Skye is a popular destination for landscape photographers with its well known features, and although verging on the clichéd, there are many viewpoints and variable weather conditions that allow the photographer to produce their own unique versions of these iconic views. Skye is almost 50 miles (80 km) long, and its coastline is so deeply indented that no part is more than 5 miles (8 km) from the sea. A consequence is that many of its features are accessible given some effort. In the south of the Isle, two epic mountain ranges dominate the landscape: the ‘Black Cuillin’ and the ‘Red Cuillin’, separated by Glen Sligachan. The ridge of the Black Cuillin is the UK’s most challenging mountain range. The northern part of the Isle has the Trotternish ridge with the ‘Old man of Storr’ pinnacle and the Quiraing, with its high cliffs, hidden plateaus and fantastic rock pinnacles. Finding your own view is the challenge and up to the individual, but there are many photographic opportunities that are special given the right conditions.
Having visited the Isle of Skye in Scotland a number of times, the weather has either been glorious bright sunshine or heavy prolonged rain, neither being ideal conditions for photography and has been a disappointment in the past. Obviously, the time of year has much to do with the conditions and the trip was planned for the month of October, ditching the tent in favour of local bed & breakfast accommodation. October is a month of very mixed and changeable conditions in the western Isles, usually heavy showers, but often with clearing conditions between rain squalls and milder temperatures around 8 to 15 degrees centigrade during the day. With a swift breakfast at 7am you can be out and about around sunrise at 8am without causing too much aggravation to your guest house owner. Good quality waterproofs, boots and outdoor clothing is essential to battle the conditions and have a bearable day’s shooting and also ensure they dry quickly for the following day. Over the years, I have discovered through hardship the difference performance clothing makes when you are standing about waiting for hours for the conditions to change.
Having opted to stay at Staffin, shots along the Quiraing are possible with optimal early morning light, an alternative being the old Man of Storr. Due to popularity these locations and a number of others on the island have now been set up as tourist locations with extended car parking facilities and wardens. The Quiraing is my favourite location that I have visited anywhere in the world (even over the Taj Mahal, which admittedly is also a wondrous place). Although this is a bold statement, I just can’t help a feeling of awe when I look at images of the place or when I am standing looking at the beautiful rugged landscape that reaches out all around. The land has lovely rich green and soft brown tones, with its impressive cliff-faces and pinnacles, a mixture of dark and white craggy granite. As the land rolls away small lochs (lakes) and hills compliment the scene and you know you are standing at a very special place. The scenes are truly breath-taking and there are many different views when you walk along the ridge. The rapidly changing weather conditions provide the necessary drama to complete the vista.
Later that morning we headed south and stopped at the bottom of Loch Leatham near the Old Man of Storr – a massive and iconic rock pinnacle. There are a number of well known photo locations here, but I noticed the light on the golden field above us which could provide an interesting foreground and a different view for the location. Having jumped over the stream and climbed the fence we walked along the boggy field to get into position. After waiting a while, dappled light broke through the cloud and lit the ‘Old Man’ up. In the image you will see a minuscule dot to the left of the base of the ‘Old Man’. This is a person in a red jacket and provides scale for the pinnacle.
Around midday we found ourselves at Sligachan and followed the river to try and get some shots with low cloud breaking the mountains of ‘Sgurr nan Gillean’ and ‘Bruach na Frithe’ in the background. However, disappointingly, the river did not provide any opportunities and heavy rain with marsh conditions underfoot made walking difficult, so much so that at times we both ended up past our knees in a bog, to the amusement of each other. The following day we revisited Sligachan having checked a map, and walked to another small river off the A863 hoping for a better angle with water features and the mountains in the background. As luck would have it there were some nice water features but unfortunately the cloud over the mountains did not break and we were forced to give up after torrential rain moved in. Certainly one to remember – for next time!
After a lengthy drive to the south of the Island for an evening shoot, Elgol proved to be a disappointment with heavy overcast conditions, but as the saying goes ‘nothing ventured nothing gained’. It is important that you take your opportunities as you see them and on the way to Elgol we stopped at Torrin, on the shores of Loch Slappin. The dark clouds were enveloping the majestic peak of Blà Bheinn (pronounced ‘Blaven’), and the small white house with its reflection on the water on the far side of the loch was being dwarfed by the dark and foreboding mountainside. When I took the photograph, I knew I was going to convert the image to Mono to capture the ‘bleak’ nature of the scene and try and get a ‘square’ or ‘vertical’ format to emphasise the dominance of the mountain.
The last day was a bit of a washout with solid heavy cloud and poor light conditions. Although the trip was short – two and half days of shooting, it gave great pleasure just being there and enjoying the scenery and company. Was the trip successful? How do you measure success? Well, for me, if I get one or two shots I am happy, but as you can see, I did get a few more than that this time!