travel, there’s nothing more exciting than exploring the landscapes and cities of a foreign place. There are some countries that hit all the high notes when it comes to photography tours, and Scotland is undoubtedly one of them.

Chris, one of our travel experts based in Edinburgh, loves photography and Scotland in equal measure. From the Highlands to the islands, and off the beaten path, he has travelled all over the country to capture its most photogenic areas.

In this complete photographer’s guide to Scotland, Chris shares his insider knowledge to help you plan your trip. Keep reading to learn about the best places to photograph in Scotland and practical insider tips.



Contents:


Best places to photograph in Scotland

This Celtic country has so many incredible locations that you can capture on camera. Here’s our pick of the 10 best places to photograph in Scotland.

1. Isle of Skye

The spectacular Isle of Skye is a haven for photographers. A myriad of jaw-dropping landscapes await you here, from the craggy Cuillin Mountains to the mythical Fairy Pools. There are also ancient castles to shoot, not to mention beautiful lochs, rivers and beaches.

Two of the most photographed sites in Scotland are located in the Isle of Skye. Don’t miss the Quiraing, part of the Trotternish Ridge which has been formed over the years by landslides. The other impressive attraction you must visit is the Old Man of Storr, a basalt rock pinnacle that’s also located on the Trotternish Ridge.

Take a photographic pilgrimage to Skye and you’ll simply have so many stunning backdrops to choose from!

2. Glencoe

Head to the area of Glencoe for jaw-dropping mountain views that will leave you bewitched by their beauty.

A deep, narrow mountain valley in the Highlands of Scotland, you could find yourself visiting Glencoe for hiking, biking and skiing opportunities. But this region, located near Fort William and Ben Nevis, isn’t just beloved by outdoor adventurers.

Photographers also fall for the undulating peaks, snaking rivers and still lochs of Glencoe. You’ll want to climb up high for sweeping vistas of this stunning scenery. From Glencoe’s elevated viewpoints, such as Ralston’s Cairn, point your camera towards the long valleys unfolding below you.

3. Glenfinnan

Made famous by the Harry Potter movies, Glenfinnan is known for its striking viaduct which was built at the end of the 19th century. You can still ride the Jacobite Steam Train over the viaduct, or photograph the scene from a distance.

It’s an unmistakable image of Scotland that is made all the more beautiful thanks to the surrounding mountains and shimmering Loch Shiel in the background. Try to freeze the scene as the train glides over the viaduct, leaving puffs of steam in its wake.

4. Cairngorms National Park

The Cairngorms is the largest national park in the British Isles, with 1,728 square miles (4,528 square kilometres) for you to uncover. This means that there are abundant opportunities to photograph beautiful landscapes and wildlife in this nature haven.

The Cairngorms National Park is quintessential Scotland. Think rippling mountains, winding rivers and quiet lochs flanked by purple heather.

The pristine beauty of this reserve calls out to be photographed, with the bonus of ancient castles to use as interesting subjects. You can even visit the Queen’s summer residence, Balmoral Castle.



Cairngorms National Park ©Paul Tomkins - VisitScotland

5. Loch Lomond

Scotland’s landscapes wouldn’t be complete without lochs. These lakes are scattered across the country and serve as prime photography subjects.

You could shoot the deepest one, Loch Morar. Or the largest by volume, Loch Ness. But among the most picturesque lakes in Scotland is the tranquil Loch Lomond, the biggest body of water by surface area in the UK.

Visit Loch Lomond to marvel at the sparkling waters, dotted with little islands that you can visit by boat or kayak. Climb the green hills that edge Loch Lomond for captivating panoramas of this great Scottish icon.



6. Eilean Donan Castle

On the road to the isles, you can stop off at Dornie to photograph Eilean Donan Castle. Dating back to the 13th century, this medieval building is enthroned on an island on the waters where Lochs Duich and Alsh meet. It is an unforgettable sight, connected to the land via a stone bridge.

Visit the castle itself or head to the Eilean Donan viewpoint. From here, you can take photographs of the castle against the backdrop of forested hills, sparkling loch waters, and cloud-swirled skies.

7. Calton Hill in Edinburgh

With its medieval streets and coastal backdrop, Edinburgh is a delight to experience. There are particular attractions and sites you shouldn’t miss on your photography tour of Scotland, such as Edinburgh Castle and the Royal Mile.

Another great spot in the Scottish capital is Calton Hill. This viewpoint offers you panoramic vistas of the Edinburgh skyline, including the castle, cliffs of Salisbury Crags, Arthur’s Seat and Holyrood Park.

