Category Archives: Scotland

St. Kilda – Part 2. A photographer’s Perspective

I’d actually been to St. Kilda on 3 separate occasions, prior to this trip. St. Kilda is renowned for it’s bad weather, but on each occasion I’d been, I’d landed on a bright, sunny, warm day so I didn’t feel that my images had captured to true essence of the place.

 

I’d been captivated by the look and feel of the island from the first time I went in 2010 and I wanted to experience that feeling of true isolation, but I also wanted the opportunity to create some images that I felt showed the real character of these islands on the edge of the known world. Day trips are fine for getting a taste of the island, but staying overnight would mean that I’d have an opportunity to produce some images in softer end of day light.

 

My old boss often used to say, “be careful what you wish for” and I must say this was in my mind when I was wishing for atmospheric conditions. Now, being a novice camper, having warm, dry conditions did make my camping experience that much more enjoyable, so I was reasonably glad I didn’t have the damp, misty, windy conditions that often prevail on the islands.

Once set up it was a fascinating experience to watch the boat I’d arrived on, leave. I was totally on my own in the campsite, so if my stove didn’t work, I’d have to survive on cold food. However, I needn’t have worried, the stove was fine and my Wayfarer packet meals were quite pleasant to eat. Which is more than I could say for my reserve de-hydrated meals which I’d have to eat to survive, rather than for pleasure if my ride home was delayed!

So camp set, meal eaten, it was time for a recce. One of the drawbacks to photographing St. Kilda is, if you want to shoot into the sun at sunrise or sunset, then you must climb a minimum of 900 feet. As it turned out the sky clouded over, so the sunset was a bit blank that first evening, meaning I got to bed a bit earlier than I might have done. I set my alarm for 3.15 and had a remarkably comfortable night’s sleep thanks to my Thermarest inflatable mattress. 3.15am dawned heavily overcast, so I reset the alarm for 5am, but woke to dull, damp, grey conditions, so I lie in was in order.

By the time I’d had my breakfast and a shower in the very warm, smart ablution block, the sky had cleared and it was time for more exploring. I climbed the 1300 feet to the radar station and found a good location the evening’s sunset shoot. The hoped for nice soft light materialised late in the afternoon allowing me a chance to get some nice images of the village, before setting off on the 1200 foot climb to shoot the sunsetting behind Soay. This proved a steep climb and not helped by the attentions of the Skuas (Bonkseys). Once in place the location proved great and the light promising, but once again it clouded over before sunset, so I arrived back nearer 11pm, rather than the midnight that it might have been.

I had planned to do an overnight time-lapse, but the cloud cover rendered this a non-starter. 3.15am the following morning soon came around and proved to be very overcast, so back to sleep again, before being awoken by glorious light streaming into the tent as the clouds broke around 5am. Needless to say I was up, dressed and out in flash. The light looked gorgeous in the bay, so I followed the light towards the Mistress Stone and spent a fantastic hour or so enjoying the “photographer’s” dappled light over Ruival.

I wandered back to camp for a quick breakfast before heading out to make the most of this lovely light in Glen Mor, then all too soon it was time to break camp and make my way to the boat. Packing up in the dry was a pleasure and I hate to think what it would have been like if it was raining! So, whilst nice weather definitely had it’s upsides, I still haven’t come away with any mood, misty images of Boreray or the sea stacks. Who knows, I might just have to go again to get those images. It’s taken me a long time to achieve my ambition to camp on St. Kilda, but it was worth all the trouble and heartache, as the experience lived up my expectations. One of the wonderful things about achieving your ambitions, is that it allows you to have some new ones! So, roll on the next adventure.

North Uist from Janet’s perspective….

Our home for the week overlooking Vallay Strand

Every year we like to visit the Hebrides for our annual holiday. It’s a place to be refreshed, renewed and feel at peace.

We’ve been visiting the Isle of Mull for many years and in recent years we have also expanded our travels to other islands such as Eigg, Harris and recently North Uist.

Mull is like a second home to us, a familiar place where the pace of life slows and we can immerse ourselves in our passion for wildlife and the outdoors. We both love the island and I’m sure if we had been younger we would have moved there permanently.

Last year we discovered the Isle of North Uist, we’d visited Harris a number of times and expected North Uist to be similar but it was completely different in character and it captured our hearts in the same way that Mull had all those years ago.

Primarily a crofting community it is slowly opening itself up to visitors. A haven for wildlife and famous for its wildflower meadows (machair), it suited us down to the ground.

Last year we booked a week at the end of June in the hope of coinciding our visit with the machair being at its best. Unfortunately for us it had been a cold spring and the machair was barely ready to flower. Though it gave us an opportunity to explore the island and get to know the place a bit better and we decided to go back this year. It’s always a bit hit and miss booking cottages and while we had a lovely cottage near Balranald nature reserve last year, the view wasn’t great, so we did a bit of scouting around and found a fabulous cottage overlooking three square miles of tidal bay at Malacleit.

