Photography in Scotland – Glencoe and Isle of Skye

April 2018.

As I’ve immersed myself more in the world of photography, I’ve developed the typical photographer’s bucket list of places to visit. The lake district in England, the peak district, the Dolomites in Italy, Iceland, Paris, Yosemite, Zion and many more – including Scotland.

This trip was part vacation and part self-examination. Could I get to one of the world’s photographic hotspots, camera(s) in hand, and not make an idiot of myself?

I flew into Edinburgh, picked up a hire car (Audi A1 S-Line – uninspiring but quite competent, even fun when pushed) and headed for the hills. It wasn’t my first time in Scotland, but it was my first time outside of Edinburgh. A friend had raved about Skye (well, about Scotland in general, really) and given its popularity as a photographic destination, I figured it OK to kill two birds with one stone – find some of the Scottish magic I’d heard so much about and take pictures of it.

Did I meet my goals?

Yes.

Scotland definitely has an element of magic to it. It reminded me a lot of Tasmania, actually. There’s a certain hardiness and creativity about the people there, and a definite connection between those people and the land they live on.

Scotland is an astoundingly beautiful place, much more than I imagined. It’s rugged and delicate at the same time – a true feast for the eyes (thanks, PJ). Everywhere I went I was surrounded by majestic mountains, many still wearing their snowcaps – a remnant left behind by The Beast From The East.

It’s hard to take a bad picture in Scotland, to be honest, so I’m not sure how to judge the images I came away with. Suffice to say, though, that I’m pretty happy. Whatever people might think about the objective quality of the photos you’ll see below, the process of taking them and putting them together was thoroughly satisfying.

Scroll to the end for techy details, if you like.

And as always, click to enlarge. Best viewed on a big screen, I think.

Glencoe

The Glencoe Valley is full of chocolate-box landscapes. It’s as if a giant oil painting is unfolding before your eyes while you drive down the highway.

I spent two fantastic days driving and walking through the place. I stayed at Glencoe Cottages, choosing their budget option. It was OK for two nights, though it might have tested my resolve if I were to stay any longer. I splashed out for my four nights at Skye.

Enough talk. Let’s look at some pictures.

My first shot in Scotland. Glencoe Cottages has a small loch along their driveway so I didn’t even have to walk far for this one.

Get used to the moody, grey skies. You’ll see a lot of them in this section.

Nikon D810, 17-35mm, ISO64, f13, bracketed

The image below is a panorama made up of five separate images. It’s massive – around 15,000px across.

The three mountains on the right are called the three sisters. I snuck another mountain in on the left and will hitherto refer to them as the Glencoe Beatles.

I plan on printing this one in large format for my living room.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm, ISO64, f10, panorama

For those of you who like details, here’s a 1:1 crop from a section of the full-size image.

The mountain below is one of the three sisters on its own. To give it a sense of scale, I included the trees alongside the small S-shaped creek running across the bottom third of the frame. They might be hard to see at this size.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm, ISO64, f10, bracketed

This shot was taken with a 10-stop ND filter (a ‘big stopper’, as they’re known), which gave me a 4-second exposure, smoothing out the water in the creek.

Leica M240, 21mm, f4, ISO 200, bracketed

This is the same mountain from the previous shot, but on its own.

I love this image. It’s going “straight to the pool room”.

Leica M240, 21mm, f11, ISO 200, bracketed

There are several small cottages at the foot of the mountains in Glencoe and yes, they’re occupied. What a place to live! Having the cottage in the foreground gives a real sense of scale.

Leica M240, 35mm, f13, ISO 200, bracketed

Glencoe is, by definition, the glen along the River Coe. I shot this near the village of Glencoe and I found it far more haunting in black and white.

Leica M240, 35mm, f8, ISO 200.

Another long-exposure…..

Glencoe, Scotland
Nikon D810, 17-35mm, f8, ISO 64, bracketed.

Glencoe presents classic image after classic image, everywhere you look. The road to Glencoe does the same, as does the road between Glencoe and Skye. If I’d stopped to take every shot, I’d never have made it back to Sweden.

