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View from my house

Not the view from my house, sadly! This is from Elgol with the good fortune of a vibrant rainbow over Camasunary Bay

15th December 2014

That first sprinkling of snow on the mountains disappeared very quickly but has since been replaced by a fresh fall. Top of my priorities has been to venture up to the Storr when snow is lying, that shot being a glaring omission in my portfolio. The first real opportunity was on Saturday. Conditions were not ideal but after a week of horrendous weather, I wasn't going to let a calm (ish) day slip by without trying.

I think I lot of people don't appreciate the dangers. It is not really something to do on your own. If something goes wrong and there's nobody else around, it could easily prove fatal. That said, there were lots of people around on the path up and down, though nobody else where we were photographing. A local photographer friend with very sound outdoor knowledge went with me. We were better prepared for the conditions than most, and I do carry an emergency survival bag in a pocket of my camera bag. Not far up the path from the car park I was amused but somewhat concerned to find footprints in the snow that appeared to have been made by "court shoes", or at least footwear with a small narrow heel and a smooth sole. Not much farther up the track, we saw two girls gingerly making their way down, one of them wearing knee-length boots that were more appropriate for a winter high street shopping trip than a snowy mountain trail. At least they'd had the sense not to go too far (I presume).

The footpaths were pretty obvious most of the way up, though nearer the Old Man they did prove difficult to see, and knowing the area definitely helped us locate them. Even so, I'm not convinced we managed to stick to the higher paths all the time and there were places where the snow covered some mushy ground, which meant the odd squelchy step. Here and there the snow had drifted and I found myself sinking up to my knees, but most of the time getting around wasn't that difficult. In fact, the walk up took 45 minutes, only 5 minutes more than my usual, and that was partly because I've not been able to manage much active sport recently so my level of fitness is way down.

It wasn't quite the Bear Grylls / Ben Stiller Skye adventure which was televised last week but if you saw that, you might recognise the cave in from my 14th July entry below.

Storr in Snow

The sign in the photo above right is quite well known. Some "wag" has scratched out the word "not" so that it now reads "You are advised ... to go beyond this point". It does seem a pretty pointless sign as the path from the car park to the Old Man branches off to the right and passes this sign from behind it, meaning you've just walked out of the area it is warning you about. Quite where you're meant to go if you heed the warning (which nobbody does) is beyond me.

The light wasn't the best but we made what we could of it, and I was able to try shots from a couple of new vantage points before the weather started to turn. I've put one of my "processed" photos on my Photo Diary page. In the distance I could see a greyness approaching. The wind got up, some snow started to fall, the temperature dropped noticeably, and we decided it would be wise to head down at this point. Even so, on the way down we passed a group of lads in jeans and trainers, slithering all over the place and looking somewhat uncomfortable, and then we encountered a group of about 6 going up and carrying plastic toboggans. Quite where they expected to find a safe place to use those is beyond me. I've not heard about any accidents up there occurring on Saturday but if there had been one, I'd have been tempted to submit a story to those people who publish the Darwin Awards!

The weather was just starting to turn wet and sleety as we drove home, so when we passed 3 Chinese girls with one umbrella walking back along the road towards Portree (7 miles distant) we agreed that I should turn back to offer them a lift. They were very grateful! In fact, as we'd walked up to the Old Man, we'd passed them coming back down. They'd got a taxi from Portree to the Storr car park but couldn't get a phone signal to call the taxi for their return trip. With no bus passing while they stood wondering what to do, they'd decided to start walking, which would at least keep them a bit warmer. They were media students at university in England on a long weekend trip to Skye. At least they'll go home with stories of an adventure or two and, hopefully, a kindly Scot who gave them a lift!

5th December 2014

After finding out that the menu buttons across the top of my website have not been working properly in some web browsers, I have spent a lot of time in the past few weeks trying to replace them. You may need to refresh pages to get the new ones. (The old ones had a dark background behind the text.) If anyone has difficulty with the new menu buttons, do please let me know!

First snowView in front of my house - first snow on the mountains

At long last, and much later than usual, we have a sprinkling of snow on Skye's mountains. I hope we'll soon have some wintry landscape scenes to enjoy and photograph. However, while the weather forecast for the week ahead includes some more snow, it also includes very strong winds - over 60mph - so it's going to be too unpleasant or even dangerous for photography, especially around midweek. In fact, I'd not be surprised if the Skye Bridge is closed on Wednesday.

