I took advantage of a quick trip to Lochcarron this afternoon to take a walk up the south side of Strathcarron to the old dwellings at Arineckaig. This was my first time up as far as this, although I have seen these old buildings many times from the Balnacra road and promised myself I would visit one day. The light was at times excellent today, and at times flat and overcast with rain showers threatening throughout my walk. When the sun did peep through the gaps in the clouds the effect was wonderful, highlighting the early autumn colours in the landscape. The above view was taken on my way back to the car and I just managed to catch the sun on the trees around Arineckaig Lodge, showing off the varied shapes and forms of the different tree species really nicely. The looming clouds provided a lovely dramatic backdrop, contrasting marvellously with the illuminated foreground.
I love trees, especially as a photographic subject. Whether it is close-up shots of the bark or leaves, twigs and the like, or wider shots of specimen trees, or just woodland habitat, they never fail to provide variety and lots of opportunities, especially at this time of year. Today was one of those days when the light was behaving well, sometimes, and the following are a few shots of trees from my walk.
The above shot was taken looking north-east up Strathcarron from the deserted settlement of Arineckaig. There are the remains of several old dwellings that at some point in time have been abandoned, or possibly cleared - I do not now the local history. There is good land here whihc despite being poisoned by sheep grazing and neglect appears to be fighting the onslaught of rushes, in parts at least. This is yet another location among the many across the Highlands and Islands where people used to live in greater numbers than they do today. Yet there is demand for croft land and affordable housing, and still we continue to see over-grazing by sheep and deer and decent land being neglected when it could provide for more families. One wonders what it will take for our society to see the potential benefits of taking a different view of what our future can look like, where people work in harmony with nature to provide a sustainable future for both. That is certainly not what I was seeing today and the echoes of the community that lived here once upon a time were loud in my ears as I took the following image of another empty house.
I had an early start yesterday for a work trip to Inverewe and Gairloch so I decided to head out even earlier to try and catch some shots in Torridon at first light. As it happened the morning was not ideal, and if anything I was a bit earlier than was ideal, but with a scheduled meeting I had no time to hang around for better light. That being said, it was a wonderful calm dawn with great reflections of Beinn Alligin on Loch Torridon and Liathach & Beinn Eighe on Loch Clair. The shadow areas were pretty dark against a brightening sky, so for the above panorama I opted to try something I have not done before, and do an HDR panorama using that processing function in Lightroom. The result is pretty decent although it took ages for my computer to do the processing.
The next shot was taken by the shore of Loch Torridon, looking towards Beinn Alligin which was partially shrouded in patchy cloud/morning mist, creating a beautiful effect. Again the shadow areas were dark but I managed to lighten them in Lightroom by bringing up the exposure and the shadows a bit and then applying a digital ND grad filter to the sky and the sea. Again it worked quite well, although as it was early and the light level was pretty low I had to use a fairly high ISO so the image is a bit noisy - the same goes for most of these images.
Taken from the same spot, but looking to the right of the previous one I got the following image of the village of Fasag with the steep slopes of Liathach looming above. The beginnings of the the autumn colours reflected in the loch and the varied textures of the mountain make this an interesting shot I think.
At Loch Clair I took various shots of Liathach, over and above the top image at the start of this post with this one being my favourite. This was made using a single exposure as opposed to HDR and with the wonders of RAW images and post-processing I was able to recover some of the detail in the shadow areas and produce a colourful and compelling image I think. I tend to find the HDR option works in extreme cases (see below) but can produce weird abstractions around the edges of mountains and tree branches, so it is usually a last resort or a bit of an experiment. With modern camera sensors the dynamic range is much improved and they deal far better with extremes of exposure.
My penultimate image of the day is a classic view looking eastwards up Loch Maree from the Poolewe road. This was taken looking into the rising sun with the clouds on Beinn Airigh Charr adding drama to the scene. This is a view that is always different, sometime spectacular and sometime invisible in the cloud, but this morning it was wonderful. These conditions were extremely challenging for my camera so I did opt for the HDR approach. I used a small aperture to create the star effect with the sun. This time the HDR method worked pretty well, though I shoud have remembered to reduce the ISO as it is a bit noisy in what were the darker areas and I had plenty of shutter speed latitude - one lives and learns.
