ISLE OF SKYE PHOTOGRAPHY WORKSHOP 17th – 24th November 2018 – A STORY OF THE WORKSHOP
Every November I run two workshops on the fabulous Isle of Skye; one from Saturday to Wednesday; a very quick changeover and another from the Wednesday to Saturday. I never know whether to advertise them as 4/3 day workshops or 5/4 day workshops as the arithmetic never adds up!
This is an account of my recent one; some great weather and at times too many clear skies but we still managed to get some really great images as it’s really a question of adapting your shooting style and locations to suit available conditions.
So with thanks to Robert, Lesley, Gary, Chris, Jon and Keith for your company and your images. Robert, Lesley, Gary and Chris were with me over the first 4 days and Jon and Keith for the remainder of the trip. So here’s my account ……..it does contain highlights rather than every single detail; we saw lots of places and if I described everything it would take all week!
For my Isle of Skye workshops, I always stay at Allt Dearg, a cottage in an amazing location on the River Sligachan at the foot of the Black Cuillins and a perfect base for exploring the area, being pretty central to the island…..and it’s a surprisingly big island!
Header image: The view of The Quiraing in Autumn Light taken on our workshop
A great image showing the cottage from Sligachan by Jon Burgess.
Each evening was spent productively, with processing and reviewing images, food, wine and beer!
So, here’s a review of the 7 days spent on this fabulous island from dawn until dusk and into the night! If you’d like to download a copy of this blog please Click Here!
My Isle of Skye Photography Workshop – About Skye
The Isle of Skye is an island of 1,656km2 situated off the west coast of Scotland, separated from Kyle of Lochalsh on the mainland by the Skye Bridge which spans Loch Alsh. It’s over 50 miles from north to south so it’s a fair size island! It is known for its rugged landscapes, picturesque fishing villages and medieval castles. The largest island in the Inner Hebrides archipelago, it has an indented coastline of peninsulas and narrow lochs, radiating out from a mountainous interior. Portree is the largest town on the island
As you can see, Allt Dearg is right in the middle; so not only is it a glorious location, it’s a great central location for exploring the island with a camera.
Isle of Skye Photography Workshop Day 1 Saturday 17th November – from Glencoe to Allt Dearg Cottage
Before travelling to Skye, the group met at Glencoe (at a café undergoing refurbishment so there was coffee in the car park)! There were clear blue skies, so not exactly perfect for drama but it was great to be out and we captured some lovely scenic images. We visited the iconic spot at Glen Etive and the reed beds facing Buachaille Etive Mor, with reflections which looked great under the blue skies!
On the way to the cottage we stopped off firstly at Glencoe then at at Eilean Donan Castle at Kyle of Lochalsh for sunset. Clear skies and not much colour in the sky I’m afraid but lovely warm weather and great to be out of the cars. We stopped at the Glen Etive waterfalls and then at the reedbeds in front of Buachaille Etive Mor. We then made our way north to Eilean Donan for sunset; the castle did light up a bright red colour with (I assume seasonal!) artificial lighting. We then stopped off to stock up on supplies at Broadford before heading to the cottage.
Allt Dearg Cottage at Night
After dinner we popped outside to capture the night sky from the cottage – a beautiful clear night, albeit lit by the moon which diluted the effect of the stars a little. We photographed both the cottage and the views of the Cuillin Mountains from the cottage. The moonlight, while diluting the stars did light up the sligachan valley perfectly
Robert and Gary preparing to shoot the cottage in the dark!
With the moonlight (nearly a full moon), the night was surprisingly bright and we were able to capture images at much lower ISO readings (and therefore higher quality) than normal.
Isle of Skye Photography Workshop Day Sunday 18th November – from Glencoe to Allt Dearg Cottage
Given the clear skies we decided to explore the local area on the first full day on Skye. I always keep my workshops totally flexible and respond to weather conditions. There’s always something to learn! We alos spent an hour or so over lunchtime going over one of my presentations on composition.
To mention this very breifly, more clear skies and waterfalls are really difficult in harsh light so I revisited this area later in the week in much better conditions. But the morning was spent along the river near the cottage and the afternoon at the Fairy Pools. The best images were in the still water just off the road to Dunvegan with the backdrop of the mountains.
Me encouraging Robert to use foreground in the image; there was a nice flow of water here
When photographing reflections, think carefully about the height the image is taken from. Too high and you won’t draw attention to the foreground, not all the backdrop will appear in the reflection and you’ll see too much of the body of water. Too low and clutter in the water will dominate the image and unbalance the background. The rule is experiment with height.
After a lunch break at the cottage we drove round to the Fairy Pools which are a few miles west at Glenbrittle off the road to Dunvegan. In truth little water in them but what a warm afternoon with the temparature reaching 15C!! In the right conditions it has a great backdrop.
