Scotland is by all accounts a landscape photographer’s paradise. With its vast highlands, countless lakes, a rugged coastline, and impregnable castles, it’s insanely picturesque. In this photography guide to Scotland, I share some of the best locations for photography, useful tips, and everything else you need to capture astonishing images in this beautiful country.
- Why Scotland is a Great Photography Destination
- Best Photography Locations in Scotland
- Photography Tips for Scotland
- Planning a Photo Trip to Scotland
- Final Thoughts
Why Scotland is a Great Photography Destination
To most landscape photographers Scotland probably needs little introduction. The country is routinely featured in various lists of prominent landscape photography destinations. Youtube stars, such as Thomas Heaton, Mads Peter Iversen, and Nick Page all have videos from there.
Even if you don’t watch much Youtube, chances are you’ve seen Scotland on screen. It’s hugely popular with Hollywood studios for its striking scenery, and many blockbusters were filmed there. James Bond: Skyfall, Braveheart, Highlander, and Prometheus are but a few examples.
It’s no coincidence of course. In my opinion, Scotland is one of the countries every landscape photographer owes it to himself to visit. It’s unbelievably gorgeous and diverse. Mountains, lakes, rivers, waterfalls, cities, castles, or lighthouses — you name it, Scotland has it.
There is so much to see and explore that one could spend a month in Scotland and not see all of it. I only had a week there and honestly wish I stayed longer. Despite its relatively small size, Scotland is packed with photography delights and incredible vistas.
Besides, being a part of the United Kingdom, Scotland is very well-connected and easy to reach no matter where you live. It is also a very safe country to travel to. And while not exactly cheap, it is more affordable than England and many European countries.
And that’s only the photography side of it. But Scotland is much more than that. It is also rich history, amiable people, unique culture, fantastic architecture, and traditional food. And if all that isn’t enough of a reason to visit it then I don’t know what is.
Best Photography Locations in Scotland
There are so many amazing photography locations in Scotland that one could write a book about them and not include everything. Needless to say, trying to cram everything in one blog post would not only be impossible but also somewhat absurd.
So instead, I’ve picked several larger areas that I believe produce the best bang (or, in this case, photos) for the buck. Within each one, I highlight several spots that I think are especially worth going to.
It’s only a handful of locations but if you’ve never been to Scotland, that’ll be plenty for you to explore. And even if you have, you probably didn’t visit them all. There’s a lot of ground to cover, so grab a cup of tea, and let’s get started!
If you are flying to Scotland, chances are your trip begins in the Scottish capital Edinburgh. A charming and vibrant city dating back to the Roman era, Edinburgh has no shortage of sights and activities and is a fabulous destination in its own right.
Edinburgh is also an incredibly picturesque city with plenty to shoot while you’re there. Calton Hill is arguably the most famous location offering iconic postcard views of the old town during sunset. The Vennel Steps are hugely popular among photographers too.
But what I suggest the most is just grabbing a camera and taking a mindless stroll around the Edinburgh center. I guarantee you will find something unique and interesting. Whether it’s quaint historic buildings or fascinating street scenes, the city will find a way to surprise you.
And if you ever get bored, there are further locations around Edinburgh reachable via day trips. My favorites are the Kelpies and the Blackness Castle. Both can make for some stunning images, especially if you get some nice light.
The Isle of Skye
The Isle of Skye is arguably the most renowned photography location in Scotland and many photographers’ favorite — myself included. And for good reason. Known for its rugged landscapes, indented coastline, and mountainous interior, the Isle of Skye is a stunner.
There is so much to shoot on the Isle of Skye that one could stay for a week and never run out of options. An easy starting point would be the iconic cliffs of the Old Man of Storr and the rolling hills of Quiraing. Both are among the most recognizable landmarks of Scotland.
But there’s so much more. The endless cascades of the Fairy Pools, the dramatic seascapes of Talisker Bay, or the lonely shape of the Neist Lighthouse — the list goes on and on. I have written an entire article on the Isle of Skye photography locations and tips, so check it out.
If I could only pick one place in Scotland, that’d undoubtedly be the Isle of Skye. With its grand vistas, unpredictable weather, and near-limitless potential for exploration, it has everything a photographer could ever wish for.