The final image was taken at the beach on the the Inverasdale road at Camas na Muic. This shot was taken looking back up the burn that runs out onto the beach, straight into the sun which was back-lighting the spectacular mackeral sky. I would have experimented a bit more with composition on this but unfortunately my EF 24-70mm lens stopped working - this being the bad bit of the mixed fortunes of the day!! It turns out it is the flex cable that controls the aperture iris that has failed, a common problem with zoom lenses apparently, and expensive to fix. That being said this is probably my best, and certainly my most expensive lens, so it will get repaired and hopefully I'll have it back soon. The photo is still pretty good, despite my angst at what occured when shooting it.
I have just approved the proof of my 2022 Calendars and am now awaiting delivery within the new week or so. I am very happy with the selection of images this year and I'm sure you will agree that they are a bit different from previous years. I have had a few orders since my original post so get in touch if you want to reserve your copy(ies). £7.50 each, plus P&P if you require them to be sent to you. Simply email me at email@example.com with your requirements.
I will be attending some local craft fayres over the next couple of months leading up to Christmas, in Plockton (24-25th Sept and 22nd-23rd October) and Dornie (15th Oct) so watch out on Facebook for those dates (Lochalsh Craft Group). I will be taking orders for calendars, until they arrive that is, and also selling canvas prints (some at discounted sale prices), A4 and A3 prints (some mounted, mostly unmounted) and cards. I am also planning a short exhibition at The Steadings Gallery, Balmacara Square from 27th November to 2nd December - the ideal opportunity to buy that perfect Christmas gift, or just to spoil yourself - why not?
After a day at the Dornie Craft Fair yesterday, where I sold a large canvas print, some A4 prints and a bunch of cards, I spent this afternoon selecting images for, designing and ordering my 2022 Calendar. I have placed an order for just 100 copies, and there will not be a second order made, so they will be strictly imted edition.
I am currently awaiting the proof and then I'll follow-up this post with more details on the likely timescale for delivery and the final look of them. I am hoping to have them in time for the Lochhalsh Arts Fair next weekend (probably not likely though), and certainly for the upcoming local craft fairs and the Plockton High School Christmas Fair on 4th December, as well as for my pre-Christmas exhiition on 27th November to 2nd December at the Steadings Gallery, Balmacara Square.
Meanwhile, if you want to order any please get in touch via my contact page. They will be sold for £7.50 each plus P&P as appropriate.
After more than a month without picking up my camera I finally made it out of the door last night. The destination was Kyleakin, to try and capture some shots of the Skye Bridge in the evening light. I was a bit rusty after such a long time without doing any photography, and there were one or two midges to contend with, but it was a beautiful evening, with some lovely subtle light as the sun set behind the clouds on Skye.
The above shot was taken from near the shore in the centre of the village, with my 70-200mm lens set at maximum zoom to focus in on the bridge support and the lighthouse, with the yachts in the foreground. You can just see a hint of the shape of Raasay looming in the murk behind the bridge. The light that was coming from the setting sun, which was peeping though a vague gap in the cloud, was producing a beautiful golden glow, corruscating on the surface of the sea.
The next two shots were taken from the shore below Kyle House, looking up from underneath the bridge (well almost). The first is a wider view looking along the bridge towards Eilean Ban, and the second is focused on one of the pillars supporting the bridge. I liked the colours and light in this second shot - more abstract than my normal work.
The last couple of shots were taken from the harbour area of the village, the first looking from the old pier towards the low sun, just showing through the clouds; the second, looking towards Castle Maol with a few fishing boats at the old pier in the foreground. The outline of the sun, filtered by the cloud, made me take the first shot. It is a bit spoiled by the prominent lifebuoy on the pier but I wanted something in the foreground for added depth and interest.
