Photographing Scotland - Isle of Skye
Updated: Jan 29, 2020
The Isle of Skye is perhaps one of the best known photography locations in the UK and maybe even the world ? It has everything a landscape photographer could wish for, Heritage, Seascapes, Mountains, Waterfalls, Lochs, the list just goes on and on.
I have seen thousands of pictures from the Isle of Skye and it was somewhere I really wanted to visit and see with my own eyes, a landscape photography mecca if you like.
I knew in advance that it wasn't going to be a case of getting original shots as the vast majority of Skye had been photographed and done very well by many others before me, it was more about having the chance to tread the footsteps that photographers I admired had done before me and seeing these incredible sights for myself, Half of me wasn't even worried about photographing it, it was just about being there.
That said I wasn't going to miss my chance at getting some photos while I was there, that would be madness.
The weather forecast had been looking pretty awful for the week I was staying in Scotland sadly, with the majority of the rain forming over the Isle of Skye and Glencoe areas which typically were the areas I most wanted to visit.
There was a small glimmer of hope on the horizon though, Monday had sun & rain forecast even though the rain was heavy and looking further down the week there was nothing but rain so I wasn't going to miss a chance while it was there even if it was only a slim one.
There were several areas of Skye that I really wanted to visit and I had made a map of the locations and decided on my best times to visit them for the best chances.
One of the main attractions at the Isle of Skye is Eilean Donan Castle which was a simply stunning castle that was on a small island out in the middle of where three lochs meet.
This was going to be my first stop and I intended to be there for sunrise for a number of reasons, mainly to avoid the tourists who flock to this area in their droves and because I really wanted to get first light hitting the castle and surrounding mountains.
The drive from Inverness to Skye was a fairly straight forward one as there was one main road all the way in to Skye from Loch Ness, I was driving down it in pitch black early morning conditions with heavy driving rain which wasn't very encouraging but I couldn't help but notice there were several lochs and loads of mountains on this road and I really wished I had been driving it during day light to see the scenery properly because it looked seriously interesting and I noted it as a back up plan for the drive back that evening if I had time.
I knew i couldn't cover all of Skye's delights in a single day, I could have been there all year and not done that but I knew my most wanted areas and I was going to hit as many as I could.
About five miles from Eilean Donan Castle the rain started to ease a little bit and I was almost holding my breath wondering if the conditions might actually play ball for me.
As I rounded the bend I got my first view of the castle, I can't really print what I said but it would be very fair to say that I was impressed and it was every bit the amazing place I had thought it would be.
I was really keen to get some pictures but the flat grey skies that had plagued the trip so far were still here.
I looked around for a few compositions which seemed to be everywhere and decided on the areas I wanted to go for. I had been very fortunate to have the place to myself and I couldn't believe that no one else was here yet ?
Then it dawned on me, who else would be stupid enough to be standing in the rain in the early hours of Monday morning, Why, Why do we do it ?
I knew the shots were never going to be great with the conditions that I was presented with but even so I wanted to get some reminders of this amazing place so I got busy and started taking a few.
A small bit of light pink had caught on the clouds and it was about as good as it got for me really and I made the best of what I had.
Out of nowhere came a mini JCB style digger which went out on the bridge to the castle and parked up which wasn't anything other than a big yellow ugly blight on the landscape so I called it a day and took a moment to look at the placard which told the history of the castle.
The name Eilean Donan is often mistaken for a persons name but it simply means Island of Donan. The first structure was built on the island in the 13th century as a defensive position from the Vikings who had settled and controlled a lot of north Scotland as well as the waring Scottish clans. Over the years the castle has been added to and in some case had areas removed and during the medieval period it was at it's largest where it occupied most of the island.
Towards the end of the 14th century the castle was reduced to around a 5th of its size, although no one is sure why it is general opinion that it was due to the amount of man power it took to man the castle.
The castle played a large part in the Jackobite risings during the 17th & 18th century where it was ultimately destroyed and lay in ruins at the mercy of the elements for around 200 years.
Lt Colonel John Macrae-Gilstrap purchased the island in 1911 and set about restoring the castle with his clerk of works, Farquar Macrae based on the only surviving ground plan, the work took 20 years to complete finally in 1932.
The castle is often described as the most beautiful castle in Scotland and I can see why and when you know the full history of the place it just becomes even more special and I was ecstatic to have seen it for myself.
From here I decided to head right up to the North end of Skye to visit Storr and shoot the world famous "Old Man".
