Thursday, 2 October 2014

Harris Landscape Photography

Seilebost Harris
Seilebost looking across to Taransay
After what must be almost 25 years I finally returned to Harris. Last time I was a teenager holidaying with my parents, this time with my own family (10  & 12 yr old daughters!)

Photography back then was very much an ad hoc occurrence, I was keen, but certainly not driven. I've swapped my Velvia slide film for compact flash and my Olympus OM2n for a Canon 5D mk2. Back then I travelled light no cumbersome tripods, filters or accessories, just two prime lenses 50mm & 28mm. Now I pop an extra body and spare tripod in the car just in case!

UK map
Cambridge to Harris
Cambridge to Harris is a very long way. How I convinced my family that a holiday on Harris was a good idea I'm not sure, we looked into flying, but in the end decided to drive. Two stop overs on the way up, one near Moffat and the second at Dornie. Then a relatively short drive the length of Skye to catch the ferry from Uig.

Google maps said it would take 11 hours driving followed by 1 hour 40 on the ferry and another 30 minutes on the far side, unfortunately that didn't account for any traffic on the roads! The first day of travel was slightly slower than intended, but we were in no rush to get to Moffat. The second day the goal was to get to Dornie in plenty of time for sunset at Elian Donan Castle. This didn't go quite to plan since we got stuck on the A87 for 3 hours due to an accident. By the time we arrived in Dornie I had the choice of eating out with the family or taking photos of the castle. I had a packet of crisps for my tea and headed out in earnest.

Reflections Eilean Donan Castle
Reflections Eilean Donan Castle
The next morning we were back on the road again. A quick stroll around Plockton and then over the bridge to Skye. The previous day when we had been stuck in traffic it was high twenties, now the weather was decidedly cooler with a thick covering of cloud. Sure enough by the time we passed Brodick it started to drizzle. Ever the optimist (it will probably clear!) we drove over to Talisker Bay. After sitting in the car for lunch we, or rather I, decided a walk to the beach would be in order. This was met with a certain degree of resistance and unfortunately it didn't clear as I had half hoped, but the rain just got heavier and more persistent. Very wet with slightly grumpy kids we headed off to Uig. We booked in for the ferry about 3 hours early had a cup of coffee pottered around the solitary shop and by this time the weather eased a little and despite a little resistance from the family we headed back up the road a few miles to Fairy Glen.

Fairy Glen Skye
Fairy Glen Skye
To lighten the mood we had a family photo competition to see who could capture the Glen in the best possible way. I think Naomi's batteries went flat after about 2 shots, Julia got her iPhone out and Hannah did some strange acrobatics! We didn't officially judge the results, but here is my effort.

The rain didn't stay off long so we headed back down to queue up for the ferry.

After a good crossing we arrived in Tarbert for the final leg of our journey. Despite leaden grey skies and drizzle the light had a special quality, as we caught the first glimpse of Luskentyre Bay it simply shone turquoise out of the gloom. What would it look like when the sun shone!

The first few days we didn't see much sun, the weather was a little mixed, but that often leads to some of the best conditions for photography. You have to make the most of what you have. 

Harris isn't the easiest to get to and a very long way from Cambridge, but there are lots of great photo locations in a relatively small area. One of my bug bears with Scotland is that you have to drive a long way between good landscape locations. Harris is compact, I like that especially if you have a central base. Staying in Borvemore was an ideal spot, walking distance to Traigh Mhor beach and only a short drive to Northton (ironically in the South) and Luskentyre in the North.

Northton salt marshes

Luskentyre bay
Callanish Standing stones - Separation
Mid week we did venture a little further afield up to the standing stones at Callanish on Lewis. There was no visitor centre 25 yrs ago, but the stones themselves have remained unchanged for thousands of years. The challenge at Callanish was to try and get some photos devoid of people. I tried long exposures, standing around waiting for the crowds to clear in the end I decided to concentrate on a smaller sample of stones, giving them separation and room to breathe. However, I think my most memorable photo was one that did include a person snapping away in amongst the stones, a silhouette I converted to b&w. 

In amongst the stones
All in all we had a great week, I did get caught out early one morning without my midge hood (absolute must in August). Thereafter it remained in my camera bag and was frequently used. Here is a selection of other locations only a stones throw away from where we were staying.

Toe Head rays of light
Toe Head rays of light

Stripey Gneiss
Stripey Gneiss
Curves Luskentyre
Curves Luskentyre

On the return leg of our journey we spent a few days on Skye before heading down to the Lakes. The weather was much kinder to us despite an abysmal forecast. We hiked up to the Old Man of Storr in thick mist, but just as we approached it magically cleared. On our last evening I drove down to Elgol, it would have been rude to visit Skye without popping in. En-route I spotted two Golden Eagles, what a awe inspiring place it is.


Old Man of Storr
Old Man of Storr

Elgol sunset
Elgol sunset

All in all we had a great Scottish adventure I look forward to my next trip North.

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