On the way back we caught the moon rising from Carbost with the last of the evening light.. There was a great red glow over the Red Cuilins, which really brought out why they are so named!
Later on we returned to the graveyard at Carbost to make the most of the night sky. There was plenty of foreground and some great dark skies. The moonlight was also great for lighting up the gravestones. You’ll need a tripod and the widest angle lens you have to capture the sky.
Day 3 Monday 19th November The Coral Beach, Dunvegan and Neist Point
Another day of very very clear skies, so we set off in the search for simple compositions
The Coral Beach is a few miles north of Dunvegan in the west of the island. It has a beautiful sweeping bay with a white coral beach at the end. We spent some time down at the beach then returned to Dunvegan for a compositional exercise around lunchtime. I try to include at least one of these on all my workshops as it encourages clients to look for simple compositions in everyday subjects; it’s both observational and selective and encourages you to think in abstract form rather than subject matter. Here’s a selection of ‘Repeating Pattern images from Dunvegan.
One of Robert’s ICM images
Robert came up with some excellent examples of Intentional Camera Movment (ICM for short). It’s very unpredictable technique but can produce some really interesting results. It involves deliberately moving the camera during the exposure and is often best at around 15th – 1/4 second. This is an image of the field patterns above Neist Point.
We then continued on to Neist Point, one of the islands iconic places for the rest of the afternoon until sunset. The road to Neist Point also offered some opportunities of the surrounding landscape. The low sunlight cast some great shadows across the landscape. Cloud would have been nice though!
On Skye you can’t guarantee the weather or great light but the one thing that you can guarantee is crowds at Neist Point. We went there as it was convenient for the days locations and I calculated that my group wouldn’t get the chance to revisit the location however there wasn’t much light or colour in the sky. Personally I far prefer this location in the morning as the light is from above over the whoile bay and not just begind the headland and lighthouse. See the image below; it was taken on a previous trip under very different skies!
The sunset produced very little but did at the last minute produce some nice light rays over the Isle of Rum to the west. The image does tell a bit of a lie as it looks as though there was an interesting sky with dark clouds. As you can see from the other images this was not actually the case. Who says the photo never lies but it is a good advert foir cropping!
After leaving Neist Point we were held up by a roadblock for a few minutes…….we then made out way back to the cottage to review the days images and eat dinner with our resident chef Robert!
Day 4 Tuesday 20th November – The Quiraing and Elgol
By far our most exciting day with some great lighting condiitions and what a morning to get up in time for first light at The Quiraing! In the afternoon we went to the south of the island to the amazing location of Elgol for some more great light!
The Quiraing is in the northern part of the island and is a justfyingly iconic place! It’s at the northern end of the Trotternish Ridge which extends from north to south in the peninsula north from Portree. During the short days you pretty much have to get up here at dawn as later in the day the sun drops behind the ridge, casting everything in shadow.
Dawn light over the Quiraing with beautiful warm light perfectly captured by Lesley
Make sure you use a graduated filter when pointing the camera aginast the light; the sky will blow out highlights if you don’t!
Lesley also directed the camera the other way to catch the golden light on the other side of the ridge. It’s a great location whichever way you look!
On the way back down towards Staffin, the great light continued for a while; here it lit up the golden grass with a backdrop of the hills
We briefly stopped off at Kilt Rock on the way back southwards; this shot was taken on Gary’s new phone. It’s captured the water movement – it’s amazing what they can do these days!.
From Broadford to Elgol
Elgol is another iconic location but this time on the south of the island. It’s 15 miles west from Broadford along a mainly single track winding road. We drove past some reed beds with a backdrop of the Cuillin Mountains and bumped into another (quite large!) photography group at the same spot. But the reflections were superb.
Details of the reed beds at Loch Cill Chriosd on the road to Elgol captured by Lesley
Skye is great for pools, lochs and reedbeds and still conditions suit them perfectly. Try to catch the sun on the reeds against a background in shadow
We then drove on down to Elgol. It’s a tiny fishing village with some fabulous views with a backdrop of the Cuillins dropping straight into the sea. Evening light is perfect for this location as it lights up the front of the mountains in sharp releif to the backdrop.
Gary captured the gorgeous red evening light!
When the light faded we drove back to the cottage for another session looking at the days images with more wine and food from Robert!
Day 5 Wednesday 21st November – 4 Day Group Changeover Day!
Wednesday is the day that I spend between groups; the morning with my fiirst group and the afternoon with my second group with a quick tidy up of the cottage in between! A couple of the group decided to see more on the return trip and start the long drive home and leave soon after breakfast so we all decided to travel down to the Skye Bridge to capture dawn light. In the event it was a little flat so after a group hug we waved our goodbyes……..
So, after waving my group goodbye, for me it was back to the cottage to tidy up and do d]some paperwork, but I captured some nice red light on the Red Cuillins from Broadford
Day 5 Wednesday 21st November – Group 2 Elgol again!