As soon as we get snow lying and a decent window in the weather, I plan to head up to the Old Man of Storr to capture some of the classic snowy scenes from there.

First snoww Beinn na Caillich poking up to the rear of my house

I have suffered several joint pains over the past 6 months, from my right thumb, to knees, to my left shoulder. On the upside, I've barely noticed the tennis elbow that I suffered all last winter and into the summer. However, while my knees made badminton difficult, the shoulder pain has made badminton virtually impossible. I need my fix of sporting competition and so for the past few weeks I've been trying indoor bowls down at Kyleakin. It's a very skilfull sport and so far hasn't taxed my joints. This area seems to be a hot-bed of Scottish Short Mat Bowls with several people I've run into having competed and even won internationally.

10th November 2014

It has been a while since I've said anything here, largely because there's not really been much to say. I did, of course, enjoy the Ryder Cup though the reactions of the American team at the end, and the fallout since, have left something of a bitter taste, especially to those who admire Tom Watson's personal achievements.

Autumn is now well established though to date there's no snow visible from here except a tiny bit on a distant mainland mountain. The weather has varied between truly dreadful and really quite beautiful, and it has largely been relatively mild. Elgol is again a good venue in the evenings now that the sunset has moved away from behind the Cuiilin mountains. In fact, last week I ran into a large photographic workshop there, run by Luminous Landscape, and met one of the "LuLa" CEOs, Kevin Raber - nice chap.

Plockton

Plockton held its Bonfire Night celebration on 5th November with a bonfire on the small island in the harbour (not the island seen above!) and a fine display of fireworks. There was no effigy on top of the bonfire, just an old surf board. I have no idea if that held any significance! This shot (right) caught a pair of unusual feathery trails which appealed to me. Exposing for fireworks is not difficult - set ISO 100, aperture f11 (ish) and fix the camera in a steady position. The shutter speed can be anything from 1 to 30 seconds, though as you can see, any bonfire will be overexposed by that setting.

Prior to the fireworks we had a lovely Moonrise which I managed to capture with a long telephoto lens.

Plockton Fireworks
Mono Trees 1

I have recently been exploring a forestry area which has been largely cleared of trees. I find this fascinating as a subject with a wide angle lens as the tall spindly trees that remain can be made very dramatic, and this seems to lend itself well to a strong black & white treatment.

The photo (left) had a background of the kind of sky we cry out for as photographers, and yet I felt it did this shot no favours, so I've been watching for an opportunity to return on a cloudless late afternoon. It has to be then to catch the right light. Yesterday I got a chance but I left it a little bit too late and so didn't have long.

Mono Trees 2


The terrain is awkward and requires some care to get around but I'm finding easier access with each visit, and so far it's only been on my first visit that I've stuck my foot into a deep pool of water and filled my boot. Yuck. Fortunately I have learned to carry a change of socks and shoes in the car for such outings.

7th September 2014

Most of August delivered horrrible weather but in spite of that my cousin and his wife (over from Australia) were able to join me on a couple of interesting walks. We visited those secret pools (I've been keeping their location in the family so far!) and then on the following day we managed a long walk through the Quiraing area. Poor Ann was worn out but she enjoyed it once we were back home and she could reflect on the bragging rights of what we'd seen and done. They can now tick off two of Scotland's best walks, having visited the Old Man of Storr with me two years ago.

Suddenly, when I was getting used to the idea that August was going to be a complete washout, we've had a few glorious days of sunshine here while my friends in Devon have had rain - makes a change! I've made a couple of early morning trips to the Sligachan area, checking out some of the photo locations I know there.

Sligachan dawn

Unfortunately, my knee has suffered from all the walking and kneeling down I've been doing, both for photography and while weeding and digging in the garden. It has taken over a week to get back to not limping around. I'm paying all over again now for a twisted knee while skiing over 20 years ago. Curses.

In spite of the painful knee, I made a trip to Plockton to explore a bit over there. It was a dull day but still worthwhile as I was able to find a few interesting spots and even had an unexpected opportunity to return to some bird photography...

