Harris & Lewis Workshop


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Cheapabhal, South Harris with a blanket of cloud.
Cheapabhal, South Harris with a blanket of cloud.


Cheapabhal, South Harris with a blanket of cloud.


I am just back from an inspiring week in the Outer Hebrides on the Isles of Harris and Lewis with the very talented lead Photographers Doug (Singalong) Chinnery and David (Best Worst Joke Teller) Ward. I thought I would write a blog/pictorial diary of one of my best weeks, in photography terms.

This was an opportunity that only became available to me a few weeks before. When someone had to withdraw from the trip it left a place available which, after frantically consulting with work and my very understanding, beautiful wife to see if it was possible, I jumped at and quickly made plans on how to get there.

Never one to miss an opportunity I checked ferry times from Uig, Skye and realised I could squeeze in a sunset at Elgol, Skye before driving and sleeping at Uig then getting the 5.30am ferry to Tarbert, Harris, our base for the week.


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A muted sunset at Elgol, Skye.
A muted sunset at Elgol, Skye.


A muted sunset at Elgol, Skye.


The ferry crossing was unseasonably calm and it came into Tarbert just as the sun arose above the horizon to light up the rolling mountains enclosing the very small town and port. I had a few hours before the rest of the workshop arrived down from their flights to Stornoway, Lewis. So I went off to try and get some early shooting done. I had browsed over maps of the area but nothing too in-depth so this ended up being very much aimless. I did stop for the occasional side of the road shot of the views or details around the many small Lochans that litter the east coast but eventually gave up and headed for the hotel to freshen up before everyone else arrived.


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Looking over East Loch Tarbert where I had just came in on the ferry as the sun slowly rises.
Looking over East Loch Tarbert where I had just came in on the ferry as the sun slowly rises.


Looking over East Loch Tarbert where I had just came in on the ferry as the sun slowly rises.


The troops all arrived on time and we made our introductions before quickly heading off to start the exploration of these wonderful Isles. The two minbuses split the group into two groups of 7 each with it’s own expert leading the way. Their knowledge not only of everything photography but of the secrets of Harris and Lewis was to prove invaluable. Immediately we went south and west to a beautiful little sandy beach lined with huge smooth granite rocks which would allow the rising tide to envelope in almost slow motion. I was dressed for northwestern Scottish weather but we were basking in warm autumn sunshine which in some ways was not ideal but pleasant all the same. The occasional cloud would dot the blue skies to remind us it was not a tropical island we were on.


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Traigh Lar, South Harris with some unseasonal warm weather.
Traigh Lar, South Harris with some unseasonal warm weather.


Traigh Lar, South Harris with some unseasonal warm weather.


This was a great little ice breaker where we wandered around looking for detail in the sands under the still small pools of water while looking over some of the most beautiful coloured water you will ever sea. David and Doug were offering their expertise to everyone while getting to know each of us at the same time. It was my first time meeting David but I had been on a previous workshop with Doug earlier in the year in the Cairngorms. Both are fountains of knowledge and will help you in any way they can and never make you feel stupid or incompetent no matter the level of question, which is exactly how it should be.

From here we moved just around the corner to the well known Traigh Sheileboist or just Seilebost as its better known. Another stunning beach looking out towards Taransay and sharing its sands with the humungous Luskentyre. This was to be our first sunset, and what a beautiful sight it was. Personally I think the long two days and lack of sleep etc had caught up with me and I kind of lost my way with capturing the image I would have hoped for but I just sat back for a while and watched the sky and colour change as the sun got lower and lower before dropping down behind the horizon to end a spectacular first day on Harris.


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Looking west towards the sunset from Traigh Sheileboist, South Harris.
Looking west towards the sunset from Traigh Sheileboist, South Harris.


Looking west towards the sunset from Traigh Sheileboist, South Harris.


The second day threw up more traditional weather in the morning with driving fine rain moving quickly across the island. This allowed us to have a bit of a lie in and have a civilised breakfast before heading out. With the wet weather in mind David lead us to St. Clements Church at the very south of Harris near Rodel. We could shelter here while shooting the interior until the rain moved through.


