A journey through Isle of Skye, part 1/2

July 06, 2018  •  Leave a Comment

Old man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2018Old man of Storr, Isle of Skye, Scotland, 2018

Last May (19-26th 2018) I went on a photography trip on the beautiful Isle of Skye, Scotland, with my dear friend and photo buddy Sander Grefte. It was about time, almost 2 years after our unforgettable and successful photo trip to Iceland late September 2016. So we've had time to prepare...but also build up great expectations. We'd decided to do things a bit differently: spring instead of fall season, focus on a small area to avoid too much driving (although driving through Iceland with a 4x4 was indisputably the best drive of my life!!), and rent a camper instead of the combination car/ hostels. Well, turns out that those were not the best choices...we all make mistakes...let's move on...

Day 1: Edinburgh to Elgol 

Bags are ready... and far too heavy. What's in my bags? for the tech people, I took with me my Nikon D7100, Sigma 10-20mm, my trusty Tamron 24-70mm (2.8), Tamron Macro 90mm, and the "big Bertha" Tamron 150-600mm since I hoped for some wildlife. A few accessories, Manfrotto tripod 055, few circular filters (polarized and 10-stops), two remotes, and a lot of lens cleaning cloths as Scotland can be quite rainy :). The other bag was filled with all my hiking and most importantly rain clothes and some camping gears as we planned to spend some nights in the tent. 

Departure from home (Nijmegen, NL) at 2am with the last train heading to Amsterdam airport. Sander joined me 20 minutes later in Arnhem. Yes, finally, the adventure starts... in the middle of youngsters traveling back home after what looked like fun nights :)...after the usual airport waiting time we landed in Edinburgh at about the same time we left Amsterdam (8am). Picked up the bags, successfully pass the customs and Jumped in a taxi to the motorhome rental place. Our home for the next week was waiting for us, and to our surprise was much much much, much, bigger than expected! My bad, should have closely checked the size while booking, but to my defence it was anyway the cheapest available. Well, I told myself, that's alright, I've been driving something similar few years back through Canada, with the difference that Isle of Skye has very narrow roads and people drive on the wrong side of the road! Long story short, despite all warnings from the friendly renter, 400 miles later we were short of a wing mirror (: Luckily no additional damages, if we don't count my ego...and wallet. Retrospectively not such a big deal but still had annoyed me the first day of the trip...

Anyhow, we went on and decided to make a first stop at Eilean Donan Castle, where the parking was big enough for us to feel comfortable parking our bus, see below :) This is a very touristic place having been the stage of many movies, including Highlander! There can be only one! Our motorhome, parked at Eilean Donan Castle.iPhone 6 It was low tide which made the foreground a bit busy and distracting but it was nice anyway just to stretch our legs and play a bit with the camera, and have a first view in the background on the black Cuillins mountains of Isle of Skye!

Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland, May 2018Nikon D7100, 16mm, iso 200, f10, 1/320s

Back behind the wheel to eventually reach our playground for the week, Isle of Skye. We had a quite clear selection of locations we wanted to photograph with a rather defined schedule, except for this first evening. Carte blanche. We therefore decided to drive down to Elgol, a little village on the south coast of Skye that was not on our planning. After a long drive on a single track road we had reached Elgol, which by the way is also the end of the road. We found the unique parking with a sign "no overnight parking" and logically decided to stay here for the night. Sun was already set but it was still time for us to go on the field for the blue hour! This is it, finally, lots of wind, rough sound of the waves hitting the rocks, no one around and a sky that was looking promising.  We scouted for half an hour and found some decent foreground with interesting lines in the rocks pointing to the black Cuillins mountains. Played a bit with the exposure time to get water and clouds movement as wanted and that was it, first shot of the week in da box! Good start, good feeling.

View on the black Cuillins mountains from Elgol at blue hour, Isle of SkyeNikon D7100, 10mm, iso 100, f10, 25s.

We were just back at the camper when we felt the first drops...of what turned out to be a non-stop 48 hours rain! 

Day2: Sligachan

We left Elgol early morning and drove to Sligachan under heavy rain. Weather forecast was not looking good but after a couple of hours like caged lions we decided to go on the field anyway. After all, we are not made of sugar and rain can actually be an interesting photography topic. Turns out rain plus wind made a deadly combination for our equipment, almost impossible to get the camera out of the bag without risking serious damages. We walked along the river Allt Dearg mor for about 3 hours and came back completely soaked despite all rain gears. I came back with a single shot, that's a premiere! I had the unpleasant surprise to find the inside of my bag and lenses pretty wet, luckily no damages. We were now finally really happy with our spacious motorhome to hang and dry everything, and cook a proper bacon&eggs! 

Here I am crossing the river Allt Dearg MorPhoto by Sander Grefte, Huawei phone

Sligachan surroundingsNikon D7100, 10mm, iso 100, f7.1, 1/250s Day 3: Old man of Stor and Sligachan

That day we were supposed to be hiking towards Sgurr na Stri, one of the Black Cuillins mountain we could see from Elgol, and spend the night in the tent. But in the morning it was still raining cats and dogs so had to change our plans. Very frustrating as this was top of my list. We decided to drive up north to Old Man of Storr. We thought this famous rock formations could be interesting to photograph under rain and fog. We dressed up again with all rain gears with an additional protection for the bag and hiked up for about an hour...but where the hell are those rocks?? it's supposed to be huge and we can't see anything... just keep walking, and suddenly, 50 meters ahead of us we could see something, rather impressive! Tough conditions but we felt there was something to do. We spent an hour alternating between drying the objective and pressing the shutter, had to be quite quick there to avoid water drop on the picture! we were hoping the fog would clear up a little and we could have a better view on the old man but this time the cold took us, and with our hands almost frozen we decided to go down back to the motorhome. Why did I left my waterproof gloves at home again? amateur!