Giant chickens

11th August 2014

Once again the golfer my 5 year old great nephew calls Rory Macaroni has grabbed my headline with his fantastic win in the last "Major" of the golfing year, the US PGA. It was well worth the late night to see it unfolding. Brilliant!

Last year a couple from Colchester came up for a workshop with me on Skye and then to stay on for some extra days (a great idea by the way). When they arrived, Geoff showed me a photo of Skye he had found on a website (photo and link on the right) which is intended to show where people took their photos. It should be a useful tool for photographers visiting an area they don't know. When I saw it, my first thought was, "That's got to be somewhere like Patagonia!"
Skye? I wonder

My next thought was, "There's definitely nowhere on Skye that looks like that." I think Geoff was quite disappointed that we would not be able to visit this spot during their stay, and this photo has sat at the back of my mind, niggling away at me, causing me to wonder if I was missing something spectacular and letting down my visitors. Then, a week or two ago, some of the little neurons in my brain started whispering to each other and bingo, I suddenly realised where (or what) this photo was. Either the photographer or the website had distorted it, stretching it vertically and making the mountains around Sligachan look like a series of extreme peaks and pinnacles. Yes, it's just the bog-standard view from close to the Sligachan Hotel - a beautiful view in its own right but certainly not this distorted scene, and it was pinned to the wrong location on the map of Skye. I would guess the person was actually describing the Quiraing area even though the marker was on the road just south of Duntulm Castle.

Coincidentally, last week my nephew showed me a photo he had found on-line, claiming it was of the Fairy Pools. In fact it was of the Shotover River near Queenstown, New Zealand, and the "photographer" had coloured the surrounding fir trees purple, presumably trying to make us think they were heather. Someone with more sense had left a comment debunking the claim it was Skye's Fairy Pools, and had even posted a straight photo of his own showing the same Shotover River scene, and yet this just prompted the idiot to reply with an adamant claim it was definitely the Fairy Pools on Skye. While we can laugh at the stupidity of such people, it does annoy me because it can mislead, leaving visitors disappointed. I urge you, therefore, to debunk any such false claims you find while surfing the web, and take any information you find with a pinch of salt.

Oh, and as I briefly mentioned last time, I have the photographic evidence of my nephew and his wife taking a dip at the Fairy Pools, regardless of weather..

Fairy Pools
It was a wee bit cold
Fairy Pools
Synchronised swimming

 

2nd August 2014

How wonderful to see Rory McIlroy win the Open, and the Commonwealth Games have been inspirational. (How many medals has Scotland won for "brawling"?!) One of the things I've enjoyed about the athletics is the "laps of honour" where athletes have spent so much time working their way round the crowd. Best of all, I thought, was Greg Rutherford after his qualifying jump, slipping away from a steward again and again. The commentating on that was hilarious! And whatever Usain Bolt may or may not have said in the previous days, he clearly enjoyed himself when it came to race day, and he gave loads of joy back to the crowd.

Secret Pool

I've just had a few hectic fun days with visiting family. My nephew, Stuart, and his wife, Rebecca, were up here from Sussex (so they have a good alibi for the Eastbourne Pier fire), and arrived first.

A local girl recently told me about a location where she and her sister used to go with their mum when they were children, their own rival for the Fairy Pools in Glenbrittle andt without the hordes of visitors. It sounded intriguing so in spite of some dull weather, I set off with Stu & Rebecca to find it, and we were suitably impressed. They were still keen to swim in the real Fairy Pools in Glenbrittle, so the following day we also visited there. Stu & Rebecca were able to tick off a second "feat" (after climbing Ben Nevis before reaching Skye). I provided the moral support and photographic evidence.

My other nephew, Andy, and his wife, Julie, arrived a couple of days later with their 3 young boys, the two older ones very much enjoying their room with bunk beds. Altthough we missed the hot sunny weather from the previous week, it didn't stop us enjoying the great outdoors.

After Stu & Rebecca left on their journey back south via my sister in Troon and friends in Yorkshire, I had a day out with Andy, Julie and the boys. We also visited the newly discovered waterfall and pools, but got some warm sunshine between showers and the boys all enjoyed a dip, even 2 year old Keir!