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A window in the Tower of St. Clements Church, South Harris.
A window in the Tower of St. Clements Church, South Harris.


A window in the Tower of St. Clements Church, South Harris.


The rain had started to lift leaving fast moving low cloud rolling across the surrounding hills and mountains which allowed me to get a glimpse of what would be expected as the traditional view from the local cottage windows.


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Rodel House, South Harris
Rodel House, South Harris

From here we went around the corner to Rodel Hotel which overlooked the old harbour and would be our stop for lunch. It appear deserted until we entered only to be followed by many more customers who must have had this place earmarked for a food stop. A lovely meal was had and we were glad to find that the sun was now trying to pierce the fast moving clouds as they lifted and allowed some wonderful light to sparkle across the water and land in fascinating patches. We took this opportunity to spend half an hour exploring the harbour and the new light before moving on.


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View across Loch Roghadail from Rodel Harbour.
View across Loch Roghadail from Rodel Harbour.


View across Loch Roghadail from Rodel Harbour.


As we gathered in the car park to move on I got chatting to David. It was here that I was to see first hand what it is that makes him stand out from the crowded world of photography. All be it a small thing but to see him ‘snapping’ with his iPhone in amongst some wet Montbretia and producing an image with such detail and colour that he’s best (but not only) known for was inspirational to say the least. Needless to say I scurried in with my D810 and Zeiss 25mm to try and emulate what he had so callously captured on his iPhone 4, to no avail I may add.


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Colours of Montbretia, a Western Isles Wildflower.
Colours of Montbretia, a Western Isles Wildflower.


Colours of Montbretia, a Western Isles Wildflower.


Back in the vans we headed north east to Lingura Bay where we were introduced to our first deserted crofts, 2 of many that litter the countryside of these islands. We were to visit a few on this tour but an individual blog post might be the best way to tell their story better. So we walked the path that would have been walked for years by the inhabitants of these now skeletal homes. Lined with wild moorland shrubs, streams and Lochans it seemed an arduous task that must have been undertaken each day by the crofters in the traditional changeable weather that would have been thrown at them. The first croft was literally a shell, with the roof and furnishing gone for what seemed like years.


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Lingara Croft Shell
Lingara Croft Shell

The second was less derelict and was strangely found to have some of the home comforts that would have eased the hardship of life here. It was doing its best to crumble into nature, along with the few sheep carcass that littered the interior.


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Looking through the window of a Lingara Bay deserted Croft house.
Looking through the window of a Lingara Bay deserted Croft house.


Looking through the window of a Lingara Bay deserted Croft house.


After walking back up to the vans we continued north along the east coast where we stopped at the top of the picturesque bay of Ob Leasaid which lay at the foot of Manais Township. I stayed around the top of the hill overlooking the bay which had several more derelict crofts and houses. From this vantage is was possible to experience how changeable the weather can be on the Outer Hebrides. for instance, looking northeast it was a beautiful Autumnal day with sun, cloud and rainbows.


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Rainbow Warriors. Three of the group can be seen capturing the changeable scenery of Manais, South Harris.
Rainbow Warriors. Three of the group can be seen capturing the changeable scenery of Manais, South Harris.


Rainbow Warriors. Three of the group can be seen capturing the changeable scenery of Manais, South Harris.


Turning 180 degrees, looking south west it was a different story, with piles of rain falling over the mountains creating a landscape of layers.


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Facing southwest from the hilltop of Manais, South Harris.
Facing southwest from the hilltop of Manais, South Harris.


Facing southwest from the hilltop of Manais, South Harris.


The rain from the west eventually won the fight and put paid to any chance of a sunset, so we finished up and headed north to Tarbert and our Hotel, while watching the light dance along The Little Minch sea and northern Skye.


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Cloud comes in from the west leaving only across the Little Minch and northern Skye in evening sunlight.
Cloud comes in from the west leaving only across the Little Minch and northern Skye in evening sunlight.


Cloud comes in from the west leaving only across the Little Minch and northern Skye in evening sunlight.