Sadly I have had to cancel my exhibition due to developing covid symptoms. I hope to reschedule for later in the year.
My 2021 Exhibition at the Steadings Gallery in Balmacara Square starts on the 31st July and runs until the 7th August. The event is free to enter and is open daily from 11 am to 6pm, except the last day (7th August) when is is open from 10 am to 1pm.
As the title might suggest I have focused this year mostly on a more desaturated style of imagery which has resulted from a post-processing workflow that I developed while working on my Graded Unit project for the HNC in Photography in 2020. The style is perhaps motivated by a reaction to the commonly over-saturated imagery that is prevalent on social media platforms such as Instagram, where most of the images are incredibly punchy and vibrant, often captured on mobile phones. While these images are dramatic and impactful I find myself being increasingly detached from them and much more favouring those which focus on tone and texture. This perhaps harks back to my liking for monochrome and this technique does help to emphasise the key subject and works well when there may not be particularly strong colour contrast in a composition, or where there is a distracting element that you do not wish to be the focus of the viewer's attention.
Over the past year, regular readers of my blog will have noticed a tendency for this style of imagery to come more and more to the fore as I have experimented with the workflow. It does not always work but it has become a bit of a habit for me to at least try it out on a lot of my images. Sometimes it sticks but often I do revert back to the more traditional workflow.
The exhibiton consists of a collecton of images taken over the past 12-15 months, plus some re-worked older ones where I felt this style might work well. I have also included a few more traditional images as I felt they naturally worked well within the scope of the exhibition title.
Watch this space as I am producing a pdf book for the exhibition which I will post a download link to here once it is ready.
In addition to viewing the actual exhibition if you make it along you will also be able to purchase prints, canvases and cards. Many of my older prints and canvases will be on sale at reduced prices so try and get along to see if you can grab a bargain. Please feel free to share this post and encourage folk to come in and say hello.
Last week I had a week's holiday with my wife and a couple of friends on Orkney, my first trip to these islands. I went with great expectations of photographic opportunities and one or two specific targets. However, the weather was not overly kind to us, with pretty constant low cloud and overcast conditions, resulting in very flat light.
One of my main targets was to try and find, and photograph, Scotland's only endemic plant species, the Scottish Primrose, shown above. This lovely little plant is restricted in its distribution to the extreme north coast of the Scottish mainland and the Orkney Isles, and I had dipped out on spotting it at Durness when on a recent camping trip with one of my daughters. On this occasion it was really easy to find, and not far from the car park near the cliffs at Yesnaby. The flowers are not very large, less than 1 cm in diameter, and sit in a small group atop a stout little stem (no doubt needed to cope with the winds), rising out of a fleshy cluster of leaves. Its colours are really bright with a distinct white ring around a bright yellow centre and dark purple petals, as can be seen below.
Orkney came as a bit of a surprise to me, with much larger scale agriculture than I had expected, depsite being warned in advance. Being more accustomed to small scale crofting as found in Wester Ross, the lare green fields of cereals and silage crops and numerous herds of cattle were more reminiscent of the Black Isle of even parts of Fife. That being said, the habitats do support a good range of bird life with me counting around 65 species in the week, including Arctic Skua (Dark & Light Phase), short-eared owl and lots of Arctic Terns. I had plenty of opportunities to try and capture shots of the terns as they paid me a lot of attention whenever I walked close to the shore and away from the main farm land areas. The following shots are a selection of the best I manged until I had to leave to avoid being pecked on the head. These are really noisy and aggressive birds and very protective of their breeding territories, as well as being spectacularly beautiful with their sharp white lines, dark head and bright red beak (very pointy!).
The only other bird shot I managed, which I was able to do anything meaningful with at least, was this one of a cormorant on a rock by the shore. Not the best shot as it was at extreme range for my 70-200mm lens, even with the 2x converter as used for this shot. The converter is not a tool I use often as it does tend to produce soft images, and most times I find I am better off simply shooting with the professional lens on its own and cropping the image a bit.