So, trying to maintain some discipline, I forced myself from the beauty of Glencoe
and made my way to……

——

The Isle of Skye

That I was driving past Glencoe to get to Skye was a massive bonus – Skye was the real reason for my trip.

I spent my evenings on the Isle of Skye at Hillstone Lodge and if you stay anywhere else when you visit Skye, you’re mad. Russell and Patrice have an outstanding home near Dunvegan and it was pure pleasure to stay with them for four nights (and no, I don’t know them, aside from being a paying guest at their place).

The Old Man of Storr

This is not your usual image of the Old Man. The usual image is taken side-on during a stunning sunrise with the distant lakes in the background. Like this.

I didn’t have any stunning sunrises while I was on Skye. I did my one (exhausting!) trek up to the Old Man as a recce, just in case the forecast had something promising for me. It never did, sadly. I snapped this image while I was up there just to prove I’d been.

For scale, check out the two tiny humans silhouetted on the left.

Leica M240, 21mm, f11, ISO 200

A little way north of the Old Man, there’s a popular stop that looks into this ravine. I actually climbed down into the ravine to get some waterfall shots but this shot from the top, taking in the ravine, the grazing sheep and the dramatic background, was much more pleasing to the eye.

Leica M240, 21mm, f9.5, ISO 200

This highland cow wasn’t near the Old Man, but I’ll put her here anyway and claim it’s a livestock connection with the sheep, above. She’s very elegant, don’t you think?

Nikon D810, 70-200mm, ISO 64, f2.8

——

Neist Point

I spent a lot of time at Neist Point as it was only 20 minutes from Hillstone Lodge. Its best aspect is during sunset, so it was a nice way to end a day’s shooting.

The next two images are basically the same, but taken on two different nights. I like the composition in the first one better (the separation between the lighthouse and the horizon is the key), but I prefer the dramatic sky in the second one.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm at f11, ISO 64, bracketed.
Nikon D810, 24-70mm at f11, ISO 64, bracketed.

These cliffs are just to the left of Neist Point lighthouse. I had to lay on the ground to get this shot because the wind was SO prolific. The walk down to the point where I took this shot was into the wind and took me around 5 minutes. The walk up the hill, with the wind at my back, took around one minute.

Leica M240, 21mm, f4.8, ISO 200, bracketed

Note the cliffs in the photo above, specifically the cliff closest to camera.

On my third night on Skye, I walked up the back of that cliff to shoot the lighthouse from the other side. I love the way the last golden light of the day is kissing the rolling hills, as if to say goodnight. It was a beautiful moment and the 40-minute walk through the fields and back to the car was probably the highlight of my trip.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm at f11, ISO 64, bracketed.

——

(Not) The Fairy Pools

The Fairy Pools is one of the most popular tourist spots on Skye. It’s a lovely series of creeks and pools with a beautiful mountain backdrop.

Sadly, the mountain was completely clouded-in on the day I got there and the carpark was jam-packed with tourists. I decided to keep moving.

I’m glad I did, too. Less than two miles past I found this gorgeous little waterfall and spent an hour there trying out various compositions.

First, I shot the falls, face-on….

Leica M240, 21mm, f4, ISO 200

For this second shot, I followed a track up to the top section and rock-hopped until I was in the middle of the creek. Another long exposure…..

Leica M240, 21mm, f4, ISO 200

Below is another panorama showing a creek just a little further up the same road. I could have got most of this in a single shot with the right wide-angle lens. Shooting a group of vertical shots and creating this panorama gave me much more detail, though. Note the texture of the grassland to the left.

Leica M240, 21mm, f4, ISO 200, panorama

——

Sligachan

This image is taken just over the hill from Sligachan Bridge (which you’ll see in a moment).

This view was not visible from the road. I parked my car in a random spot on the highway and went exploring on foot. I was looking for a shot that showed off this gold and brown/purple groundcover that’s all over Skye. When I found this pond, I knew I had my location.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm, ISO 64, f9 , panorama.

And over the hill, the Sligachan Bridge. It’s probably the single-most photographed spot on the island. It’s not hard to see why.

Nikon D810, 17-35mm at f9, ISO 64, bracketed.