I crossed over the bridge into Skye and the rain returned but so did the light and I pulled over at a fairly unscenic section convinced there would be a rainbow at any second, It came out almost on cue but the area was not really photogenic and I raced back to the car hoping to find somewhere better, I rounded the next bend and found it.
There was a bay and it had mountains at the back and light was pouring over the edge and once again a rainbow came out to play and I couldn't get the camera out fast enough and managed to get a couple of pictures before the heavy rain took hold and forced me back into the car.
It was torture, light bouncing around all over the place but heavy rain and high winds were stopping me from getting a shot, everywhere I looked was light.
I drove further down the road and I quickly pulled in again having spotted new areas, this was the way at Skye, everywhere I went it just looked great.
The rain started to win the battle and I was forced to drive on to Storr (some 30 miles away) but believe me I could have happily stopped around 100 times on that journey alone if it hadn't been for the excessive rain.
I was nearing the Old Man of Storr and I couldn't wait to see it, I was around a mile or two away and as I drove over the hill I got my first glimpse and it was simply epic.
The rain had let up briefly and there was a big cloud right along the top ridge where the old man resided.
I had to pull over and rushed out to the head of Loch Leathan and got the long lens out.
There was a ripple on the water and the classic reflection shot wasn't going to happen but light was pouring over the mountain and the old man and I got some shots I really liked so I was more than happy.
At this point hoards of Japanese tourists turned up and I hate to stereo type anyone but they really where the epitome of the camera wielding excitable stereo type that you see on TV.
I tried my hardest to move away from them but if they saw someone with a camera they rushed to photograph the same thing, I could have pointed my camera at the ground and they would have rushed to have shot that, it was comical.
I was literally flabbergasted when they would just wander in front of my camera and stand there while they photographed one of their clan jumping in front of absolutely anything.
I waited patiently but more and more turned up so I climbed over a gate to get into a field away from everyone and to my horror they all followed me once again standing in front.
This was just to much to cope with especially when your a person who avoids people where possible so I left them too it.
By this time the cloud had covered over the Old Man itself and I decided against making the climb up as I didn't feel that the shot would be there so I cut my loses and moved further down.
As I approached the Old Man I knew I had made the right decision as it was tourist mayhem, cars everywhere and buses and it was my idea of hell, it was a Monday and October but yet it was swarming with people, I dreaded to think what it would be like in high summer.
A little further up the road was Kilt rock, a wonderful rock stack on the cliff edge that has the appearance of a tartan kilt, hence the name. It had the added bonus of a waterfall right in front of it too so I headed off in the general direction hoping for less tourists.
Now at this point your probably thinking I sound like a right moody old sod, and in all fairness you would probably be right ! I have nothing against tourists, I was one of them on this occasion after all but photography and crowds of people just don't mix, unless your passion is shooting riots.
I am always respectful that it's everyones right to be there and do what they like and I will wait patiently for a clear moment to shoot, sadly that same respect is never shown back and clueless people really do wind me up but I just have to bite my tongue ! I really am a friendly person normally, tourists just bring out the worst in me.
A roadside pull over point appeared and there was some stunning light rolling over mountains so I stopped and enjoyed some solitude for all of 30 seconds till the Japanese tourists from earlier rolled up and rushed off their bus to shoot whatever I was looking at, they seemed pleased to see me again, I smiled on my face and cried a little inside and moved on.
Kilt rock as suspected was busy and there was only one viewing platform so I once again waited for my turn and managed to get a couple of shots just as some light hit the rock itself which was a right result.
An American photographer was also present and we had a brief exchange on the benefits of the filters I was using which was nice and somehow cooled my anger at the tourism industry in general.
After Kilt rock it was onto Dunvegan Castle which I had seen pictures of and liked but after a long journey I have to say I was bitterly disappointed in it, I didn't even take a picture in the end which was a shame but it just wasn't doing it for me so I left it.
It was now around mid day and of course the light was pretty harsh and not really what I wanted to shoot in but I was only here for the day so I decided to go rogue and just drive and see what I could find.
I found several areas which looked promising but in reality the pictures didn't come out to well and never really saw the light of day.
This was the main issue, the light or lack of it just wasn't helping matters and I hate shooting without it, I have become a light snob and if it wasn't there then I just didn't have my heart in it.
A picture without light is just a picture, a picture with light is a story that reveals itself to the viewer in my opinion.
I decided to head to the Fairy pools as I felt if the light hadn't changed by the time I got there I could still shoot the waterfalls anyway.
