Brooding Skye

The Isle of Skye is the largest of the Inner Hebrides and situated just off Scotland's north west coastline. The landscape and quality of light on the island is truly unique - it is one of my favourite places to photograph in the UK. I have been fortunate enough to visit Skye for the last three years. The reason for my latest sojourn was to tweak the structure of my five day photography workshop which is scheduled to run in Spring 2013. I wanted to re-visit some favourite locations such as the Trotternish Peninsula, Neist Point and the Cuillins. I was also looking forward to visiting Dunvegan Castle to see if it was worth adding to the 2013 timetable.

Ferry from Mallaig to Skye. iPhone 4

The journey from the Peak District up to Skye, in the car, is a long old trek (nine and a half hours) but well worth the effort when you finally arrive. I slightly reduced my SatNav arrival time by driving to the small fishing port of Mallaig and catching a ferry across to the island. I prefer this route as it is shorter and also gives you the chance for a proper leg stretch, whilst taking in the scenery. Accessing Skye via the bridge at Kyle of Lockalsh doesn't really give you that feeling of having arrived on an island, plus it takes a lot longer.
The boat crossing was a real treat. The ocean was calm and the weather conditions ideal for photography. I took the opportunity to document this short trip with the iPhone and was (as always) pleased with the results it produced.

Home from home. Glenbrittle campsite. iPhone 4

For the duration of my stay, on the island, I chose the campsite at Glen Brittle (a large glen in the south of the island) which has great views of the sea loch (Loch Brittle) in one direction and the Cuillin Hills in the other. After paying for my pitch, I very quickly threw the tent up and set out to explore the terrain leading up to Sgurr Dearg, one of the Cuillins menacing peaks. Dearg's highest point is the, aptly named, Inaccessible Pinnacle (In Pinn) which I have never conquered - you need tons of climbing gear for this and probably an experienced guide. On this occasion I was more than happy to photograph the mountains from lower down. My intention was to include some interesting foreground subject matter and have the foreboding hills in the background. I think I achieved this with the image below. All the scene lacks is a couple of hobbits running across the landscape.

Mountain stream and the Cuillins. Canon EOS 1D Mark III

Landscape photography has many potential pitfalls, adverse weather conditions topping the list. What I hadn't anticipated on this latest trip was the dreaded Scottish midge. I normally visit Skye in early spring before they've emerged. Whilst making the above exposure my face, hands and legs were literally covered by hundreds of the flying insects. Apparently it's the female of the species that is more deadly than the male - they gather in clouds and bite anything that is in close proximity to their breeding site. I survived the encounter with the help of Avon's skin so soft spray - THE best repellant against the midge.

Fishing trawler on the Sound of Raasay. Canon EOS 1D Mark III

Another location I was looking forward to photographing again was the Trotternish Peninsula. The area contains some remarkable rock formations and exceptional views of the Sound of Raasay and Loch Leathan. The following day I got up pretty early and drove north through Portree and then north east along the A855, finally reaching the car park opposite Loch Leathan just after sunrise. To get to the Storr you have to pass through a woodland that surrounds the car park. A woodland trail snakes in a westerly direction through the trees until it finally ends and you reach grassy upland. At this point you would normally be greeted with astonishing views of The Old Man but on this particular morning it was pretty foggy so I had to climb a bit higher to get a decent view. Eventually the rocky outcrop emerged, shrouded in mist, and I made some exposures using the iPhone and also the DSLR (tank mark III). Of all the shots I took the most atmospheric was the one below which I got with the smart phone.

The Old Man of Storr. iPhone 4

As the morning progressed the mist cleared and some sporadic sunlight shone through. I made my way right up to the Old Man of Storr and directly opposite was another rock formation that intrigued me, so I composed a shot that I thought had promise. After adding filters to the filter holder, recomposing and metering, the light changed and the scene lost its energy. An hour later, I was rooted to the same spot, soaked to the skin and still waiting! If you give up and move on the light will eventually hit the right mark and you'll have missed your shot. That's the thought that usually keeps me in situ. It's a constant struggle. I remained and eventually the sunlight rolled across the landscape until it finally illuminated the craggy rock face.

Rocky Outcrop, Trotternish Peninsula. Canon EOS 1D Mark III

The light moved across the scene pretty quickly and I only made the one exposure, so I was pleased that I managed to get the shot I wanted. With the shot bagged I moved east from the Old Man and climbed a ridge that gave some fantastic views of Loch Leathan and the wooded valley below. Again, the waiting game. I don't actually mind the waiting, if you're going to wait for something then this is the place to do it - it's not like waiting for an inner city bus. I didn't have too long to wait before everything fell into place and reminded me of why I love landscape photography so much. The low cloud was now beginning to break up, as it did so the sunlight illuminated the countryside below.

Loch Leathan. Canon EOS 1D Mark III

I made numerous shots of Loch Leathan and the surrounding landscape. After checking the image histogram data on the back of the cameras LCD screen, I was fairly confident that my exposures were accurate. Content, I began my descent in search of food and warmth.

Back in the car, I headed south down the A855 to Portree for a brief lunch before heading north west to Dunvegan castle. I had never visited the castle before and wanted to find out if it had enough subject matter to warrant inclusion on my Isle of Skye photography workshop. The weather had now cleared and by the time I arrived at Dunvegan the conditions were excellent. 

Woodland Garden, Dunvegan Castle. iPhone 4

The castle is well worth a visit. It is built on a rocky outcrop and was once entirely surrounded by the sea. Today it is only part encircled by the ocean, the rest of the grounds now contain five acres of formal gardens. The gardens are incredible. They include a woodland walk, a water garden, a walled garden, a woodland garden and a garden museum. All of the sections blew me away but it was the walled garden that really caught my eye. The volume of species coupled with the expert planting scheme made for a visual feast.

Walled Garden, Dunvegan Castle. Canon EOS 1D Mark III

Photography is not permitted within the castle's interior, which isn't really a problem for photographers as the view of the exterior is much more interesting. Near perfect conditions made for some decent images. Plenty of sunshine, blue sky and moving white cloud combined to help me out when photographing the castle. 

Dunvegan Castle. Canon EOS 1D Mark III

Visiting Dunvegan was definitely worth the effort and I have now added it as a location on my Skye photography workshop. With the research completed and plenty of daylight left I decided to make my way across to Neist Point to photograph it's impressive lighthouse.

Lighthouse at Neist Point. Canon EOS 1D Mark III 

Neist Point is situated on the north west of the island, in fact, it is the most westerly point on Skye. I know I keep harping on about the stunning views but this location is truly outstanding. The sea cliffs are unusually huge and have to be seen to be believed.
The quality of light at Neist Point on this occasion was fantastic, very similar to my visit in 2011, the only difference being that on this particular day there was hardly any wind. Last year the wind was so ferocious I had to fight to keep the tripod and camera vertical (and my gear's got some weight to it). Not so on this occasion, there was only a slight breeze. I made hundreds of exposures and felt completely and utterly in the zone. Days like this are to be cherished and if you're a photographer, recorded. I shot my last images as the sun set slowly in the distance over the Outer Hebrides. Joy.

The Outer Hebrides. Canon EOS 1D Mark III

For anyone interested in my Skye landscape photography workshop, it runs from April 28th - May 2nd 2013. Places are limited to five people. More details can be found by visiting my sister site: www.f22workshop.com

* All iPhone images were shot using the Hipstamatic camera application. Lens: Loftus, Film: DC.