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There's something magical about witnessing a cloud inversion high up on a mountain. It's a surreal experience, where clouds fill the valleys below, making you feel like you're in another world. For photographers, capturing this phenomenon is both a challenge and a delight. In this guide, we're providing all the insights so you know how to photograph a cloud inversion, from predicting when they'll occur to tips for getting that perfect shot.

Understanding Cloud Inversions

A cloud inversion happens when a layer of warm air traps cooler air beneath it, often occurring in valleys or low-lying areas. When this happens on a mountain, the result is a stunning display of clouds filling the valleys below, with the peaks rising above like islands in a sea of mist. To predict a cloud inversion, keep an eye on weather conditions. Clear nights followed by calm, high-pressure mornings are ideal conditions for inversions. Additionally, pay attention to temperature differentials between valleys and higher elevations, as this can indicate the likelihood of an inversion.

Planning Your Shoot

Before heading out to capture a cloud inversion, it's essential to plan your shoot carefully. Start by researching potential locations known for frequent inversions, such as mountain passes or overlooks with expansive views.

Some great locations in Scotland for inversions are:

  • Glen Coe

  • Loch Lomand & The Trossachs National Park

  • Isle of Skye

  • Ben Nevis

  • Cairngorms National Park

Check weather forecasts and consider factors like sunrise or sunset times, as these can dramatically affect the quality of light and atmosphere in your photos. Arrive early to scout the area and choose your composition wisely, keeping in mind elements like foreground interest and leading lines to enhance the overall impact of your images.

Photography Tips: How To Photograph A Cloud Inversion

  1. Use a Wide-Angle Lens: A wide-angle lens allows you to capture the vastness of the landscape and the sweeping expanse of clouds below.

  2. Focus on Composition: Look for interesting foreground elements to add depth and context to your photos. Rocks, trees, or even mountain huts can serve as compelling focal points.

  3. Adjust Your Exposure: In high-contrast scenes like cloud inversions, it's essential to balance the exposure to retain detail in both the bright sky and shadowy valleys. Experiment with exposure compensation or bracketing to capture the full dynamic range of the scene.

  4. Embrace Silhouettes: Silhouetting the mountain peaks against the backdrop of swirling clouds can create dramatic and striking images. Experiment with different exposure settings to achieve the desired effect.

  5. Shoot in RAW: Shooting in RAW format gives you greater flexibility during post-processing, allowing you to fine-tune exposure, contrast, and color to bring out the full beauty of the scene.

Cloud Inversions In Scotland FAQ's:

Q: Are cloud inversions rare?

A: While cloud inversions are not uncommon in mountainous regions, they can be unpredictable. It's essential to monitor weather conditions and choose the right time and place to increase your chances of witnessing one.

Q: What camera settings are best for photographing cloud inversions?

A: Start with a low ISO to minimize noise, and adjust your aperture to achieve the desired depth of field. Shutter speed will depend on factors like wind speed and the movement of clouds, so be prepared to experiment.

Q: How do I protect my gear in foggy conditions?

A: Invest in weather-sealed camera equipment and carry a microfiber cloth to wipe away moisture. Consider using a rain cover or umbrella to shield your camera from mist or light rain.

Q: Are cloud inversions common in Scottish mountains?

A: Yes, cloud inversions are relatively common in Scottish mountains, especially during the cooler months. The unique topography of Scotland, with its rugged peaks and deep glens, creates ideal conditions for inversions to occur. Valleys filled with lochs and rivers often trap cold air, while warmer air flows over the surrounding mountains, leading to the formation of clouds below. Keep in mind that weather conditions in the Scottish Highlands can be unpredictable, so it's essential to monitor forecasts and be prepared for changing conditions when planning your photography outings.

A Final Note

Photographing cloud inversions on mountains is a rewarding and awe-inspiring experience. By understanding the conditions that lead to inversions, careful planning, and employing photography techniques, you can capture something incredible. Good luck!

We'll leave you with this quick video sharing Jack's experience of hiking & camping at the top of An Teallach in a cloud inversion, to help you understand the planning that can go into a photo like this.

As a Scottish Highland photographer, Jack is no stranger to hiking and camping overnight on a mountain. Over the years, he's experienced some of the best mountain camps in Scotland. However, the actual hiking part is never his favorite. With a lot of gear to carry, it's often a hard slog to get to the top, with aches and pains included!

But once he gets to the top and sees an incredible view surrounding him, it's always worth it, and even more so once his tent is set up and he's captured a sunset or sunrise.

Of all of his mountaintop camps, here are three of his most memorable ones on some of Scotland's finest Munros.

A man with a big rucksack hiking in the Scottish Highlands in winter

Three of the best mountain camps in Scotland: An Teallach, Beinn Alligin, Carn Mor Dearg

Camping On An Teallach

A photo from An Teallach, a mountain in Scotland, at sunrise with a cloud inversion.
An Teallach at sunrise

This camp has made the list for an obvious reason - the cloud inversion! Jack wanted to photograph the first morning light on An Teallach. He'd meant to camp here a few years before with a close friend, but never got around to it until he visited again in June 2018.