The drive was a fairly lengthy one and when I finally got there I was greeted by so many tourists including my Japanese friends that I just decided I wasn't going to shoot it and went off in search of the rest of the area instead.
I found a nice river running down the side of a mountain that was catching the light and had a nice lone tree on it, perfect I thought and jumped out of the car once again for some solitude.
No sooner had the camera gone on the tripod the light shut off like someone had flicked a switch, no problem I thought I will wait and enjoy the scenery and the peace and quiet. I waited, And I waited some more and the light didn't come back, I decided to move into the river itself so I could shoot upstream using the water in the foreground cascading over the rocks as my lead.
I hoped onto the first rock, as I moved my other foot onto the next rock my foot slipped and I got a boot full of water, dam it !
I carefully squelched over the other rocks to a submerged area and the light was back, I got the gear out again and of course the sun went in again, Frustrating.
I waited for a while and it just didn't come back out again so I decided to call time on it and go back to the car, on the way back the same foot took another boot full of water and a watery walk back to the car saw a change of foot ware and the camera gear slung in the back in disgust.
As I pulled away the light came back on, I wasn't going to play that game anymore. Well not for at least 500 yards where I couldn't resist it anymore and pulled over.
A couple of shots were taken but they were rushed and despite thinking they were good at the time they ended up in the bin when I looked at them more closely and realised the lack of thought in the composition had ruined what could have been a reasonable shot. I had a stern word with myself and promised not to rush it again.
I decided that I would finish the day up at Elgol, a beautiful rocky beach full of big boulders and overlooking the Cuillin mountain range but on the way there I would see what else I could find.
I basically drove round the back of the black Cuillin mountains and while there managed to get a few shots once again in the peace and quiet.
The weather was still changeable and as I headed towards Elgol the sky behind me let out a huge beam of light and once again the race was on to find a pull in place and shoot down the valley.
It was well worth stopping and it gave me one of my favourite shots from the trip, I was happy again.
After a quick pit stop for some fuel and food I was back on the Elgol road which was small to say the least but there were plenty of passing places so it didn't seem to bad.
A small ruin came into view and it looked interesting so I pulled in to see what it was all about, several other photographers had also had the same idea.
It turned out to be a commonwealth grave site known as Cill Chriosd, a 16th century church that now lay in ruin surrounded by graves and mountains.
The light wasn't great but I wanted to shoot it nonetheless, That was until the other photography tour bus turned up and once again they stood in front of my ignoring my polite coughs which in reality should have been escalated to "get out of the bloody shot" These people really did show a complete lack of manners and photography etiquette and were frankly downright rude. Several of them looked directly at me as I was shooting and then casually positioned themselves in front of me so they could get their own shots.
I had pretty much had enough at this point and decided to move on, I knew skye would be busy but this was worse than I had ever imagined.
The road to Elgol is steep, really steep and the brakes on my car had really been exhausted to the point of needing to be replaced so it was a nervous drive to the top with a sheer drop one side of me, then it happened, a bus came along the opposite way and I was going to have to reverse down the hill I had just come up, I couldn't see out of the back very well and there was a few "new pants" moments until I managed to get to one of the passing places.
Eventually back on the way and the weather looked pretty poor but I pressed on anyway. The hill dropped down sharply and I have to say I wasn't enjoying the journey and it probably caused my mood to be a little bit more strained than normal and when I got to Elgol I was fed up to see that it just look rubbish, by rubbish I mean really rubbish, just a big grey flat mess but I was here now so I was going to at least get out and have a look.
As I walked down the shore to the famous Joe Cornish shot I could once again see Japanese tourists all doing their jumping photography and this was enough for me and I decided to call it a day.
I was tired and I had a 2 hour plus drive back to base not to mention having been up at around 4 am.
So that was the Isle of Skye, it was a wonderful, frustrating, funny and jaw dropping experience and to be honest, I'm not to sure I would go back.
By that I mean the place was epic, words just don't describe how good it was but I really struggled with the volume of people there and obviously that was to be expected but even so it was a strain to say the least.
Skye has so much to offer but you are constantly battling to get any of it, maybe a winter trip would yield a better result in future ? While I have no desire to go back I know if I'm in Scotland again I wont hesitate to do it so it was mixed feelings so i'll leave each of you to make your own minds up when you visit it.
Thanks once again for reading and sharing my blog, next week sees the last part of my Scottish adventure, part 4 The Cairngorms.
All of the pictures from my Scotland trip can be seen by clicking HERE.
As always, Happy shooting.
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