Despite its natural heritage appeal, Orkney is probably better known for its cultural heritage, especially the ancient remains at Skara Brae, Stenness and Brodgar. We obviously took the opportunity to visit a good number of these sites during our holiday, and thankfully it was not excessively busy so it was possible to get some decent shots without too many folk in the way. The next collection features various sites including (in order) the Stones of Stenness, the Ring of Brodgar, the Broch of Gurness, Skara Brae and the Doocot at Rendall. For these, and most of the remaining shots on this blog post I opted for a desaturated, highly textured process to try and bring out the detail in the monuments and buildings. This was really a response to the incredibly dull flat light that I had to deal with, but I think the results are pretty decent.
There are also many eclesiatical and religious monuments and buildings in Orkney, with the most spectacular being St Magnus' Cathedral and associated Bishop's Palace in Kirkwall. I also wanted to visit the Italian Chapel on Lamb Holm with its famous painted interior. Below are some shots (some taken on my phone) of these two sites, plus the remains of a circlur church which can be found at the Earl's Bu near Orphir.
We also enjoyed walking around some of the old settlements and towns on the islands, especially St Mary's Hope on South Ronaldsay, Stromness, the old fishing sheds at Marwick and the farming museum at Kirbister. I shot the following collection of images and once again processed in a high textrue, desaturated style which I feel brings out the detal and textures in the stonework, despite the poor light.
To finish off, here are a few of my other shots from our visit, including some views of the Old Man of Hoy and the Hoy ciffs from the ferry, the cliffs at Yesnaby and a brief glimpse of blue sky, clouds and spectacular light.
This morning I was designated driver to drop off two of my girls at the station in Kyle of Lochalsh for the early train to Inverness. Despite the early start this is not something I mind doing as I usually make the most of getting up early and head out to the crofts for a bit of birding or photography. Today it was the turn of the camera rather than the binoculars. Initially the light was pretty flat but by 7am it was much better. The above shot was taken from near the station at Duirinish, looking towards Drumbuie. The dark clouds in the background and shadow on the hill ground set off the bright sunshine on the township really well, with the wild dog rose in the foreground adding some vibrant splashes of colour.
The following shot illustrates well the difference in the quality of the light at 6:15am. While the light was flat, the cloudy sky set against the wild flowers in the croft meadow made this an appealing composition, which I have photographed before.
While flat light is not usually that great for landscape photography it can be ideal for close-up and macro shots. If the light is too bright you can easily get blown out detail on the petals and leaves of plants, while soft cloudy light is ideal. As a result I started looking more closely at the plants in the meadows rather than the wider landscape. I did not opt for true macro as it was quite breezy and the plants were moving around a lot, making macro focusing impossible. Instead I opted for my Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS lens, working from a bit further away. The first shot below was actually taken with my EF 24-70mm f.8L II lens but I have included it for context as it shows the wonderful species-rich croft meadows in full flower just now. The close-ups were all taken with the 70-200mm lens.
The last shot (above) is probably my favourite from the morning. I really love the soft tones and the back light really brings out the subtle translucancy of the petals. The cropped version focuses on the two main daisies without the distractions of the surrounding flowers and grasses.
Aside from the wonderful flora I was also fortunate enough to get a good sight of a roe deer before it ran away and jumped the croft fence, plus a male siskin kindly posed for me on a spruce branch.
Another feature of these crofting townships that interests me is the old vernacular buildings, the older houses, barns and the like. This old barn sits at the edge of a small area of croft land in Duirinish. Set against the flower-rich grassland, with the looming cloudy sky made we want to shoot this image.
Finally, as I got back to the car, the light came out to play again and I captured this shot looking across the crofts towards Duirinish, showing off the marvellous meadows in these two spectacular crofitng townships.