——

The Quiraing

The Quiraing is a beautiful walk in the north-east of Skye, just north of the Old Man of Storr. Unlike the walk to the Old Man – which you start at sea level – the road to The Quiraing lets you drive up to the height of the range and after parking your car, you walk a narrow path across the face of the range. The views are stunning.

As it was the middle of the day, the light wasn’t particularly flattering, so I converted these panoramas to black and white.

Looking across the range from the beginning of the walk….

Nikon D810, 24-70mm at f4, ISO 64, panorama.

Looking across the range from the half-way point of the walk….

Nikon D810, 24-70mm at f11, ISO 64, panorama.

Looking out from the range…..

Nikon D810, 24-70mm at f4, ISO 64, panorama.

——

I don’t know what’s more surprising about this trip – the number of images I took or the number of images I didn’t take.

I certainly left a lot on the table, including a number of shots that I did take but felt unsatisfied with.

There’s more to be photographed on the Isle of Skye. Much more. And I look forward to returning there some time in the next 12-18 months to have another go at it.

——-

For those interested in such things, I took two camera bodies and eight lenses with me.

Bodies: Nikon D810, Leica M240

Nikon lenses: 17-35 f2.8, 24-70 f2.8, 70-200 f2.8 and 50mm f1.8 (not used).

Leica lenses: 21mm f3.4, 35mm f2, 90mm f2.8 and 90mm f2 APO. Neither of the 90mm lenses were used on the trip.

Most of the Leica shots were taken with the amazing 21mm f3.4 Super Elmar.

The most used Nikon lens was my 24-70mm f2.8.

I used a Lee seven5 filter kit on the Leica. I don’t have a filter kit for the Nikon (yet) so those shots were mostly bracketed.

All images were post-processed in Adobe Lightroom, with additional work in Nik Silver Efex Pro 2 for black and white.

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10 Comments

  1. Great images. Really shows the rugged beauty of the landscape. I would say I’m jealous but I live here so I get to see these landscapes in all seasons and in all their grandeur. Lucky me!
    I hope you got a chance to do the Applecross run. It’s quite a route.

  2. Really do need to do a road trip to Scotland but you do need to get the weather just right. Imagine if you had your 9-3 Viggen tagging along with you. 👍🏻

  3. Hi Stephen … you sure do branch out … Congrats on following and promoting your own interests.
    I’ve followed you since your early SaabUnited days, as I was also bitten by the Saab bug way back in ’97. I enjoyed your allegiance to the mother brand, your hire as the Corp inside webmaster, thru the bailouts by Koenigsegg, and finally the NEVS painful buyout.
    I’ve enjoyed your side trips with your Porsche and Alfa … I was having one with an original Fiat Spyder. I’m still in a reconstructed ’99 9-3 convert, and ’07 9-5.
    Back after my Canadian HighSchool graduation, I toured the UK, motoring around on a BSA 250 to see the Lake District, Glencoe, John O’Groats, and Skye, as well as Yorkshire’s Dales, Wales’ Brecon Beacons, Devon’s Dartmoor …. and so many other treasures.
    Your photo essay brings back fond memories. Hope your lovely wife, author of those disturbingly troll-like animations, accompanied you on your adventures !
    Keep up the web work … Stuart, Ontario, Canada

    1. I wouldn’t mind a side trip with a new Fiat Spyder, esp an Abarth version, and esp on those Scottish roads.

  4. Really exciting photos!
    Make me thinking of take up my old idea to travel around in the north of Scotland. In one of my old Saab. Beside all the fantastic the scenery also maybe visiting some places producing the Scotish gold.

  5. Beautiful pictures – well done.

    Did you manage to get any pics of Eilean Donan castle on your drive to Skye? Made famous from the film Highlander (a must watch if you like that part of Scotland), it is clichéd now, but I still love it.

  6. That’s funny: I had arranged to drive to Sligachan last November, following in the footsteps of Norman Collie – one of the inspirations of the character Sherlock Holmes. In the end I had to cancel due to… weather. Still might try this year, so very good to see your perspective. You do get around, sir!