 

Driving on to Elgol, the weather took a turn for the better and while the adults marvelled at the scenery, the boys ignored all that and had fun on the beach. They all agreed they'd had a great Skye adventure!

Elgol


14th July 2014

Wimbledon & World Cup over, Open Championship, Commonwealth Games, and Ryder cup still to come. No shortage of stuff to keep me pre-occupied if the weather turns nasty (as it did today).

Actually I've been multi-tasking while watching the sports coverage: I've redesigned and rewritten my website. If you find any typos, blame the TV!

Today, although the weather has been dismall, I still got in some photography. This was a little different though. Not far from me is Spar Cave, visited in 1814 by Sir Walter Scott, and by many Victorians after him. Even though they chipped souvenirs off the stalagmites and stalactites, removing everything within reach, the cave is still pretty spectacular. It is, also quite awkward to reach, being cut off by the tide. It's vital to be aware of the tide times and to keep one eye on your watch. There's no light, so you have to take your own and, as I discovered today, there's so much water dripping, it will eventually make its way on to the front of your lens. I didn't notice when that happened and it was only when I looked at my images on the computer that I discovered I had water droplets obliterating parts of some images. I suppose I'll have to go back to try again another day...

Spar Cave 1

We weren't alone. Several other people turned up, including a couple of guys who looked prepared for just about anything. One of them waded through a pool of water to reach the back of the cave (see below).

Spar Cave 2

Spar Cave 3

 

24th June 2014

In view of recent events, I should like to change my comment on professional football to read "...running around kicking a ball or biting each other."

What a prat!

17th June 2014

My sunburnt arms and neck are telling me that summer arrived today! It might be gone by tomorrow of course but it's been lovely while it lasted. The midges had been quite bad for a few days but the heat drove them away today, yay!!!

A few days ago we had almost clear skies forecast for sunset, coinciding with a high tide. In fact we got 100% cloud cover. Undeterred, I visited a nearby location that has interesting rocks which I felt would look great at high tide. The light was useless but at least I got to see the potential. The next evening, which was supposed to be "overcast", gave us a lovely sunset and the tide was still high at the right time. I think I'll give up with weather forecasts and just look out my window instead.

There are several good shots to be had at this spot. The unusual rocks in my photo on the right appeal to me as they look like Neolithic boats moored up for the night.

Waterloo rocks 1
It's amazing how quickly the water level changes so having a good idea of what you want when you arrive is handy. I've never seen photos of this location so I'm pleased to be able to add it to my growing list of locations on offer to my workshop guests.
Rock formation 2

Within sight of the location above is another great spot. Both can easily be photograhped in one visit. Again, a high tide is needed to make the most of it, and there are many choices of angles and composition. I need to return to these rocks for high tide at sunrise as I believe this should give some great light to bring out detail in the foreground. Watch this space.

Of course, sunrise at this time of year is pretty anti-social, being at 4.30am. At least this location doesn't need an hour's drive to reach it! At the moment sunrise coincides with low tide so I'll not be dragging myself out of bed at 4am just yet.

As well as early sunrises, we have late sunsets, currently at 10.15pm but it remains light long after that. As I'm typing this, it's 10.40pm and there's still enough daylight to see clearly. In fact, it never gets completely dark. At midnight, on a clear night, you might just see a star or two.

I'm looking forward to watching some tennis and golf on TV in the coming weeks. It has to be better than watching a bunch of grossly overpaid immature cheats running around kicking a ball (or each other). Don't get me wrong - I enjoy great football but sadly, for about 90% of the time, the players deeply offend my sense of fair play.

31st May 2014

I never fail to be amazed at how quickly the evening light this far north stretches out at this time of year. It was something I accepted as normal when I was growing up in Glasgow - a round of golf after dinner, archery practice till well after 10pm, or football in the local park till about 11pm. Those were the days!

We've had some dull, wet, and cold weather this month so getting some warmth in the past few days has been a welcome change, even if the midges are out in force in the evenings. It almost feels like summer has arrived! The paddle steamer, Waverley, has been cruising around the Western Isles since Wednesday and I took a couple of opportunities to photograph her.

