The Buachaille Etive Mor
The Buachaille Etive Mor rises tall above pools and waterfalls on the River Coupall as it flows across the vast open expanse of Rannoch Moor.
Image Size : 840 x 280 mm
Print Size : 960 x 406 mm
I published my first print of the Buachaille Etive Mor back in the autumn of 1983 shortly after the creation of Mountain Images. It was only the second commercial print run that I had commissioned and at the time I considered it to be something of a gamble. I need not have worried; such is the continuing popularity of the mountain that the entire edition sold out in less than three months.
I recall very well the moment when the image was taken a year earlier on a lovely crystal clear late September morning which followed overnight rain. I stood in the Coupall River with water up to my knees, and using an Olympus OM1 camera fitted with a 28mm wide angle lens charged with Kodak Ektachrome Professional 64 film captured a shot which featured the great north face of The Buachaille Etive Mor. I chose my viewpoint carefully because I wanted the image to include some of the mountain's best-known climbing routes - Curved Ridge, Crowberry Ridge and Crowberry Gully.
Twenty-five years later it was time to re-visit the location and bring the image up to date - not that the mountain had changed in that time, but photographic technologies and print quality certainly had. In 2002 I had enjoyed an incredible morning shoot of the Buachaille Etive Mor from a nearby location beside the River Etive; that extremely productive day realised one of our best-ever selling prints - 'Alpenglow On The Buachaille'. The 'Alpenglow' image was taken using the stunning panoramic Fuji GX617 camera, and the final image, reproduced on Fuji Velvia 50 film, yielded amazing detail and superb colour saturation. However, despite the inclusion of such a magnificent image into our print range, the 'original' shot from the Coupall continued to sell. The reason - the Coupall River location offered a better view of the Buachaille Etive Mor's north face and related better with the interests of climbers and hillwalkers.
And so with that in mind, I looked again at the Coupall River and walked its bank from the junction with the River Etive to the stepping stones near the club hut at Jacksonville. What I wanted to do was capture the Coupall River shot in panoramic format, giving it the character I liked in the Etive River shot. At the same time I wanted to maintain the focus of the image on the north face of the Buachaille Etive Mor and in particular the popular climbing routes. After walking the river bank several times, it became clear that the original location that I had identified in 1982 near Jacksonville was indeed precisely where I needed to be to capture the best view of the face. I was perhaps a little suprised that even after twenty-five years and all the millions of gallons of water that had flowed down the river in the intervening time, I could still identify the rock patterns in the river that pin-pointed the exact location where I had taken my original image.
The major difference between the opportunity which presented itself to me now and that of twenty-five years ago was the camera system that I had in hand - a digital Canon EOS 1DS Mark III camera. Using all the excellent features that it offered I would now be able to capture not just a single image, but a whole series of images that would eventually be stitched together to produce a new majestic study of Buachaille Etive Mor in an ultra-wide panoramic format.
It was a lovely warm morning in late September, and I had been on location since well before sunrise, so I was now prepared with equipment set up by the time the first of the sun's rays hit the summit of the Buachaille. As soon as there was enough light across the whole scene, and into the bed of the river, I took my first series of shots. Depth of field was more important than freezing the flow of the river (which was fairly low anyway) so I set an aperture of f8 and accepted the very slow shutter speed of 1/6 second. The warmth of the early morning light reflected beautifully off the Buachaille's pale rhyolitic rock formations. The resultant images, taken at 0735 GMT would form the basis for the first of the prints that would be produced from the morning's work.
But that image was something of a bonus; the material that I had come looking for required much stronger light for which I had to wait a further 30 minutes. By this time the morning light was at its very best - strong and directional. In 1982 I had used a polarising filter and so I repeated the experiment to see how the effect would look when used in an ultra-wide panorama. In a single 35mm image it can often be difficult to detect the use of a polarising filter, but in panoramic images the effect is much more obvious. The use of the filter also knocked back my exposures and even with the much stronger morning light I was still committed to a slow exposure of 1/10 second with the same aperture as before. As a precaution I took a series of images with and without the filter.
When examined back in the studio, the effects of the polarising filter were very obvious, but I particularly liked the way that the strong deep blue morning skies contrasted with the pale rocks of the mountain. Eight images were selected with an overlap of around 30% to compile the final wide format panorama with an angle of view of around 150 degrees extending from Sron na Creise in the south to Stob Mhic Mhartuin in the north west. The objective of the exercise was achieved; this new Buachaille Etive Mor print captures the north face of the mountain to perfection yet also puts its location into perspective as the dominant and dramatic feature that it is on the edge of Rannoch Moor.