I wrote this article for explorelandscapephotography.com, however as Rob and I closed the site down, this article became inaccessible . As it has been requested a few times, I thought it was worth transferring to my own landscape photography site. So here it is.
Starting below is the full unedited version of the article as written for Explore.
This article starts about a month ago I posted a video of the mountain Suilven in response to a fellow photographer (Duncan Fawkes) who was spending some time in Assynt. I had seen the video before, but never shared it. Very quickly it did the rounds on twitter and has been viewed and appreciated by a rather large audience over the last few months.
I wanted to get the inside track on the time-lapse, who filmed it, why it was filmed, why Suilven, how was it filmed and most specifically what was the inspiration behind the video. Time lapse as a genre has become a hot topic over recent months and to be frank quite a cliche, so it was incredibly refreshing to see a creative take on a rather iconic Scottish mountain.
Over the past 6 weeks, we have managed to chat a few times and this post is the amalgamation of our discussions, so without further ado, I’d like to introduce James and Niall from North Colour Films.
Explore: ” Can you tell me why you chose Suilven?”
“Suilven was born out of a number of variables coming together at once. The initial spark came from driving through Assynt a few years ago on New Year’s Eve. The moment I set eyes on Suilven my heart literally sank, it had this completely visceral effect on me. It has this incredibly powerful form and it’s distant isolation gives it an added enchantment, you want to know more about it, you want to get nearer to it, but unfortunately unless you are prepared for the long hike in this is impossible as it’s around 6 miles from the nearest road as the crow flies”
After my initial encounter with the mountain, a few things happened in my private life that almost forced me to embark on the film. I needed to get out of the city and get away from everything for a while, so Suilven seemed like the ideal opportunity. Just as I was beginning to plan the project I was introduced to another local film maker, Niall Walker, who had similar ideas about film making and a mutual love for the Scottish Mountains. So everything just kind of slotted into place really.
Explore: ” Who inspires you ?”
“I had always wanted to make a landscape film since being inspired by the movies of Ron Fricke and Werner Herzog. Fricke for his stunning compositions and ability to generate narrative purely through visuals and Herzog for his unashamed use of long edits and repetition that induce an almost meditative state.”
Explore: ” What was your thinking and research behind creating this film? It’s one of the most creative time lapses I’ve seen, so what have you drawn your influences from?
“Outside of the logistical research of the layout of all the mountains we filmed from, it was mostly just brute-force and ignorance. We just packed up our gear and got as high up as we could really. I’d love to say there was more thought that went into the film but it was really just a case of filming as much footage as we possibly could. What you see in the film is around 5% of the total footage we got”
“While we wanted to make a ‘day in the life of Suilven’ type film, we wanted to stay away from your traditional timelapse films. The medium is becoming very trite and often a bit ‘cheesy’ I think”
Explore: ” What equipment do you use to film?”
“We both owned Canon 5D Mark IIs and I already had a bunch of nice lenses so we were good to go on the camera equipment front. We forked out for a nice Hilleberg Nallo 2 tent (as the reviews seemed to say it was the lightest 2 man tent on the market that could withstand the kind of winds we were expecting) and some other nice camping gear and away we went!”
“My only regret with the whole project was that we didn’t somehow get better cameras to film with. The 5D MKII is a fantastic stills camera and was perfect for the timelapses but it’s heavy H.264 compression on the film side of things is a bit messy. You can really see the scenes that are filmed and not timelapses as there’s a lot of noise. Having said that I’m not sure we could have physically taken any more gear with us. We were pushed to our absolute limits throughout the entire project, both technically and physically”
Explore: ” How did you go about researching the project, considering as you state in your first answer) Suilven is so tricky to reach, unless you walk in the six miles?”
“Well, the fhe first trip up there was really just a reccy, which was handy as the weather was so bad we couldn’t even see the mountain. We just drove around checking out all the surrounding mountains and planning where we would camp and park etc. The 2nd trip out we hiked out to the Suileag bothy, which is about half way from Canisp Lodge and the foot of Suilven. It’s a cosy wee bothy and was an ideal place for us to stash our stuff and take shelter when the weather got bad”
Explore: ” It’s a remote location, wet, windy and cold. Did you have any tricky moments?”
“While we were staying there we decided to take the tent and some camera gear up Canisp one day to camp out and film Suilven from the North, we knew it was going to be windy that day but we thought we would be prepared for it. It was pretty scary, I had just set up the tent on the shoulder of Canisp and Niall had hiked down the mountain a little to collect a timelapse camera he’d set up previously when I started to see all the surface water from the lochans in the distance start to just rise up into the air. There was basically a wall of 80-100mph wind heading straight for us. As it hit, I was lifted off my feet and thrown down an embankment, twisting my ankle, the tent buckled and eventually just caved in, all the poles snapping and ripping through the nylon, my camera went flying, the camera bag took off, it was chaos. The sun was going down, the temperature was dropping below zero, we were 3 miles from the Bothy and I couldn’t walk. It was the first time in a long time I’ve had that feeling of just being completely out of control. It took 2 excruciating hours of descending on a twisted ankle with a 25kg pack before we were back at the Bothy, both safe and sound but less a very nice tent. So we decided after that episode to leave the filming on the summits til summer.
Explore: ” Wow! Just goes to show the dedication needed to film in a remote environment. How did you approach the rest of the project after that?”
“Thankfully after our drama on Canisp, the rest of the shooting went relatively smoothly. We climbed Canisp, Cul Mor, Stac Pollaidh and Suilven itself, camping on the summit of them all for between 2 and 3 nights a piece. Without a doubt the most challenging of the mountains was Suilven itself. Our packs weighed around 30kg each and it’s a long walk in before you even start to climb. For the first 2 days we were pretty much sitting in cloud getting eaten alive by midges, aside from the odd hiker to blether to there really wasn’t much to see or do, which was incredibly frustrating obviously. Then after an incredibly wet and windy 2nd night we were treated to the most awesome sight I think I’ve ever had the luck to witness. We woke to the most beautiful cloud inversion and sunrise that make up the morning section of the film”
Explore: ” Would you consider yourself a photographer or filmmaker? Is there a difference?”
“I think if it came down to it, probably a film maker. Still photography is fun but it’s not as risky as filming, especially on SLRs. You are always contending with camera shake from wind, dust on your sensor, compression noise, battery power etc. Everything needs to be set up and often you can come back to a timelapse and you’ve made an error in your settings etc, which can be hugely frustrating if you’ve just driven for 5 hours to get to a mountain that then took a further 4 hours to climb”
“But then you get moments like the sunset ending on Suilven where everything comes together and you nail it. You can’t really compare the rush you get from playing something like that back for the first time to viewing a single still from it. Both mediums are fun but I think I definitely get more of a buzz from filming”
Explore: ” What inspires you most about landscape photography?
“The sense of wellbeing that you get from knowing you’ve inspired someone else’s imagination when they look at the images you’ve created”
Explore: ” Do you have any plans for the next video project?
“Our next project is hopefully going to be doing a similar kind of film but on the island of St Kilda, we’re in the planning stage just now but it’s proving pretty challenging already as you can’t just hop back and forth and camp for a few weeks as we did with Suilven”
“We would both like to continue making films about places that are hard for most people to get to and that inspire the imagination”
Many thanks to Niall Walker and especially James Anderson from North Colour Films. All images and film are copyright of North Colour films.
We certainly hoped you enjoyed the interview, now shake off those boots, put your feet up, pour yourself a wee dram, relax and watch eighteen minutes of magic.