The Skye’s the Limit – 5 Day Workshop Review November 2015
The Volvo estate was crammed full of camera equipment and personal possessions and there was a seven and a half hour journey ahead of us from Preston in Lancashire to Portree on the Isle of Skye in Scotland. On this occasion, my good friend Tony was driving the 396 mile journey and I was grateful as it will allow me time to view all of the beautiful scenery north of Glasgow. The drive up always feels quicker than the drive back but I am heading up to Skye to lead a five day workshop with three regular clients of mine. I could not wait to arrive on the magical island of Skye and I get so excited at the prospect of returning for five days twice a year, once in November and again in February. Ever since I first stepped foot on Skye back in November 2008, it won me over, completely. I feel a connection with the island, like so many other people I know. There is a real magnetic pull for me and I always find it difficult to leave.
On meeting all three of my clients for the final hour of light on the Tuesday, our first photographic location was the wonderful Skye bridge. This is a fantastic structure that has a controversial history. It was opened in 1995 at a cost of £25 million, the government halted the car ferry crossing, forcing people in having to use the bridge and the toll charge for crossing the bridge was set at an incredible £5.70 each way. Protests followed, Skye residents refused to pay therefore breaking the law, most were fined heavily, one person was briefly jailed and at the end of 2004, the government bought the bridge for £27 million and the toll was scrapped. Still I find it a wonderful and elegant looking bridge and it makes for a fantastic place to start our workshop.
The following morning we awoke to a brooding sky threatening rain at any moment. We ate a hearty breakfast at our beautiful bed and breakfast (Balloch Guest House), the owners Fiona and Robbie could not do enough for us and made us feel very welcome. It helped booking the whole place for ourselves as it felt like home from home. After breakfast, we travelled 18 miles north and arrived at the Quiraing, an amazing geology consisting of huge areas of landslips. We quickly got down to the business of finding a location that suited the darkening skies and before long I had set up my tripod in a gully where a lone tree protruded from the side of the banking. It is an iconic viewpoint and a well photographed one but with a 100ft+ drop only four feet away while wet, slippery rocks lead you down to it, great care has to be taken not to slide off the edge. Tripod set up, I got the shot, called for Gareth to position his camera onto my tripod and the heaven’s opened and they did not stop an hour later. We were all drenched, including John and Kwame who were braving it out a little further up but despite the rain, the Quiraing and Trotternish, its adjoining neighbour, is still a magnificently beautiful part of Skye. This whole region was formed during the Jurassic period, about 175 million years ago when much of this landslip area was underwater, but 50 million years ago, the water retreated exposing the rocks you see today. Click here to read an interesting article on the whole area. I find it fascinating.
And so, with the cameras having barely been fired, lunch in the cars followed while we attempted to dry out. I always bring along two large Thermos flasks full of hot water and make tea and coffee on the go so that everyone has a hot drink inside them. It is important to try and keep people warm and hydrated (comes from having spent three years training to become a general nurse recently 2008-12).
With regards to the weather, I used my considerable experience from previous visits on Skye to excellent effect and decided to lead the group to Duntulm, a small place located just nine miles up round the coast to capture the sunset. It lies on the left side of the coast on the right upper section of Skye but what a difference it was. Duntulm is famous for its ruined castle which dates back to the 14th and 15th centuries and it is often the main subject in any photograph of the area but on this occasion, it was the amazing bouts of orange light that lit up the sky in the opposite direction that attracted our attention. The dark, heavy set brooding clouds that hung low as though weighting the rich colours of the sky down into the horizon were just amazing. Shooting from the roadside, we did not have to venture far and while Skye does possess some stunning locations that demand some effort in reaching, Duntulm is not one of them and as such can be enjoyed by everyone. Tony wandered down to the shore and shot from a different viewpoint. You can see him bottom right in the following image.
The photography is what draws us to Skye, that much is clear but I also love the social interaction between me and my clients during the evenings too. Eating a beautifully prepared meal at either Marmalade, the restaurant within a boutique hotel, or the humongous sized fish and chips at the Antlers Bar and Grill adjoining the Portree Hotel, to the belly filling Indian cuisine at the Taste of India (all Portree based) goes down a whole lot more enjoyably if eaten after a full day’s worth of landscape photography. You kind of feel as though you have earnt it and of course the stories mixed with laughter with fellow photographers always goes down well too.
The following morning (Thursday) I decided to take the group down to Elgol and as neither Gareth, John or Kwame had stepped foot on Skye before, they were in for a real treat. We arrived after breakfast to a wall of water. It was raining unbelievably hard. I find Elgol a strange place, it unsettles me in a way that few places do. Maybe it is because of its location, which is at the end of a long and narrow twelve mile road from Broadford, which seems to take a lifetime to drive, or that you descend down into the harbour from high above and therefore feel hemmed in or just the fact that the Black Cuillins line the shoreline of Loch Scavaig opposite. The Black Cuillins dominate the island and can been seen for miles around and their summits are often shrouded in low lying cloud. They certainly do take on a menacing presence to say the least, certainly in less than favourable conditions but when the sun comes out to play, they can take on a personality less threatening and much more pleasing to look at.
We spent four hours at Elgol, and always within a few feet of the cars as they gave us welcome shelter from the rain. It would stop for a few minutes then unleash another bout of the wet stuff for a few minutes more, it really was a game of cat and mouse with mother nature. The sea was very choppy, and looking more and more threatening so imagine the look of surprise on all our faces when a young couple arrived, got out of their car and started to blow up their kayak, yes you read that right, blow it up with an air pump. We all looked at each other in utter amazement when they took to the water with all of us thinking that it was a very dangerous thing to do not to mention perhaps more than a little irresponsible as they may well require rescuing. Two and a half hours later, they returned only for us to find out that it was their first time in the ocean ever and in those conditions too. They admitted that they were foolish.
