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Photographing the Small Isles

David Clapp's landscape story continues in the Small Islands.

|  Landscape and Travel
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This time it's the first of two reports on one of the Small Islands, The Isle of Eigg. I have enough material for two blog posts, so here's the first batch, the next to follow in a few days, after I get a pile of writing out of the way.

OK, let's set the scene. Eigg is pronounced 'egg' not 'eeeg' in case you were wondering. It's a small island to the south of the Isle of Skye that has a total of 67 islanders. I stayed in the 'city' of Cleadale, which consists of around eight houses, in a modest house that I grew to enjoy. The only shop is down by the harbour at Port Mor and after arrival on the Malaig ferry the first thing I did was unload the grocery van that came over with me. It would be rude not to.

What was totally unexpected is that this little shop catered for vegetarians (far better than my local shop), so after a quick stock up it was up over the hill to my accommodation, a little house about a quarter of a mile from Laig Bay, where I wanted to concentrate most of the weeks shooting. It has a wood burner in the front room, a wood burner in the kitchen that keeps the water hot, no central heating, every bed looks like granny died in it and despite smiling to myself quite a lot, it was perfect as far as I was concerned. Bye bye frustrating modern living, hello characterful and memorable experience.

Eigg Laig Bay
1Ds Mk III, 24mm TSE Mk II at f/11 for 1/2sec, ISO100.

A Moment of Clarity - Taken at Singing Sands, although I have to say I didn't get much photographic joy with the place at all. This is the next bay on from Laig Bay, but it seemed to be a big jumble of rocks that I couldn't get to balance. Still, none the less, how can I complain about these wonderful sand patterns and subtle colours?

It's about twenty minutes after dawn and the Isle of Rhum is fully lit. The cliffs behind me block all possibility of light on the sand, but this doesn't matter at all as there is enough dimension to the sand, which has been accentuated and placed by using a polariser.

Isle of Eigg
1Ds Mk III, 24mm TSE Mk II, f/11 blend of two images one with a 6stop ND, the other without, but both with a polariser.
A Tot of Rhum - Taken from Laig Bay, this was one of the very first images taken after the wind and rain subsided, on the start of the third day. You can see why I went there for a week at this time of year. That morning welcomed a dawn high tide. There were some sand patterns, but I found it more beneficial to shoot reflections on the wet beach instead. This is a blend of two images, one taken with a 6stop ND and the other without, both using a polariser. This gave wonderful subtle cloud drag in one image, with the other used to keep the island and waves sharp. The reason? Aesthetics and an unstoppable sinking tripod.

A note on the processing - there are no shadows, it's all mid tones and highlights. When faced with a similar situation, do not go pulling the black slider off to the right in search of contrast. Think about it, it wasn't there in the image to start with, so there is no need for histogram convention. It was a subtle and lengthy process, building contrast into the scene using LAB mode, contrast layers and adding dimension using Soft Light layers. It took a good hour to get the image to sit properly.
1Ds Mk III, Zork MFS and Rodenstock APO 90mm Rodagon lens, f/11 for 1/30th sec.

Sandfire - One of the reasons to go to Laig bay is the fabulous sand patterns, but I seemed to find myself drawn to other more interesting effects at the top end of the beach rather than the conventional shapes. The reason for all these patterns is the numerous waterfalls that pour from the large cliffs behind. The water continuously flows onto the dark volcanic sand and separates out crushed sea shells as it travels, which are responsible for the lighter tones. Every day there are different shapes and along the edges of these flows, the sand collapses and drains, leaving all manner of strange ledges, just like these flames you see above.

This is photographed using my Zork MFS and 90mm Rodenstock APO, 90mm darkroom enlarging lens set up. It's the best macro I have ever used and it sits wonderfully alongside the Contax lenses in both clarity and micro contrast. The detail is outstanding and of course there is the wondrous tilt, which can be used to shift the focusing plane to match the subject plane, unlike a conventional macro. The early morning sun has hit the sand and created this wonderful texture. The 'flames' are the result of collapse as the water has drained away. I must admit, this was a tiny composition that certainly took some finding.

The Bit Inbetween - After a morning of shooting the beach and sands, the wonders of this coastline began to truly unfold. Between Laig Bay and Singing Sands is arguably the most prolific rock beach in the entire UK. It's the sheer variety that bowls you over, not only the bizarre shapes but also the colours that are on offer. From bright greens and sulphurous yellows to deep oranges; there are huge splits and cracks, weird extrusions, boulders and clints (similar to the limestone rocks found on the Burren in Ireland). They also look similar to the Moeraki boulders I have photographed in New Zealand.
The array of possibilities seemed endless. Every seascape opportunity has Rhum and its unmistakable profile to exploit, but there are so many opportunities. I would repeatedly pick up my bag, ready to break into a stroll and then find myself unpacking everything once more. This is surely the mark of a remarkable landscape photography location.

1Ds MK III, 17-40mm at 17mm f/11 for 1/5th, ISO100, polariser and 0.9 ND grad to get more sky tones.
Canyon Connection - To you give some idea of the sort of landscapes that could be shot without using Rhum, I thought I would show this black and white image of some rather wonderful rock shapes. The camera is placed looking downwards onto the stone using 17mm and then repositioned to get balance with the rock headland. There were further problems with the reflections, so the camera had to be moved again and again. In the end the shot became an assessment of compromises. I had a wonderful stroke of luck with the clouds to say the least, which were accentuated using a 0.9NDgrad. I do use them, but not for controlling excessive light.
Seashells on sand
1Ds Mk III, Zork MFS and Rodenstock APO 90mm Rodagon lens, f/8 for 1/40th sec

Sulphur Code - This little army of seashells were picked up on the first day of wondering in the rain and it's a good tip, because I never saw shells like it where this shot was taken. This style of imagery is something I find a little contrived I must admit, but with such brilliant colours and a whole day to play with, it was immense fun to say the least. After arranging the shells with little effect, I found it far better to just pour them out of my hands and then carefully tweak the results. With the sun ducking in and out of the cloud, it was simply a case of waiting for the sunlight to soften, removing the shadows, which left dimension to the rock and shells without becoming excessive.

Do pop back in the next few days as I will have more images and more stories to share.

Visit David Clapp's website.

You can read David's previous chapters here:
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