Once hooked on photography it can be become a strange yet wonderful journey through life. Photography has always been a part of my own life with my parents being photographers; this saw me experiencing many happy, magical hours in the darkroom with my Dad. Eventually developing and printing my own photographs. Photography remained a hobby throughout my life before turning professional aged 43, in 2016. If you are lucky there comes a time on this journey where the images that you’re producing are popular and elevate you to a certain status, a point when your work becomes recognised. This can be very rewarding and humbling but for the creative photographer it’s all about the next image. Landscape photography is a diverse genre, encompassing traditional landscape scenes, abstract, long exposure, ICM (intentional camera movement) and much more; with many photographers having a go at all of these methods, desperately attempting to find ‘their’ style.
I believe that I’ve reached a stage where my own work has developed its own identifiable aesthetic, which I still refer to as a ‘visual mantra’. This style has evolved led by my own emotion, as an escape to find peace in the landscape, close to nature and losing myself in the process of image making. This style is not quite minimalism, more a simplification of a scene, often involving the use of long exposure. Whilst I still enjoy making this kind of image, it does involve the use of tripods and filters, generally carrying lots of kit.
The Isle of Skye is a magical destination for the landscape photographer, unarguably one of the most diverse and dramatic locations in the UK. I’d previously visited Skye on several occasions, ticking off the classic spots, such as the Old Man of Storr and the Fairy Pools, all very well known in landscape photography circles and possibly due to Instagram, seemingly the masses are now aware!
For this particular visit I wanted to tell a visual story, a whole new approach. There is so much more to this island than the iconic spots, it has a wonderful brooding energy, it’s wild yet feels safe, the people are friendly, down to earth and welcoming. I’d decided that for this trip I would adopt more of a travelogue style of imagery, for the most part unburdening myself of the huge backpack full of lenses, filters and tripod.
I always prefer to use a prime lens, besides the increased image quality, I find that a prime makes me work harder for my compositions, moving rather than zooming, actively searching for the image. All of the shots in this article have been made with the SIGMA 40mm F1.4 DG HSM | Art lens.
My emphasis would be on travel and recce’ing locations, meeting people and taking note of the local history and culture. Of course, if the opportunity arose for a stunning landscape shot, then I would seize the moment, but with this different approach to my work I didn’t feel under any pressure to come home with that masterpiece of an image. Instead I was simply engrossed in the art of travel and exploration, I found that I was enjoying myself much more in this way.
It was the end of March and there was still a sprinkling of snow on the peaks when I arrived. I’d chosen the village of Sconser as my base for a week, which is conveniently positioned for exploring the whole island, it is also the location of the ferry terminal to the isle of Raasay, more on that later.
I spent the first couple of days driving around the island, stopping intermittently at various villages that I’d not visited previously and feeling under no pressure to make images. This was hugely enjoyable, allowing me time to relax, free my mind and really enjoy the sights of this amazing island.
The weather forecast for the next morning was not good, grey relentless drizzle for the entire day. Undeterred I gathered my waterproofs and drove up to the famed Quiraing, I was as much up for the walk and bracing fresh air as anything else. As I walked along the Quiraing I passed the usual compositions that so many photographers have captured over the years. At each of these I stopped for a few moments, taking in the various scenes, all of which are stunning in this very alien landscape. I was however uninspired photographically to set up for any of those shots as I’d seen them so many times. Onwards I continued in the rain, enjoying every step of the walk, looking instead for off the cuff shots of random sheep, nonchalantly sheltering from the rain. Suddenly I heard the call of a Raven, this really excited me as this mountain dwelling bird, steeped in folklore enhanced the atmosphere of the location further still. I was travelling light and had only brought one lens, the SIGMA 40mm | Art, not ideal for wildlife photography. Luckily, I didn’t need a close up of the Raven, if I could just capture it in the frame, soaring between these brooding mountain spires I’d be happy. I have to say that the SIGMA 40mm | Art lens got much wetter then it ought to on this hike and I can confirm that it has excellent weather proofing!
I’d seen it written in a book about Skye that no photograph can ever capture the mood of the dramatic Quiraing, yet with these simple monochrome images, for me they come pretty close to evoking the atmosphere on this particular day. I’m much happier with these than the kind of glorious sunrise that I’d liked to have seen in years past. Furthermore I’d ventured further and really experienced this landscape fully, I was exhilarated by the mood and sighting of Ravens. All of this enriched the experience more than perhaps a colourful sunrise could have.
