Earlier this year I took a trip up to the Isle of Skye, Scotland to undertake a photography workshop in a bid to take my photography to the next level. I’ve been dabbling for a few years now after purchasing my Fujifilm XT2 in 2015 but I felt it was time to try to “up my game” so to say. Skye (or Skype as my phone keeps autocorrecting to), did not disappoint.
Whatever your level of amateur photography the main objective, according to our guides Nick and Harry, is to get everyone using their cameras on manual mode (the majority of us on the trip admit to using mostly aperture or shutter speed priority).
Location 1, The Black Cuillin Mountain Range
Got here on Day 1 to photograph sunset. Bearing in mind it was April it was mighty chilly and one detail I was not previously cognisant to – battery drains extra quick when it’s cold and windy and I managed to rinse two whole (3rd party) batteries in the space of an hour and a half (queue the fingerless gloves and extra spare batteries that are now a staple in my photography bag!)
There was so much to play with here but the two spots I focused on was the little house and the waterfalls both set against the backdrop of the Black Cuillin Mountain range. And what a spectacular backdrop it is!
Location 2: The Quiraing
Woke up at 4.45am to photograph first light on the Quiraing. We were in place at the right location at the right time but alas the third (and most unpredictable) aspect, (the sun), did not show up for its necessary role in the triad on what would have made this a photography success. Or perhaps that is unfair, the sun was there it was just obscured by rather dense cloud. Nonetheless it provided ample opportunity for education. The weather is the one thing we simply can’t control and it gave me food for thought on why spending at least a few days in a specific location is so crucial if you have a specific image you want to capture.
After realising that the cloud was not going to budge we took the short but intense hike up to the Needle rock pinnacle of the Quiraing. The hike is not for the faint hearted or anyone with a fear of heights or exposure but once you are up behind the pinnacle it is definitely worth the few minutes of heart thumping that accompanies the scramble.
Location 3: Talisker Bay
It was a moody day on Skye so we took the opportunity to make the most of the ideal light and shoot Talisker Bay, another photographer favourite. The pictures speak for themselves but the endlessly fascinating patterns created in the sand provide a bounty of opportunity for interesting and unique compositional foregrounds. At the time I didn’t have an ND filter on me but this would also be a great place to do some slow shutter speed work on the sea.
Location 4: The Old Man of Storr
Another extremely early start, this time 4.30am wake up call, to make sure we could do the roughly hour to hour and a half hike up to the Old Man of Storr. Walking in the dark was quite eerie, especially when I learned that the site is quite famous in pagan traditions. The sound of our footsteps echoing as we traverse the Trotternish path, sounding like the heart beat of Pachamama (Mother Earth) herself. The cool thick fog disguised as her embrace. In some schools of photographic thought fog would be considered a hinderance. I however think it creates a rich depth and atmosphere to the pictures and was grateful for its presence that day!
Our guides spoke a lot about what it takes to create the ‘perfect picture’ but as a recovering perfectionist I feel the need to reject that idea. Agreed, we are looking for good conditions to take what in our minds is the ‘ideal’ photo but there is also enjoyment and creativity in working with what you’ve got. Granted i’m not relying on this as a source of income which is somewhat responsible for my lackadaisical attitude. However, I do strongly believe that you can work with conditions to create uniqueness and beauty in the majority of circumstances whether that is sun, rain, wind, fog, a storm! Some images look wonderful with a clear blue sky, and other times the light in the sky is too harsh but can create interesting light formations from the right angle. Sometimes fog and cloud add the perfect sense of mystery or drama to the picture. I would say the perfection lies in the artistry of making the picture work under the circumstance of the conditions you have. The prize is in the challenge!
Here are just a few of the key things I learned on the 3-day adventure in Skye:
- What ideal composition is, how to balance foreground with background and the importance of placing the horizon either at either 1/3 or 2/3 of the picture as well as interesting angles pointing the camera up and down rather than always straight on
- The importance of keeping the ISO as low as possible (around 200) and figure out the shutter speed and aperture around that
- For landscapes the ideal aperture is around 7.1 but when shooting in low light sans tripod you may have to open it up to max (my Fujifilm 10-24 wide angle is 4)
- A tripod really is necessary to get the right settings in low light with ideal ISO pegged at 200, aperture <8 which leaves SS <30 which is just too slow for handheld in low light.
- It’s important to be at your destination and to have scoped out location way ahead of sunrise so you have sufficient time to set up in the chance of getting the ‘perfect picture’ when the sun decides to make its appearance (you may only have a microsecond of perfect light!)
- I learned how to properly use the histogram and with that, it is better for pictures to be a little on the dark side to capture the detail and edit in post-processing than it is to over expose as you can never recapture that detail.
It’s been a few months since the trip now and I really have integrated these all now fully into my modus operandi and I can really see the difference in my photography.
I did a 3-day (Fri to Sunday) trip organised through the intermediary company Much Better Adventures ($-$$$). They organise short weekend adventures with a range of themes (and budgets!) and to a variety of different European destinations: https://www.muchbetteradventures.com/weekends/
I chose to fly into Glasgow and take the 3-hour train to Inverness and fly home from Inverness which with flight choice and times was the most logistically straightforward thing to do.
The local company is Skye Photo Academy, they do lots of amazing photography themed trips all over the world. Check them out ($$$): https://www.skyephotoacademy.com