Following Fiction to the Isle of Skye
In Capturing Context, we share the story behind the image, providing insight into the photographer's approach and experience, and allowing the reader to connect more deeply with the work.
Have you ever read a fictional story that resonated with you so deeply that it inspired you to travel somewhere? A story that inspired new adventures, that made you go capture images of a place that you might never otherwise have visited? After reading The Lewis Trilogy by Scottish author Peter May, many years ago, I always knew that I would embark on such a journey.
The Lewis Trilogy is a series of crime thrillers set primarily on the Outer Hebrides of Scotland. In the novels, the Isle of Lewis, in particular, adds just as much character to each story as the fictional characters do themselves. In the author’s authentic style of writing, you can smell the ocean air, hear the crashing waves and sea birds, feel the soft bog at your feet, and gain a vivid appreciation for the wild setting in which these stories take place. The books left me inspired me to travel to Scotland one day and, just recently, I was finally able to make that dream a reality.
I am not one to jump from country to country, or even city to city, in a single trip; my preference is to spend enough time to allow me to savor one area at a manageable pace. Two weeks in Scotland may sound like a lot of time to most folks, but I easily could have spent months or years there, capturing images and gradually discovering the nuances of the light and landscape. When travel time is somewhat limited, however, pre-trip research is necessary. Loosely planning your time around visits to some of the iconic locations can provide a decent framework for organizing a trip. This allows time and flexibility for discovering lesser known gems along the way.
Deciding where to spend my limited time during the first leg of my trip was difficult. I eventually settled on the Isle of Skye for its rugged beauty, diversity, and relative ease of access. I admittedly did not realize what a photographic mecca the Isle of Skye had become until I arrived, but thankfully, exploring it mid-week in the month of February reduced congestion. What’s more, I was luckily rewarded with favorable conditions: very drivable roads due to a complete lack of snow, and the kind of foggy, moody conditions that landscape photographers love so much.
Having arrived to the Isle very late at night, well past dark, I did not have the luxury of scoping out any locations for sunrise the next day. For that reason, I decided to attempt sunrise at the Quiraing, an elevated plateau which is relatively accessible by car and doesn’t require a tremendous amount of hiking in the dark. Having just a few short days on the Isle before embarking on the next leg of the journey, the Quiraing, home to one of the most spectacular views in Scotland, was an absolute must on the itinerary. When we arrived, I wasn’t sure where to set up for sunrise but we set off to climb a hill just off the side of the road. As the sun rose over the low-lying clouds that first morning, and the mist began to gather and scatter warm golden light over the green hills, I was awestruck by how massive and otherworldly this location is. If you look closely at the cover photo taken that morning, you will see a tiny ant of a person in the upper right of the frame, which provides a sense of scale of this place. Besides my husband and me, that tiny ant was the only other photographer we encountered this particular morning. This peaceful experience turned out to be one of only two mornings during our entire two-week trip that had any sunrise to speak of, so volatile is the weather there!
That afternoon, the light was constantly changing with the occasional crepuscular rays beaming down on the landscape, so we figured there was no better time to hike up to Old Man of Storr. I admit I’m not in the best shape, and the hike was a little more strenuous than expected but still we made it! By the time we neared the top, however, the fog had completely absorbed the famous vertical peaks, obscuring the classic view looking down at the Trotternish Peninsula with the jagged points in the frame. This caused me to look for a new, unique composition, and in the end I captured a few images of a single peak, using the watery bog in the foreground for some reflections, before heading back down again. One great memory of this hike was meeting some very friendly locals. My husband and I stopped to chat with many folks along the way, which left us feeling positively and gave the experience greater depth.
The Isle is home to many wondrous waterfalls that are fantastic subjects on completely overcast days, with soft light perfect for longer exposures. None were as magical as the iconic Fairy Pools, a series of vivid, crystal clear pools and falls along the River Brittle that resembles something out of ancient Scottish myth. The wet bog and mud were so intense that, on one step, I sunk down to my knee, requiring a mini-rescue by my husband to get unstuck! A good pair of wellies suitable for hiking are most certainly your friends here, allowing you to access more creative angles and to get compositions from within the shallow pools. I can only imagine the color of the water here on a sunny day.
On the last day in Skye, the pre-dawn skies looked very promising, completely clear with stars visible everywhere. However, by the time I arrived at my planned location for sunrise, the skies had turned completely overcast. That highly variable weather is certainly something to keep in mind when planning a trip here, and requires a person to remember the value of flexibility and patience for such conditions.
As vividly described as the boggy landscape was in the Lewis Trilogy, I must say, the scale and grandeur was more massive and ethereal than I ever could have expected. Around every corner, bend, and hill, the sweeping geography would reveal itself in unexpected ways: from the sheep dotting gently undulating verdant hills, to the rocky, austere terrain of the higher elevations carved violently by the forces of nature.
Did I return home with the most amazing portfolio-worthy images from my trip? No. But what I did return home with is a deep appreciation for the unique and varied landscape, the rapidly changing weather and light, and a burning desire to return again someday to the beautiful islands of Scotland! I will always remember the the squelch of rubber wellies trekking through soft mud, a sensation that became my constant companion during my trip. The constant sense of wonder I carried with me was as tangible as the weight of my camera bag on my back. It is a sweet thing indeed when real life is grander than fiction.