Elgol, Isle of Skye - Take 2
Having been teased by what this location had to offer during my visit in 2015 (see previous Skye Blog), as soon as I decided to head back to the island I knew I'd be spending at least one evening here. In the end I made it two.
The tiny fishing/crofting village on the shores of Loch Skavaig is reached by following a 15 mile single track road from the slightly larger village of Broadford. Its a road that can take anything from 40 minutes to a whole day to travel down. There are so many things to stop and photograph on the way, that If the conditions were right you probably wouldn't even reach Elgol before it was dark.
There is no such thing as a long range weather forecast on Skye and I quickly learned that scouring numerous apps on my phone any further ahead than 3 hours was a waste of time. For starters it was windy, and that meant that the skies were changing quickly and showers were frequent, but fortunately not long lasting.
The previous afternoon had been frustrating, with flat light, grey skies and poor visibility meaning very little time was spent with the camera, but on the Thursday the weather looked more interesting. A band of heavy showers, some of them wintery had been passing through all day. It was still windy, but the wind was breaking up the cloud enough to let some strong sunlight through. I checked the tide times (at least you can predict them) and despite seeing that it was rising rather than receding towards the time of sunset, I decided to go for it.
On arrival at the car park near the jetty my spirits raised as the weather looked to be improving, there were even patches of Blue sky. I grabbed my gear and made my way across the rocks. The shore of Elgol is littered with jagged boulder sized rocks, most of which are coarse so offer excellent grip. Obviously theres one or two really slippery when wet ones thrown in to keep you on your toes, but its generally ok to hop from rock to rock. Even so, it takes a good 15 minutes to clamber round to where the good stuff lies.
But as you can see from the image on the right, by the time I got close to where I wanted to be the hail had returned so I had to quickly take cover until it passed.
If I could offer one piece of advice for a location like this it would be to slow down and have a good look around before you even get your camera out of your bag. Its easy to get carried away, but essentially the beach is a chaotic jumble of jagged rocks. If your foreground is too confusing it will just look a mess, or at best a snap shot.
I liked the arrangement of rocks in this image, especially as they were angled towards the light, and the strong burnt orange/rustic colours in the cliff on the far right of the frame really stood out against the dark, brooding sky.
The sea was rough so to calm things down a little I chose a shutter speed of 2 seconds, which I thought would help to separate the mountains from the rocks, providing a welcome break for the eyes inbetween the angular foreground and dramatic backdrop.
I was fairly happy with the composition but did my usual thing of scrutinising the image on the back of the camera looking for what was wrong with it, rather than what was right. It looked ok, but I couldn't help but wish I had left a bit more space at the foot of the frame (Its always a good idea to do this on location where you can do something about it). I hadn't moved far, so could recompose the image and try again. Only this time the light had changed and yet another hailstorm was rolling in.
Ironically, this became my favourite shot of the day, but then I'm a bit of a fan of extreme weather photography.
That was to be the last of the 'decent' light, so I started back. The sun was now completely obscured by cloud and the waves were crashing further up the beach.
Once I could see the car again I decided I had time for Just time for one more shot, this time including some of the corrugated rocks that make up the floor on areas of the 'beach'. Using the poor light to my advantage, I set the shutter speed to 15seconds and waited to see the results. I was really pleased how the milky surf now looked and made a note that if I was ever in a similar situation to take more shots at this sort of exposure length, using the white water to provide some separation between rocks.
On the Sunday, as I was due to leave the island the weather took a turn for the better. The forecast had been for a clear morning followed by an overcast afternoon with rain in the evening. In typical Skye fashion the actual weather was back to front. I took a coffee break at Broadford and weighed up the options. I had a 3 hour drive ahead of me to my accommodation for the evening, so the choice was either to make my way there for sunset, stick around on the island and do the drive in the dark, or somewhere inbetween.
Encouraged by another photographer friend, and reminded by the fact I wouldn't be coming this way again anytime soon, I decided I'd give Elgol another go, and see if I could put my experiences from a few days earlier to good use.
By the time I had arrived it was bucketing it down, but it was bright, so I knew it wouldn't last. I decided to sit it out and use the time I had to clean all my filters and lenses. It was at this point I noticed that somehow I had let the sensor on my camera become, well frankly filthy. Fortunately I now carry a second body with me for such trips, so it was simply a case of swapping from my Fujifilm X-T2 to the X-Pro2. Not a major jump but I hadn't tried the X-pro2 out yet, so this was really going to be a baptism of fire.
I think the camera did well. The sky was amazing for at least an hour and I was able to get right down low by the shoreline as the calmer water meant that the spray wasn't as impossible to deal with. I hope that these shots clearly illustrate how the different exposure times affect the overall image. The exposure times increased as the sun got lower in the sky from 1second (above) to 10seconds and then to 15seconds (below).
I had just one more shot I had wanted to try. I'd found the composition a few days earlier, but by then the light and tide weren't quite right. Also the sea was rough and I had feared I might be washed away. But on this occasion everything seemed good.
I was lucky and got it in one. Its a good job, as the sun didn't stick around and shortly afterwards most of these rocks had been covered by the tide.
I learned a lot during my two sessions at Elgol, I'll share some tips. 1) Move around a lot. The compositions won't simply come to you. 2) Don't start by looking for the finished composition. Find one rock that interests you then work the ones around it into your scene by moving the camera or your feet (use live view lots). 3) Use the light to provide natural contrast. 4) Try to predict how the scene infront of you will look when the tide is higher (or lower), remember where it is and move on. Its great to have a composition picked out that you can come back to in 10 minutes time. 5) Familiarity helps. I was far more confident on my second visit and had already found parts of the shoreline that I knew were good places to start.
I thought I was done with Elgol, at least for a while, but now I'm back home looking at the files I'm already longing to go back. Theres so much I missed, and so much more to this place than what I have done here.
All of the above images were taken on tripod mounted Fuji X-T2 or X-Pro2 cameras with a Fujinon 16-55mm, f/2.8 WR Lens. A graduated ND filter (ND3) was used throughout and a 'Lee Filters' Little stopper was used for the shots with exposure times longer than 2 seconds.