The only problem was that every forecast showed complete cloud cover across Scotland. They only had this one night available to do it, so they decided to go anyway. The hike up was frustrating and claustrophobic in the clouds, and Jack was looking for any excuse to turn back, but his friend pushed him forward, and they eventually reached the summit out of the clouds to see this incredible inversion.

They set up camp, hoping the cloud inversion would still be there at first light, and as you can see, yes it was!

Camping On Beinn Alligin

A photo taken at sunrise from the top of Beinn Alligin, a mountain in the Scottish Highlands

Beinn Alligin is special to Jack because it was his first ever Munro hike & camp on a stunning day in May 2015.

Beinn Alligin means the Mountain of Beauty or Jeweled Mountain, and it 100% lives up to that, providing a stunning panoramic viewpoint over to the Isle of Skye, Slioch, and Beinn Eighe. Jack was lucky to capture this clear sunset, and woke up early to get the sunrise the next morning too.

A photo taken at sunrise from the top of Beinn Alligin, a mountain in the Scottish Highlands

Camping on Càrn Mòr Dearg

Càrn Mòr Dearg is one of the highest mountains in Britain, but it's not a common one for hikers, because it's overshadowed by Ben Nevis, which rises behind it. However, for photographers, it provides the perfect viewpoint to capture the Ben's North Face. Jack, Toivo the dog, and filmmaker Angelica headed down to Fort William back in September 2022, intending to film and photograph Ben Nevis and CMD at sunrise.

As they hiked up CMD, the clouds greeted them, and at the summit, the conditions were less than desirable for setting up a tent. There were no sunsets or any view to be seen, but Jack set an alarm hoping the next morning would be clear.

A photo of an orange tent with a dog outside it, on top a mountain surrounded by fog.
Waking up in the clouds on Càrn Mòr Dearg

As you can see from this image, it was not. At that point, Jack had put a lot of time, effort, and money into planning the filmed hike, and with it looking like there would be no end picture to show, it was so frustrating. They decided to wait until 1pm to see if the cloud would clear, and around that time, it did. The relief was immense, and Jack was able to capture a panorama that is now part of our Glen Coe Collection! While this hike was maybe not the best when Jack did it (but definitely memorable!), it would be incredible to wake up to a sunrise here.

Càrn Mòr Dearg and Ben Nevis, two mountains in Scotland, taken in September

We've also got a short film taken from this trip, sharing just what goes into capturing a gallery picture, if you'd like to see the full story! It's well worth a watch.

If you'd like to see more mountain photography to help inspire your next hiking trip in the Highlands, we recommend taking a look at our Glen Coe collection here or our full landscape collection featuring places like Applecross & Torridon here.

What have been your most memorable mountain hikes? Let us know!

FAQs: Navigating Scottish Mountain Trails

Q: What is a Munro?

A: Munros are mountains in Scotland with a height of over 3,000 feet (914.4 meters). Bagging Munros, or climbing them, is a popular activity among hikers and outdoor enthusiasts.

Q: Are the Scottish Highlands suitable for beginners?

A: While some hikes in the Scottish Highlands can be challenging, there are also plenty of trails suitable for beginners. It's important to research and choose routes that match your skill level and experience.

Q: What should I pack for a mountain camping trip in Scotland?

A: Essential items include sturdy hiking boots, waterproof clothing, navigation tools (map and compass), a first-aid kit, and sufficient food and water. Additionally, be prepared for changing weather conditions and ensure you have proper camping gear, including a reliable tent and sleeping bag.

Q: Are there any safety considerations when hiking in the Scottish Highlands?

A: Yes, it's essential to be aware of the weather forecast, carry adequate supplies, inform someone of your planned route, and adhere to Leave No Trace principles to minimize environmental impact. Additionally, familiarize yourself with the terrain and have the necessary skills for navigation and mountain safety.

We're going behind the lens and back to March 2023 with this post, letting Jack tell the story of his trip to the Isle of Lewis.

"In early March, I decided to take some time before the season kicked off at the gallery to travel through the Outer Hebrides. I mentioned this in a recent Instagram post, but it's easy to get so busy with work that you don't get time to explore the places around you. I'd lost a bit of touch with that initial excitement I first had moving to the Scottish Highlands and needed to take a break and remind myself why I love this area so much.

So, Toivo and I bundled into the Land Rover and set off on an adventure to remember. I started with the Isle of Lewis, which I'd visited before but felt slightly unenamored with. The landscape here is mostly flat and barren, with lots of peat bogs and not many hills to climb. But as you'll read, this trip shifted my perception of Lewis for good reason.

