The Isle of Skye is a classic destination for landscape photographers for very good reason, Skye unarguably contains some of the most dramatic coastline and mountains in the UK. Situated in the inner Hebrides, Skye is the second largest island after Lewis & Harris and is connected to the mainland by bridge which makes it easily accessible. Divided in to many different regions, including the Minginish, the south-west portion where the Cuillin mountain range lies, Duirinish, which is far west and contains Neist Point, Waternish which is the middle bulk of the island and Trotternish which includes such wonders as the Old Man of Storr and the Quiraing. Fascinatingly each of these locales has a very different feel to the landscape lending Skye huge diversity for photographic adventures.
Having visited Skye many times over the years, as with most people, photographers and tourists alike I’d mainly focussed on the iconic spots of which there are many, such as the Old Man of Storr, Fairy Pools, Quiraing and Neist Point etc. Skye had been calling me back and I wanted to go for a break as much as anything else, I really felt an urge to get to the heart of this fascinating island. I didn’t simply want to produce pretty pictures with glorious colours in the sky, I really wanted to evoke a visual storyline. With this in mind I’d decided on a very different approach to my usual landscape jaunts, I needed something more and felt that a travelogue style would tell a story much better than any one landscape image. I’d also began to feel that certain styles of landscape imagery are becoming very contrived and not reflecting the true nature of their environment. My emphasis would be on travel and recce’ing locations, meeting people and taking note of the local history and culture. Of course, if the opportunity arose for a stunning landscape shot, then I would seize the moment, but with this different approach to my work I didn’t feel under any pressure to come home with that masterpiece of an image. Instead I was simply engrossed in the art of travel and exploration, I found that I was enjoying myself much more in this way.
It was the end of March and there was still a sprinkling of snow on the peaks when I arrived. I’d chosen the village of Sconser as my base for a week, which is conveniently positioned for exploring the whole island, it is also the location of the ferry terminal to the isle of Raasay, more on that later.
I spent the first couple of days driving around the island, stopping intermittently at various villages that I’d not visited previously and feeling under no pressure to make images. This was hugely enjoyable, allowing me time to relax, free my mind and really enjoy the sights of this amazing island. Seemingly around every corner is a photo opportunity, particularly as the light on Skye is ever changing, I have previously experienced all seasons in the space of a couple of hours!
After a few days settling in I was ready to get out there and set up for a shot. Although a very popular spot I’d not previously visited Talisker Bay (I’m normally distracted by the distillery!) so headed over for a peek. Upon arriving at the beach I couldn’t believe that I’d neglected this amazing seascape previously, it is an absolutely beautiful and rugged bay with the most glorious grey sand creating these wonderful textures.
The weather forecast for the next morning was not good, grey relentless drizzle for the entire day. Undeterred I gathered my waterproofs and drove up to the famed Quiraing, I was as much up for the walk and bracing fresh air as anything else. As I walked along the Quiraing I passed the usual compositions that so many photographers have captured over the years. At each of these I stopped for a few moments, taking in the various scenes, all of which are stunning in this very alien landscape. I was however uninspired photographically to set up for any of those shots as I’d seen them so many times. Onwards I continued in the rain, enjoying every step of the walk, looking instead for off the cuff shots of random sheep, nonchalantly sheltering from the rain. Suddenly I heard the call of a Raven, this really excited me as this mountain dwelling bird, steeped in folklore enhanced the atmosphere of the location further still. I was travelling light and had only brought one lens, a 40mm prime, not ideal for wildlife photography. Luckily, I didn’t need a close up of the Raven, if I could just capture it in the frame, soaring between these brooding mountain spires I’d be happy.
Where Ravens Soar
I’d seen it written in a book about Skye that no photograph can ever capture the mood of the dramatic Quiraing, yet with these simple monochrome images, for me they come pretty close to evoking the atmosphere on this particular day. I’m much happier with these than the kind of glorious sunrise that I’d liked to have seen in years past. Furthermore I’d ventured further and really experienced this landscape fully, I was exhilarated by the mood and sighting of Ravens. All of this enriched the experience more than perhaps a colourful sunrise could have.
For two or three on days on this trip I spent hours driving around, stopping off at various bays, or any sight that caught my eye, such as the decaying house in the image below. If you’ve never been to Skye I can tell you that it is deceivingly large and takes hours to drive around; not that the driving is a drag, on the contrary it’s absolutely beautiful and interesting around every corner. I was there in late March which is pretty much the same time I’d visited on previous trips, yet the island seemed busier. Could this be the Instagram effect? At the foot of the Old Man of Storr, which has become so iconic (for obvious reasons!), the number of cars was staggering, I chose to give it a miss for this trip instead seeking out quieter spots.
