Every time I go back to Lewis I am simultaneously happy and worried. The bond we form to the place into which we were born is enduring. The intensity of childhood experience and the memories we form in those early years are especially strong. As I get older, I worry that someday I will get off the ferry and feel like a tourist in an unfamiliar place. Happily that day has not yet come. I still have a better mental map of Lewis and Harris than the area where I now live. Every road and corner, the town, the castle grounds, the beaches are all still connected to those strong childhood memories. I recall who had chickens on the steep hill behind the main street in Tarbert, who I played with on what beaches, what it felt like to bush walk through the rhododendrons in the castle grounds, balancing on the sewage pipe to get across the river at Bayhead and on and on. A storm of memories around every corner.
Some things do throw my sense of place off balance though. The Scalpay bridge does this. Probably due the huge scale of the bridge coming up against those strong memories of going over to Scalpay before the bridge existed. It feels like the present and the past refusing to co-exist in my conscious mind. I wonder why this might be. I like change and I don’t like pointless nostalgia. I get that from my father who was always looking for the next thing to do in business and even in retirement at the age of 83 he’s still ripping out flower beds and starting from scratch. His philosophy was simple: If change gives people work and jobs then it’s a good thing.
So why does the my mind refuse to be impressed by the Scalpay bridge? I think it’s because I have a memory of Scalpay to which I attach entirely unreasonable importance. I used to spend the summer holidays helping Iain, the carpet fitter who worked for my dad, lay carpets all over the island. One job, on Scalpay, was on a particularly gorgeous summer day. I was sitting with Iain on the back of the Luton van listening to the Beatles on a portable cassette player eating a sandwich, looking out over this peaceful landscape while Iain puffed away on his roll-up. It sits in my memory as a moment of total peace and happiness. I wonder if the bridge is a reminder that that moment is gone forever, never to be experienced again. As a good friend once said to me: “Shut up, you hippy”.
A 40 minutes brisk walk from home and the rolling, snow covered fields provide a beautiful subject to photograph. The wide scale is emphasised by the snow and the indistinct line between the ground and the sky is intriguing.
Camera work: Canon 5Dmk4, Lens: 70-200 f2.8L, 1/125, f/9, ISO 800 (handheld).
An insanely early trip to Loch Awe and Kilchurn Castle this week. Arriving at 5.30am before sunrise we picked our way through the marsh to the edge of the water and waited for the dawn. The air was still and clear with a magical display of stars above. To be honest, the images from this trip are a bit underwhelming but there’s always something to observe and learn. The photographs have a subtle shift in colour as the light rises from a blue pre-dawn light that is flat and mysterious with 30 seconds of exposure time to the warmer tones at first light and the harsher contrast and warmer light as the sun clears the hills.
Niall and I got to discussing the merits of each situation. Most of the pictures we have seen are taken after sunrise because most people are infinitely more sensible than the the two of us stumbling around in marshland in the dark to catch the very first light of the day. The fully lit scene is normal. It looks like the landscape we all experience. It’s ok but its familiarity makes it less interesting I think. That blue, flat light that comes from no direction in particular is a rare thing. We both agreed that even if we did not make any earth-shattering images that day just to be in that light, at that place for a few minutes to experience something that is out of the ordinary is worth the 3am rise.
Camera work: Canon 5D3 with a 17-40L at 17mm, 0.4″@f/16, ISO 100.
Conditions: Moderate breeze. Heavy rain.
Out at Loch Chon in the Trossachs area near Aberfoyle for sun up today. Thanks Manoj for the company and your patience in the face of being soaked to the skin to get a photograph.
It rained heavily and incessantly for hours and hours. I love these conditions. It’s challenging but pays off with the beautifully muted colours and the separation the rain creates between the Island in the middle of the loch and the forest behind.
At this point I dropped my camera into the loch and my morning’s work came to an abrupt end. Had to happen someday. This is the danger of working with a tripod in the rain while up to your knees in water. I must buy one of those fancy camera bags that allow access to camera without having to juggle on open sack on your knees. My apologies to everyone I previously told that such bags were a gimmick. Consider me bitten in the bum.
The scourge of digital photography is the “costlessness”of pressing the shutter release. Excuse the invention of a new word for this. This is a case in point. I took about 10 images of the same scene. I like them all. They are all my babies. Then I have to pick a favourite. Film was easier (…is easier if you’re Bruce Percy…) I guess as you had a single chance and that was it. Perhaps film was harder as you had to be sure of your intention and timing. After much pacing around and squinting at the 10 this was the one that won out… For today.
For the large version please click on the image in gallery page 2.
I was delighted that my image of cows having fun on the beach at Laig Bay, Isle of Eigg, has been selected as the seascape category winner in this years SLPOTY competition. It’s the first time I have entered a competition like this for a few years and I am thrilled that this image was appreciated in this way. I understand from the administrator of the competition that there is a blind judging process (to avoid bias towards photographers with an established reputation) with a few hurdles to cross before the winning image is awarded. I am humbled to see so many photographers I already admire on the commended list and the portfolios of images by the overall winner and runner up are just stunning. Check out SLPOTY.co.uk.
Like most people I enjoy looking at interesting portraits as well as images of people interacting with each other and with the world around them. We are social animals and endlessly fascinated by each other. Consequently most people don’t find images of empty landscapes compelling. I sometimes wonder, having made an image, “Is there enough here to justify this composition?”.
I was having just such an angst on Portencross Pier the other night. The sun had gone down and the light was just stunningly blue and clear. I was standing there looking at the angle the concrete pier made relative to the horizon. Imagining a line from my feet to the distant horizon and the complementary angles that would be formed where those line meet. I imagined the construction worker many years ago marking out the lines on the concrete when he was going to cut the slots to allow the water to drain through the pier. Carefully cutting with his still saw to achieve those straight black lines. I enjoyed the complimentary colours of the blue sea and those yellow lichens and then it dawned on me that the lichens grew in a zone along the edge of the pier but no further . Why? What was different about the habitat in that zone? No idea and still can’t work it out.
There is an uneasy feeling in these empty, long-exposure images where man-made structures protrude into the natural environment. A sense that the landscape, even the man-made landscape does not need us any more. We are the ephemeral element here whereas the landscape is relentless and unyielding. It is full of interest if we look for it. There is beauty in the geometry and the maths, the natural and the constructed if we look for it. Without the distraction of people the empty scene started to tell its own story.
Camerwork: Canon 5D mk3, 63 seconds as f/11, ISO100. 3 stop hard grad on the sky and 3 stop ND over entire frame.
Technical: canon 5D3, 17-40 lens at 20mm, ISO100, 2″@f/16. Lee filters on the sky.
Conditions: slight breeze at sunset with a gentle swell on the water.
I can’t make up my mind about the balance of this image. There is a diagonal that goes up to the small cloud and seems to balance with the small rock lower left. It’s bottom heavy. Perhaps a square aspect ratio but then those nice lines in the rock are lost.