Photographing a stag in Scotland

I’m just back from a fabulous week up on the Isle of Skye in Scotland where I’ve been running a large format landscape photography workshop for my clients as well as working with the University of Inverness The Highlands and the Islands delivering two more large format photography workshops, all shooting film, which is becoming more and more popular. When I had finished I had a couple of days for myself so one of the days I decided to go to the Torridon mountain range, I had been many years ago and it’s a place I really love, it holds wonderful memories for me. 


So off I go on a day that started well from a weather point of view but, as is with the Highlands in autumn, the weather turned, the mist and the rain came down. Now this would normally put a dampener on things, but today was different.  I had taken the road from Kinlochewe to Shieldaig a single-track road, a road I had travelled many times. I had spotted a white longhouse which was covered in mist at the foot of a Monroe and thought that’s not a bad shot. I found a safe spot to pull in put on my waterproofs and walked to find the best location to set up my tripod.  Something caught the corner of my eye, I turned and spotted a huge stag with a full majestic set of horns. Wow! it took my breath away, it was so close I could hear it breathing it was so beautiful, I had never been this close to a stag before. 

I was a good 150 yards away from ‘Dapper Dan’ my darkroom van and no camera in my hand! I know what you’re thinking.. setting off with no camera?? What was I thinking?? I have no answer, I don’t know, I guess I wasn’t thinking. To be honest I think I was just thinking about the landscape and not what I might see in it. Anyway.. so I just stood there and admired it. I found myself breathing to the same rhythm as this wonderful beast, it was quite something. I edged a bit closer to within 20 feet of it expecting it to get up and run but it stayed there very still and graceful. With the rain falling heavier now this fine stag was so at peace.

I have to get a shot of this I just must. I noticed a spot behind it and thought that if I could get Dapper Dan in there I would be only 10 – 15 feet away from it.. ok let’s give it a go. I carefully retreated back to the van, started him up and gently drove it to the spot. As I got closer it steered a bit so I didn’t move when it had settled again I moved the van closer and closer until eventually I got to the spot I wanted to be in.  I got out of the van and then went around to the side door and gently opened it, the stag got up and just looked at me so I stayed very still and really calm and peaceful and after a minute or so it pawed at the ground a few times and I knew I had not lost it, it was getting ready to settle down again so I waited.

Once it had settled I proceeded to get my Intrepid 5x4 M3 camera out and set it on my tripod.  The stag was still there and totally at peace and not really paying much attention to me now. I then very slowly reached for my 150mm lens and attached that and then quickly took a standard light reading.  I proceeded to take the first shot, a wave of excitement flashed over me it was so beautiful. The stag didn’t move it just sat there overseeing his territory being totally composed and at peace with the world and me. It was such a special moment. I just waited and watched for what seemed like ages both of us enjoying the tranquillity when suddenly I  felt the presence of something else and so did the stag, I looked around and saw that it was another passer by who had come to take a photo. The stag rose majestically, I pressed the shutter, another great shot. We then parted company but for that 15 minuets I had the privilege of being connected with such a wonderful beast. It was very special and something I will treasure for the rest of my life. 

Camera I used was Intrepid MK3 with a 150 mm standed lens, film Ilford HP5 + developed in ID11 1-3 at 20 for 13 minuets. 

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