Dalmally and Glencoe
The small area between the towns of Dalmally and Glencoe in southwestern Scotland is home to some hugely impressive landscapes. The scenery here is so striking that it rivals that of the Isle of Skye. Some even say it’s better. I guess you’ll have to decide for yourself!
Luckily, you don’t even need to go far out of your way to find it. Simply drive the road A82, and you’ll be treated to some incredible vistas. There are numerous viewpoints and stops to take a picture right on the road. Still, for the best photos, you’ll have to do a bit of exploring.
If you’re into hiking, I highly recommend a climb to Beinn a’Chrulaiste, a mountain north of Glencoe. It’s a decent exercise but one that’ll reward you with breathtaking panoramic views of the surrounding valleys. Especially if you get there by sunset.
For something less strenuous, consider a detour to the Etive river waterfall that’s been gaining popularity in photography circles lately. Finally, the Kilchurn castle on the northern shore of Lake Awe (a fitting name!) is among the most picturesque in Scotland.
Of course, that’s just scratching the surface of what this region offers. For further suggestions on things to shoot here, take a look at this article.
As visitscotland.com aptly put it, “The Scottish Highlands is the Scotland of your imagination”. One of National Geographic’s Best of the World 2023 award nominees, this vast wilderness largely untouched by civilization keeps inspiring travelers from across the globe.
The Highlands is huge, spanning all the way to the northern coast of Scotland. So to make things a little easier, I arbitrarily divided it into two sections. We’ll start with the southern Highlands which to me represents everything up to the Isle of Skye and Inverness.
There certainly is no shortage of amazing photography locations here. But the two highlights every photographer wants to have on their radar are the Eilean Donan Castle and the Glenfinnan Viaduct.
The Glenfinnan Viaduct is a curved railway bridge that you might have seen in the Harry Potter movies. Or, for that matter, on the Scottish £10 note. But what is particularly exciting about it are the steam trains that cross it twice a day. A cool sight and a great photo!
Eilean Donan Castle is a small tidal fortress not far from the Isle of Skye. It is one of the most iconic castles in Scotland and a true photographer’s delight. If you can, be there at sunset to capture some magical light.
The northern part of Scotland has a lot up its sleeve when it comes to photography. That said, it’s quite a trip and I would only venture there if you have at least two weeks in Scotland. It’s a long drive and in my opinion, not worth sacrificing the time in, say, Glencoe or Skye.
If you made it there, however, be sure to stop at the Duncansby Stacks and the Clashnessie Falls. And of course, the Old Man of Stoer — and no, that’s not the same as the Old Man of Storr on the Isle of Skye. Confusing, right?
And if that’s not enough, there are countless fiords, bays, lakes, and mountains all over the northern Highlands. Honestly, you can almost randomly pick a spot on a map and expect it to be beautiful. Just try it for yourself!
Last but not least, Aberdeenshire is another great region that would be difficult to fit into a first-time visit to Scotland. Much like the rest of the country, it is absolutely gorgeous but unfortunately, quite a detour from the other attractions.
But if you get a chance, I encourage you to go there. Aberdeenshire is often overlooked by photographers so you’ll have a chance to witness the less familiar side of Scotland.
The main highlights include the spectacular Bow Fiddle Rock up north and the magnificent Dunnottar castle on the eastern shore. And if you’re after something cool and unusual, check out the Old Pack Horse Bridge in Carrbridge.
And of course, don’t miss the opportunity to spend a couple of nights in Aberdeen itself. Although often overshadowed by Edinburgh, it’s a lovely city with tons of interesting things to see, try out, and photograph.
Photography Tips for Scotland
Knowing locations is an immensely important part of any photography trip. But to take good pictures, we need to come prepared. So the next few sections are all about the gear and resources that will help you when traveling to Scotland.
Recommended Camera Gear
Every photographer has their own setup and style, so when it comes to gear, there’s really no right or wrong. This here is just a list of what I personally found useful while photographing Scotland.
Camera lenses. The simple advice here is to bring everything you’ve got. There are all kinds of landscapes in Scotland, and no single tool fits them all. While I mostly used my travel zoom and a wide-angle, the 70-200 telephoto too came in handy occasionally.
A reliable tripod. Many locations in Scotland require at least a bit of hiking, so ideally, you want something lightweight yet sufficiently sturdy. I use Benro Travel Angel and it’s perfect for this.
