Infinity road – Urlar Moor, Highland Perthshire

I like puzzles and intrigue whenever I look at something and seeing the world in black and white allows me to build that puzzle and create the intrigue. Colour images that bristle with detail and vibrancy (for me at least) fail to achieve that aim and for that reason it seems that they fail to hold the viewers gaze long enough to invite them to come back again or look further at the image. When I strip away the colour, I can strip away the detail and reduce the complexity into a few simple ethereal elements. This I feel invites the viewer to examine and explore, get it wrong or get it right and that pleases me that there may be questions to be asked. In the image above, hopefully I’ve demonstrated my this.

For many years I’ve visited this location. It’s a bleak place with very few features or landmarks that could be married together to form a mainstream view of the Scottish landscape and this is precisely the appeal it holds for me. It is a challenge in itself to capture anything of note let alone beautiful, but if you have your “conversation” with the place then it will soon tell you things if you’re willing to listen, and from that you can learn, and capture a myriad of things from simplistic beauty to the darkest drama.

Being a place of few distinguishing features, it becomes a place of events and it’s these events that I come here to capture. In winter time it can be a very harsh place to be, but the featureless landscape still comes alive with many wonderful things. Strong winds form curved banks of snow which look like sand dunes for example, reflecting the light in many ways. Spring brings the rains and new life begins to emerge amongst the grasses and heathers. I could list all the events that occur over the course of a season on the moor but it it would make for a very long post and I don’t want to bore you, but I think you get the gist. Simply stopping a while and looking is key here, and something will appear for me. It’s these moments I come here for.

The weather is most often the major event on the moor, as was the case on this particular evening. At first glance the image may appear as morning or late afternoon but this was actually a rising moon. The wind was rather strong and there were frequent showers of rain and drizzle, making photography extremely challenging. But time and experience has taught me that you should never walk away if there is a hint of doubt. I would often pack up early to go home, but as you might guess, the light would change for a fleeting few minutes and the shot I envisaged appeared before me – whilst my kit was being packed away. I’ve learned since to anticipate and almost “predict” when the right conditions will occur and it’s always a great satisfaction when it does. It means I’m understanding the landscape.

Such was the case on this evening, because for all that it was brooding weather, there was just enough of a hint that the moon may break through the clouds and illuminate the wet road. For almost an hour it was frustrating watching the “nearly there” moments but realising I only had 3 shots left on my roll made it all the more important to stay put. If you’ve ever had to change rolls during a fleeting moment of light then you’ll understand that it takes 10 times longer to change a roll of film just when you can’t afford it to be.  Anyway, the clouds began to thin as the wind picked up, but this brought heavier rain. Good for keeping the road wet, but a nightmare for keeping the lens and the grad filter drip free. However, the rain did stop and then the moon appeared as I had hoped, but then it dawned on me that I was in long exposure territory and therefore the moon would be a bright blob. I took one shot with the moon visible, but it wasn’t really what I was after. I needed the clouds to sit in front of the moon and diffuse the light.  Then, as luck (or my anticipation) would have it, the clouds rolled over and the conditions were just what I wanted, The moon lit up the road and the trails further in to the distance with just the right amount of fall off.

When it came to taking the shot, it was a but tricky. My light meter isn’t very accurate in moonlight so it was a case of getting a reading from the lightest clouds and guessing the correct exposure from there. Too long an exposure and there would be too much detail in the foreground which was not what I envisaged. So, I guessed an exposure of around two minutes. This would be enough to under expose the image but still capture the all important parts of the road and the layers of the distant hills.

This was my vision at the time of capture and there was no live view or digital trickery here to help me – simply an idea in my head. However, it has to be said that my knowledge of this particular place meant that I was fairly confident of getting the result I wanted and it should go without saying that if you’ve shot as much film as I have over the years, then I should have an idea of what the outcome would be. Nevertheless, it’s still the excitement of never really knowing for sure what the result will be that excites me and digital can’t do that. Anyway, back home and the rolls were developed. The negative was just as I had hoped, with enough detail in the road winding its way into the distance and enough lack of detail in the dark areas at the sides so that I could dodge and burn to finalise my vision.

The result was as you see above. Light areas of the clouds and the road developed at normal exposure. A half stop burn for the darkest upper cloud and two stops burning in on the sides of the road to be extra sure of rendering this area featureless.

I hope me explaining the image hasn’t taken away too much of the mystique or intrigue and thanks for reading!

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