Getting to North Uist is a bit of a trek for us, it’s just far enough away at 450 miles to warrant an overnight stay at both ends of the holiday. Fort William on the way there and Ballachulish on the way back. We catch the ferry from Uig on the Isle of Skye and cross the turbulent waters of the Minch which takes about two hours. We have only been across the Minch once in calm waters and were really happy to see whales and dolphins from the ferry as well as countless seabirds.

We’d travelled from Fort William in a storm and it continued as we crossed on the ferry in into the first night on Uist. Really heavy rain stopped us going out to explore, so a night in with a glass of wine was called for. The weather was due to improve for the rest of the week so our spirits were high.

Sunday morning dawned clear, bright and calm. Traditionally Sunday is a day when the car stays parked and we explore our immediate vicinity and stretch our legs after all that travelling, but Richard had booked the boat to St. Kilda to camp out there for a few days. A quick trip to Berneray to drop him off then I was free to do some exploring and getting to know the area. 

The cottage proved to be in the perfect location overlooking Vallay Strand. The tidal bay empties to leave a large expanse of beach twice a day. The colours of the ebbing and flowing tides are a wonder to behold, it ranged from slate grey to brilliant vibrant turquoise. The sand is a creamy white and as the tide ebbs and flows the reveal ever changing shapes and layers of colour.

The main reason we went in July was to see the wild flower meadows that the island is so famous for and we weren’t disappointed. A walk through the accessible meadows (most are behind fences to keep the sheep out) is a joy for the senses, the heady scent of the flowers transports you to an era when meadows were the norm across most of the country. Bees, butterflies and insects abound as well as insect eating birds. An ecosystem at its best, long may it last. A worry about the viability of it all is that the islands rely on EU subsidies to keep this way of life going. What will happen when we leave the EU is anyone’s guess. I truly hope this unique way of life is not lost.

As well as the meadows, North Uist is all about wide open spaces, big vistas and turbulent weather. There are hardly any trees on the island to stop the westerly gales scouring the land in the winter time. The storms must be a sight to behold. The folk as well as the sheep and the wildlife must be incredibly hardy.

The people are some of the friendliest you are likely to meet. At the very least you get a wave, and they love to talk. I got talking to a lady who was telling me that living in paradise does have some downsides, the weather was top of the list! The other was the work involved for the peat fires, cutting, stacking, drying the peat is back breaking work.

All in all, a fantastic week, the wild flowers and wildlife were glorious, the weather was decent and the place worked it’s magic as always.

Would I go again? You bet I would.

Could I live there? No, it’s very remote and the weather in winter would drive me bonkers.

If you haven’t yet been to the Hebrides I can highly recommend North Uist, a truly fabulous, unique place.

Capturing The Moment

People frequently ask us, “Do we often come up with the same image when out shooting together?” Well I guess the simple answer is yes sometimes, but more often than not it’s the smallest of detail that separates the best image of the set from the also ran, though we do sometimes have to fight for ownership of the best image!

A prime example of this was the Eilean Donan image from a few years ago. We were travelling to Harris and stopped for lunch at the Eilean Donan visitor centre. Looking out of the window, we both spotted the same image in the same instant. As it was tipping down with rain, I ran to the car and came back with one camera, one tripod and an umbrella and we took it in turns to shoot the same scene. As it turned out, this was one of those rare occasions when we both interpreted the scene in exactly the same way, which is unusual for us. Fast forward a week and when it came to processing the image, we hadn’t a clue who took it! In a fit of magnanimity, I said to Janet “You have it” and its a decision I’ve regretted ever since……..

Dreich Morning at Eilean Donan Castle

When shooting at the same location, we usually wander off in different directions and come back with totally different images, however on some occasions we do end up standing side by side and it’s interesting to see how much better one image can be than another taken moments later. A prime example of this is Janet’s Minus Five image. Her landscape version is one of my all-time favourites, whilst my upright version is weak!

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Whereas Janet’s Misty Morning at Loch Ard is so, so close to my version, but hers still works much better in my opinion. 700-2-10027 800-1-4677

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On the other hand, these two images were shot a minute apart, the first by Janet and the panoramic by me and on this occasion I think mine has captured the better light, though as always its very subjective which people will consider to be the better image.

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Light can change so rapidly a scene can be transformed in a matter of minutes and can produce a set of subtly different images, such as these three images from Loch Ard this October, also shot only minutes apart.

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So I think you can see, it really doesn’t matter if we do stand side by side, it’s the subtle differences that differentiate a good image from a great one.