Waverley
The Waverley is a truly elegant old lady and she fits beautifully into the picturesque surroundings of the Western Isles. I had two viewpoints I wanted to try, though it was impossible to be at both. Fortunately she was around for a few days so I got the shots over two days.
Under the bridge

My favourite angle of the Skye bridge was one choice, and I knew I'd have to be wary of the incoming tide. In fact, I set up on the rock you can see in the foreground but the water rose quickly. After all my preparation, had to move at the last minute, got a bit flustered and nearly missed the shot!

The other view I wanted was from the bridge. Sadly there was no time she would pass under the bridge without the light at her back, so the head-on shot was never going to work that well. However, the double wake from the paddles made a great feature in the shot from the other side of the bridge. That one really pleased me.

Wake

Perhaps next year I should try to run a photo workshop based around the Waverley's visit.

Now that the weather is improving, I've got back to working on some projects in the garden.The motor in my strimmer unexpectedly died last week so I've had to order a new one - an expense I could have done without. The lawnmower is on its last legs too, which is a tad worrying. Aside from just keeping the grass and flower beds under control (that could be a full-time job!), I wanted to get the partly built brick barbecue completed. I laid the last bricks today, though I have a little bit of pointing still to do, and I'm thinking of building some sort of flat surface on one of both sides, but that can come later.

While clearing grass and weeds out of a stone wall, I got a bit carried away. Actually, it's been irrritating me since I moved here that there was no direct access to this part of the garden so I decided there should be a set of steps through the wall. Again, I'm making it up as I go!

bbq
steps
slabs

I'm also remodelling the step up to the gravel area. I found six small paving stones in the garden so I'll make use of those to complete a wide step. Once again, I'm making it up as I go, using what's available.

24th April 2014

So far this month we've had a fair amount of pleasant weather, with the Easter weekend being especially nice for the second year in a row. I remember last Easter feeling a bit miffed at all these tourists turning up and invading "my" island, and I felt a bit the same this time! Mind you, my niece, her husband, son, and two dogs visited me so I couldn't feel totally miffed at visitors to Skye.

Quiraing

Having them here for a few days was fun. On Good Friday we visited the Quiraing area and followed the path past the Prison and into a stunning area I'd not seen before. From there we follwed the route back along the top of the escarpment which gives views down to "the Table", a landslip that formed a flat area about the size of a football pitch, sourrounded by jagged rocks. It's pretty weird and spectacular.
Elgol sunrise

I've had a couple more outings with the camera since my 24-105mm lens arrived back from being repaired. That was another £200 bill I could have done without! At least I now have my main work-horse lens in pretty much "as new" condition again.

Another outing to the fabulous Elgol for a sunset proved worthwhile. It won't be long now till the sun sets behind the Black Cuillin and we won't get that lovely light just before sunset. From June to August the best sunsets are found elsewhere, but Elgol is still worth a visit.

 

I hope to check out a boat trip from Elgol to Canna in May or June. It should provide a decent chance to photograph puffins, though only from the boat. The island itself has an interesting and unusual beach which may be fun to visit, though ideally I would prefer to camp overnight to catch better light. Perhaps I could do that another time.

I've also finally managed to photograph an aurora. It's not a photograph I'll ever be really proud of, and the aurora colours weren't visible to the naked eye - just a faint greyish glow in the sky, with perhaps some red if you used your imagination well - but it was there and I recorded it. The long exposure does pick out the colours far better than our eyes can, and there's even a little bit of the stripey structure.

When I set off to try this, I went to a "dark skies" site just north of Broadford. Unfortunately, when I got there the darkness was being completely spoiled by some kind of commercial boat moored just offshore with all its lights blazing out. Surely there should be some law against that?! So, I had to try elsewhere and decided to visit Loch Cill Chriosd on the Elgol road and try from there. The photo on the right was the result, and I had the bonus of getting a reflection in the loch.

Aurora

Sadly my sister's dog, Jack, had to be put to sleep at the weekend. He'd not seemed well for a short while and a full medical examination showed that he was riddled with cancer with no hope of a successful treatment. It's a terribly hard decision to make but Jack's illness was only going to get worse and I think it was the right choice. He was a dog with a big personality, and was impossible to ignore, so he has left a huge gap in my sister and her husband's life.