We left Elgol and I made the decision to head towards Sligachan as it was en-route back to the B&B and it often produces some interesting images at sunset, not that we were going to actually see the sun as it turned out. The low lying cloud hung around the summits of the surrounding munros which gave a mystical feel about the place. Personally I love nothing more than getting into the water and wading out to the centre where I can feel the water rushing past my feet.
Friday morning arrived and yet again rain was forecast but not until after lunch so we decided to venture over to the wonderfully titled Fairy Pools, a seriously enchanting series of magical waterfalls, plunge pools with their emerald green waters and even an underwater arch, all set to the most haunting backdrop on Skye, the Black Cuillins. Quite unusually we had the whole place to ourselves for much of the morning although the slight drizzle initially would have discouraged many from visiting but it did allow us an uninterrupted but very welcomed period of time in order to capture the stunning scenery minus the tourists and other photographers.
The afternoon was spent at Talisker Bay, which is situated ten miles away and yet takes half an hour to reach. Close by is the world famous Talisker Bay whiskey distillery which sadly we did not visit. Maybe next time. Parked up at the end of a quiet dead end road, followed by a casual, enjoyable but easy twenty minute walk on flat ground, you arrive at a boulder strewn beach which is almost semi-circle in shape. Once the boulders have been negotiated safely, a wonderful black sandy beach awaits and with the single sea stack in the distance, this is as close to being in Iceland as you’re going to get without actually being in Iceland. We had a bit of time to seek out a couple of compositions but a moving tide is a difficult thing to photograph, especially if your composition involves boulders being covered with water. But with some patience and foresight, everybody set their cameras up and captured some lovely images. Long exposure photography using either LEE’s 10 stop Big Stopper filter or their 6 stop Little Stopper filter were made for coastal scenes as my clients sought out ‘a milky water over the rocks’ kind of shot. Long exposure is incredibly popular these days, so much so that I run workshops dedicated to the genre. As the sun started slowly setting over the horizon, I saw a great opportunity to capture the huge sea stack in the distance with some wonderful colours of the sky as a backdrop.
Saturday morning arrived after a lovely Friday evening in the Marmalade restaurant in Portree. The weather was dry with little wind although a sunrise was not forecast so an early 7am breakfast took place courtesy of Fiona and Robbie and not long after sunrise, we arrived at Neist Point Lighthouse. Now Neist Point may only be thirty miles away from Portree but it takes an hour to reach it for the roads are winding but easy. The quick five minute walk from the car saw all of us set up to capture the lighthouse down below. Neist Point is a wonderful location to photograph for it is located at the end of a very high and long peninsula below you. The dramatic shape of the huge rocky peninsula leaves you setting up the camera for the standard composition but once captured, it was time to assist my clients in helping them capture more adventurous images.
Tony happened to mention that it would look good to photograph the lighthouse in the distance and have someone stand on top of the large rocky peninsula. I allowed him the honour of walking down several dozens steps and along and up on to the summit of the peninsula. Well it was his idea after all. True enough, Tony gave the whole scene some a wonderful sense of scale as you can see below. Some minutes later the rain started to fall and we made the decision to head back to base and have an extended image review session with a Photoshop CC and Lightroom CC training session thrown in. Even though we would have preferred being outside among the stunning scenery that Skye has to offer, when the weather turns bad, there is still so much to do inside. Time is most certainly not wasted, not on my workshops anyway.
Sunday morning and our final day on Skye has arrived. We only had a couple of hours to shoot in the morning before we all departed for home at 11am. We went to bed early the night before because the weather forecast promised a beautiful sunrise and so we all decided to venture up the Old Man of Storr two hours before dawn. This is the most demanding location on all of my workshops and I do not take it lightly. En-route to the car park, which was a 15 minute drive away, Tony and I decided to play the full length version of American Pie by Don McLean. At eight and a half minutes long, it would become the perfect way to start the day and before long we were all singing along at the top of our voices, some admittedly better than others.
We parked up in the free car park by the road and set off on the one mile or so journey up to the rocky ledge just above the Storr, some 650 metres up the hill. The path snakes its way through what was the forest plantation (now deforested sadly) and our head torches illuminated the way ahead. We took our time, we were in no hurry. slow and steady wins the day. We stopped often, admired the view as the light started to reveal the truly amazing scenery below us. The views we experienced pushed us onwards and upwards, even if you’re not particularly fit, you can climb up to the Storr easily enough, you simply have to pace yourself. An hour and twenty minutes from leaving the car, we were standing on the rocky platform that overlooks the Storr and what appears to be the world below you. I have travelled around the world, spent a year backpacking in Australia back in 2003, visited New Zealand twice in 2003 and 2008 and I still say that the view from the Old Man of Storr rivals those views I have seen abroad. What made this morning particularly special was that the sunrise and the Met Office had this one predicted perfectly. As the sun started travelling upwards towards the horizon, the colours in the sky grew more and more intense with each passing minute. We were forty minutes before sunrise and this is the best time to be up there with your camera. The cloud formations were simply amazing and the sight of Loch Leathan below us reflecting the beautiful pinks in the water will stay with me forever.
They say a picture paints a thousand words. What we witnessed would have filled War and Peace and this image below ends what was quite simply another amazing workshop with some fantastic people, some incredible locations photographed and more importantly, new friendships made and memories that will last a lifetime. Isn’t that what life is all about?
My next five day Isle of Skye workshop is the 1st-5th October 2018. £650
- Five nights with your own room (five bedroom self catering cottage near Portree)
- Full transport between locations
- Nightly image review session in the cottage
- A post processing training session (Photoshop CC)
- Post workshop help and support