Glen Coe Photography Locations

Post originally published on my other sitevisualsofscotland.co.uk

I have been a professional landscape photographer for about 8 years and have been running workshops and tours for the last 5 or 6. And without doubt, the most requested location for tours and workshops is Glen Coe and the surrounding area. So much so that my Glen Coe Photography Workshop outsells my other workshops combined by 2 or 3 to 1.

To be honest, it is easy to see why. Apart from possibly the Isle of Skye, nowhere in Scotland offers so many different photographic opportunities. Compared to Skye, the Glen Coe area is smaller, served by a better road network and is more accessible from the Central Belt and further South.

For this article, I am going to focus on everything from 1 hour South of Glen Coe to 1 hour North along the A82/A830. My new 2 day Glen Coe and Fort William photography workshop and tour will take in every single one of these locations – interested? Contact me for more details or to book.

Before we go any further, if you are interested, I am running photography holidays in Glen Coe which offer the best, single occupancy accommodation and 5 days of photography in the most amazing part of the country. Head over to my Glen Coe December 2021 Holiday page or my Glen Coe January 2022 Holiday page to find out more.

1) Kilchurn Castle – Clocking in at 58 minutes this is the furthest South of my locations. To find the castle head along the A82 to Tyndrum and then follow the A85 through Dalmally. The castle is on Loch Awe and is best photographed from the South side of the Loch so take the A819 turning towards Inverary. You will see plenty of parking a few hundred yards up and the castle will be on your right. Jump over the style and head on down to the Loch side.

The castle can be photographed at any time of day and any time of year and still look great. My favourite is early morning when the Loch is still and mist clings to the mountains behind.

Kilchurn Castle on a misty morning
Kilchurn Castle on a misty morning

2) Glen Orchy – from Kilchurn Castle, head back East along the A85 back through Dalmally and take the turning on your left signpost Glen Orchy. The River Orchy is wonderfully photogenic, and unlike most of the locations you will visit, will be relatively quiet. My favourite place to photgoraph this river is at Easan Dubha. These waterfalls are approximately two thirds of the way down the Glen and are serviced by a handy little car park on the right hand side of the road.

The water levels can really change the look and feel of this place so even if you have stopped off before it is worth stopping again. My favourite way to shoot this is to stand back as far as possible and zoom in to create some compression and get the Auch Estate mountains in the frame.

A shutter speed of about half a second works well here. For further shooting opportunities, travel a mile or so down the road for some smaller rapids with better views of the mountains. Autumn is a great time to shoot and make the most of those red leaves.

Glen Orchy in Autumn
Glen Orchy in Autumn

3) Beinn Dorain – This one is slightly different from the rest as it requires a great deal more work to get the shot. Basically, park up at Bridge of Orchy train station and then walk under the railway. From here, take a left at the phone mast and follow the path diagonally until you come across a stream. This stream gives a great focal point for a shot of the mountain. Keep going further up the mountain for views over towards the  Stob Gabhar Hills (a long lens is needed)

4) Rannoch Moor – You can’t miss Rannoch Moor. This is the place that first made me really fall in love with The Scottish Highlands. Its a place that feels like paradise in the summer months with blue skies but in winter

it can feel the most formidable and foreboding place; it is easy to see why it is seen as Western Europe’s last wilderness. To get here, climb up the A82 and you will be greeted with a “Welcome to The Highlands” sign. Park anywhere (safely!) and head down towards the Lochans on your left to get some great shots of The Black Mount with stunning reflections. In the summer and early Autumn months, make the most of the heather to add interest to your shots. Alternatively, head over to North East Side of the route for simple and minimalistic shots of the lone trees and small copses. A long lens is useful here as is a 10 stop ND filter as it often gets very windy and you will want to smooth out any water in frame.

The weather doesn’t stay settled for long on Rannoch Moor so if the light isn’t what you want, just wait half an hour and it will be different. On a Spring or Autumn day, you will do well not to capture at least one rainstorm! My favourite time to capture this is winter although in Summer you can get some amazing sunsets over the Black Mount.

Subtle reflections of the Black Mount on Rannoch Moor.
Subtle reflections of the Black Mount on Rannoch Moor.

5) Blackrock Cottage – This little cottage can be found by turning off the A82 and heading for the Glen Coe Ski resort. The hut is on the right of the road 400 yards from the A82 – as easy a shot as you will ever get. The cottage is owned by the Ladies’ Scottish Mountain Club and is one of the most photographed cottages in Scotland. Occasionally you will come across a car parked on the driveway which will ruin your shot but more often than not you will be in luck.

My advice for shooting this cottage is to either get some foreground interest in; the heather in Summer and Early autumn works wonders for this, or to get back as far as possible and use a long lens to get that compression effect to make the Buachaille mountain look as imposing as possible.

