Outer Hebrides - Scotland

Outer Hebrides - Scotland

I recently went on a photo trip with two friends from previous trips around the islands of Harris, Lewis and Uist. My aim was to capture the diversity and beauty of the landscapes and learn more with an intensive two weeks of photographing with two great photographers.

I was joined by Michael Blanchette, who I had previously been to Iceland and the Lofoten Islands in Norway with, and Jerry Hughes, who I met in Norway. These two were not only great photographers but great people to spend the time with, although Jerry’s driving did leave us with a mild case of PTSD.

Arrival, Beaches, Boats and Stones

After arriving at our home for the week, we set off to the beach. That was not something I was expecting to hear on this particular trip. Turns out the islands are home to some truly awesome beaches, the likes you’d expect to see in the Caribbean, not Scotland. Our first location was Mangersta beach, a beautiful white sandy beach with turquoise water. I had only one problem. I had somehow managed to forget to bring my tripod with me up to Scotland. I did manage to buy one in Argos, but it was not the strongest and most stable bit of kit in the world, especially not considering I have one of the heaviest cameras you can get (the Nikon D4). One thing I learnt about Scotland is that its pretty windy, not ideal for a tripod with spindly legs, but eventually I managed to keep it stable enough to get one decent shot.

Mangersta Beach. 0.8s @ f8. ISO 400

We headed a bit further down the road for sunset at a set of sea stacks and, although the sky didn’t properly light up I did get a nice moody black and white of the stacks.

Stacks. HDR @ f8. ISO 100

The next day was pretty moody again, it is Scotland after all. Although a flat and overcast sky is very rarely interesting, if you can get some shapes into the clouds or wait for a bit of a wind to mix them up you can end up with something a bit more pleasing. Mike had spotted a little boat that he had photographed on a previous trip many years prior, still there on the shoreline, but a little bit more beat up. We went to it in the late afternoon and I managed to get a nice little shot of it.

An old boat by the water. HDR @ f9. ISO 100

After that we headed to one of the most famous spots around here, the Calanais Stones. These stones date back further than Stonehenge and you can walk right up to them, which is both awesome and also can be a bit of a pain for people wanting to photograph them. Luckily everyone was very well behaved and I went black and white again to get this very silvery shot.

Calanais Stones. HDR @ f8. ISO 200

Day 3 give us nothing but wind and rain…

Arches, More Beaches, More Stones, and more wind and rain

The fourth day we headed to an arch on the west coast near the village of Shawbost called Stac a’ Phris. A small hike across fields and we found it, and perched ourselves on a rocky outcrop. It was at this point I discovered my Big Stopper filter had a small chip in it, which was ruining everything I tried to shoot through it. I wanted a very long exposure to stop the crashing waves below us, so ended up using a Little Stopper with the lowest ISO I could set and pushing the aperture all the way to f/18.

Stac a’ Phris Arch. 30s @ f18. ISO 64

We went back to the Calanais stones later that evening. We had a great sunset, but my photoshop skills haven’t quite caught up to the point that I can do a nice starburst, so as soon as they have, I’ll update this. We also went back to the little boat to try some light painting. It went alright but I didn’t like the end result much, and I also smashed up another lens by tripping over my spindly Tripods legs and smashing the 14-24mm lens down on the rocks. Luckily it only shattered the hood, so I fixed it with some gaffer tape.

Gaffer Taped Lens Hood

The next morning we headed back to Mangersta beach. Sadly the wind was wayyyyy too high up on the cliffside, so I headed down to the beach and made friends with a local dog.

Doggie on the beach. 1/2000s @ f4. ISO 100

We then headed across to the other side of the island and to the top, which is strangely called the ‘Butt of Lewis’. We visited the lighthouse, but then pulled in and found a small sandy beach with the classic turquoise water I’ve come to love.

Beach at the Butt of Lewis. Panorama. 3s @ f14. ISO 100

In standard fashion I did manage to drop my Little Stopper down the cliff. Luckily it was still in its box and I was able to retrieve it from the beach below. The cases that LEE filters come in are pretty damn sturdy.

With that long drive down it was time to leave our base on Lewis and Harris, jump on a ferry and head down to Uist for a couple of days.

A quick tour of Uist

Upon arriving at Uist, I pretty quickly spotted some seals having a doze on some rocks nearby. I’m not exactly a nature photographer but thought I’d grab a quick shot anyway. They blended in very well…

Seal on the rocks.

The weather was pretty grim, but Mike and Jerry still got their cameras out and started shooting some old run down buildings. That wasn’t for me though so I took the opportunity to just have a wander around.

We did some scouting around the one big ring road and found Scolpaigs Tower, a folly built in the 1800s and one of the most photographed sites on the island. When we came back for sunset we wandered down to the edge of the little lake and the sky finally gave us a proper show.

Scolpaig tower. 10s @ f/10. ISO 100
Scolpaig tower. 10s @ f/10. ISO 100

The sky absolutely lit up for us. With a perfectly still lake in front of us and no wind it made for a perfect shot of some lovely reflections. The only problem up this way with being by a still lake in the evening with no wind, is the dreaded midges. They came out in decent numbers for us and were definitely an annoyance when trying to compose a shot. Still, it was a great evening.

Back to Harris

We got back to Harris and set up in our new home at the lovely Harris Hotel. We found some salt flats in a place called Northton in the south west and drove past them multiple times, stopping occasionally to try and shoot it (and buy some food from a nice little honesty box shack called croft36), but never had good lighting. Finally we came back one sunset and, just before we lost the light completely behind the mountain, we got what we wanted.

Salt Flats

We got some great ‘god rays’ coming from behind the mountain and the dramatic clouds just topped it off.

The last few days we carried on up and down the coast, finding some nice little inlets among the rocky shores.

Inlet. 1s @ f10. ISO 100
Inlet. 1.6s @ f8. ISO 100

As well as finding some beautiful panoramics that wouldn’t be out of place in the Caribbean.

Panorama over Seilebost beach.

My final shot came on the spectacular Luskentyre Beach. This little gem of a beach has huge swaths of perfect golden sand, turquoise water, gentle grasses and a mountain backdrop. It’s pretty spectacular. We all worked together for the shot, with us all setting up before one of us ran down to the water to stand there and act as a point of interest while the others triggered the models camera.

Self portrait at Luskentyre Beach, Scotland. 6s at f/20. ISO 100

We had a few people walk past so I was stood there for a while waiting for the right window of opportunity. The slow shutter speed gave a pleasing waviness to the grasses in the foreground, but it also meant the models had to stand as still as possible, so it got pretty boring standing there.

All in all, Scotland was a very worthwhile trip, with a huge variety to photograph and great people everywhere. And of course good whiskey, which we definitely made the most of.