The Ferry Journey to The Isle of Lewis

At 4:30pm, The ferry set off toward Lewis. We left Ullapool's bright blue skies and sun behind, with ominous-looking grey clouds stretching before us. The closer we got, the more the weather started to turn. For context, if you look at this portion of the sea on a map, you can see that there's no land to the north, allowing harsh northern winds to power down without any barrier, giving swells plenty of time to build up.

A ferry leaving Ullapool, looking over toward a growing Squall out to sea.
Leaving the sunny skies of Ullapool behind, with stormy weather before us.

As the ferry headed out, we went into that stormy weather, I hunkered down with some friends I'd bumped into, resigned to the fact that I was in for a rough journey. It got dark, began to snow, and the sea got choppier. I knew I'd be able to manage with these conditions if the seas didn't get any choppier, and put all of my focus on the waves going up and down. One of my friends headed to the canteen, and when he came back an internal argument with myself began, with one part of me saying "Take a look at what he's got", and the other saying "Don't do it, just focus on the waves!". I ended up looking, which was a huge mistake. Let's just say I've been put off cream teas for a while!

The captain came on the radio and said the route back was cancelled because the weather was that bad, but I wouldn't be heading home for just over a week - plenty of time to settle my stomach. The two pictures below give you a good idea of what conditions were like.

Arriving at North Tolsta

(Possibly adjust to add this first sentence as more of a recommendation of a place you could park - it had facilities etc). I parked up for the night by a beach at North Tolsta and would recommend this if you wanted a spot that's quiet with facilities and a nice view to greet you as you wake up. If you want to explore North Tolsta further, a couple of good spots are Garry Beach and the Bridge to Nowhere, named because it genuinely doesn't go anywhere, after plans to build a road connecting Stornoway and Port of Ness were scrapped in the 1920s.

After a very cold night with continuous snow, I headed down to the beach to let Toivo have his morning run. The dramatic snow-capped scenery surrounded me, and for most of my time here I didn't see another soul. This was when I began to grow more appreciation for the wild nature of Lewis.

A snowy beach with lots of grey clouds on the Isle of Lewis
The beach at North Tolsta

A labrador on a stormy beach in the Isle of Lewis
Toivio enjoying the Port of Ness beach later on in the day.

Port of Ness and The Butt of Lewis

After driving back to Stornoway to buy a second duvet (yes, it really was that cold), I headed to Port of Ness, a small village on the north of the island. Make sure you have a look at the photos I captured here below by clicking through the arrows on the right and left. The sun managed to come out between the snow clouds, which showed the beautiful colors of the sea in contrast to the weathered stones and grey surroundings. You can really get a feel for the harsh weather and stormy seas I experienced both here and on the ferry the day before.

From Port of Ness, I drove up to the northernmost point of the island, better known as the Butt of Lewis. Interestingly, this place was mentioned in the Guinness Book of Records as the windiest place in the UK.

The lighthouse here was built between 1859-1862, and stands at 121ft, surrounded by craggy rocks and cliffs. I got here in the afternoon, as the snowy weather began to ease for a while, adding some pinker hues and blue sky to the grey clouds. The images below really convey the wild barren nature of this spot, and the cliffs made for some adventurous dog walking. I'd say that this wild spot wouldn't be for everyone, but we were in our element!

Frothy turquoise waves crashing against rocks, with a stormy grey and pink sky in the background

A labrador walking along a cliff, with crashing waves and rocks in the background
Toivo enjoying the sea air!

A Changed Perception of Lewis

I felt really lucky throughout my time in Lewis that most of the places I went to were deserted, which made me feel more immersed in the landscape. Visiting in these wild and wintry conditions gave me a whole new perception of the island itself, which felt far more dramatic with the crashing waves and regular squalls. I'd recommend Lewis if you want to experience a less touristy area that comes with big open beaches alongside plenty of history & culture.

If you decide to visit Lewis, I'd also recommend heading to the Calanais Standing Stones on the southwest of the island, which are thousands of years old, dating back to the Neolithic people at around 2900 BC. I visited here the first time I came to Lewis, and they gave me a great idea of just how ancient this land is.

I hope you enjoyed this blog, there'll be plenty more to come, detailing this trip and many others. Let me know if you're planning on travelling around Lewis or the Outer Hebrides any time soon!

Isle of Lewis FAQs

How can you get to the Isle of Lewis? You can reach the Isle of Lewis by ferry from Ullapool on the northwest coast of Scotland to Stornoway, the main town on the island.

Where are Isle of Lewis campsites? Eilean Fraoich, Ardroil Campsite, Traigh na Beirigh, Laxdale Holiday Park

What is the main town on the Isle of Lewis? Stornaway, where you can find supermarkets, shops, and other things to do

Hidden Gems on Isle of Lewis? Butt of Lewis Lighthouse, Mangersta Bothy/Eagles Nest, Calanais Standing Stones, Port of Ness

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