The hilltop has its own attractions though. You’ll notice that the structures here have a striking resemblance to the Acropolis in Athens. They form part of the unfinished “National Monument”, erected in 1822 to commemorate the soldiers who fought in the Napoleonic Wars.

Best of all, Calton Hill is located right in the heart of town so you can easily reach it.

8. Dunnottar Castle

When it comes to castles with dramatic settings, Scotland has quite a few in store for you! One of the most striking of all can be found on the east coast, south of the “Granite City”, Aberdeen.

Dunnottar Castle emerges from a rocky headland jutting out to sea, with craggy cliffs for company. As you photograph this breathtaking scene, you can try to picture what it must’ve looked like over the centuries.

Prominent national figures like William Wallace and Mary Queen of Scots visited Dunnottar Castle, and attempted attacks have taken place here too. In the 9th century, an army of Vikings successfully invaded it.


9. Isle of Harris and Lewis

The Scottish islands are evocative, mystical destinations, punctuated with sleepy villages, untouched beaches and neolithic sites.

Head to the Isle of Harris and Lewis for all of the above, and record its windswept beauty with your camera. Part of the Outer Hebrides Archipelago, Harris and Lewis make up one stunning island on the fringes of Scotland.

Discover white sands and turquoise sea at the beaches of Luskentyre and Scarista. Take photographs of the colourful houses in the port town of Stornoway. And wait for the sun to illuminate the Neolithic-era Calanais Standing Stones.

Isle of Harris ©Paul Tomkins - VisitScotland

10. Assynt

If you’re looking to photograph some of the most remote parts of Scotland, drive north-west to Assynt. A rugged land shaped by mountains, waterfalls and beaches, this is where to soak up pure Scottish nature.

On the shores of Loch Assynt, you’ll find the crumbling ruins of Ardvreck Castle. Learn about the myths and legends that shroud this abandoned building, and take the opportunity to capture the sense of stillness here.



Practical tips for photographing Scotland

Before you begin your photography tour of Scotland, you need to make sure you go prepared with the right equipment and an understanding of what to expect. Here are Chris's practical tips.

1. Photography equipment

Packing the right gear is essential to ensure that your photography tour is a success. Consider bringing the following equipment:

Camera lenses 

Wide angle lenses (at least 14mm) are the most effective for capturing Scotland’s sweeping views and open landscapes. Zoom lenses are also recommended for close up details of the mountains, or to photograph local wildlife.

Spare batteries 

You can charge your batteries at night, but you won’t always be able to recharge them during the day when you're out and about. Also, don’t forget to bring your camera battery charger and UK plug adapter.

Multiple memory cards

You don’t want to risk running out of space as there will be hundreds of amazing scenes in front of you!

Lens hood

This is particularly useful when there is bright sun or rain.

Tripod

Scotland is a windy country so a sturdy tripod is a must, especially at coastal locations which are exposed.

Rain cover

This will protect your camera and lens if you are caught in the rain.

Cable release or remote release

You’ll want to avoid disturbing the camera when you have it on a long exposure.

Polarising filter

This is especially recommended if you are shooting at Scotland’s beaches which are often rocky, to reduce glare and capture details more sharply.

Adapter ring, filter holder and graduated ND filters

These help when you have a notable difference between bright skies and darker foregrounds. Solid ND filters are also ideal for long exposures.

Rubber boots

These can be very useful for shooting from beaches with tidal waves.

2. When to go

There is no “bad time” to enjoy a photography tour of Scotland! Each season offers its own unique appeal. Whenever you decide to go, be sure to look up the sunset and sunrise times for the days you intend to visit.

Autumn

If you don’t mind cooler temperatures, late September into October is a great time to embark on your photography tour of Scotland. While popular locations such as Skye still have plenty of visitors, the summer crowds have definitely thinned out.

What’s more, the famous, ever-changing Scottish light is particularly present in the autumn months. Although changeable conditions can mean more rain in October, the moody skies and lower-angle sunlight are great for landscape photography.

At this time of year, the Highlands transform into beautiful rusty hues. In early October, you will see vibrant autumn foliage appearing in stunning locations such as Glencoe and the Trossachs National Park.

A bonus is that sunrise and sunset can be enjoyed at much more convenient times of the day compared to peak summer. This means that you don’t have to stay up too late or wake up early to catch them!

Spring

Spring is a lovely time of year in Scotland, with nature awakening around early April. If you like to photograph birdlife, note that puffins start to arrive in mid-April for nesting season. The best location to see them up close is the Isle of Staffa which can be reached on a boat trip from the Isle of Mull.

Days are getting longer which again means late sunsets, especially towards the end of spring. April and May tend to be some of the sunniest months, while temperatures are still cool.

