on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

A Skye Log

Jon Gibbs reports on a recent trip to Skye

Jon Gibbs

Jon Gibbs is a professional landscape photographer from Norfolk. Until recently Jon co-ran a photographic gallery in North Norfolk but is now concentrating his efforts on photographic workshops whilst re-thinking his plans for the future. In the past Jon has appeared in numerous magazines and has success in major photographic competitions.


It’s an obsession, I admit it, even the giants of Torridon and the beautiful mountains of the far North West can’t drag me away from the Isle of Skye. This beautiful island keeps calling me back to visit and I am happy to say it has hardly ever let me down with it’s notorious weather.

I have recently returned from another enjoyable trip (my kids always say holiday!) to the Western Highlands. I always stay at Dornie on the mainland which is the village next to the much photographed (and rightly so) Eilean Donan Castle. From the lovely guest house there are lovely views down Loch Alsh and on a clear day Beinn na Caillich and Bla Bheinns distinctive shapes dominate the horizon as if to beckon me away from the mainland once again. In an eight day stay I visited Skye seven times so it’s hold on me is quite apparent.

I seem to spend the first day and a half recovering from the drive and the results from locations shot on the first couple of days are poor and in all honesty a little hurried. This dissatisfaction with the early images shot also possibly stems from the fact that if you start in the highlands with decent light it can make you wonder if it will be the only window of opportunity you will get. My mistake was to try and fit in too many locations and drive too much, after the 570 mile journey the last thing I wanted was long driving days, big mistake.

Perhaps the fact that I drive so far north adds an added ‘hidden’ pressure to come back home with something. It’s the getting that first shot in the bag syndrome, once you are up and running, you relax and take your time and that is exactly what I did. A few years ago I’d of wanted to walk every conceivable path and shoot hundreds of images, I like to think that I am far more considered in my approach to making an image nowadays.

In writing this article I thought I would highlight five pictures of mine from the trip that have immediate appeal to me. Having only recently returned perhaps that can be viewed as a little premature to pick favourites and it possibly is. It may be better to say that these images stick out immediately for me as being images that I am happy with whether this be in terms of light,composition or the satisfaction of coming away with an image from a brand new location. There will be others images sitting on my hard drive that one day will show themselves when I re-edit and frequently you end up asking yourself ‘how did I miss this’, these images are often the ones you come to enjoy much more. Whilst I’m sure many of us crave dramatic light it is the ability to make an image from more subtle conditions that can provide the biggest challenge and therefore provide the most satisfaction.

The first image I have chosen is from a little know location on Skye called Elgol!!! On my last visit to Skye I did not visit Elgol, possibly worried about the ensuing tripod rage or the fear of wasting an evening’s good light repeating what I have already shot in this beautiful location. In all honesty I’m am sure every conceivable angle has been shot but there seems to be so many images shot from the beach immediately in front of the car park that I made the intention to walk along the clifftops and down to the beach on the other side of the jetty and explore the wonderful geology. From here the beautiful Bla Bheinn becomes part of the wider view and I wondered why so many don’t bother to walk a couple of hundred metres just to at least get to a different viewpoint.

In truth the image chosen could be mistakenly seen to be from the usual area used in shots across Loch Scavaig but I am happy to say it is not. I was drawn to the rocks leading in from either side thereby framing and pointing towards the pyramidial Gars Bheinn and chose to use just a small section of rocks at my feet to finish off this frame effect. This did leave an expanse of seawater which looked pretty plain and left a lot of dead space, the incoming tide did mean that waves were starting to break in this miniature harbour and I waited for waves to break near the rocks at my feet and tried a few shots here and checked on the lcd for the shots with the best effect of wispy patterns in the incoming waves. In no way is this an original image or stunning new view of Elgol, far from it in fact, but it was just the satisfaction of using legwork to view this stunning scene from a slightly different angle that made this the first image I was happy with.

Being hampered by a very dodgy knee I was limited with how far I could travel without being in some pain but the very short walk around the Fairy Pools area of Glen Brittle was well worth it. Similarly to Elgol, Glen Brittle has one of those great car parks of the world views with stunning vistas into the heart of the Cuillins.

I started off walking beside the Allt coir a’ Mhadaidh and before long the foreground interest just got better and better as the small waterfalls became more beautiful and the ominous presence of the Cuillins loomed large. Even in my poor shape it is one of those places were you wanted to keep going and see if these waterfalls can get any better. Near the brow of the incline I found some particularly impressive falls with some lovely jagged rocks, almost like mini mountains. I set up and ensured that the ‘peak’ of the jagged foreground rocks was placed over the falling water so it stood out clearly, I noticed how it very nearly matches the slope of its’ much bigger compratiot.

