Tag Archives: Scotland
Sometimes, as a photographer, you set out to photograph one thing, and along the way, you find something unexpectedly beautiful that changes all of your plans. When I set out to go to the Isle of Eigg, a place I’d long wanted to see, I planned for a short stay in Edinburgh along the way.
I’d seen photographs of the city and read bits about here and there, but none of it had left a particular impression with me. I planned the stop in Edinburgh mostly as a lark.
But in the way that things often happen, Edinburgh surprised me — the city is a wonder. I wandered through the Old Town, down its narrow streets and hidden alleys, each one seeming to hold untold stories. The twenty-first century doesn’t intrude much in Edinburgh’s Old Town; walking along the brick streets in the shadow of Edinburgh Castle is a bit like stepping into a Harry Potter novel, and I say that admiringly.
I made my way to the top of Calton Hill, one of the main hills overlooking the city. Calton Hill was planned to be a monument to soldiers of the Napoleonic Wars, but money ran out and it was never completed. It’s difficult to imagine now, but for years, the hill was seen as an embarrassment to the city, known as “Edinburgh’s Shame.”
Nowadays, no one views the hill as an embarrassment. Attempts to turn it into a commercialised tourist attraction mercifully failed. It’s ruggedly beautiful and from the top of Calton Hill, I had views of the entire city. It was my first trip to Edinburgh, intended only as a quick stop along the way to another destination, and I felt lucky to have gotten to explore the city and its Old World charm. Looking out over the city as the sun set, I understood Queen Victoria’s remark that Edinburgh is “fairy-like and what you would imagine as a thing to dream of.”
For a small island, Eigg is a place that continually reveals new treasures. The more I wandered the island, the more of these places I found. Though the island is famous — and justifiably so — for its seascapes, I found countless undiscovered and tucked – away spots that stunned me with their beauty. I could understand why Bruce Percy chose the Isle of Eigg for his photography workshops; the natural splendor of the island combined with its mercurial weather was the stuff of a photographer’s dream.
Beyond Eigg’s misty coastlines, I found myself most drawn to the island’s caves. The island’s caves feel like secret, mystical places — the kind of places where legends are born. They feel ancient, as if, upon entering the caves, I stepped out of the present age and into a time far beyond memory. You can sense the stories they contain.
One of the island’s caves — the Cave of Frances — spawned one of Eigg’s most violent tales. A long-ago feud between rival clans ended when one of the families trapped the other inside the cave. They lit thatch at the cave’s entrance then dampened the flames so that the tiny cave filled with smoke. According to the often-told story, hundreds of people were trapped and died inside the cave. Human remains have been discovered there in recent years, suggesting that even if the story isn’t altogether accurate, something ominous happened inside the cave.
But I wasn’t interested in bloody feuds. I found another cave, this one so small that I had to wedge myself inside, my shoulders pressed against the stone walls. It wasn’t an ideal location for a photographer; it was barely big enough for my camera and tripod. But the cave was unexpectedly lovely. A small waterfall, fed by some unknown source, coursed down the cave’s dark, innermost wall. Its waters formed a stream that ran gently over ancient moss and rocks, leading to the cave’s narrow entrance.
I wasn’t prepared for the wet environment, and my shoes soon filled with water, but the scene was so lovely that I didn’t mind. The shot that I got inside the cave was one of my favorites from Eigg. It captures the mystical character of the island that I came to love.
I spent as much time exploring the Isle of Eigg as I could. The island offered me my first view of Scotland and it was enchanting. Much of Eigg was the rugged, green countryside that comes to mind when you think of Scotland. But as I wandered the island, I found more of its hidden-away and secret places, and revealed a different facet of the island’s character.
To give you an idea of the remoteness of Eigg, there is just one road on the island, which is home to fewer than one hundred souls. At the end of the road is a home that once was a place to stay for J.R.R. Tolkein. There has been a long standing local story that Tolkien stayed in it in the 1930s or 1940s and that the views of Rum had inspired him in writing Lord of the Rings. The island — especially its more distant corners — has a mystical, fantastical quality. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a sorcerer emerging from one of the island’s caves. Your imagination tends to venture into ancient worlds in a place like Eigg.