 

Cape Wrath

Hearing stories of the car park at Storr on the Isle of Skye being filled with photographer’s cars and queues of people at the Fairy Pools on Skye fills me with horror. Queuing at a location is not my idea of landscape photography, for me it should be a relatively solitary, contemplative occupation, so when Janet and I started to plan this year’s itenery it had to be somewhere quiet and relatively unknown. So Iceland was definitely out, no queuing to shoot icebergs on beaches for us and as much as I love Lofoten and feel I have plenty of locations I want to visit, the thought of joining up to 50 others on Utakliev beach has little appeal.

We wanted somewhere wild and remote and considered Orkney and Shetland and even looked at the Faroes and Fair Isle, but it was a chance viewing of Nick Crane at Cape Wrath on the “Coast” program that really got us thinking. I was very taken with his visit to Sandwood Bay, so we decided to investigate the Cape Wrath area. In the end we found a super little cottage on the edge of Balnakiel bay that would serve as our base for a week.

Balnakeil

The location proved perfect, with miles of quiet beach stretching out before us. We could sit in the window and watch the sun setting in the bay in front of us, perfect! The only drawback was the constant wind that made using the tripod difficult.

The original plan was for me to take the tent and wild camp for a night or two, but for various reasons that didn’t happen, but I still had a fancy for a recce visit to Cape Wrath. This was a mini adventure in itself, requiring a ride on the ferry from Keoldale across the Kyle of Durness to meet the minibus to Cape Wrath itself. The 12 mile route on a very poor road took a full hour but we were entertained by our genial driver Reg from London! Now there’s a commute!

Kyle of Durness

Keoldale

Those that were savvier with the area all piled off the bus with their camping gear at the track to Kearvaig Bay, leaving me feeling very envious. The Cape itself is an interesting location with it’s high cliffs, but Kearvaig is definitely on my list of must visit locations next time we’re up in the far north West.

Cape Wrath

The following day I just had to visit Sandwood Bay, so we drove down to Blairmore and prepared for the trek across the moors to Sandwood. I wasn’t sure just how long the trip to Sandwood would take me, so out came the spare lenses from my camera bag and in went water and sandwiches. The 4 1/2 mile hike proved much easier than expected, with the first two miles being on a reasonable moorland track, then the final stretch being on a rough, but well defined path.

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I made good time and reached my first glimpse of the bay in 1 ¼ hours and wow what a view!

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Well worth the trek. It took another 15 minutes to walk down the dunes to the beach, but what a place! The roar of the wind and the crashing of the waves gave it amazing atmosphere. I’d definitely messed up not bringing the tent, I think bedding down with that sound track in my ears would have been terrific!

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood Bay

Sandwood BayFor anyone traveling in the far North West area with a tent, Kearvaig and Sandwood Bays are both definite must do’s and places I really must return to visit one day.

Project St. Kilda

Skye

My pet project to camp and photograph on St. Kilda is proving to be a much harder nut to crack than I imagined. My first attempt in September 2013 resulted in us sitting in a caravan on the Isle of Harris for 4 days waiting for gales and lashing rain to blow out. The weather finally cleared on the Thursday, but all I got was a day trip to the islands on an uncharacteristically bright sunny day, so it was back to the drawing board and time for plan B.

Soon after I got home, I got an email from an old friend saying he had found a boat going out of Uig on the Isle of Skye. This would mean a shorter and cheaper trip overall, so we duly booked for a trip in May 2014. This fitted in nicely for us as Janet and I were already due to be on Mull for a week, meaning I could go direct from Mull to Skye and have a couple of days photographing Skye.

We left Mull on the Saturday in glorious sunshine, but with the promise of worse to come. The weather was due to be wet on Saturday and Sunday (Which it was) and clear on Monday, which it did. I put Janet on a train to home from Oban, then headed north into the rain. I arrived on Skye mid-afternoon in heavy rain and cloud so thick I couldn’t see the old Man of Storr from the road as I passed. I pressed on to the Quiraing for a quick look, which is another truly amazing place, then headed for my digs and something to eat.

The alarm went off at 4 am the following morning and I rose to dull, drizzly morning, with a faint promise of the sky clearing on the horizon. Once up at the Quiraing car park, the drizzle had turned into persistent rain and only one other car load of photographers (From the Czech republic) had been daft enough to turn out on such a morning and at least they had the sense to be tucked up in sleeping bags. I waited until 5 am then set off along the track to find the famous Quiraing tree. The wind and rain was lashing down and streams of water were running down the track. Once in position, I used the umbrella to shield the camera from the elements, but it was a right pantomime trying to get an ND grad onto the camera without it getting wet. Once set up, I was able to lift the umbrella briefly and get the shots. With a few shots in the bag, I returned to the guest house for a couple of hours sleep before enjoying a hearty breakfast.

