The South Skye Camera Club held its first outing for ages and ages tonight with a visit to Cill Chriosd and Torrin. After a quick meet up at the old churchyard at Cill Chriosd we split up to try and find some interesting shots of the area, agreeing to meet up again at the shore at Torrin. I shot this, and the following variation, from the side of the loch, managing to capture the crepuscular rays breaking through between the heavy cloud above Bla Bheinn. The colours were very muted with backlight from the low sun, and it was only when these occasional rays broke through that the scene merited a shot.
After a heavy cloud descended on the mountain I headed to the shore at Kilbride to see if a different angle, with the rocky shore in the foreground, might offer up something worthwhile. The light was not that great on the hill with the sun setting behind it, but the following shot captured the scene quite well, with the sun illuminating the clouds just above the top of the mountain. I liked the small rock pool in the foreground providing interest and colour among the rocks and the angles leading the eye into the view, countered by the spreading cloud pattern above Bla Bheinn.. Once again the colours were very subdued late in the evening and it was extremely cold for May.
The first overnight trip of the year, since lockdown, was to Uist this weekend. We were very lucky with the weather, bright and sunny most of the time but the north-easterly breeze did provide some more active fronts, including the above which moved quickly across the islands from east to west. The dark clouds and curtains of rain, offset by the bright sunny patch on the dunes and the amazing turquoise of the sea in the bay made this shot irristible.
Equally dramatic was the light at Clachan when we first arrived, looking west. Again the amazing turquoise colour of the sea made this scene truly wonderful. I particularly liked the renovated old croft house adjacent to the old abandoned one, and the ubiquitous telephone poles.
The trip involved quite a bit of driving, mainly to do a lot of bird watching - 64 species counted in two days, but I did manage a few shots in between. Not surprisingly, the white-tailed eagle was one of the main highlights, but we also had decent views of a male hen harrier, short-eared owl, and long-tailed duck. The following images are my other favourites from the trip.
The other evening I popped out for a short walk and took along my APS-C cropped sensor Canon 250D fitted with my Sigma 105mm macro lens, which is equivalent to 168mm on a full frame camera. I was inspired by the latest edition of Outdoor Photography magazine which had a really interesting article on photographing flowers and plants. There were not too many good photo opportunities during my short walk but here a few of my results - more practice needed and perhaps I should take the tripod with me next time as getting these remotely in focus was challenging.
A great day today, with the relaxation of travel restrictions we had a trip to Spean Bridge and Loch Arkaig to meet the in-laws for the first time in 16 months. We had a lovely picnic lunch in the sun at the Forestry car park at Eas Chia-aig waterfall. Despite it having been a long dry spell and most of the watercourses along our journey being pretty dry, this fall was still flowing well, although nothing like it would when the river is in spate. The falls are in three steps, these two being the lower parts, with a magnificent pool at the base. The early spring colours offset the brown of the pool and the blue sky really nicely, providing good contrast and texture in the woods around the falls.
I used my Zomei ND64 (6 stop) HD Schott glass filter to allow the use of a long shutterspeed, in this case 1 second. This produced a lovely smooth effect on the water, capturing the sense of motion really well. It is easy to overdo this by using too long an exposure and all the water just becomes a blur with no details remaining. I tend to favour 0.5-2 seconds depending on how much water is flowing. I took a few shots from different vantage points with the above being my favourite, but I like the following two as well. The first captures the rocks in the foreground, while the second was taken from between the two falls, and I like the patterns in the rocks, all of which are obviously covered in water when the river is in full spate.
Life has been very busy lately and that, combined with lots of rugby to watch at weekends during the Six Nations Championship, and some poor weather meant that it had been almost one month since I last went out for a walk with my camera. Today, after doing some work in the garden, I took advantage of the lovely afternoon weather to head over to Duirinish & Drumbuie for a walk round the coastal path. I almost opted to take my film camera with black & white film, so perhaps that mood was upon me as most of my final processed images from the walk ended up being in monochrome. When we have lovely blue sky with crisp white clouds I love the contrast provided by applying a red or yellow filter, which darkens the sky and makes the clouds pop. Today, I took my relatively portable cropped sensor Canon 250D with a Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5 lens (equivalent to 16-32mm on a full frame camera), so ultra-wide angle landscape shots only and lots of scope to capture expansive skies.
The first image (above) was taken from close to the shore at Port Ban, looking across the croft land towards the Bealach an Ba in the background. I was drawn to this shot because of the lovely fluffy clouds suspended amid the vibrant blue sky, which is why I composed it with the sky filling the majority of the frame. I cropped the bottom off the image as the wide-angle lens had captured a lot of not very much in the foreground, which tended to detract from the composition. The image was initially post-processed in Lightroom Classic and then exported to Silver Efex Pro 2 for conversion to monochrome where I also applied a selenium tint (which was a favourite practice of Ansel Adams) and a light vignette as well as the rough border.
