The images in this blog were taken by Stuart Fenty, Michelle Scott, Brian Sandison and Mike Chandler
On Sunday 29th December four of us representing Fraserburgh Photographic Society mounted an expedition to the Dee valley. Stuart had done all the research. So we knew where we were going and we knew that the weather would be favourable. The aim was to find bridges and waterfalls. Stuart also took on the task of expedition driver. (I suspect that the we would have been hard pressed to stop him.) The start of the journey was perilous with ice on the road. It wasn’t until we hit the roundabouts of the Aberdeen ring road that we found out what Stuarts Audi S6 5.2 v10 could do. I don’t think the boy racers in the Astra knew what had left them standing.
But enough of the transport the expedition was about photography. The other two intrepid photographers were Michelle Scott and Brian Sandison. Our first stop was at the Falls of Feugh. Plenty of water but treacherous underfoot - ice. Long shutter speeds were the order of the day. We found that this was not possible on the foot bridge as the slightest movement on the bridge led to camera shake and a blurred image. The solution was to make our way down the river bank, get close to the water, then try set up the tripod to be steady on the stones and roots. The alternative was to go onto the road bridge and dodge the traffic coming over the narrow roadway.
A few other experiments were tried here. Brian had some welding glass to strap to his lens in order to stop down the light and achieve the slow shutter speeds required to get an image showing a milky flow of water over the rocks. The experiment failed. The light in the valley was poor and the glass only served to virtually block it out all together. The task I set myself was to tackle the extreme lighting conditions looking down stream. The dark wooded river banks contrasted with the reflections on the river itself and in the distance was a white house brilliantly highlighted by sunlight. Michelle tried the same shot. Meanwhile Stuart was trying out his hired Canon 24-70 F2.8 lens. Brian had a go with it, well it did have a neutral density filter that preformed better than the welding glass.
The second stop was Potarch Bridge. The light had improved. The steep sides of the river Feugh were replaced by the wide banks of the Dee itself. The light reflecting off the river onto the underside of the bridge was something special and well captured by the expedition. The Potarch Hotel next to the bridge was empty and boarded up and may have provided expedition members the source of images to enter into this years themed competition ‘Decay and Dereliction’.
The next objective lay in Dess Wood by Kincardine O’Niel. Stuart in his research on Google maps had found a waterfall on Dess Burn. We found where to park, there was another group of photographers just coming out of the valley. They assured us that although there were steps down to the valley floor it was not an easy descent but the rewards were worth the effort. They were right in every respect. There were steps they were wet and slippery and with a rise of a couple of feet per step. The hand rail did little to give one confidence in the descent; it wobbled and had gaps where no gaps should have been and at one point was freshly broken. But all that was forgotten by the sight of the waterfall. There was just the right amount of water to provide a fantastic spectacle. Stuart had put on his wellington boots so was able to go out into the burn to get his shots. The rest of us stayed on the bank. This was a waterfall where taking good shots was easy, taking great ones was a possibility. Even for non photographers this is a ‘must visit’ place. I am sure I will return many times in an attempt to capture its different moods.
There was no stopping us now. We had got the waterfall bug, so it was on to the Burn o’ Vat in the Muir of Dinnet National Nature Reserve. We got to the visitors centre and our hearts sunk. The car park was full this must mean that we would have difficulty getting clear shots. Still we decided to give it a try. Following the advice of Ally Henderson we all put on wellington boots . Making sure Michelle got the ones with pink flowers we followed the path. It was a bit up and down. Certainly the furthest we had had to walk all day, but much, much easier than the climb down, and back up, to the Dess Burn. None of us had been here before. You could feel a little disappointment that the stream we were following didn’t seem to fit well with the image we all had of a great waterfall. However this soon evaporated as we saw where we had to go. The path went into the stream, we were glad we had followed Ally’s advice with the wellies, and led through a small gap in the bank ahead of us. Six feet high and less than two feet wide and ten feet deep the gap opened up into a wide ’pot’. Just that sight was awe inspiring but at the far side of the pot the waterfall finished off the scene to perfection. And, amazingly, we were the only ones there. Angles and views were found and images taken just as more people started to arrive. By this time we were all well used to slowing the shutter speed to capture the essence of the flow of water over the falls. Down in the ‘pot’ it was quite dark and a neutral density filter was hardly necessary. By now we were all weighing up the options of tasking bracketed exposures to ‘HDR’ the final images.
Our final destination was due to be the falls at the Linn of Dee. However on the way there we made an unscheduled stop at Invercauld Bridge between Crathes and Breamar. On this streach of the A93 we had another demonstration of the power of Stuarts Audi. There were ‘Sunday Drivers’ out on the road. Stuart found short straights to overtake by throwing us back in our seats as the G force created by the acceleration as he manoeuvred (quite safely) past the sightseers. At Invercauld we found not one but two bridges, the old one now closed to vehicles, and the not so old one carrying the A93 across the river Dee. An unscheduled stop means that forward planning gets a bit tricky. We pulled off the road and down the track to the old bridge stopping just in front of the bollards stopping cars going any further only to be accosted, albeit quite nicely, by the lady in the house just by the turning that we couldn’t park there. Stuart had to find another place. As it turned out over half a mile back the way we had come, to park. Two bridges both worth photographing. I have a little beef about the old bridge. It had at some stage been repointed. I have no problem with that because if it wasn’t it may fall down. However they, the pointers, had nearly covered all the granite stonework with their cement which took away some of the beauty of the graceful old bridge. By now it was starting to cloud over. The surrounding hills were snow covered. This presented different challenges again. How to make the sky look interesting? How to get the snow into the frame? Where to find colour in a grey sky, grey river and grey granite stonework? All things considered I think we managed to answer these questions quite well.
There was a lot more snow as we got closer to the Linn of Dee but not enough to cause any problems. There was more walking from the car park to the falls but all on the flat. As we got closer the signs ‘Deep Gorge Ahead’ seemed to get more urgent. When we got there we found the swift flowing river Dee channelled into a gorge. The force of the water as it cascades down the narrows is to be seen. The task for us as photographers was to capture the force of the torrent and the scale of the gorge that it had created. I hope that we managed to do it justice. By now the rain had started. I don’t think anyone noticed until we started to make our way back to the car.
It was a long day. Starting at eight in the morning and getting back after six. As with other photo shoot trips I am sure that many of the images will be seen in various competitions and I some I am equally sure will score top marks. Thanks must go to Stuart Fenty who drove all day, did all the planning and thought up the whole venture. My thanks also go to Michelle Scott and Brian Sandison who along with Stuart were amiable and at time daring companions willing to share their knowledge and help to make the trip so successful. I wonder where the next one is going to take us?
I'm Mike, I am the (Self appointed!) web master for Fraserburgh Photographic Society (FPS). I started taking photography seriously a couple of years ago and joined Fraserburgh Photographic Society