If you are looking for clear skies and less rainfall, then spring offers you the best chance – although the weather is of course always changeable here!



Trossachs ©VisitScotland

Winter

Winter is an excellent time to visit Scotland if you are a keen landscape photographer.

With the country’s northerly latitude, the days are very short – especially in December and January. The sun doesn’t rise too far above the horizon, which produces a very special light.

There are a few places where rugged mountains are located close to the sea, for example along the West Coast and on the Isle of Skye. This stark contrast between the stunning coastline and snowy peaks can be great to photograph in winter.

Although you’ll need to wrap up warmly, winter also means you avoid the summer crowds. When you are done capturing the light, you can cosy up in a local pub or country house and enjoy some warm Scottish hospitality.



Summer

Summer (June to August) is high season in Scotland. As such, it’s the busiest time of year for most attractions and scenic locations. Temperatures are at their mildest, and the days are long, so you have more time to go exploring in the picturesque countryside.

For example in June, the most northerly locations experience sunrise before 04:00 and sunset after 22:00.

Every season has their beautiful side, and throughout the summer – from around July onwards – many parts of the Highlands are covered in a purple carpet of blooming heather.



3. What to look out for

When you’re out on your photography trip, here are some notable things to keep an eye out for.

Wildlife

Scotland is a haven for wildlife. On land, you might be lucky enough to catch sight of majestic stags, Highland cows and red squirrels. There are also pine martens, red deer and otters, plus the elusive Scottish wildcat.

On the coast, you could spy marine creatures swimming in the sea. Look out for humpback whales, seals and orca, as well as porpoises and dolphins.

There’s also amazing birdlife to photograph in Scotland. Gaze up at the skies to see puffins, red kites and golden eagles.

City delights

Wander down the cobbled streets and hidden lanes in Edinburgh’s Old Town to stumble upon secret gems. In Glasgow, admire impressive examples of Scottish architecture such as the Cathedral, and buildings designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Roadside viewpoints

For some of Scotland’s best views, you won’t even need to stray too far from the road. You’ll likely want to pull over frequently to enjoy the amazing scenery that presents itself through your car window.

Beaches

Due to its cool climate, beaches are not the first thing you associate with Scotland. However, the country actually offers some of Europe’s most beautiful stretches of sand. Although the water is too cold for swimming, they are one of the scenic highlights for photographers.

Any west-facing beaches in the Outer Hebrides or along the West Coast of Scotland will allow you to witness dramatic sunsets over the Atlantic Ocean. Some of our favourites are Camusdarach near Loch Morar, Elgol on the Isle of Skye, and the white sands of Luskentyre on the Isle of Harris.

Best of all? You often have the beaches all to yourself, especially early or late in the day!

Castles

Scotland is home to over 1,000 castles, ranging from atmospheric ruins to grand stately homes that are still lived in.

There are dramatic clifftop fortresses as well as fairytale-like castles with beautiful blooming gardens, and everything in-between. So almost anywhere you go in Scotland, you’ll find enchanting historical scenes to shoot with your camera.



4. Precautions and safety tips

On a final note, you should make sure that you take the correct safety precautions before you embark on your photography tour. Here are some key tips:

Let someone know where you are going

If you are heading into the countryside, it’s a good idea to inform others beforehand. You can also have a guide accompany you, as their local knowledge can help you reach the best spots.

Check the weather forecast

Scottish weather can be temperamental so you need to be equipped with the right protective gear.

Look up tide tables

For any outings to the coast, make yourself aware of the tide times before you head out.

Deal with midges

Despite their tiny size, these pesky insects can be a real nuisance in the summer months (July and August) in certain rural areas. They are drawn to still waters such as lochs and are also more active at dawn and dusk. Try a protective spray such as Avon Skin So Soft to keep them at bay.



Ready to explore Scotland on a photography trip? With Nordic Visitor you can travel on a private tour, accompanied by an expert guide who can take you to the places you want to photograph.

You can also choose from a range of small group and self-drive options, so there are various ways to embark on a photography trip.

Get in touch with our Scotland team to start putting your photography plans into motion. Or keep browsing our In Focus articles for more in-depth travel guides.

 

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Post by: Emma Gillies

Wanderlust has taken Emma across much of the world, but it was Scotland that she made her adopted home. Aside from enjoying countryside walks, campervan weekends and gigs in Glasgow, you’ll often find her writing about European travel and plotting her next trip.

More posts by Emma Gillies

Getting there

We'd love to give you the same amazing travel experiences as you read about in our blog! To visit the destinations and attractions mentioned in this post - and to discover a few new highlights along the way - check out these recommended Nordic Visitor tours.