I ought to get started on work around the house and garden now that the weather allows it. I've put another three rows of bricks on the barbecue I'm building, the first since the build came to a halt in late autumn. It should be okay to use before long. There's a lot I'd like to do around the garden but I'm suffering from tennis elbow and so any heavy work is painful. I must do more exercises to try to help it. At least I can still lift the camera.

3rd April 2014

Shortly after my last update, very sadly I heard my cousin Jim had died. Although I was not especially close to Jim, I am fond of my cousins Jean and David, Jim's younger sister and brother, and of course their dad, my Uncle Jimmy, and I feel terrible sorrow for them. Then I heard from my friend Diane down in Kent that she's been diagnosed with cancer and probably has no more than 2 years to live. When I lived in Surrey, Diane organised winter archery practice in an indoor running track at Crystal Palace. There were very few people in the UK able to shoot full outdoor distances every week through the winter months, but I was one, and I rubbed shoulders with some of the country's best archers. I'm eternally grateful to Diane for inviting me along to shoot with a privileged few at Crystal Palace. So here I am once again reflecting on how short our time is and that we should make the best of the time we have.

In the past couple of weeks I have explored some new photographic possibilities, and tried something different with some I already know.

I followed a couple of paths above Sligachan, one I'd walked before, one I hadn't, and I'm pleased with what I found. I need to go back and photograph there again with the benefit of hindsight, or as we sometimes like to call it, experience. The path has good stepping stones across small burns (streams) as seen opposite. Higher up a simple bridge - if you call it that - crosses another burn, though it was possible to cross without it (bottom left). Next time I shall explore the path that does not cross the burn as I have been told there are some good photographs to be found up there. I stopped at a small summit (bottom right photo) which was nearly 2 miles from the start of the path and about 900 feet higher.

This is an area that I've largely ignored over the winter as the light is all difficult at that time of the year, though it would probably photograph well in snow - if we had any!

walk1
walk2
walk3

So what did I find? Well, I was surprised - though perhaps I should not have been - by some pools as colourful as those at the Fairy Pools on the other side of the mountains in Glenbrittle. A variety of waterfalls, streams, and pools should make for some intersting photos. There's a lone white cottage which looks pretty isolated in the landscape, though it's actually quite easy to reach and it's hardly isolated given the number of people who walk past it to reach the mountains!

Sligachan 1
Sligachan 2
Sligachan 3
Sligachan 4

Here in Broadford, I tried a different style of photograph for a ruined building by the pier, and it seems to be proving quite popular. This used to be a fish processing and packing station until the decline in local fishing. It then became stables and a steading but has since fallen into disuse. That's a shame because it's quite an attractive building.I reckon it could make a lovely home and photographer's gallery, so if anyone out there has £1m or so they'd like to donate to me to buy it and do it up... :o)

There are a couple more locations nearby that I have in mind to explore, after receiving tips from a local photographer friend, so hopefully I'll have news of that next time.

Broadford
I'm pleased that my local knowledge continues to grow and that I can offer more than "just" the usual iconic Skye locations for photography. I like to have as many options open to me as I can because some will be first-timers to Skye, and wanting the well-known shots, while others might be as interested in the less well known spots. It's also extremely useful to have options for shooting on dull days, as we do get some of those!
Boat

Several old boats lie at one spot I keep returning to, and I have been planning to photograph the smallest one when it is half submerged. I knew the tide would be particularly high one evening last week, and so I set off to photograph the boat after pottering around on the golf course. However, I didn't realise the boat would be completely submerged by the spring tide! So, a long wait in the car followed, watching the tide drop and the light fade while listening to an old Supertramp CD ("Even in the Quietest Moments", quite appropriately). Eventually enough of the boat broke the surface. By then the light was dim enough to give me that nice, long exposure I wanted without even using any ND filters. Unfortunately I could not take a shot of it as part of the entire landscape, as it was too dark for that, but I shall be back to do it another time.