From hereon it was a case of finding a shutter speed that will ensure a nice feeling of movement in the water without stopping it dead. The composition basically presented itself with just a small amount of tweaking with the aforementioned jagged rocks. I chose to shoot this when there was not a break in the clouds above the Cuillins as contrast levels became too much, I much prefer this moodier light which suits this wonderful landscape.

The coastal landscape around Loch Bracadle in the west of Skye is host to wonderful small islands and dramatic sea cliffs. I had been taking images on the shoreline at Eabost looking both southwards and northwards with the distinctive shapes of Mac Leod’s ‘Tables dominating the northerly view.

After leaving the coast to head northwards along the main road I passed this lovely old house set back in a field beside the road at Eabost, it’s so rewarding to encounter surprises like this.Skye and the Highlands are littered with these wonderful subjects, of course so many of them are sad subjects as they are the products of the highland clearances. Some of the ruined cottages I saw and photographed on this trip still had a sizeable amount of household furnishings still in them, fascinating subjects but tinged with sadness.

I thought the colouring of the house was set off nicely by the intense blue in the sky and set up a simple composition using the fence as foreground. It wasn’t my intention on this trip to photograph this type of subject but I found so many places like this that I couldn’t resist stopping at one or two to explore their possibilities, it also keeps me from shooting too many wide vistas which is my favoured choice.

The Braes are a collection of small villages that can be found on the eastern coast of Skye south of Portree.From here there are wonderful coastal views across the Sound of Raasay to the island of Raasay itself and southwards towards the Cuillins and northwards towards one of my favourite looking mountains, Ben Tianavaig, which sits at the entrance to Portree Harbour with the same sentinel like presence that Buachaille Etive Mor has at the head of Glencoe.

Near the villages of Balmeanach and Gedintailor there is a distinctive headland which I can wholeheartedly recommend. On a visit in November last year I had some wonderful light and concentrated on views toward Ben Tianavaig from just a short distance along the headland, the memory of that last visit has made this one of my favourite destinations on the island.

On this visit I had the intention to walk to the end of the headland and see what possible compositions I could find. Back at the guest house I had read a book that described sea caves and a curious little sea stack , the high tide put paid to me trying to visit the caves though they are clearly visible as black holes in basalt columned small cliffs.

The sea stack was easy to find, it was small but I though it would make a very useful foreground subject in a view looking northwards. It would be especially useful because the sea was relatively calm and would therefore help to fill a little dead space where the water wasn’t particularly rough, ideally it would have been a little rougher but then would I have placed myself in a slightly precarious position to take the shot, possibly not considering I don’t swim well and have known to suffer from mild vertigo.

Whilst I like this image I can’t help wanting to see more white water in the expanse of sea (though the seas’ intense turquoise tones are of great appeal) but it goes down as one of my favourites as the location is special to me and it wouldn’t be a chore to go back and try and better this image someday soon.

My final image was again taken from an area of the island I wanted to re-visit. It is situated a short distance along the Broadford road from the Skye Bridge and can be reached by crossing the main road and then the old Broadford Road and heading through bracken towards the coast.

There is plenty of varied geology here of all shapes, surfaces and colour and I really enjoyed exploring possible compositions here on this frosty morning which made traversing over the rocks a hazardous exercise. Some compositions I had made were too busy, others I had included too much rock in the foreground and these images lacked a good balance or layered composition involving the rocks, sea and mountains in the distance.

It wasn’t difficult to get interest throughout the frame but it was difficult trying to make it work successfully and on looking at these images I could probably say I had gone into hurrying mode unintentionally, perhaps I was geologically overwhelmed!

Funnily enough my favourite picture from this session was a lucky find. I was heading back to the car for a coffee when I chose a different route back over a higher area of rocks covered in heather, on looking towards Broadford and the bulk of Beinn na Caillich I noticed the intense rusty hues of this small clump of grass that stood out amidst the frosted heather and bracken.

I knew that was it straightaway, a real contrast in colour in my foreground with beautiful light on the distant mountains. I set up placing the clump of grass centrally as I felt this worked well and was pleased that the composition looked to very nicely layered, there wasn’t too much of anything to dominate the picture, just a nice simple set up of grasses, rocks, sea and then mountains, simple but quite effective.I returned to the car a happy man pleased with the mornings efforts and that coffee tasted damn good too.

The next day I left the Highlands and I always feel a sense of guilt as I pass through Glen Shiel in the initial stages of the homeward journey, it is a beautiful place and I would imagine a fairly difficult place to photograph in terms of my preferred wide vistas especially in the area beneath the Five Sisters of Kintail.If the Misty Isle doesn’t call to me so often on my next visit then perhaps I can explore the possibilities here.

All images were taken on a Canon 5d Mark 2 using a Carl Zeiss Distagon 21mm.
Lee Filters were used in all images and the raw files were processed in Capture One.

You can see more of Jon's pictures at the Jon Gibbs Photography website

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