Group 2 was simply Jon, Keith and myself! Both Jon and Keith have been on several previous trips so I know them both well (Keith on the Snowdonia one only 2 weeks before)! We met briefly at the cottage and then decided to drive back to Elgol as the light looked really promising. It proved a strange afternoon of contrasts though; it looked as though it as going to be completely clear with little cloud to excite us, a dark cloud then came across and completely obliterated the views and finally just before sunset we had a moment of red light and glow of the sun as it went down!
Day 6 Thursday 22nd November – Return to Quiraing and the north of the island
As the Quiraing is a ‘must do’ location, I returned with my second group. There were much clearer skies this time so perhaps the opportunities were more limited. However it gave us the chance to practise some compositional ideas and we got a lovely sunrise at Loch Fada on the way up the island!
Loch Fada is a popular spot for the first view of the Old Man of Stoff because of its reflection on a still morning. Jon captured the reflection perfectly.
Loch Fada image by Jon Burgess
The Quiraing – return visit!
There was very different light to the previous visit to the Quiraing but this kind of bright light is great for ‘receding forms’. If you shoot against the light you can see that the hills lighten as you get further away from the camera. See how the shapes change in relation to each other as we changed position.
A set of images of receding hills at Quiraing by Keith – explore locations and see the shift in forms
Keith’s shot to the top of the Quiraing captured the scale of the cliffs.
The North of the Island from Tulm Bay to Kilmuir Church
We spent to rest of the day with a very productive tour around the north of the island, taking the long route around to Uig via the remains of Duntulm Castle
As we had another lovely but rather clear day I thought I’d add an image of Tulm Bay from my previous visit in February – very different conditions!
Kilmuir Church is a great spot little used by other photographers (in fact in 5 visits I’ve never seen another group or photographer there so a bit of a hidden gem! We drove here from Tulm Bay and got some great evening light! We explored the area with long exposures and sunset shots. The usual angle on buildings is around 60:30 but always explore
Keith captured a striking evening light shot that captured the remoteness of the area.
Day 7 Friday 23rd November – Sligachan and Talisker Bay
A great day for our last full day with some terrific images at both Sligachan (our morning location) and Talisker Bay (where we headed in the afternoon). Too late for the distillery but a great day nonetheless
River Sligachan around the cottage
It was perfect weather for our morning shoot at Sligachan, dry with overcast skies but with plenty of cloud detail to work with. If shooting against the light you’ll either need a graduated filter or bracket images.
Try using a polarising filter with this kind of shot. Under grey skies you’ll fine a lot of glare on reflective surfaces which it will reduce. However it’ll also increase contrast so experiment by rotating the filter.
There are a couple of great spots along the river, both very close to the cottage; one upstream and one downstream. Both are locations where the angle of the river turns slightly so you get a waterfall or rapids with the camera facing the Black Cuillins.
Mountain pools or pools in peat bogs are often great places to take photographs from. They are usually clearly delineated dips in the ground which form clear shapes and are therefore great locations to practise composition with mountain backdrops. Use walking boots though – it’s wet!
We made our way down to Talisker Bay. I was initially intending to head across to Neist Point but ran short of time so headed there instead – and what a wise choice it was! We were treated to a red sun dropping below the clouds and some great wave and sand patterns at Talisker Bay. Thank goodness we resisted the temptation of the distillery! It’s about a mile flat walk from the car and well worth the walk!
Jon created a starburst effect from the setting sun at Talisker Bay
A couple of shots at Talisker Bay – a great place to catch the sunset
….and finally Day 8 Saturday 24th November – Old Man of Storr
Keith decided to make a quick getaway with a long drive back on the Saturday morning. So, having sorted and cleaned the cottage on the Friday night, Jon and I headed up to Old Man of Storr, one of Skye’s other iconic locations; it’s fair to say that it has quite a few of them! To get to the viewpoints (there are a few) you’ll need to be prepared for a pretty steep climb of around 400m ascent from the road. If you want to get to the ridge above Storr it’s about another 200m up and steeper but well worth it! We parked the car at the bottom and went up pretty quickly for 2 (albeit quite fit!) 60 year olds!!
Jon’s classic shot of Old Man of Storr. Few clouds but some beautiful warm light.
We walked back down and once driving back down to sort cars out we parted and drove back down south. Not before I found that I left my entire Fuji camera system in the cottage though – thanks Deirdre (cottage owner) for posting it back to me!!
Finally, thanks to Robert, Lesley, Gary, Chris, Jon and Keith and Paul for booking onto the workshop – it was great to have your company and it was great to part with some great images. Thanks to our expert chef Robert, without whom we might have gone hungry (while I’m an OK photographer I’m no cook……).
I stopped off at Rannoch Moor on the way South and caught some gorgeous light. This one had great cloud formations and golden light.