The remaining shots were taken aroud the coast looking either north towards the Bealach na Ba or south-west towards Skye. They are a mix of monochrome and selectively coloured black & white conversions which create a de-saturated and interesting alternative. These conversions were all done in Silver Efex Pro 2 which I really like as a plug-in to Lightroom and Photoshop.
Following a quick trip to Skye on Thursday, and a gentle coastal walk from Duirinish on Friday, both in beautiful sunny weather, things deteriorated a bit at the weekend. This gave me the opportunity to undertake some displacement activity and avoid many of the things I should have been doing, focusing instead on image processing and tidying up the old images on my phone. So, the following series of images were captured on a mix of dslr and mobile phone. Sadly, I have to admit that these modern mobile phones certainly support the old adage - the best camera is the one you have with you - and the quality can be amazing, especially in challenging light. So why do we bother with all that heavy professional kit???
The above shot is a case in point. I have very similar images shot on my full frame Canon 5D Mark II, but the above was shot on my mobile. When viewing on screen I have to say it is hard to tell the difference, although I am sure if I wanted to print this one at any size at all the deficiencies might start to become more apparent. This camera has an alleged 48 MP camera when set to hi-resolution, but at that level the zoom function does not work so it is a bit restricted in terms of application. Otherwise it defaults to 12 MP, still not too bad really and it fits into your back pocket.
The next few images were taken over the past couple of years at various locations so are a bit random, but I selected them from the many on my phone for a little bit of post-processing and fine tuning.
So having played with the old images on the phone, with a little post-processing in Lightroom, I also worked through what I had captured during the previous few days on Skye and at Duirinish. These were shot mostly on my Canon 5D Mark IV, apart from the last one which was on my cropped sensor 250D. Can you tell the difference in quality from the ones above? I know from processing them that there is a difference but it may not be too obvious on screen. Still worth having all that kit though!
After a lovely day with too many small things happening to allow time for a proper outing with the camera I managed a quick trip with my wife along to Kintail just in time for the developing blue hour. The snow on the hills was making them glow beautifully against an increasingly dark blue sky. I chose one of my favourite locations near Ratagan, overlookig Loch Duich with the Five Sisters of Kintail and Ben Attow as a backdrop. Using a combination of two of my ND Grad filters to balance the exposure, and my ultra-wide-angle lens (17-35mm), I set up in various places to try and get the old seaweed covered shore fence and the salmon trap in the foreground. In processing, I selectively adjusted the colour balance a bit to bring out the colours in the foreground, a bit more like it actually was, and the above shot is the result. I also tried converting this one to black & white using Silver Efex Pro II (see below)
On the way home the sun had pretty much set in the west but there was a faint glow behind the Cuillins on Skye and Eilean Donan Castle was all lit up for the night as usual. I made a snap decision to pull into the deserted car park and shot these two images.
I decided today was a day for a return to the woods of the Balmacara estate, specifically the oak-birch woods above Duirinish. I wanted to look close-up at some of the lichens and fungi growing on the trees as well as some of the amazing textures on the bark of the older trees. This first image is of three different types of bracket fungus growing on a birch branch. The branch is also covered in an array of lichens and bryophytes, almost completely smothering the bark. The subtle colours are wonderful, offset against the blue/purple backdrop of the winter birchwood.
I shot the next image very close to the first, on a different tree at a more oblique angle. I took several shots at different apertures to try and get a sense of the depth of field in the shot, with soft foreground and background, while still retaining a fully sharp focal point on the fungus. I think the first of the two (shot at f/16) is the better but the very shallow deth of field in the second (shot at f/4.0) has a certain appeal.
The tones and textures in these woods are fantastic and no matter how often you return you always see something new and wonderful. This old oak tree has a wonderfully striated stem, with a huge burr and a wide array of lichens, bryophytes and mosses. I took a selection of this tree from a wide angle right down to a close-up of the stem.
Just to the far sde of this old tree is an amazing group of large boulders, all covered completely in green moss. You can just see them in the background of the above shot, but from in front they are truly impressive, especially when they are set off against a clear blue sky as was the case today.
The next group of three images is of a white lichen (I think) but I do not know its name. I will check this out with a friend who is pretty good at lichens and I'll update this post once I find out what it is. Suffice to say I have never seen this one before. It is a rather lovely and delicate structure, somewhat like small white trees. I shot a wide angle of it in its location on the tree stem, a closer view and a very close macro shot of the strucutral detail. It was very hard to get a good focus on the detail as the depth of field was incredibly shallow, but I think it should be good enough to get an ID.
Finally, after finishing in the woods I headed home via Duirinish and Broadford, not specifically to take photos, but I ended up stopping at the Gorstan at Drumbuie and took this panoramic shot across the croft lands to the snow covered Applecross and Torridon hills. A magnificent view on a day like today.