Leaving the photography aside now, yesterday I had yet more proof that it pays to complain when you feel you've been let down by a service provider. To keep my costs down, my broadband service has been one of those with a monthly data limit. If I got close to the monthly limit, I received an email warning, and on the odd occasion that happened I just took extra care not to use data-hungry things like the BBC iPlayer for a few days. However, yesterday I got an email to say I'd exceeded my monthly allowance and would be charged for it. No warning email, nothing. I was not happy. So, I was straight on the phone! To be fair to the customer support guys I spoke with (after the obligatory 10 minute wait to get through), they were brilliant and before I'd even hinted at them refunding me, they'd offered me that. Next thing I'm speaking to someone else and I now have an unlimited service for less than I was paying for the limited one - for 12 months anyway - and a promise of a call in 11 months to see if there's another deal I can take advantage of at the end of the 12 month contract. So, full marks to Plusnet's customer support.

 

11th March 2014

Recent weeks have been a time for my family to reflect on our own mortality. Early in February, my sister's sister-in-law, Irene, died a few days before her 78th birthday. Morag and her husband also lost a very good family friend very suddenly. He was a few years younger than me. We've also heard that our cousin, Jim, has been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer and probably has very little time left. Both my sister's dogs, now quite elderly, had an urgent visit to the vet, and my niece Heather's dog, KC, has died in the past few days. Heather had KC for about 15 years, though wasn't sure how old she was when she arrived on the scene. That's longer than Heather's had her son or husband.

The weather here has been largely cold and wet, and I've not been out photographing much. Enthusiasm for DIY is low at the moment so I've been spending a lot of time on the computer. I've been working on a new section for this website, called "Talking Photos", where I shall be saving all sorts of photographic tips and discussion, and adding to it periodically. I hope this will prove interesting enough to photographers to keep them coming back to my site regularly.

Unusually, the nicest day of weather in February coincided with my birthday! I had played no golf at all since December so decided to treat myself to a day out. In fact I played just 9 holes, partly because I'd played so well that I didn't want to risk messing up on the second time around! I'd also planned to carry on past the golf course and try to photograph the sunset at Talisker Bay. In the end I didn't get the shot I'd hoped for but I was able to make something of what I got.

talisker bay

I saw a stunning photo of an American Bald Eagle on Flickr and it inspired me to try a similar treatment on some of my own bird photos. I'm pretty pleased with how they have turned out.

It's been fun going back to reprocess some of these, and it has made me realise what I've learned over the past 5 or 6 years. It's a good reminder that we must never sit on our laurels but must always strive to improve.

Puffin reflection

Yesterday, we had the first of a few days of fine weather. (They're forecasting more nice weather for tomorrow.) I was undecided how to take advantage of it and threw the golf clubs and the camera bag in the back of the car. I intended to photograph a semi-submerged old boat before returning to the golf course but the tide had already turned and I missed it. (I've photographed it out of water a few times already.) Undaunted, I carried on to Glenbrittle and decided to trek up to the Fairy Pools. It's about a mile from the car park to the spot I like best, and is a 20 to 25 minute brisk walk. So, no golf but I had a very pleasant walk in Glenbrittle.

red kite reflection
gannet reflection

The area has been photographed extensively so it is probably impossible to find anything that's not been done before. However, this doesn't stop me from looking! I walked beyond my favourite spot and found a low, curved ridge in the river which I've not seen photographed before, and I felt it would make a good foreground. I then went back to the more usual location - a small waterfall with about 4 or 5 fingers of water which you can see in the middle distance in my second photo below. Here I tried a shot from the raging falls just below it. The flow of water there pleased me.

Glenbrittle

 

2nd February 2014

For weeks I have been planning to go up to the Old Man of Storr to photograph there after dark. I've been holding out for a cloudless evening to try to get a shot against a starry sky. I also wanted to see if my big torch would illuminate it enough for "painting with light". Finally, after a few false alarms, last Wednesday looked like the best opportunity in many weeks, so off we went. I say "we" - I had mentioned the idea to members of the South Skye Camera Club and a couple of them, Louise and Richard, joined me. As Louise lives just round the corner, we travelled up together and, in fact, set off a couple of hours early to check out another location up there, an abandoned diatomite factory under the cliffs - a seemingly bizarre place to find an old ruin.

I shall definitely be back there for more when the lighting is better but it was well worth checking out. I feel there are quite a few good shots to be had around the old factory and in the surrounding area. In the meantime I've been playing around with some processing effects.

