Ben Nevis in Winter Raiment is probably the most significant image that I ever captured. It was through the sale of this particular image that the idea to launch my business, Mountain Images, was born.
Ben Nevis totally dominates Fort William, the West Highland town to which I moved during January 1981. My first full winter season there, that of 1981/82, proved to be one of the most severe in the Highlands for many years, with night-time temperatures dropping, even in Fort William on the shores of Loch Linnhe, to below -20C – a very rare event.
For the mountaineering photographer, these unusual conditions proved to be most advantageous because earlier falls of heavy snow remained on the mountains – even down to sea level – for days on end. Furthermore, these stable anticyclonic conditions provided calm days of clear air and light of oustanding quality. These two factors were to be the most important contributors to my successful and now famous shot of Ben Nevis in Winter Raiment.
Whilst Ben Nevis does not reveal the rugged grandeur of its north face in the view from the west across the waters of Loch Eil, it is only from here that the true height and sheer bulk of the mountain can be fully appreciated. This is a popular location for photographers, so views of the Ben Nevis reflected in the waters of the Caledonian Canal Basin at Corpach are very common indeed.
The Calm Waters of Loch Eil
However, I personally feel that the view of Ben Nevis reflected in the canal basin is a poor substitute for the more natural composition which is to capture the mountain perfectly reflected in the waters of Loch Eil. Further advantages of this composition are the sheer purity and depth of the reflection and the freedom from the clutter of nearby buildings and boats and the distracting lines of the canal itself.
During the very best period of stable weather, I visited this location on several occasions, morning and evening, waiting impatiently for the optimum conditions. I had several shots already ‘in the can’ but none of them possessed that particular magic that I was looking for. And so, I paid yet another trip to the shores of the loch late one February afternoon.
My perseverance had finally paid off. After several days of fine weather, on this particular evening, the waters of Loch Eil finally yielded a flat calm and that elusive reflection. As with all winter anticyclones which remain stationary over the British Isles, the air had become just a little hazy. But sometimes conditions unexpectedly work in one’s favour, and this afternoon they provided me with one exceptionally delightful feature – the setting sun now bathed the totally snow covered mountain in the most delicate pink light. The reflection and the light was the ‘magic’ that I had been looking for, and the components that turn a good shot into a great one.
Date : 18th February
Location Map Reference : NN 09541 76625 : Corpach
Time : 1550 GMT