The middle of the trip had arrived and I was excited about what it would bring. Luskentyre was to be the start of it for sunrise and before breakfast. Facing west, this was not a conventional option for a sunrise spot, more commonly known for its sunsets. But with the chance of wonderful light illuminating the distant clouds in warm tones with strong reflections in the snaking incoming tide it was worth the effort.


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Pastel colours of sunrise over Luskentyre, Harris.
Pastel colours of sunrise over Luskentyre, Harris.


Pastel colours of sunrise over Luskentyre, Harris.


Back to the Hotel for breakfast then off north to our first adventure in Lewis. We made the drive through the dividing North Harris Mountains which separate the two Isles and into Lewis which initially opens up into expanding moorland. With fine weather and glorious views south across the moors to the Mountains we had an impromptu stop to capture some of it even when it is littered with empty crofts and farm buildings.


View south from Acha Mor, Lewis.
View south from Acha Mor, Lewis.


View south from Acha Mor, Lewis.


Moving east towards the coast and after a brief coffee and cake stop, we travelled through some stunning glacial Glens and rugged mountains before arriving at Aird Feinis. A wild area of coastline, lined with Stacks and high cliffs to explore the views across the Atlantic Ocean. Unseasonal calm winds meant we were free to use tripods and LE and safety wasn’t so much of an issue as we traversed the mighty heights of the sea cliffs.


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View from Aird Feinis across the rugged coastline of western Lewis.
View from Aird Feinis across the rugged coastline of western Lewis.


View from Aird Feinis across the rugged coastline of western Lewis.


This was a spectacular location that allowed us to go our separate was to find our desired image from whichever vantage point we preferred. I had pictured in my head, crashing seas, rolling clouds and changing light before arriving on the Isles but these conditions threw up their own beauty and surprisingly to me it was a manmade feature that caught my eye.


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A safety fence curves across the surface of Aird Feinis, Lewis.
A safety fence curves across the surface of Aird Feinis, Lewis.


A safety fence curves across the surface of Aird Feinis, Lewis.


The fresh air had worked up an appetite but before dinner we had one brief stop at Traigh Uige, another of the many stunningly beautiful sandy beaches of these Isles. The tide was low and so we were free to explore the vast expanse of the white sands and all its wonderful details.


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Sand detail from the white sands of Uig Beach, Lewis.
Sand detail from the white sands of Uig Beach, Lewis.


Sand detail from the white sands of Uig Beach, Lewis.


Personally I could have spent all day at this location with all its intricate details, shapes and views of the surrounding landscape.


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Winding water on the white sands of Uig Beach, Lewis.
Winding water on the white sands of Uig Beach, Lewis.


Winding water on the white sands of Uig Beach, Lewis.


Dinner beckoned and so it was at a delightfully renovated old school house we stopped to eat. Bellies full it was quickly onto Callandish Standing Stones for sunset. The weather had closed in and we were welcomed by drizzle. Under advice from our ever knowledgeable leaders, they suggested to get in position just in case any light appeared. An as if by professional magic, we were privileged to about 30 seconds of glorious orange/pink light on the stones before the sun finally dropped down behind the horizon.


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The ancient standing stones of Callandish, Lewis.
The ancient standing stones of Callandish, Lewis.


The ancient standing stones of Callandish, Lewis.


So all of a sudden we are on the penultimate day. Rain welcomed us, and it was the driving kind that is never pleasing to stand or walk in. However, after breakfast it seemed to lift a little and David decided to take us to Kyles Stockinish, a small harbour on the east coast of South Harris. it was time to concentrate on detail as this place was filled with interesting patterns and shapes amongst the fishing boats and equipment.


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Ropes on the harbour of Kyles Stockinish, South Harris.
Ropes on the harbour of Kyles Stockinish, South Harris.


Ropes on the harbour of Kyles Stockinish, South Harris.


I used this time to experiment with ME after being inspired by a few members of the tour, in particular Nicki Gwynn-Jones FRPS whose work I had caught a glimpse of on her camera and became intrigued by her techniques and results. This hut was about the only bit of colour in the grey overcast light and landscape, and Nicki in particular was drawn to it and I will be keen to see her interpretation of it within its environment.


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