We moved on to the main event and our walk up to the Old Man of Storr took about 40 minutes from the car park, not too bad given the equipment we were carrying. I had the big torch and my camera gear, plus an emergency sleeping bag packed into a rucksack, and Louise had an emergency 4-man shelter plus bivvy bags, etc. in with her own photo equipment. We'd decided not to leave too much to chance, knowing how the weather can change. The clear skies that had been forecast were not there. Instead we had quite solid cloud cover, though a clearer patch was visible over the mainland. As the evening wore on, the cloud thinned and by the time we were finished, we'd been treated to some breathtaking views of the stars. (There was no Moon that evening.) I didn't get the shot against a starry sky that I wanted but I did get a couple that pleased me, and of course I now have an excuse to go back for another try.

Diatomite works

Storr silhouettes

The Old Man at Night

At first we thought my torch wasn't going to be up to the job but we had just tried a little too soon. As the daylight faded more, the light from the torch seemed brighter, and the shot on the left is of the Old Man of Storr lit by my torch from about 150 yards away. This long exposure gave a very pleasing effect with the cloud movement, and there are actually stars visible, though you won't see them in this small version. The pinkish glow on the right was from the lights of Portree.

Although I'd been wanting a perfectly clear sky, the clouds we got turned out to be even better.

Just when we thought we were the only ones crazy enough to be up there, a light appeared from behind the Old Man. It turned out to be a well known Skye-based photographer, Marcus McAdam who was also up to get some night shots using artificial lighting! Fortunately, we were doing quite different things and so we didn't get in each other's way.

Our walk down in the dark was made easier by following little piles of flour that Louise had left on the way up in spite of me mocking her idea. Smart lady!

 

18th January 2014

Mondeo

Christmas Eve marked 20 years since I lost my Mum. I would be lying if I told you that hadn't been playing on my mind over the festive season.

I also spent much of my time over Christmas and New Year feeling very worried about what the weather might be doing to my house while I was away. In early December the gales had ripped off a large chunk of roofing felt from my shed, and several other relatively minor things around the house and garden got destroyed. As it turned out, there wasn't much more damage during my second time away. Most surprising, perhaps, was a large bird box which got blown off an electricity pole. I've been meaning to go up and clean it out anyway so that has saved me some trouble.

While in Ayrshire around Christmas, I collected a new car that I'd seen when there in early December. It's got more room for passengers and an enormous boot for their photographic equipment! I hope it will prove comfortable for driving around my workshop customers.

A few other things have been going on. A week or so ago I slipped on the rocks at Elgol while there photographing and although I didn't hurt myself at all when I fell, I was holding my tripod and smacked it firmly on a big rock. Fortunately I'd had the good sense to put my camera safely in my camera bag, so it was protected, but my old Manfrotto tripod was dented in an upper leg section. The legs were extended and now one of them won't fully retract. It was a pain to cart around anyway, and now all the more so. It's time to replace it with something more modern. The choice is bewildering, and for anyone who has never done so, let me tell you that selecting a tripod is tough, especially on a limited budget. An old saying is that a tripod is only of any use at all if you take it with you - so, so true. Many people find them too much trouble, but for serious landscape photography they really are one of our most important tools. There is always a trade-off between a tripod's rigidity (arguably its most important property) and portability.

I intend to add a new section to this website where I can discuss all sorts of photographic subjects and perhaps offer some valuable advice. Having gone through the process now, I should include a piece about what to consider when selecting a tripod. It's fascinating stuff to a photography anorak!

Oh, aside from damaging the tripod, the visit to Elgol was worthwhile, with ever-changing weather and light throughout the afternoon. It's a location offering almost endless possibilities. I've put a few shots on my Flickr page .

Yesterday I put out some bread for the birds. This is what turned up!

Currently I have no bird table, that being one of the casualties of the recent weather. I'm part-way through rebuilding it so I'll have it back out soon. Until then, it seems the birds will have to compete with the sheep.

It would appear that this sheep is expecting a lamb. She produced one last year and it was a visitor to my garden with its mum, so I hope the same will happen again this year. Lambs are fun to watch, so full of innocent fun.

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