Sander leading the path to Old man of Stor...which seems to give us the finger??iPhone 6 Old man of Storr, rain and fog, Isle of SkyeNikon D7100, 12mm, iso 100, f9, 1/25s, digitally processed to black & white

After a warm cup of coffee and change to dry clothes we were ready to leave. Last look up and realized the fog was clearing up and that we could actually see the Old Man of Storr from the parking lot!! Damned, we should have stayed up there a little longer and would have had the chance to capture the weather transition...well, too late, let's move on. We drove back to Sligachan and parked at a campsite to hook up electricity and charge the camera batteries. The sky had completely cleared up, unbelievable, we went from full grey to full blue in an hour!! this is not what we wanted! Landscape photographers are not demanding at all, we simply want some clouds, but not too much, at a low altitude, but not blocking the horizon, is that so complicated??!! So we did pretty much the same hike as the day before along the river Allt Dearg mor, but under a quite pleasant evening sunset, what a change!! and we even got some clouds :) But this area revealed a difficult place for me to find some inspiring compositions. After some time I found a decent spot with some nice clouds stuck on the top of mount Glamaig from the red Cuillins in the background. All set, time to get my trusty jetboil on and cook our first yum-yum noodle diner in the field, love those moments. Sounds stupid but it is quite a special moment, when you have found a good spot, created a composition you feel happy with, have the tripod and camera in place but still have some time to enjoy the surroundings with a simple outdoor meal...just forgot the spoons this time, oops. Waited a little bit more to capture the blue hour and around 1am we were back at the campsite.Bed time. We will be back here in few hours to catch the sunrise at around 5am! 

Day 4: Sunrise at Sligachan, day at Glenbrittle and sunset at the Fairy pools

4:30am, alarm goes off. Ouch. Sander already with his head through the roof top checking the lights. Looking at his face it doesn't look too promising. Well, no time for hesitation, rule number 1 is "don't think early morning, just go out on the field". 10 minutes later we were on our way back to river Allt Dearg mor. Third time with different conditions. I was a bit annoyed because I had no real idea where to go, and similar to the evening before still couldn't get a grasp on the area. Sander decided to use the river and waterfall as foreground but I kept going hoping to feel inspired. Tried different compositions, playing with reflection in some puddles or using small plants and flowers as foreground. This was shooting for shooting. A bit frustrated I walked back to join Sander. He had his share of adventure by loosing his filter in the river and having a little refreshing bath to get it back, sounded much funnier than my morning.

Well it's actually only 7am! After a tasty breakfast we drove to Glenbrittle campsite. Here the plan was to relax before going to the famous Fairy Pools for the sunset. And we did enjoy some relaxing time walking on the beach...without cameras! 

View on Loch Brittle from Glenbrittle campsitePanorama, iPhone 6 We then realized there was another waterfall close by, much less traveled by tourist than the Fairy pools. We therefore geared up and walk there under a quite strong sun. This doesn't feel like Scotland. Nice place with a great view on Loch Brittle on one side and the Eas Mor waterfall on the other. I enjoyed the view on Loch Brittle and was starting this could be a nice place for the sunrise the next day, or maybe it's just because I like to be on the sea side, special feeling. 

View on Loch Brittle from Eas Mor WaterfallNikon D7100, 90mm, iso 100, f14, 1/400s Eas Mor waterfallNikon D7100, 10mm, iso 100, f14, 1/30s But we sticked to the plan and moved to the Fairy pools few kilometres further. Wow, this place was crowded, parking full, cars and campers parked on the side of the single track road...yet another interesting driving experience with our bus! Loads of tourists on the path along the river Brittle which has dug some pretty nice pools in the rocks filled with clear green or deep blue water. We walked our way up, until a sign indicating "this is the end of the Fairy pools". Here the magic happened as none of the tourists passed this point, while the best spots were still ahead! we suspect this sign was placed there by a photographer, need to thank this guy. Here the composition is much easier as you want the impressive mountains on the background but the choice in foreground is kind of unlimited. Here I found a spot in the river I really liked, and was only possible to capture thanks to my 10mm lens. The idea was to catch the last sun beam hitting the mountains in the background...but the clouds at the horizon decided otherwise. Let's be honest, at this point of the trip the frustration was growing. Retrospectively, I like this picture and am happy I didn't deleted it. But the feeling on the moment was not so good.

As a photographer I am always looking for those moments of excitement where you feel you have just captured a unique and ephemeral lightning. The moments you feel like you could just go home because you know you have a great shot. In Iceland I had experienced quite some of those moments (e.g. first northern lights) and here, after 4 days, was still waiting for it...But this is part of the game, one cannot predict when it will happen, you just have to keep going on the field, enjoy the great outdoors and be ready for the unexpected! That's what we did, the trip wasn't over!

to be continued....


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