It was a truly beautiful day today, and with the snow from yesterday the landscape was looking wonderful. I could not resist going for a walk round the coast between Duirinish Station and Port an Eorna, through the crofts at Drumbuie and Duirinish and along the coast overlooking Skye and the Applecross Hills. I took my usual camera backpack but also my Holga 120N medium format plastic camera loaded with out-of-date Kodak Tri-X black & white film. I have not used this camera for the best part of a year and wanted to experience the freedon of having only a very few options in terms of camera settings: one shutterspeed or bulb setting; two apertures - bright sun or cloudy; and four focus settings - portrait, group portrait, middle distance; and landscape. It does take a lot of practice to get right, and the images are soft due to the plastic lens and usually heavily vignetted, producing an amazing atmospheric style, made famous by Michael Kenna. Of course you need to wait until the film is complete and then develop it, etc. I now have three shots left on that roll of film, so will try and complete it soon and post up the results (good or bad) once I have it developed.
Anyway, I took a few shots with my digital camera. The above image is a reprise of one I made for my Higher Photography course back about five years ago. That project was a study of the crofting cultural landscape and I was trying to capture the human imprint on the landscape through things like fence lines, settlement patterns, cropping, etc. This new version was taken on a much more favourable day, with some blue sky and intertesting clouds as well as sunlight and shade. The snow brings out the textures in the landscape and I like the way the fence on the right and the tracks in the snow lead the viewer's eye into the frame. I love the texture in the old fence post in the foreground right.
When I shot this view previously I had taken a creative decision to make all my images black & white for the project, partly because I was shooting in the depths of winter with limited colour, but also because I really like that style. So, I decided, despite today's image working well in colour, to convert it to monochrome by way of a comparison with the one taken five years ago (see below).
Below is the version I produced back in early 2016 (below left) with a more recently re-processed version of the same RAW file (below right). I like the softness of the original although it does look relatively flat, lacking contrast and punch. I guess some folk would prefer that style of image and I do like the soft tones in the sky. The more recent version reflects my journey in post-processing and I think makes for a better finished product. Today's image was processed in Lightroom using what I have learned over the past few years to create more dramatic and punchy images. In recent times I have often resorted to using Silver Efex Pro for my B&W conversions (see below right) and I still like some of the options that are provided in that software. However, I am trying to simplify my workflow and reduce the amount of processing to produce a more natural product and so decided to stick to Lightroom, apart from the border which was created in Photoshop.
Further round the coast I stopped for a while by the shore, looking out towards Skye and Raasay. This view is always changing, depending on the time of day, time of year and the prevailing weather. Today, despite being cold with a slight breeze, it was relatively benign for the winter, with sunshine, blue sky and thin wispy clouds as a backdrop for the snow covered Cuillins of Skye. This image did nothing for me in colour and I had intended to convert it to B&W when I took it anyway, so the image below is the result of processing in Lightroom with the border created in Photoshop. The 3 stop grad filter helped to balance the strong contrast between the dark rocks in the foreground and the much brighter sky, especially just above the hills of Skye. I also applied a digital grad filter in Lightroom increasing the clarity in the sky to bring out the clouds a bit more, and another in the foreground to further brighten the rocks without over-exposing the middle ground and sky. Otherwise, I opted for the Adobe Black & White conversion with Yellow Filter in the profiles menu, and this resulted in a darker sky (turning blue into darker black). Compositionally, it is not the best in my opinion, but the clouds provide a sense of incredible depth and distance, from the relatively low vantage point, making for a reasonably compelling image. Looking back, I might have shifted my location to the right and tried to create more by way of leading lines along the coast. However, that may have resulted in too much brightness from the sun which is off to the left in this shot.
The last couple of days have produced some snowy weather and as always the hills look fantastic when dusted with the white stuff. Yesterday I had the pleasure of a work trip over to Strome Castle at North Strome (near Lochcarron). Afterwards I quickly nipped over the hill towards Kishorn to see if it was worth catching a shot from one of my favourite viewpoints. The above shot is the result. To be honest the light was pretty flat and the colours very muted, although about 20 minutes after I left to head home, I could see the whole scene lit up by sunlight from the south side of Loch Carron. Anyway, I find these muted winter coluors lend themselves to conversion to black & white, creating more texture and drawing out the tonality more than colour does. This is not one of my best by any means but still nice to see the hills with snow on them.
Late this afternoon, I was driving towards Kyle from Duirinish and there was some really dramatic light on the Cuillins of Skye with dark blue clouds above and dark blue sea below. I stopped at Badicaul and shot the image below with my 70-200mm lens, focusing in on the illuminated area of the landscape. You can see the snow squalls coming down form the north-east against the very dark and dramatic sky. I should probably have increased the ISO and gone for a faster shutterspeed, but I keep forgetting I can do that with my new camera without getting too much noise. Soon I'll get used to it, hopefully. As a result this image is not quite as sharp as it might have been. At least I managed to capture the amazing colours of the hills on Skye illuminated by the low sun from the left, just squeezing below the lowering clouds.
I am an amateur photographer who is also a Chartered Geographer with his own part-time consultancy business and I work as an estate manager for a national conservation charity in Scotland. I am based in Lochalsh, Wester Ross, Scotland, just next to the Isle of Skye.
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