The SIGMA 40mm | Art lens that I’m using on my SIGMA sd Quattro H actually comes out at a focal length of 53mm, as the SDQH has a unique sensor, which sits in size between APS-C and full frame. As with all of the Art range, build quality is as good as it gets, being reassuringly solid. Of course the main reason I choose Art primes is the outstanding image quality. The sharpness, contrast and clarity achieving the best result from every pixel, this is why I prefer a prime to a zoom and to me the image quality is reflected in the end result, the print.
For two or three on days on this trip I spent hours driving around, stopping off at various bays, or any sight that caught my eye, such as the decaying house in the image below. If you’ve never been to Skye I can tell you that it is deceivingly large and takes hours to drive around; not that the driving is a drag, on the contrary it’s absolutely beautiful and interesting around every corner. I was there in late March which is pretty much the same time I’d visited on previous trips, yet the island seemed busier. Could this be the Instagram effect? At the foot of the Old Man of Storr, which has become so iconic (for obvious reasons!), the number of cars was staggering, I chose to give it a miss for this trip instead seeking out quieter spots.
This influx of tourists earlier in the year had intrigued me a little, it seemed that most of the people on the island that I came across where tourists. I got speaking to a few of them, German, French, Polish, American and below, Xia. Xia was born in China, lived Seattle, loved the Isle of Skye. When I saw Xia in his kilt I just had to ask to take his portrait, here at Staffin Bay. Xia seemed quite flattered to have his portrait taken; when I told him that I was from Yorkshire he instantly got to mentioning his petrol head hero Jeremy Clarkson. My personal views on whom I shall keep to myself!
I was finding this travelogue style of photography very refreshing; a new and much needed dimension has crept in to my photography travels and has given me that spark that we so often need to develop as photographers.
The Isle of Raasay has been on my list of places to visit since my first time on Skye, when I looked over to the island from the well known vantage point of the Old Man of Storr. Being based in Sconser where the ferry terminal is situated I decided to board the ferry. A very pleasant 20-minute crossing with stunning views all round; OS map in hand I was ready excited to explore. I hit the road and the first thing I came across was the Raasay distillery, I had to pop in of course, purchased a bottle and set off on my way again. As I drove around this island stopping in various bays, I found the atmosphere very similar to Unst in the Shetlands. With a definite ‘Island feel’, by that I mean that at times on Skye, it’s so vast that it’s easy to forget you’re actually on an island. On Raasay there is more of a remoteness about it, one can seek solitude and really connect with the elements. It’s a place you can go to detach yourself from the daily grind, a week here would see you fully recharged and at peace. I felt at one with the elements, an eagle soared overhead and the wind was howling. The island felt welcoming and despite its remoteness, safe and pure.
Elgol is a well known and popular spot for landscape photographers and tourists, with arguably one of the most dramatic beaches in the UK, with huge boulders dominating a rugged coastline, looking across to the Cuillin mountain range. For this visit however I was keen to do a boat trip from Elgol over to Loch Coruisk, which is flanked by the mountain peaks of the unmistakable Black Cuillins. I boarded one of the ‘Misty Isle’ boat tours, which is an incredibly friendly family run business that has been in operation since the 1960’s. What I experienced on that boat trip blew me away, sailing up to the jetty at Loch Coruisk was absolutely spectacular, where the River Scavaig flows in to the sea had a crystalline purity to it. The River Scavaig is believed to be the shortest river in the UK at only a few hundred meters long, what it lacks in size it certainly makes up for in location. What I felt at Loch Coruisk was one of the most emotive scenes of pure wilderness that I’ve experienced and really puts one’s life in perspective. We just had a couple of hours to explore Loch Coruisk and in that time it wasn’t possible to get the shots I’d have liked, partly due to the time of day, but I was happy with the travelogue styles pics that I managed to grab whilst there, including a few portraits. All good reason for another trip when more time is available to really settle in to one of the most dramatic settings that I have visited in the UK, and I’ve travelled from the most southerly to the most northerly point of our beautiful lands.
To conclude, I have to say that in no way did I feel limited by shooting for the most part with just one lens, in fact it was quite liberating. A feeling of freedom came from using a focal length that is suitable for many subjects, landscape, details, abstract and a few portraits along the way. I’ve printed several of these images on my return, including ‘Atlantic Seascape’, ‘Where Ravens Soar’ and the Portrait ‘Sandy & Sean’; I was extremely happy with all of these prints, some of which were large scale and thanks to the Art lens, quality is outstanding! As always I cannot speak highly enough of the Art range of lenses, very highly recommended!