Isle of Skye – A Lesson Learned

Last week, I made that famous pilgrimage which many photographers make – a trip to the Isle of Skye, where some of you will know, I have unfinished business. Last year, my timing simply couldn’t have been worse. I managed to visit during a week where the Isle experienced some of the heaviest rainfall in the last decade, with weather bad enough to cancel ferries to the Island for nearly a week. Disheartened at having shot two frames in 3 days, I abandoned the trip 2 days early and came home.

It couldn’t be that bad again, surely? Well………………

In a word, nearly. It was marginally better, in that at least this time I could get the camera out! But in all honesty, it was really hard work. And yes, I can already here the howls of derision from here……

“It’s the Isle Of Skye, how can it be hard work?? Blasphemy!!”

Well, it was windy – very windy. Any of you who follow my work will know that I hardly shy away from testing conditions, however I don’t care if you’re stood looking at a most beautiful Scottish Highland scene, or a flat field in Lincolnshire (no offence if you’re from there btw, you get the point though), if it’s 60/70mph winds constantly you’re going to have your work cut out. Just the basics of getting the thing sharp was a real struggle, and no amount of unintentional rainspots were going to save some of these images if they were soft.

I arrived on Tuesday after a night in Glencoe, and true to form it was blowing a gale. We had intermittent showers, OK no probs I thought, I can work with that no issue. Wednesday it poured down non-stop all day with gale force winds, a complete write off. Thursday was much like Tuesday but with even more wind. Conditions were so bad/dark on the Quiraing on Thursday morning that at 10am I was shooting at ISO 1600 just to get enough light/speed to stop the shake, the tripod rendered useless at this point. Moody is a word which is banded around quite freely in photography, often to replace a crappy grey scene or a bad mono, but this was the very definition of mood – a wild landscape in its raw form, no pretty pink sunrises here I’m afraid, just a battle of wills between my stubbornness to have not driven 8 hours in vain and Storm Caroline, which was piling in behind me from the Atlantic. In a perverse kind of way, I enjoyed it. Much of the enjoyment I get from photography is the pursuit and process itself rather than the end result, and the challenge of trying to master and overcome. That morning on the Quiraing was just that – wind so strong it nearly blew the car door off, and had my experienced fell walker friend sat in the car refusing to budge the entire time. Lucky him I thought.

Elgol Slabs.jpg

‘Bugger it, I’m here’ ...... And that was the attitude for the entire week. At times I’d cursed my luck, and it would have been easy to feel sorry for myself, but in the end it’s pointless, we all have bad luck in our photography you’ve just got to make the best of it, which I tried to do. At times I even enjoyed it. I’m sure at some point in the future I’ll return, but for the time being my home life is such that an 8 hour+ drive to be away from family, in a landscape no better than my own is too much of an expensive gamble. I truly believe that in order to create authoritative work which resonates and really means something you have to really absorb yourself into your surroundings and know it intimately. With the best will in the world I’m never going to achieve that in Skye, and if I can’t do that then it really doesn't motivate me. Don't get me wrong, the Isle Of Skye is a fabulous place, it really is, I just can't do it justice in a fleeting visit. The one good thing which came out of this trip which will stay with me into the future is that I better understand what I really want to get out of my photography, and as nice as this sort of photo trip is, that's all it is, nice. I wrote this blog before processing any of my images from the trip - having now seen them it appears I did better than I thought, however I can't shake the nagging feeling that the images I've made feel a bit hollow. That might sound like moaning, but that's just how it is for me. I don't know if you feel the same, let me know in the comments if you do.  

"Why did you go there if you knew that would be the case?" I hear you ask….

Well, most importantly it was a break with friends, so I knew that I’d be very lucky to come home with anything compelling, and in future this is how I’m going to view these trips if I do any, as a holiday and nothing else. Perhaps that's the mistake I was making, focusing too much on the photography. Anyway, if I organise another it’ll probably be somewhere right off the radar, but then as we know that is increasingly difficult to achieve these days. I really don’t wish this blog to appear negative - coming back with a clearer mind about what is at the root of my photography is most certainly a positive, and I got to spend some quality time with my best mate and father in law which is always a good thing.

So, I won’t blather on about the finer details you've heard enough – here’s some mucky weather shots from Scotland, see you on the next one :-)

Stuart