Waiting for the Light

We all know photographers who chase the light, and there are books and books on the subject. I know one photographer who gets up early, scans the horizon all around his house, then jumps in his car and drives towards the brightest part of the sky. He’s a light chaser. Chasing the light is fun and adventurous, because you never know who you will meet or where you will end up. I enjoy chasing the light too, but the amazing thing is my favourite photos haven't come from chasing the light but waiting for it. The sunrise above and this sunset below are simple examples of waiting for the light. I had to wait for the sun to rise at Brora and wait for the sun to set at The Mound to capture these moments. By the way, the phallic shape of the hills and reflections at The Mound was a complete accident which I didn't notice until much later.


This next example shows you how much work waiting for the light can actually be. When I climbed the hill early one morning to photograph the East Kinnauld broch it was pitch black and it was raining. It was my third time up there and on the previous two visits I'd gone home without any photos because the light was awful. I also knew from those previous visits there was a good chance of a decent photo of Strath Fleet if I could get the light right. As dawn broke, it didn’t look good. The rain stopped but the mist was thick. It looked like the shoot wasn’t going to happen and I’d have to climb the hill another day. After 2 hours of standing around, here’s what I was faced with.

Rather than go home in defeat for a third time, I decided to wait, headed over to the outcrop overlooking Strath Fleet, and set the camera up on the tripod. It was well over another hour later before the mists finally broke and the sun burst through. If I’d been chasing light that day rather than waiting for it, I’d have gone home and missed this photo.

I got the broch photos too.

This next photo was an unexpected one, again while out photographing brochs. I was in Glen Elg for the Dun Troddan and Dun Telve brochs and it had rained all the way there, which was a two hour drive. There were bright patches in the dark clouds, so the sun did come through from time to time and I did manage to photo the brochs between showers. On the way home I stopped in a viewpoint overlooking Loch Duich and the Five Sisters of Kintail. The light was awful, but as I had some spare time and didn’t really want to head home just yet, I set the camera up on the tripod and waited. Must have been there an hour or more. You might not believe it looking at the photo, but the sun only poked out for a few minutes and then it clouded over and started raining again. If I’d been a light chaser rather than a light waiter, I’d have missed this completely.

Rain and cloud can be a common thing in the Highlands. Such was the case on a day trip to the Island of Stroma. It had been arranged by the Wick Camera Club and there we all were, on the pier near John O Groats, and it was raining and bleak. The boat owner suggested we head home and try another day. However, I’ve learned that chasing light often isn't such a good thing and we all agreed to go anyway. It rained the whole way over in the boat and it was still raining when we arrived. As it was so wet and the light was terrible, most of us took shelter in the old abandoned ghost houses and waited.

Eventually the rain eased and the sky brightened. Cool, time to set the tripod up somewhere. I found my spot, set the camera up, held the remote shutter release and waited. And waited. And waited. It was about two hours before the clouds brightened sufficiently to get the shot I wanted, in this case a 2 photo stitch. If I’d been a light chaser this would never have happened. Learn patience, learn to wait for the light. Even if it doesn't come, it might next time. Waiting is better than going home and missing images like this.


Waiting for the light rather than running around chasing it everywhere gives you time to breathe. Rather than a thousand images whizzing by in a blur, waiting allows you to spend time with real life. While in Berriedale one morning, the skies were thunderous, the wind was blowing a gale, and the showers were really quite heavy. The cloud layer was broken in one or two places though and because the clouds were scudding across the sky, the light was constantly changing. I set the tripod up, put a waterproof cover over the camera, and waited. The light was coming through sometimes like spotlights, and often there were four or five shards stabbing down, lighting up different parts of the coastline. I needed the cliffs and the shore lit up, but it didn’t look as if it was going to happen. Patience is everything when waiting for the light. After about an hour and a half, the light was perfect and I got the shot.

Sometimes waiting for the light can take days. I got up one morning looking for a specific sunrise shot, set the camera up on the tripod and waited, but it rained and rained and I went home. The next morning I tried again, but the light was terrible and once the sun is up there’s no point waiting around for a sunrise photo. I tried again the next morning, and the next, and the next. It was on the sixth day it all came together. And would you believe it? A boat chugged out to sea just as I was getting the shot.

Chasing the light is fun, it can be adventurous and it’s an excellent day out. What’s more, you will get the occasional lucky shot, but even while I’m out chasing light, my best shots still come from waiting for it. One day we were driving around the west coast chasing light and looking for landscapes. While on Achmelvich beach, I saw a shot. The only thing wrong was a heavy bank of sea mist hanging over the beach. The wind was blowing off the land and the sun was burning off the mists, so I decided to wait and set the camera up. It took over an hour but I got my shot.

You might not believe it, but this photo of a boat on Loch Brora was taken on a really bad light day, heavily overcast and freezing cold with hard frost on the ground. There were one or two patches of light in the clouds, and the sun did poke through briefly in places, and as the loch was flat calm with excellent reflections I decided to wait. What I wanted was for the sun to light up the autumn colours in the trees and bracken on the other side of the loch. If you look closely you will notice there is no sunlight on the hill immediately behind the trees. I had to wait a long while to get this shot, and wow was I cold, but I went home well pleased that day.

This wasn't an easy shot to get. Snow showers more like blizzards were sweeping across the Highlands when I came across these 3 mallard down at the harbour. I thought I saw an opportunity for a decent photo so hunkered down behind a boat for shelter and waited. When the sun was out it was too bright and the ducks didn't really make for a good subject without the snow falling. When the blizzards were in full flow it was too dark for a decent photo. I had to time it so there was still a little bit of light just as the blizzards hit. I must have taken 20 or 30 photos and out of those only this one worked.

I often hear photographers encouraging people to go chasing light, and I’d have to agree with them, it’s fun and rewarding, however, I’d encourage you to spend more time waiting for the light.

Credits -  All photos copyright George Maciver - all rights reserved.