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After breakfast, I headed back down the island towards Storr and what an amazing place! As I continued the long climb, the pinnacles finally started to appear through the gloom. I had planned to climb on and get above the pinnacles, but with the rain blowing into my face, I had to descend and hide in the lee of some hills to get some shelter to keep the lens dry. My efforts to work with the umbrella causing much amusement with the climbers!

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Once back down I headed in search of lunch, only to run foul of Sunday closing on the island, so I headed over to the ferry terminal at Uig. I met up with a couple of non-photographer friends in Uig that evening and they dropped the bombshell that the weather was changing and a low was blowing in. A quick conversation with Dereck the boatman confirmed that Monday was due to be good, but Tuesday would be poor, with only a 50/50 chance of getting back off St. Kilda on Wednesday and very little chance after that until the following week. This left me with the choice of yet another day trip, or take the chance of being marooned on the island for at least a week! As I had commitments in Yorkshire at the weekend, I reluctantly chose the day trip.

St. Kilda

Monday morning dawned clear, bright and calm as we made the 4 hour trip out to St. Kilda. An hour clear of Harris you can see St. Kilda in the distance, but I doesn’t seem to get much bigger for the next couple hours, then suddenly you are there! The sea got quite choppy as we neared St. Kilda, so any shots of the islands shrouded in mist would have to wait until later. Once on the island the scene was as amazing as ever (This is now my 3rd day trip, so it starting to look quite familiar). As we walked up the main street the whole area was full of the cutest tiny Soay lambs, but as we were only due to be on the island for 3-1/2 hours I’d made the foolish decision to travel light and had taken my 70-200mm lens out of my bag at the last minute. This would have been really useful as the sheep are really wild and quite hard to get close to.

Ancient Soay sheep on the island of St. Kilda

The weather was reasonable, so I headed for Dun to re-visit my Dun island shot. Whilst over there the sheep kept unexpectedly running into me, so I managed to get some nice shots using the 24-120 lens. After a quick lunch, I headed back to the main street to shoot the village and the beach. A short, but heavy rain shower sent us all heading for cover and the first signs of the weather changing were very much in evidence, as the wind was getting up. Our trip round Boreray was now very much in doubt.

The island of Dun off St. Kilda

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After a quick tea and cake break on the pier, we all trooped back onto the boat for the sea stack tour. The tour round Boreray and the sea stacks is normally a highlight of the trip, but the wind had risen and the sea was already quite rough, making photographing almost impossible. After an hour of battling round the sea stacks, we headed off into the swell of the open sea for the 4 hour trip back to Uig.

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I have to say that the trip is amazing and one I would highly recommend to anyone with a strong stomach, but the prospect of the 5-1/4 hour trip on the rolling and pitching SS Huey is a pretty daunting one and even the cabin girl was sick! Now I’m back home and over the disappointment of another failure, so it’s back to the drawing board and time to put plan C in action…………………

 

News bits & bats………..

Conscious that we have neglected the blog badly recently in favour of Facebook, we have resolved to make an effort from now on.

Lots going on at the moment, so this post is going to be more of a newsletter.

Naturally Inclined Exhibition

Last Thursday saw us head to York to Priestley’s to take our “Naturally Inclined” exhibition down and we were very pleasantly surprised to find that we had had a late flurry of sales, so all in all it’s been a really good exhibition for us. We are indebted to Issy and Rob at Priestley’s and Andy Dalton at RAW for giving us this opportunity to exhibit our work not only a new area, but also in such a lovely gallery space. We wish them every success in the future.
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Thorp Perrow

We were planning to go to Bransdale and Thorp Perrow to shoot bluebells later this week, but Monday dawned cloudy bright so we decided to chance the crowds and head for Thorpe Perrow before the weather worsened. As luck would have it, we beat the crowds and the conditions were just perfect and we topped off the day with a nice ploughman’s lunch in the cafe.

Don’t you just love the vibrant shades of green the trees go in spring? And after the disappointing lack of bluebells at Ellerburn on Friday, we were blown away with the carpet of bluebells at Thorp Perrow.
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Scotland

Next off we are heading for Scotland where we’ll be staying in a remote cottage on the Isle of Mull, with views north to Rhum, Skye and Eigg. I then head off for a few nights on Skye where I’ll have a go at photographing the Quirang, then weather permitting I’ll be heading to St. Kilda to camp for a few nights. I’ve been to St. Kilda on day trips a couple of times, but always on un-characteristic bright sunny days. St. Kilda has really captured my imagination, so I really want to do it justice and capture the essence of the place, so I’m really hoping for some moody changeable weather.
Sunrise over the Islands

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Crafted by Hand

Then we head for Masham and “Crafted by Hand”. Crafted by hand is a really well organised and promoted art fair, so we are looking forward to a good couple of days. Once that’s over we’ll have to get down to some serious photo processing.
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Keep shooting

Richard & Janet