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Photographing the Outer Hebrides - part one

David Clapp explains why the Outer Hebrides is the perfect place for a landscape photographer.

|  Landscape and Travel
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If you have ever considered a trip to the Outer Hebrides, then read on as this is a first of four reports about the most wonderful of Scottish islands - the Inner and Outer Hebrides. With epic landscapes, mountains, enormous empty beaches and the best standing stones in the entire UK, the decision to make this trip as a winter adventure rather than a summer excursion didn't take much weighing up at all. The sheer possibility of snow capped mountains at the seaside was enough to get this organised. After a very wet start to the trip in the Isle of Skye, it was off to Tarbert in Harris, to start a week long adventure shooting the coastline and what a welcome return, as I have been shooting snow scenes on Dartmoor for most of the Christmas period. First up, Callanish Standing Stones.

Callanish Stones in Infra-red
It has been on my hit list for as long as I can remember and it's not hard to see why it is. This was the second day of the trip and I spent 8 hours there, shooting it for the entire day. There were excellent skies and cloud conditions with strong winds changing the scene every few minutes. It's possible to shoot in every orientation, especially Infra-red, which is having a large impact on my photography right now.

Callanish Circle

Callanish Stone Circle - shot using the EOS 5DIR, Contax 35-70mm f/3.4, f/11 for 1/15th sec, ISO100, polariser, Snickers (converted to infrared by Advanced Camera Systems, the camera not the Snickers.)

The stones themselves almost look like a cross hair from the air. The main circle is a compact ring with rows extending in all four directions outwards, but it is the centre that holds all the action. Precision alignment is necessary to ensure the camera placement is exact and that stones align and compliment each other. This makes the choice of focal length very critical and it's important to work subtractively. Set up and then always examine what is and what isn't wrong with the shot. It's all too easy to be overwhelmed by your inner druid and walk away with very little.

About Infra-red - Infra-red turns the grass rather white and gives the stones a wonderful lighting structure, enhanced with Photoshop, but the magic is the 5DIR camera itself. The sun angles were at ninety degrees, so a polariser makes those skies even more intense, which also has a great effect on cloud structure and dimension. It's easy to scoff that all this can be done with a Photoshop plug-in but just like tilt lens work, there is nothing better than having the actual tool in your hands. It enhances the decision making process far beyond post processing.

Callanish Circle

Stornoway Armageddon, - shot using the EOS 5DIR, 24mm f/3.5L TSE-MKII, f/11 for 1/30th sec, ISO100, polariser about an hour later.

This image illustrates what was happening that day, as huge anvils billowed overhead. One minute I was shooting into the impending doom, the next choosing a stone to hide behind. Then back out with the camera, following the clouds off into the distance; what a blast.

The weather and diffusing my fizzing modern mind
The weather has been wild and very unpredictable. High winds (40-50mph some days) with massive cumulus clouds have been heading in from the Atlantic. Deluges of rain, hail, sleet and all the usual Scottish contradictions have made forecasts pointless, so the trip planning has remained very loose.

It's been a great time of reflection too, lying back in the sand dunes looking into the sky, even enjoying dull days, sitting on a cliff tops in blank self absorption. Then there is the the total opposite; striding around thinking about technical rubbish. With it comes child-like fun, kicking a flat football along the beach, humming silly made up songs that repeat and repeat. How rarely we are like this. Sometimes I forget how good it is to playfully unwind.

Scarista Backwash, - 1DS MkIII, 17-40mm f/4L, f/11 for 5secs, ISO100, 6 stop ND and polariser.

Wandering huge expanses of sand brings a sense of desolation and a feeling of utter insignificance in this wild and prehistoric landscape. It seeps into you very quickly and it's so good to be out of signal for a while. Back to the healing power of the sea, wellies on, staring down at the backwash that makes you feel tipsy, as it almost tries to dissolve you from the boots up. It's nice to be back at the coast, I don't want to see the moors for a long time. I have also started bird watching again (I did this a lot when I was 16 and couldn't get a girlfriend) spotting Goldeneye, Greenshank and a wonderful moment I will treasure; watching sea eagles hunting across Seilebost sands.

See Also:
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

Visit David Clapp's website.

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photophantom 14 108 3 Philippines
1 Feb 2011 3:00PM

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