A drone. There are a ton of places to fly in Scotland so I highly recommend having a drone in your arsenal. I’m a big fan of DJI Mini 3 Pro because of how light and quiet yet capable it is.
Rain cover for your bag and camera. The weather in Scotland is notoriously unpredictable. So when it starts to rain, as it inevitably will at some point, you want to be prepared.
A polarizer and an ND filter. Both will come in handy when shooting waterfalls, seascapes, or anything in the middle of the day. I prefer simple screw-on filters because they’re easy, light, and practical.
A remote release for your camera. A minor thing that you might not even ever need. The problem is that when you do, you’ll be biting your elbows if you didn’t bring one.
What Else to Pack for Scotland
Apart from the camera gear, here are some other items that you would be wise to pack when preparing for a photography trip to Scotland.
- Good hiking boots. If you want to get the goodies in Scotland, you’ll have to do some hiking. So bring something you trust to keep your feet comfortable.
- Layered clothes. It can be seriously cold in Highlands even in summer so it’s advisable to pack some extra layers.
- A waterproof jacket. Just in case it rains because at some point it probably will.
- A headlamp — you don’t want to miss those epic Scottish sunsets and sunrises, do you? If not, expect some hiking in the darkness.
- Power adapters. UK and Scotland use power plugs of type G that are different from the US or European ones. So you want to bring an adapter or two to charge all your stuff.
- If you’re traveling in summer, a midge net and a repellent. Midges are these little pesky biting flies that come in massive numbers and will drive you nuts if you’re not protected.
- What you probably don’t need is cash. You might take some just in case but I spent a week in Scotland with just a credit card and never had any issues.
Drone Photography in Scotland
Much as Scotland is breathtaking from the ground level, it is even more astonishing from above. With its wild raw nature and striking scenery, it is an unbeatable destination for drone photography. So if you have a drone, be sure to take it with you — you’ll use it a lot.
Having a camera up in the air opens up a whole array of new and exciting creative possibilities. Even the most recognizable sights look different from higher up allowing you to capture some unique compositions.
Luckily, the drone laws in the UK are pretty straightforward and similar to the EU ones. In addition to all the usual requirements (line of sight, no flying over people, maximum height of 120m), to fly legally, you need to register your drone with the CAA and pass an online test.
You don’t need to take the test if your drone weighs less than 250 grams — rejoice, DJI Mini users! However, you still have to register it. For further information, head over to the CAA website.
That said, while I encourage everyone to follow established protocols, I haven’t seen anyone checking on the drone operators in Scotland. Moreover, there’s often nobody even around, except maybe a few fellow photographers. So how far you want to take it is really up to you.
For a more in-depth discussion of the regulations and tips for specific locations, have a look at this outstanding article.
What Else is Good to Know
When it comes to traveling, Scotland isn’t much different from other European countries. Still, there are a couple of peculiarities that should be taken into account when planning a photography trip there.
Firstly, the weather is extremely unpredictable, especially in Highlands. I used several weather apps in Scotland, and they all told me different things even for the following morning, let alone a few days in the future.
This means you have to remain flexible and ready to change your plans at the last minute. And try again, if needed. We met a photographer at the Old Man of Storr who came there five times because it was too foggy for a clear shot on the first four attempts.
I’ve already mentioned the midges. Believe me, all the horror stories you might’ve heard about them are true. It’s extremely hard to concentrate on the composition while being eaten alive. And that’s exactly what happens in the Highlands in summer.
At the very least, have breathable clothes that cover your entire body. That includes a pair of thin gloves and something for the head. Don’t wear shorts — you’ll regret that choice. And trust me, a midge net might look somewhat dorky but will save you a whole lot of trouble.
Another thing to mention is the restaurants. I’m not sure why but in Scotland, restaurants stop serving food super early. Most will close the kitchen and only sell drinks after 7:30 PM. If Google tells you it’s “Open now”, that doesn’t mean you’ll get something to eat.
At first, I thought it might be the Highlands thing. But it’s the same in Edinburgh and anywhere else and is quite frankly annoying. If you’re planning on shooting sunsets, either eat beforehand or have a backup plan for dinner.