I got back yesterday evening from a couple of days farther north in Coigach, Assynt and Durness, with a detour home via Altnaharra and Lairg, and have spent a few hours today processing images. Despite lots of driving I had plenty of opportunity to get my camera gear out and enjoyed it very much. The above shot is one of my favourites from the tirp, although I have shot this old building before I think I prefer this angle and the clouds and mixed light on Suilven in the background make for a compelling composition. It looks good in desaturated colour as well although, personally, I prefer the monochrome version. I also had my Intrepid 5x4" film camera with me so I exposed a few sheets of film at this location as well. I now have 12 sheets of film ready for development, so a spell in the darkrom is required soon. Watch out for a post with the results.
The above shot is one of three that I took of old abandoned dwellings during my trip. This part of Scotland is of course well-known for the part it played in the story of the Highland Clearances so it is perhaps not too surprising that there is plenty of evidence of older habitation, often in some incredibly remote spots. It is, I think, somewhat ironic that so much of the north-west is not only denuded of people but also of trees and its natural vegetation, as a result of the extensive sheep farming that prevails there. So, as you will see in these three images, there is not a lot of woodland, and there is lots of empty space.
Solmar is a small collection of old structures located on the headland beyond the old church and the golf course at Balnakeil Bay in Durness. Just beyond the ruins it is possible to make out the ancient field patterns of what would once have been croft land which would have been cultivated. Beyond that are the amazing sands and torquoise waters of the Kyle of Durness with Fashven in the background. This image also works well in monochrome but in this case I prefer the colour version as the ruins stand out more clearly and the contrasting colours of the sand and the sea make it special, although the field patterns do stand out better in black & white.
The last of the three old buildings is located at Alnabad, above Strathmore, close by the minor road from Hope to Altnaharra. This is a slightly more recent structure than those at Solmar but has none-the-less been long abandoned, and given its location in the middle of nowhere it is not at all surprising. This shot was taken from beside the road, looking west towards the empty lands of the Reay Forest (an ironic name if ever there was one as there are virtually no natural trees here at all, only some ill-conceived forestry plantations). The clouds were looming over the hills but there was some light getting through in patches, helping to illustrate the landforms. The overall perception was one of desolation. It must have been a pretty unappealing place on a bad winter's night.
This one also works well in black & white.
The following shot is my other favourite from the trip. I really love the light that you get at Durness, and particularly on the Kyle of Durness with its amazing sands when the tide is out. On this occasion the tide was well out and, while it was pretty overcast, there were gaps in the clouds which were providing amazing shifting light on the sands and the many channels by which the River Dionard reaches the sea. I managed to time this shot to capture one of those shifting patches of light falling on the house at Altanan. The contrasting colours and light and shade make this a really dramatic exposure and one that I am sure I will print so I can have it somewhere on the wall.
At Achnahaird Bay the Sea Thrift was in full flower on the saltmarsh at the head of the beach. It was a truly impressive dislay of soft pink flowers, visible from the road. I made my way down to the beach specifically to try and capture some shots of this colourful feature, set against the rugged landscape of Coigach. These three are my favourites.
The following images are a few of the others I captured during the trip. Some of these work well and others perhaps less so, but if you don't try things out you never really improve. The black & white shots of the trees and the drystone wall didn't really come together as I had hoped, but I quite like them all the same.
Yesterday evening was one of those wonderful soft nights where the gentle breeze was just enough to keep the midges away without making it chilly, and the late evening sun provided lovely warm light on the landscape. I chose to go for a walk around the coast from Duirinish to Port an Eorna and on to Drumbuie and the views across to Skye were truly fantastic. My favourite plant, the globeflower, was in full flower at Drumbuie, overlooking the bay at Port Cam with the Skye hills in the background. The above shot is my favourite, taken with at small aperture (f/16) to get the star burst effect of the sun. I exposed for the bright sky as I didn't have my ND Grad filters with me, and brought out the details in the foreground in post-processing. One of the beauties of my fantastic Canon 5D Mark IV is that it has great dynamic range and when shooting in RAW it is possible to make these kinds of adjustments. The following are a few of the other shots from the evening.
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.
If you like my photos and are interested in purchasing prints, whether framed, mounted or otherwise please click here.