Isle of Skye is situated in the far North-West of the British Islands. It is actually well connected with the mainland Scotland by an arch-shaped Skye bridge, opened two decades ago in 1995. It is just over 200 miles north from Glasgow and Edinburgh, however driving time is typically over 5 hours. The island has several small towns that offer lots of good bed and breakfast accommodation and pubs. The largest and arguably the most picturesque town is Portree. However, Skye is really a place to take in the unique natural scenery of the highlands. The landscape is essentially somewhat familiar with the views seen around Kyle, and all along A87 highway. However, there are some real perks dotted around the island and these are the prime destinations of thousands of holidaymakers, tourists and photographers.
Sligachan is one amazing spot conveniently located at the junction between A87 and A863, and there is even a stylish hotel overlooking the view. The travellers would immediately notice a chain of Cuiilin mountains surrounding a shallow river stream with an old, restored stone bridge. I followed the river upstream for a few hundred meters to find a composition I really liked. I am impartial to low perspective photography of rapids so it was an easy decision to jump in. (It is easy to get the feet wet, so I’d certainly pack a pair of wellies.) A wideangle lens allowed me to emphasise the water movement in the foreground while projecting the whole breadth of mountain range in the background. Evening light is just perfect at this location, however dawn may be just as wonderful depending on the time of year, and obviously the infamous Scottish weather (more on this further down!).
Late afternoon dance of water and light at Sligachan: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
The sunset location for that evening was planned at the Neist point. I takes around an hour from Sligachan following A863 and B884 country lanes; I arrived some 15-20 minutes before the sundown. I must admit it is way too late for a new location – it takes time to explore the place and plan for the best shot; well I had to improvise on this occasion. The most obvious option is to follow the top ridge right from the “car park” until the lighthouse head peninsula comes into the view. It is simply a beautiful scenery heightened by the golden late evening light.
The golden Neist point lighthouse: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
The sun was already setting quite far to the right in April, so I would really need to come back in winter for the “perfect” fiery sunset. The colours to the west already looked very dramatic so I decided to head down. Ideally I should have known by that point where the best spots and light were – it is a pretty long trek to the lighthouse and I could end up with nothing to show for it.
The colours of sunset: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head. Manual exposure blending.
The best spot for the sundown apparently would have been just left of the lighthouse on the rocks. I missed that path… lesson learnt. The afterglow was very colourful and I could frame a couple similar compositions on the way back. All in all, I bagged some great images, but I really could have done even better. A word of warning: the land on the edge of the cliffs looks very susceptible to landslip – please be very careful.
Neist point afterglow: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
Elgol was arguably an even better spot for that evening. It is frequently described as (one of) the most spectacular coastal sunset destinations in Britain. As much as I like Clevedon I am not going to argue here. A beautiful rocky beach of a fishing village and Cuillin mountains in the distance create a lot of potential for idyllic landscapes. The only missing ingredient is of course the right weather – the right level of cloud cover, and to a lesser extent the tides, and the position of the sun. I made my first trip last year in September. The evening was flat, grey and hazy (it was a fine day around Fort William). Next morning I was ready to try my luck at the sunrise. The skies were clear at the campsite, however once back in the spot I was really let down by a massive grey cloud over the beach and mountains. It was perfectly clear over to the left – it hardly gets more painful that this. I waited around an hour until a tiny bit of light came through a more diffuse patch of cloud. There is something I really like about this image – the subtle painterly tones, a background that could feel right at home in the classic maritime paintings. It looks beautiful on textured fine art papers. Next I wanted something clearer, crisper and more colourful.
I went to Elgol again in March this year. The sunset attempt was better than the previous time – the sky was clear except for a patch of dark grey cloud above the horizon. The sun was dipping into the cloud quite far to the left of the frame. These conditions hardly ever lead to award winning landscapes. After putting some work into this image I was reasonably happy with it, but at the same time I wanted more from this location.
Elgol sunset: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
The next attempt followed the next morning. I left the hotel at silly o’clock to get there on time. The conditions were certainly a lot better this time. This image is my favourite from that day. I really like the fishing boats in the sea and the first rays of light kissing the peaks of Cuillins. A colourful sunset next time would be really great.
Dawn at Elgol: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
First Light at Elgol: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
A few weeks later I went back again, and this time it the sunset was a lot clearer, and shall I say quite atypical for this wonderful place… The sea was also very calm, but unfortunately not mirror still for reflections.
Boat trips can be booked from Elgol to visit Loch Coruisk in the Cuillins range. The trip is good fun and a great opportunity to spot sea wildlife such as sea lions. It is a bit more extreme if it starts raining heavily with huge winds. The following image (taken from another boat!) illustrates that pretty well. At the end of a day weather in Skye and particularly Elgol is almost completely unpredictable.
Elgol fishing boat: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 70-200mm f/4 L IS USM lens, handheld.
On the way from Elgol to Broadford there are several interesting spots including Loch Slappin and the views around Torrin. Loch Cill Chriosd also has an interesting look with the reeds and mirror-like reflection of the mountains. It is an early morning location.
Loch Cill Chriosd: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM Zoom Lens , polarizer, handheld.It is also not very unlikely to run into a herd of free-roaming herd of highland cows. The cattle have well-rounded posing experience and look really beautiful in golden evening light.
Highland cow: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with EF 24-70mm F/2.8L II USM Zoom Lens , handheld.
Fairy pools is another picturesque landscape location. Driving time is around half an hour from Sligachan via A863. Take the exit to B8009 before Drynoch (signposted for distillery) and in a mile on the hill another sharp left to a single track road, that eventually leads to a car park. From there an easy but potentially very wet footpath takes 20-30min to reach the cascades of waterfalls. Surprisingly though, the river had only a very modest flow of water on both occasions when I visited. Perhaps it is in full flow immediately after a sustained period of heavy rainfall. More water is certainly favourable when it comes to waterfalls. The locations is usually photographed under overcast skies, however I prefer a directional evening light to accentuate the mountains and rocks; the direction of the Sun will be in an even better position in June and July (in autumn and spring the hill behind gets in a way). The image bellow was made standing on a thin rock ledge right next to a several meter drop. It was a fine tripod balancing act, but the composition in this spot was by far the best that day.
Fairy pools in golden light: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
Fairy pools: Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon EF 16-35mm /F4,0L IS USM lens, Manfrotto 190XPROB tripod and 410 geared head.
Finally I would like to close the list with the Old Man of Storr just north of Portree. Despite a few attempts to shoot a sunrise I was always “greeted” by a localised patch of rain clouds, or even thick mist…
UPDATE: a few weeks later it all came together for a very dramatic yet unexpected sunrise at Storr. More on it in the next post…
Please feel free to share this article and do not hesitate to get in touch with me if you are interested in photography tuition or if you wish to purchase prints for your home or business.