This mountain cottage looks great in all seasons and in all weathers and with so little time spent on getting here it is always worth a shot.

The most photographed Cottage in Scotland - and for good reason
The most photographed Cottage in Scotland – and for good reason

6) Buachaille Etive Mor – No article about photography in The Highlands would be complete without at least a mention of this mountain. It is the gateway to Glen Coe and stands proudly at the top of Glen Etive. It has an iconic triangular shape (from The East/A82) and it wonderful photogenic. The iconic shot is of the Coupall Falls although the land around this is getting very worn and boggy and it is somewhere I feel we should avoid or limit our visits if possible to allow the ground to heal.

A location that I do enjoy shooting from is under the bridge of the Glen Etive road. Leave the A82 and drive down Glen Etive. Approximately a mile down you will come to a bridge. Parking is available either side of the bridge. Keeping the Buachaille in front of you and the river on your right, head down towards the river and you will come to some rocks. Carefully frame your shot here with an approximate 5 second exposure for some dreamy water and some towering views of the mountain. Shooting in Summer of Autumn is my preference at this location. (At this point, you could continue down Glen Etive and just shoot the road leading through the mountains but that’s for another guide!)

Shooting the Buachaille from under the road bridge - much quieter and a less seen location.
Shooting the Buachaille from under the road bridge – much quieter and a less seen location.

Continuing with the Buacahille, head back to the A82 and drive towards Glen Coe. You will come to a slightly raised parking area. Park here and walk down to the river where you will find plenty of rapids. Depending upon the amount of rain or snow melt there has been will depend upon the best location to shoot but you really can’t go wrong. I suggest chucking on a wide lens and an ND filter and go for a really long exposure for a dramatic image.

A dramatic long exposure of the River Coupall and the Buachaille Etive Mor
A dramatic long exposure of the River Coupall and the Buachaille Etive Mor

7) Lagangarbh Hut – Another old crofters cottage (Oh how I would love to live here!) owned by the National Trust for Scotland and run by the Scottish Mountaineering Club. This cottage is visible from the A82 and will usually be indicated by the 30 or so cars parked in the car parks and lay by. Park in any of these and just head on down the track. Beware that the car park on the left of the A82 is now in terrible condition and any low vehicles would do well to avoid it and hope for a lay-by space.

The cottage sits at the foot of the Northern side of Buachaille Etive Mor and, in my opinion, the best shot is of the cottage sitting at the foot and looking tiny (I think it gives the Buachaille a great sense of scale). Alternatively, head on down to the river and get low and shoot along the small rapids of the River Coupall and down on towards Glen Coe. Ideally you want to stay on the North Side of the River for the best shots.

Lagangarbh Hut can be shot towards Glen Coe (like here) or towards the Buachaille (not here).
Lagangarbh Hut can be shot towards Glen Coe (like here) or towards the Buachaille (not here).

9) River Coe (location 1) – This one doesn’t haven’t any specific instructions on how to get there as such but just before you get in to Glen Coe itself (indicated by a National Trust sign) park on the right hand side of the A82 in the lay-by and cross over the road towards the river. The river tumbles and babbles over small rapids and forms a great focal point for a view back towards The Buachaille.

My favourite part of this part of the river is shown in the image below where the river goes through a small gorge although there are literally dozens of compositions to choose from. A wide angle lens and an ND filter will help you get the most out of this location. Best seen after the snow melt or heavy rain fall or when the heather is in full bloom.

River Coe heads towards the Glen.
River Coe heads towards the Glen.

10) Meeting of The Three Waters – This waterfall is an easy win for any photographer and is just a few yards from where you will park the car. The car park is a lay-by on the A82 just after passing the Glen Coe sign on a windy stretch of road. You will often be amongst many other tourists so you will have to wait your turn to get your shot.

I recommend going down to the viewpoint (where all the love padlocks are) and putting your tripod as high as it will go. Use a half second (or so) exposure and compose the waterfall underneath the mountains. I love this waterfall on a moody, cloudy day. If it is a blue sky day with low water levels it can be quite flat and uninspiring.

The Meeting of the Three Rivers on a moody day
The Meeting of the Three Rivers on a moody day

11) River Coe (location 2) – Stay parked in the same place and walk down the A82 for 800 yards or so (be careful – it is a busy road!) When you are a couple of hundred yards from the run down cottage (let’s not go in to its history) hop over the barrier and scramble down the scree bank. From here you will find (or hear) the rapids on the River. There are two great locations about 400 yards apart and both provide great vantage points for shooting towards Glen Coe. For the more adventurous, head back towards The Buachaille where, during heavy rainfall or snowmelt, a larger waterfall can be seen.

