Published on January 1, 2015 by Simon Baxter
A trip to the Isle of Skye starts off on the right foot and ends with a high as I have to pass right through Glencoe; A world class location for any landscape photographer.
It’s a shame that I could not spend a full day exploring Glencoe, it was just a quick stop off as we had a lot of driving still to do. My plan was to photograph Buachaille Etive Mor en route to Skye. This is a prominent peak, which is instantly recognisable. I wanted to concentrate much more on the form and the shape of the mountain, rather than the landscape in which it sits.
Image captured just in time, the sun had now set and it was time to continue on.
The Isle of Skye does not disappoint, it truly is a landscape photographer’s playground. I was lucky enough to get 2 fantastic days of weather. The first day was crisp and still, with minus temperatures, snow and frost. Day 2 was sunshine and showers, with foreboding skies, which really brought the landscape to life.
The map below shows all of the locations in which the images in this blog were taken, just click on the red dots to reveal which image was taken there. Hopefully this will help if you are planning a trip.
I visited Skye at the end of December, when the days are short and the weather is fickle. If the weather forecast goes your way, then visiting at this time of year will reward you with the opportunity to shoot stunning landscapes in quality light all day long.
I had done a little research on the best places to shoot, however I much prefer to explore and find my own locations and view points. I had only 2 days on the island so exploring was not an option, instead I decided to shoot the classics. There is nothing wrong with this, after all, they are classics for a reason and will result in quality material for your portfolio. As well as shooting the classics, I kept one eye on my surroundings at all times which resulted in some of me best images. I can’t tell you the amount of times that I pulled the car over to shoot the stunning scenery.
On all of my travels, the number one priority is to be in control, whether that means driving your own car, hiring a car or using a private guide. This means you can explore, run your own timetable and pull over for impromptu photo shoots. Can you imagine how devastated you would be to have to pass a scene like the one above and not be able to pull over to capture the stunning view.
Pulling over to shoot the scenery became a bit of theme on this trip. This was possible because of the time of year, offering sumptuous light all day long and the Isle of Skye is not short of stunning scenery, begging to be photographed. It actually makes it quite difficult to get anywhere.
Driving past Loch Slapin, with the foreboding skies looming over the snow capped Cuillins Hills, I knew there would be an image here. I chose to shoot portrait using a long lens to really emphasise the scale of the mountain. I used a polarizer to darken the water in the foreground in order to balance the image with the dark skies and the reflection of the house really helps draw the eye in.
Again, it is difficult to get to your destination as there are compositions around every corner.
Driving towards Elgol to shoot the Cuillins range, I noticed some stunning mountain views with a river in the distance. I could not have dreamed I would find a composition like this. The light was not at its best and I can only imagine how good this image would be at sunrise. Certainly one to return to.
So far, I have only showed you images that were unplanned. It’s quite rare for me to shoot like this. Usually I have a plan and I stick to it. I am a firm believer in less being more, it is much better to plan and execute one or two quality images rather than churning out a lot of mediocrity. This trip, however, turned out to be the exception.
Portree is the “capital” of Skye and in the winter time, this was the only place I could find a warm place to get breakfast and a coffee and even this was delayed as I spotted this serene view from the car park. Well worth shooting. Portree its self is worth visiting. It is full of cafes, gift shops & galleries and is a perfect place to recharge and refresh.
You will drive right around Loch Slapin on your way to Elgol, which is a must for any photographer. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, the loch offers many photo opportunities, whether you want drama and mood, or something more quaint. This loch seemed to have it all.
Now that I have got the impromptu images out of the way, I will try to explain my plan of action for the 2 days. As I mentioned earlier, I did not have time to explore so I decided to visit locations which would give me the best chance of leaving with at least one quality image. For me, one image from a short trip is all I aim for. As photographers, if we produce 12 top quality images, worthy of a frame in a year then we have had an excellent year. Of course this is all subjective and only you can decide if your image is exceptional or not. If you think it is, then it is. Shoot for yourself first and the critics 2nd.
I had previsualised what I wanted to achieve from 4 locations on Skye and none of my images matched what I had visualised. This isn’t a bad thing, of course it is impossible to get exactly what I want as I have never been to these locations and I can’t control the elements, but by visualising images, it gave me something to work towards, rather than aimlessly wondering and shooting.
My 4 chosen locations were The Quiraing, Elgol, Old Mann of Storr and the Fairy Pools.
The Quairaing presented a couple of challenges, the 1st being the road leading up to the car park. It had been snowing and was extremely icy, which makes the steep, twisting road almost impassible. I had anticipated the winter conditions and fitted my trusty steed with winter tyres, which to my amazement handled the road without any problems at all.
The next problem was the light. A bank of cloud on the horizon had scuppered any chance of a stunning sunrise, which meant I now had to shoot directly in to harsh light; not my preferred technique, but this was the case at this time of year so I made the best of it by exposing or the foreground and for the sky. I then blended the images in Photoshop. I am not 100% happy with the final image, but I feel it was the best I could do on the day.
After driving around for most of the day shooting impromptu images of the stunning Landscape, I arrive at my sunset location of Elgol where I hoped to shoot the Cuillins hills. The light was outstanding and the mountain range was awe inspiring. I must have spent an hour walking up and down the coast looking for compositions. The tide was out which was not ideal, however in the end I decided on a stream which was flowing over the rocks and straight out to sea, offering a prefect leading line to the stunning Cuillins Hills. Of course when in this situation, you have to get stuck in. There was no messing about, the light was peaking and composition was a strong one; in we go. Standing right in the middle of the flowing water I got my shot and it was totally worth the soaking.
Day 2 and the plan was to visit The Old Man of Storr at sunrise. I would have much preferred to hike up and around the old man, however I simply did not have the time, so I was forced to find a composition closer to the road.
This waterfall offered an obvious composition and the more I worked the area, the more the waterfall became the focus point and not The Old Man like I had intended.
My next stop was to be the Fairy Pools. I had very much been looking forward to this as they seem to offer an infinite amount of photo opportunities. By now the weather had started to deteriorate and the showers were becoming more frequent, so I could not spend as much time at the pools as I would have liked. The pools are crystal clear, with a vibrant blue colour to them. Even in the middle of winter it was tempting to go for a swim. They looked so inviting. There are dozens of waterfalls cascading in to the pools, with dominant mountains in the background, so finding a composition was not difficult. I could quite easily spend a full day just shooting the Fairy Pools. It is a shame I was only on Skye for 2 days, I think 2 weeks would have been much better.
I still had a couple of hours left before dark and noticed that we were not far from Talisker Bay. This was not a planned location, however because of the rain I had retreated to the pub for a coffee. The showers were on and off and the wind was picking up. If there is one place you are sure to get good images in bad weather, it is the beach.
I had this idea of using lines in the sand to draw the viewer to a bold, moody sky, however the tide was in and there was no sand to be seen, only boulders. The black rock was sumptuous and really complimented the dark skies. I used a polarizer to tone down the reflections on the wet rock. Both images reflect the day’s mood perfectly.
My short trip to Skye was a success. I had aimed for 3 good images and feel I have accomplished that. My regret is only have 48 hours. I would love to return for longer and explore high up in the Cuillins Hills and spend a full day really exploring the Fairy Pools. Skye is wonderful, if you are a keen landscape photographer it is an absolute must. And don’t forget, if you come from the south, you have the pleasure of driving through Gelncoe twice. A lovely bonus to top and tail your trip.
Thanks for reading.