Competing with wind, rain and midges

Wind and rain aren’t ideal conditions in which to set up a large-format camera but when they die down, how well could I cope with the scourge of the Highland Midge?

Family holidays gave my wife and I a three week long break from our grandparenting duties and our first opportunity for a proper roadtrip in the campervan we had treated ourselves to following my retirement. Of course, it was also an opportunity for me to explore new locations with a camera!

Our plan was to visit Islay, the southernmost island of the Inner Hebrides, travelling via the island of Arran and the Kintyre peninsula on our way there, and by the Cowall peninsula and the Isle of Bute on our return. Over the course of eleven days we would make eight ferry crossings and stay on four very different campsites.

In preparing for the trip I had subscribed to the Ordnance Survey’s online maps service and had studied the areas we planned to visit to identify possible photo locations. I packed my Intrepid 5×4 and a supply of Ilford FP4+ sheet film which I would use for ‘serious’ photography and also my recently purchased Polaroid OneStep+ camera with a supply of i-Type colour film intended for snap-shots of our adventures. Here are the snap-shots:

Though we seemed to dodge the worst of the weather being experienced elsewhere in Scotland, we experienced very strong winds over the first few days of our trip, and when the wind did die down, thundery rain showers took over. Neither condition was much good for photography with a large format camera and so my Intrepid mostly remained packed away. My only opportunity came on Islay where with the help of the OS Maps I found a lovely waterfall not too far from our campsite among the dunes at Kintra.

I was able to get these two shots at the top of the waterfall before the rain began again. Below here the water fell another 25 or so metres into the sea in an inlet below. I had hoped to get further down but would have had to make a crossing further upstream and then quite a scramble down the rocks to get the view I wanted. With deteriorating weather and an acknowledgement that with age comes less goat-like abilities, I called it a day.

These turned out to be the only waterfall shots I took on our Islay adventure, but having survived eleven days together in our small campervan, once home we decided to make the most of our break from the grandkids and took off again! This time we headed for Coigach in the north-west highlands, an area we know well as it’s where my wife is from and which I have explored widely with a camera in the past.

When we arrived there was no wind to speak of and it was dry. Perfect for setting up the Intrepid, but perfect also for midges. Even with liberal application of ‘Smidge’ midge repellant, even on parts of the body you would never expect a self-respecting midge to reach, the big question was “How long could I endure their inevitable desire to make a meal of me?” I react quite badly to bites from the wee beasties and have plenty evidence to show that they were successful in overcoming the repellant!

On our first full day, I managed these two images of Allt a’ Choire Reidh at the foot of the corrie below the ridge of Ben More Coigach before retreating to the van:

I have a lightweight balsa wood shade that I made to attach to the Intrepid to shield the focussing screen from light. It serves well to get the general framing and focus and cuts down the time spent under a dark cloth, which is still necessary to make final adjustments particularly when employing tilt and swing movements. Under the dark cloth is where the midges like to congregate so the less time I have to spend there, the better!

Day two was a better day. A little brighter and most importantly with a light breeze. The wee beasties can’t take to the air in wind speeds above 6 or 7 mph. The light breeze was enough to thwart them yet not enough to spoil photography. Heavy overnight rain (it’s the best time for it!) meant full, flowing burns so I headed back to the same location. This time I was able to explore the burn further up the corrie to make these images:

Our third and final day was like the second and I revisited the site of an abandoned croft house that I first photographed over 45 years ago.
It’s interesting to me to see the advance of nature as time passes. Click on the image to view larger:

All the black & white photographs shown were made with the Intrepid 4×5 camera on Ilford FP4+ film, developed in Ilfosol 3 diluted 1+14 at 20ÂșC. Scans of the negatives have been adjusted for black and white points and for contrast.