Me and my little drone, eh. Wow. I'm so stoked after scooping the seascape prize in this year's Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year competition. I'm just gonna let this sink in for a second, but I think I can now technically be called an award winning photographer!
I do have to share the back-story, as it's kind of tragic and funny, like a modern day Shakespearian play (or possibly more like a Mr Bean sketch in reality) but also a lesson in persistence - if at first you don't succeed and what not.
I took this aerial shot over one of the incredible beaches on the Isle of Harris, in the Outer Hebrides, North West Scotland. Harris has the best beaches in Britain, hands down. But let me tell you, this place is ree-mote. You don't want to go all the way up there unprepared, like me.
Picture the scene. It's 6am, I am heading out for first light and I get to where I need to be, the beaches at Seilebost. I park up, and face my first challenge. How do I get down to the beach? There aren't really any signs to the beach on Harris, it's a case of figuring it out. From the roadside, it looks like I can plot a line down to the beach, so I set off. The light is starting to emerge, and the whole time I have the shot in my mind - drone above me, straight look down, white sands, white surf, long shadow, boom. And then I hit a fence, evidently there to protect me and the roaming sheep from a sheer drop to certain death. Nope, it's not that way. I head back. The next route looks like it involves a snaky, fairly sketchy but doable descent - let's give that a shot. As I approach, I realise I'm actually in someone's back garden. Big gardens out here. Back on the road again, and the sun is now pouring through a gap in the clouds and my chances of long shadowy-ness are diminishing by the minute. I spot a dog on the beach. A dog? Surely there is someone with the dog. There they are, emerging from the long grass. Ohh, the penny drops, all I had to do was drive another half a mile and attack this from the other side. Unwavering, I don't even go back to the car. I continue walking, take the side lane, cut across the grass and voila, I'm on the beach. I'm right where I need to be.
Right. Let's do this. I launch the drone, and the scene is looking SO good. My shadow is still long. I got this. I move closer to the tide to nail the composition, adjust my settings, get everything looking right, and *click* I go for the first shot of the day..
"It was at this exact moment, he knew he had f*cked up"
There is no memory card in the drone. The night before I left for Scotland, when I was formatting cards and prepping all the gear, I had forgotten to put one of them back in the drone, and forgotten to pack the rest in the bag. Right then, the image of exactly where they were came into my head, casually sitting at home on my desk. My stomach dropped. The level of idiocy and overall calamity of the situation washed over me as I descended the drone and packed it all up, entirely fruitless. The long, expletive-filled walk back to the car that morning was not my most enjoyable moment in life.
I drove back for breakfast at the B&B and told my wife the tale of woe. She began googling with fury, calling the local shop, the post office, the art gallery, but with the lack of phone signal the words 'micro SD card' were most likely coming out the other end of the phone as 'ike - ee - ard' so needless to say, her sterling efforts were in vain. Cue breakfast, and our host Paula had her daughter over helping out. Turns out her husband also has a drone, and she reckoned he'd be willing to let me borrow his memory card.
After a drive back to her house, she returned with card, and with that act of genuine kindness came the ability to finally capture some aerial beach shots.
Faith in humanity and mood restored, by now it was 1130am, and we set off for another beach, Scarista, as a family. This is where I managed to get the shot at around midday, the shot that has just won the seascape category of the Scottish Landscape Photographer of the Year.
'Don't do landscape photography in the middle of the day' says the landscape photography rulebook, but despite the lack of long shadow, I lucked out with the clouds moving in such a crazy, scattered way, creating the unique pocket of light surrounding me, which in my opinion ended up giving me a better result than the soft golden light at the start of the day. Some things are just meant to be.
So there you have it, a prime example of how not to do landscape photography winning a prize in a landscape photography competition. I look back on this day with fond memories now, and the most important thing, despite all the lessons learnt, is to be ever grateful for the people around you who support you and love you, and the kindness of good-hearted folk who help you.
Thank you for reading, and if you are interested in getting a print of this, please visit the shop
'The Sands of Scarista' - Winner - Seascape category - SLPOTY 2017