Planning a Photo Trip to Scotland
To wrap things up, here are some of my thoughts on organizing the trip to Scotland and the related logistics. You’ll still need to plan according to your priorities but hopefully, these will provide you with some helpful context.
When to Go to Scotland
There simply is no bad season to go to Scotland. However, as is often the case in the northern hemisphere, mid-spring and early autumn tend to work best for photography. That’s when you get a nice mix of mostly pleasant conditions, vivid colors, and perfect daylight balance.
Summer is generally nice and warm in Scotland. But because it’s so far north, you only get a few hours of darkness. If you’re out shooting sunsets and sunrises, this messes up your sleep. One can power through everything but it’s hardly ideal.
Another big problem in summer is the midges. That’s when they’re at their worst. The midges are usually present between April and September, give or take. So in summer, you are pretty much guaranteed to encounter them.
In winter (November through March), the days are short and the weather gets somewhat dreary. It’s also the low season, with many activities, accommodations, and restaurants outside the major cities shut down. Some roads may also occasionally close due to weather.
But if you can plan around all that, winter can be a fantastic time to photograph Scotland. Covered in snow, its landscapes are charmingly magical and serene. There won’t be many people around either and you can have all that beauty to yourself.
Driving in Scotland
Scotland is well connected by public transport. There are trains, buses, coaches, and ferries at your disposal. If you’re interested in any of those, visitscotland.com has lots of additional information.
But as a photographer, I prefer to stay flexible. It’s hard to chase the light while also having to adjust to the public transport timetable. This may not be a problem in cities like Edinburgh, but quickly becomes one when you get into remote areas like the Isle of Skye.
Besides, having a car allows for truly exploring and visiting places that would otherwise be difficult or time-consuming to reach. So if you’re planning a photography trip, I highly recommend considering a rental.
Keep in mind that driving in Scotland is on the left side of the road. If you haven’t done this before, it may feel a little intimidating at first. The good news is that you get used to it pretty quickly. Just be careful the first couple of days.
I should also mention that the roads in Scotland are quite narrow, especially in the countryside. I’m a decent driver but did hit the curb in Scotland on a couple of occasions. One of these encounters even ended with a flat tire.
Therefore I encourage you to pay extra for the full insurance when renting the car. Sorting out the repairs is the last thing you want to do on your vacation.
I rented with Celtic Legends and am happy to endorse them even though they’re not sponsoring me. They’re not the cheapest out there, but very prudent and fully transparent. I didn’t even have to go anywhere to fix that flat, they did it themselves while I was hiking.
Where to Stay in Scotland
The answer to that question largely depends on your planned itinerary. Scotland is too large to be able to operate from a single established base. To see and photograph it in all its variety, you’ll inevitably have to move around.
For first-time visitors, a reasonable starting point would be two nights in Edinburgh and 3 nights on the Isle of Skye. If you only have limited time, that’s the bare minimum I would go with.
If you could stay for a little longer, consider adding a night or two in the Glencoe area and a couple of nights in Aberdeen to see the northern part. That would result in a well-rounded itinerary that covers the most notable landmarks.
Scotland is a fantastic destination for landscape photography. With its huge variety of breathtaking landscapes and raw natural beauty, it’s a country every photographer and outdoor enthusiast should have on their bucket list.
I had pretty high expectations going there and Scotland not only didn’t disappoint but actually exceeded them. It was a fabulous time there and I brought home plenty of images I’m happy with.
I would love to return there at some point. One week was barely enough to scratch the surface of what this beautiful country has to offer. And if you’re looking for a great place to enjoy the scenery and do some landscape photography, I wholeheartedly recommend it.
I hope you enjoyed this article and got something useful out of it. If so, please share it with your friends and on social media and if there are any questions or comments, leave them below. I’ll do my best to reply.
I have more articles about Scotland and other travel and photography destinations. Feel free to roam around the blog or simply check some of my recommendations below:
- Isle of Skye Photography Guide: Best Locations and Tips
- Photography Guide to Madeira: Best Locations, Tips, and More
- How to Photograph Lake Bled: Best Locations and Useful Tips
- Lisbon Photography Guide: 10 Fabulous Spots to Capture
- A Land of Wonders: 10 Great Reasons to Travel to Slovenia
- Best Landscape Photography Locations in Patagonia
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