Starlings, a fleeting moment
This influx of tourists earlier in the year had intrigued me a little, it seemed that most of the people on the island that I came across where tourists. I got speaking to a few of them, German, French, Polish, American and below, Xia. Xia was born in China, lived Seattle, loved the Isle of Skye. When I saw Xia in his kilt I just had to ask to take his portrait, here at Staffin Bay. Xia seemed quite flattered to have his portrait taken; when I told him that I was from Yorkshire he instantly got to mentioning his petrol head hero Jeremy Clarkson. My personal views on whom I shall keep to myself!
I was finding this travelogue style of photography very refreshing; a new and much needed dimension has crept in to my photography travels and has given me that spark that we so often need to develop as photographers.
Of course I was also on the lookout for more traditional landscape compositions too. I’d driven past the remains of Duntulm Castle a couple of times previously. It doesn’t particularly look very impressive from the roadside but this time around I decided to have a little walk around. Conditions were incredibly windy, as I walked down the headland in to the bay where the castle is situated I was very glad to have made the effort on this occasion. Duntulm Castle looking broodingly gothic from the jagged rocks below, it was a real surprise that these remains looked so imposing. The history of the castle site is a long and macabre one, originally thought to have been an ancient Pictish fort which got its name from a Viking who seized it in the early days of the Norse invasion. To cut a very long story short, the castle has been fought over many times throughout the ages, with bloody clan wars all part of its very colourful history. It is also said to be inhabited by many ghosts! If you’re interested in the history and folklore of Skye, I can highly recommend the book ‘, Skye the Island and its Legends, by Otta Swire, purchased from the bookstore in Portree.
The very Gothic, Duntulm Castle.
The Isle of Raasay has been on my list of places to visit since my first time on Skye, when I looked over to the island from the well known vantage point of the Old Man of Storr. Being based in Sconser where the ferry terminal is situated I decided to board the ferry. A very pleasant 20-minute crossing with stunning views all round; OS map in hand I was ready excited to explore. I hit the road and the first thing I came across was the Raasay distillery, I had to pop in of course, purchased a bottle and set off on my way again. As I drove around this island stopping in various bays, I found the atmosphere very similar to Unst in the Shetlands. With a definite ‘Island feel’, by that I mean that at times on Skye, it’s so vast that it’s easy to forget you’re actually on an island. On Raasay there is more of a remoteness about it, one can seek solitude and really connect with the elements. It’s a place you can go to detach yourself from the daily grind, a week here would see you fully recharged and at peace. I felt at one with the elements, an eagle soared overhead and the wind was howling. The island felt welcoming and despite its remoteness, safe and pure.
The beautiful Isle of Raasay.
Elgol is a well known and popular spot for landscape photographers and tourists, with arguably one of the most dramatic beaches in the UK, with huge boulders dominating a rugged coastline, looking across to the Cuillin mountain range. For this visit however I was keen to do a boat trip from Elgol over to Loch Coruisk, which is flanked by the mountain peaks of the unmistakable Black Cuillins. I boarded one of the ‘Misty Isle’ boat tours, which is an incredibly friendly family run business that has been in operation since the 1960’s. What I experienced on that boat trip blew me away, sailing up to the jetty at Loch Coruisk was absolutely spectacular, where the River Scavaig flows in to the sea had a crystalline purity to it. The River Scavaig is believed to be the shortest river in the UK at only a few hundred meters long, what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in location. What I felt at Loch Coruisk was one of the most emotive scenes of pure wilderness that I’ve experienced and really puts one’s life in perspective.
We just had a couple of hours to explore Loch Coruisk and in that time it wasn’t possible to get the shots I’d have liked, partly due to the time of day, but I was happy with the travelogue styles pics that I managed to grab whilst there, including a few portraits. All good reason for another trip when more time is available to really settle in to one of the most dramatic settings that I have visited in the UK, and I’ve travelled from the most southerly to the most northerly point of our beautiful lands.
Loch Coruisk, definitely one for further exploration and a wonderful boat ride across from Elgol.
Father & Son at the helm.
The view from the boat.
For my last day on Skye I had a brief window before having to travel back home. With that in mind I headed to Sligachan, which is pretty much a roadside shot and very popular one. Arriving just before sunrise I waded out in to the water and set up my tripod. It was a beautiful crisp, clear morning and I was rewarded with a nice scattering of clouds over the Cuillins, with the mountainside bathed in soft early morning light. A wonderful way to end my week here, and for once no other photographers at this well known spot, I had the place to myself, bliss!