When should photographers visit the Scottish Highlands?

Loch Affric on a winter's day
Loch Affric on a winter’s day

Scotland and particularly the Scottish Highlands is a wonderful place to visit at any time of year. However, for a landscape photographer the absolute best times are from late September right through to the end of April. Throughout this period the sun sits lower in the sky and gone are the harsh shadows of summer. You are drawn into the landscape as the raking light creates subtle tones that simply ooze texture and colour.

Whilst the stunning light we get from late September through to late April is the main draw for photographers, there are of course, other advantages for visiting in the late Autumn, Winter and early Spring months.

Fewer tourists to get in your shots

In the peak summer months Scotland is a magnet for tourists and getting shots at certain locations without hordes of people getting in the way is difficult. Locations such as The Fairy Pools on Skye, Eilean Donan Castle at Dornie, Black Rock Cottage in Glencoe and Sango Sands at Durness are very popular and can be a challenge to photograph. By late September the visitor numbers drop considerably, and by January you have a good chance of having these stunning locations all to yourself.

The Fairy Pools on Skye
The Fairy Pools on Skye

More hospitable sunrise and sunset times 

For many photographers, sunrise and sunset are the golden times. Images taken at the very beginning and very end of the day often have more atmosphere and the colours can be truly magnificent. In the height of summer in the Scottish Highlands, sunrise is as early as 4 am (with dawn nearer 3 am), and sunset can be as late as almost 11 pm (and dusk at 12 midnight). Personally, I’m not so good at getting up early (or staying awake late), so I consequently take very few sunrise and sunset images in the summer. By mid-winter, the corresponding times are 9 am for sunrise and 3:30 pm for sunset – far more hospitable

Loch Ness Sunset
Loch Ness Sunset (4:20 pm in early December)

Dark Skies for stars and Northern Lights

Whilst we cannot compete with the likes of Northern Scandinavia, Iceland, Northern Canada or Northern Alaska, the Scottish Highlands is one of the best places in the UK for photographing the night sky, and definitely the best UK location for photographing the Northern Lights. Inverness, the Capital of the Highlands, lies at 57 degrees north, approximately the same latitude as Gothenburg in Sweden and just a little south of Juneau in Alaska. Combined with relatively low population densities in much of the highlands, light pollution is minimal making photography of the night sky a rewarding experience. 

 The time-lapse above was shot just a short drive from Inverness and shows just how many stars we can see. For the best viewing experience choose to watch at full screen size.

Good temperature range and weather conditions 

Despite the preconceptions of many, Scotland isn’t permanently shrouded in cloud and rain in the winter. Indeed we have many gorgeous sunny days where only the need for a warm coat (and gloves) would tell you it was winter (oh and maybe the snow on the mountain-tops). Yes, winters in Scotland are cold, but not when compared to what you would encounter at similar latitudes in many places. For example, the average daytime temperature for Inverness in January is 4 degrees Celcius, whilst Juneau at this time is minus 3 degrees Celcius, and Gothenburg is minus 4 degrees Celcius. Inverness also experiences less rainfall in January than these two cities (indeed, in Inverness and the North Eastern corner of Scotland, we have lower rainfall figures than many other places in the UK – especially those on the West Coast).

Loch Cluanie in February
Loch Cluanie in February

Snow and Storms 

Scotland is the most reliable place in the UK for snow in Winter – which accounts for our 5 ski resorts. However, the snow is largely confined to the mountain areas (many of which are easily reached from Inverness), which is perfect for photographers. From November through to the end of April we can usually find snow, and snow-capped mountains are guaranteed to have you reaching for your camera. Similarly, Scotland is less ravaged by storms than many imagine, but of course, from time to time they do blow in. When a storm appears it can be a dramatic event, and with due regard for personal safety such events can make for fantastic photography opportunities.

The Lecht in Winter
The Lecht in Winter

Lower Prices and Better availability 

Lastly, but not necessarily least important, is the fact that accommodation prices in the winter months (especially January and February) can be significantly lower than in peak season. Visiting the Scottish Highlands in Winter is a wonderful experience, made even better when it is easier on the pocket.

Inverglen Photography run scheduled workshops in the Scottish Highlands throughout the Autumn, Winter and Spring months. The latest availability can be found at Workshop Availability

The Best Time of Year to Photograph the Scottish Highlands

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