In my exploration of the island I found a place along its pebbled coastline. The morning was heavy with rain and in the distance the Isle of Rhum was already shrouded by clouds and was barely visible. The place seemed far away from the more people — if they can be called that — parts of the island. Here, civilization seemed very far away and the clouds that hung over Rhum seemed to portend something more ominous than a storm.
I wanted to capture the way that moment felt in that place. I wanted to capture — somehow — the mystical, otherworldly atmosphere of the island’s coast. Using a very long exposure, I focused on the receding waves to emphasize that ethereal quality. I included the pebbles on the beach as a contrast to the white mist. The result is a photograph that encapsulates the feeling I had on that day, standing at the edge of Scotland.
One of the things that made Scotland such a special place to photograph was the way that its weather was ever-changing. I’d never experienced a place whose moods could change as rapidly as Scotland’s. A sky that seemed to promise only rain and leaden clouds could crack open and sunlight would stream through.
Occasionally, the two things happened at once, and an ominous gray sky and brilliant sunlight could briefly coexist in a moment of unexpected beauty. In all of my travels, I’d never experienced the unlikely coupling of those two extremes, but in Scotland it seemed to happen daily. The juxtaposition was fascinating and lovely.
My first photographs on Eigg had focused more on the brooding quality of the Hebrides — the foreboding that sometimes creeps along the edges of your consciousness on a stormy day. But as the days progressed, I sometimes caught glimpses of a different Eigg. It was an island of paradoxes, after all; the same craggy landscape that witnessed bloody feuds was also trod by the feet of earnest missionaries who brought their faith to the rugged outpost of a continent.
I wanted to capture in a photograph that paradox — the transitory, ephemeral nature of light on the Isle of Eigg, which, in my mind, suggested something of the island’s contradictory history. The shot that best encapsulates this for me is of puddles I found along the shore on a day that — like many on Eigg — was foggy and overcast. But I was fortunate that day and happened to see them as they were pierced by sunlight, which revealed the undulations in the sand under the surface. Only the slightest bit of sunlight touched the water’s surface, but it was enough, and the sand sparkled like gold.
The result is a very moody shot, but it’s a different kind of mood that in earlier photographs of the island. The light can change quickly on Eigg, and I was lucky to witness that rare moment of contradictions.
One of the things that I love about photography is that there is always the possibility for improvement, that no matter my level of experience, I can always learn new techniques to improve my craft. Recently, I was fortunate to be able to attend a workshop with acclaimed photographer Bruce Percy on the Isle of Eigg, off the coast of Scotland.
There are many people who are skilled in a particular area and many others who are skilled as teachers; it’s rare to find someone who is both. Bruce is something of a rarity: he is both a highly skilled photographer and a fantastic teacher and mentor. The opportunity to learn from someone as talented as Bruce and in an environment as spectacular as the Isle of Eigg was one of the highlights of my career.
Eigg is one of the Inner Hebrides, islands located off the western coast of mainland Scotland. Craggy and sparsely populated, the jagged cluster of islands is dotted with Iron Age sites and traces of the earliest Christians to see this part of the world. The islands have a greater percentage of Gaelic speakers than anywhere else in Scotland, save their neighbors to the west, the Outer Hebrides. In many ways, walking along the rocky coast of Eigg was a bit like stepping out of the twenty-first century and into some distant point in the past.
Although Eigg is largely unknown as a travel destination, it’s a popular and well-documented location among photographers, primarily because of Bruce’s workshops. The challenge I gave myself was to try and capture something new and unique about the island. I was, after all, seeing it with a newcomer’s eyes.
The trip to Scotland — the rough and rugged edge of Europe — was a first for me. I was amazed daily by the rapid changes in the weather: the same sky that was gray and ominous one moment could become illuminated with brilliant sunlight the next. There were days when it seemed we could experience all four seasons in the span of a few hours.
But in my memory, Eigg exists largely in the grays and heavy blues of impending storms. When I photographed the rocky beach along Eigg’s coast, I used long exposure and ND filter to capture those mood and the sense of something imminent on the horizon.