For the main images, I recommend a wide angle lens and an ND Filter. The composition with this lens will allow for you to capture the water running towards The Three Sisters of Glen Coe. The water here is beautifully blue and makes for gorgeous images. I love shooting here with snow on the tops or light cloud shrouding the mountains.

This is definitely the hardest of the locations to get to and I would not recommend during icy weather or for those who may struggle with a short scramble down a scree slope.

The River Coe and the Three Sisters
The River Coe and the Three Sisters

12 – Glen Coe. Another location where I can’t give just one specific location. You can stop pretty much in any of the lay-bys and car parks along this stretch of the A82 point your camera at the mountains and come away with beautiful photos. My 2 favourite places though are The Three Sisters car park (this is the really busy one) and The Hidden Valley car park (slightly further along). Either of these locations will give you the chance for a quick and beautiful image of Glen Coe.

However, if you want to get a better composition my advice is to drop down from the road and join the path that runs parallel to the A82. From here, get low and use the path as a leading line to draw you in to the image. When there has been heavier rainfall or snowmelt, I like to have my path “join” a waterfall to add continuity to my image (as per below)

The path here appears to join the waterfall coming down off the mountain
The path here appears to join the waterfall coming down off the mountain

Glen Coe is amazing in any weather but to be here in snow is something else. In my opinion, there is nowhere as magical in the whole of the UK.

13) Clachaig Falls – Another of those waterfalls on the River Coe and probably the most impressive. You can easily spend a couple of hours here looking for composition and playing with shutter speeds to get that perfect photo.

To find Clachaig Falls, continue down the A82 from Glen Coe until you come to a sign for the Clachaig Inn on your right. Turn off here and cross over a small bridge. The falls can be seen on your left. You can’t park on this part of the road (so please don’t – it makes things hard for others!) but a short drive brings you to the Inn where there is plenty of parking available opposite. Or if you are going to have something to eat, park in the car park of the Inn. From there, walk back down the road and when the road starts bending to the left leave the road to start discovering all the mini falls and rapids. Whilst the first lot of rapids are only a few hundred yards away from the last, the shape of the river means your composition will be totally different so it is worth having a play.

I recommend both a wide angle and a telephoto lens here. When the river is in full flow, a telephoto lens can allow you to stand back and zoom in on the biggest of the falls and allow you to make the most of lens compression to make Glen Coe look bigger in the distance. Alternatively, have a wide angle lens on your camera and shoot diagonally across the falls to The Three Sisters. Play around with shutter speeds to find more ways to add more interest to your image or use the yellow gorse or purple heather for extra oomph. The contrast of the blue water and the red rocks will look beautiful in your image.

A long exposure at Clachiag Falls.
A long exposure at Clachiag Falls.

14 – Loch Leven – Loch Leven is where Glen Coe really ends and you cross over this Sea Loch as you head up towards Fort William. Head over the Loch and at North Ballachulish turn right towards Kinlochleven (make sure you are on the North side of the Loch before taking the turning. (As an aside, you can actually do a circular route of Loch Leven if you have a spare couple of hours – its a beautiful drive).

The image that you will want to take here is towards the Pap of Glen Coe. If you get here very early you can get beautiful reflections – just park anywhere in the first mile or two and walk down towards the shore line. I do not recommend a wide angle lens and ND filter here as there is often a lot of sea weed and it can make your image look very messy. However if you are going to zoom in a bit over the top of the immediate waters edge then an ND filter can look great. Shoot here at any time of year but a winter’s morning will make for great light.

15 – Loch Linhe – This is a pretty large sea Loch running from Fort William (and the River Lochy) down towards Lismore and the sea. To be honest, there isn’t loads of shooting opportunities here but there are a few, especially at sunset as you drive along the East side of the Loch on the A82 and especially in winter.

Opposite the Clan Macduff hotel you can get to a beach which you can walk along. Look for some foreground interest such as rocks, dead wood or old piers/jetties (there are a few but you may need to stretch your legs) This is a choppy body of water though so for the cleanest shots, an ND filter is almost essential unless the stormy look is what you are going for.

16 – Glen Nevis – Drive through Fort William and keep heading North until you get to a roundabout that is signposted for Glen Nevis. This is one of my favourite Glens for simple, photogenic beauty.

This is one of those places where there isn’t “one” location to shoot. In a similar vein to Glen Etive, I like using the road as a leading line towards the distant mountains. Whilst it is beautiful whichever way you look, it definitely photographs better going away from Fort William. Just pull over in a safe place, get low and shoot away.

If you are up for a bit of a walk, park up at the large car park approximately 4 miles down the Glen (this is before Lower Falls car park (see number 17). Walk up the hill and above the tree line for truly fantastic views of the Glen and Ben Nevis. Make sure to take the long lens as well as the wide angle.

You barely have to get out of the car for a great shot in Glen Nevis
You barely have to get out of the car for a great shot in Glen Nevis

17 – Lower Falls (Glen Nevis) – Keep driving for a few hundred more yards until you come to Lower Falls car park. Park here and walk through the gate and along the road for a hundred yards (ignore the small waterfall in the trees on your right) and keep going until you come to the road bridge over the falls.

If you are fit and able, and it is not icy, I recommend climbing over the low barrier and onto the outcrop of rock. The falls will go either side of you. If it has rained, don’t bother trying to have a conversation – the roar is too loud! For the less adventurous, just stand on the road and shoot over the bridge (you will need a tall tripod)

I use the outcrop of rock almost as an arrow to lead me in to the image to the mountains in the distance. This is a great location in summer, autumn or winter but can look a bit bare in spring before the leaves are on the trees and once the snow has melted. An ND filter here will allow you to slow your shutter speed. Somewhere between half a second and 1 second will do the trick.

Scotland-Landscape-Photographer-74.jpg
Lower falls is a great little location and one that is often disregarded by many photographers.

18 – Steall Falls – This is the longest of the walks on this list and without doubt the hardest although anyone with a moderate level of fitness will be able to do the walk. To get here, keep driving down the Glen to the very end and park in the designated car park. Follow the obvious path through up the Glen until you reach the top and Steall Falls is ahead of you.

The more adventurous can cross a wire bridge and get close to the waterfalls but I recommend hanging back and using the path as a leading line towards the fall with the mountain in the background. Yes you could go close and get some detail but to be honest, I wouldn’t go to all the effort of hiking up here and then not include the surroundings of this falls.

For these shots you will need a mid range or telephoto zoom lens to make the most. A wide angle lens from far back may make the waterfall look a bit small. An ND filter is handy here although don’t be afraid to capture the force of the falls with a fast shutter speed after heavy rain.

19 – Corpach Shipwreck – This shipwreck is rather dramatically named for what is basically a beached boat. But what a view this boat has!

Head through Fort William towards Glenfinnan and Mallaig and you will come to the small village of Corpach. Turn off the main road towards the signposted community centre and you will arrive at a small fishing harbour. Park in this harbour and cross the canal directly in front of you. Turn left and walk towards Ben Nevis and when you get the chance, cut through the trees on your right and arrive on the beach. The boat is immediately obvious.

Composition here will depend on the conditions – if the Ben is covered in snow, stay well back and grab your telephoto lens and make the most of the compression. Otherwise I would suggest getting up close to the boat and putting on a wide angle lens and finding some foreground interest. The little stream that cuts across the beach is a good place to start. There is a lot of rubbish and debris about so pick your composition carefully.

Corpach Shipwreck - not a bad final resting place I guess.
Corpach Shipwreck – not a bad final resting place I guess.

20 – Glenfinnan – My last stop on this tour takes us to Glenfinnan which is approximately 50 minutes on from Glencoe. Upon leaving Corpach, head towards Mallaig and keep driving until you come to Glenfinnan. Parking is obvious – it is the National Trust visitor centre and from here there are the two main photographic draws to this part of the world: The Glenfinnan Viaduct (Harry Potter Bridge) and The Glenfinnan Monument.

Firstly, the monument. Try to make the most of the surroundings with a wide angle lens. For added drama and to negate the presence of tourists, go for a super long exposure if you can and watch the clouds sweep over the monument. Alternatively, head up to the hill behind the visitor centre and put on that long lens again.

For the viaduct, I suggest leaving the car park and head along the main road and past the next car park/building site (at the time of writing – Sep 2020). Turn right down the main path and just follow the signposts for Viaduct Viewpoint. If you are here to photograph the Jacobite Steam Train, get here early – you will not be alone! Photographing the viaduct is easy. Include some foreground interest (heather, ferns, long grass etc) and shoot away. A wide angle lens works just fine here and there is no need for any filters. For those lucky enough to have a drone, get the drone up and fly it away from the Viaduct and shoot down towards Loch Shiel. The shape of the Viaduct and the surrounding countryside means you will walk away some amazing shots.

Glenfinnan Viaduct by drone
Glenfinnan Viaduct by drone
Glenfinnan Viaduct, the Jacobite Train and purple heather - what could be more Scottish?
Glenfinnan Viaduct, the Jacobite Train and purple heather – what could be more Scottish?

And that’s it! I hope you found this guide helpful. If you would like to attend one of my workshops or tours please head over to my photography tours page or contact me for a bespoke quote.

Thanks for reading.
Matt

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