Scottish Castles, Culture and Coastlines Photography Workshop - June 2015

For many Scotland is a vision of a man in a kilt playing a bagpipe....or perhaps a plate of interesting cuisine like Haggis...and it IS those things but so much more. Scotland has some of the most pristine countryside and high country we've ever seen, as well as rich history, and culture that make it a wealth of wonderful places to behold and experiences to be found. Photographically Scotland can throw anything and everything at you...there's the landscapes and seascapes, sure...there's the castles, and the farmland as well...but Scotland is amazing in that it doesn't like to give up the goods so easily...each location faces uncertain weather that waits for you...seeks you out it would seem...hell-bent on trying to make its presence felt. It does a good job too...that's why it takes a couple of Scotland-savvy individuals like Scott and I to help folks brave the weather, see the sights, and have a heck of a lot of fun along the way!

DAY 1 - Edinburgh

Our group of 9 eager photographers, came from all corners of the US to meet us in Edinburgh for our adventure. We met for a late afternoon orientation to get to know one another better, before eating as a group in the hotel of the lovely Hotel Dakota. We like to get things going right away, so after dinner it was off to shoot sunset and twilight at the crazy Forth Rail bridge. This golden gate of train bridges spans the Firth of Forth, letting trains pass into Edinburgh proper, and on into the rest of Scotland. It also makes for a crazy cool photographic subject. After some navigation of construction zones, we parked in the small coastal community near the base of the bridge. The group spread out along the sea wall and Scott and I helped them to work on different compositions and settings to get the most of the color and clouds that were in the sky. The water in the firth was calm, and everyone really enjoyed the reflections, which was a good way to stress the use of a polarizing filter. The sky faded to blue and everyone was really excited to get some shots of the bridge with the lights on, mixed with the cool blue hour sky. We practiced long exposures here as well to blur the clouds and give the images some added drama. It wasn't a long first night, but it was great to get out and start shooting right away...we headed back to the hotel after the blue had faded from the sky, and let everyone get a good nights rest, we had another full day before us as we set north to Aberdeen for 2 nights of photographing the wonders of the coast.

DAY 2 and 3 - Aberdeen

The Scottish weather is fickle, and began its journey to try and ruin our time, but it would have to catch us first! We made a stop on our way north in the wonderful little town of St. Andrews, most people know this as the home of the British Open, but for photographers we would prefer to spend our time scouring the ruins of the old cathedral, once one of the largest and most important in Scotland, before it was destroyed to beautifully picture perfect ruins. We let the group spread out and have free run of the place to look for their own compositions, and get to know the place. Scott and I found folks, and offered up suggestions and tried to help with the difficulty that some had trying to capture the grandeur of the place in a single image. We offered tips on shallow focus, foregrounds, and other angles that some might have walked right by. When people had finished with the cathedral, it was up to them to explore town a little, and grab some lunch before our departure to Aberdeen.

Our second stop of the day was the lighthouses in Aberdeen at Greyhope Bay...here we again stressed the importance of the ND filters we encouraged everyone to bring, as we caught some great long exposures of the waves crashing on the layers of cool looking rocks. There were 2 different lighthouses here as well as a really nice sea wall, so there was plenty of options for people to really dial in a composition they liked and then make it their own. Scott and I walked the area showing people a few ideas we had captured, and helping people get used to their ND filters. It was a really cool location, and we saw some nice images on their cameras! The weather had still managed to avoid us at this point.

Our sunset stop for the first night was the iconic Dunnotter Castle. This ruined monolith sits right on the edge of the sea, where it has for centuries. We spread out and tried our best to help the students find as many ways to capture it as possible. There were some great white flowers to use as a foreground, and the clouds were really streaking by, the weather was trying to settle in, but we managed to find the break, and everyone got some good shots in.

The next day our first stop was the white modern castle, Corgarff. This farm castle sits amidst rows of green hillside, and often sheep are found grazing the areas outside. Though it rained off and on we managed to work the breaks like champs and everyone was able to get some shots of the sheep in front of the castle with selective depths of field, and a moody grey sky. Though weather throws challenges, it's always possible to come up with some really nice images.

The next stop was a little stone country bridge (Poldhullie), here we lucked out and the rain let up, and gave us time to work the stone curves of this awesome little pathway as it winds through the countryside into the forest. A lot of folks drive right by this little bridge, not giving it a second chance but its character and charm, make it impossible for us to pass up. Everyone really got some nice images here and I think this place really has that Scottish feel to it, and it seemed to really resonate with the group.

Stop 3 of the day was the ruins of Kildrummy Castle we had a tour here, which in Scotland means, a nice Scottish woman apologizes for the weather and then sends you out to look over the grounds on your own. The rain was off and on, but everyone was a champ, and managed to find some cool comps of this place using leading lines of the pathway leading up to the castle, and some of the curves and twists within the ruined walls. The rain was relentless and after an hour of shooting we counted our blessings and set off.

Sunset for the second night was a secluded lighthouse on Rattray Head....here we had the entire place to ourselves as we had all day long with our stops...and the weather let up for us, and even hinted at a possible sunset with color...we worked the angles and worked on zooming into the lighthouse and using long exposures to really smooth out the water and the sky, and give a very simple, yet aesthetic feel to the images. We even found an old bright orange seaball that we used for a foreground to be complimentary in color to the overwhelming blue tones of the shot.

Though the rain was trying hard to get to us, we managed to see all of our stops for the days in Aberdeen and get shots of them as well. Nice try rain!

DAY 4 and 5 - Inverness

Rain was again on the forecast, but it was having trouble finding our group, so we woke to beautiful blue skies that followed us as we toured the famous Glenfiddich distillery. Here we were given an informative tour of how the whiskey has been made here for hundreds of years, and yes, everyone got to sample the wares as well, after the tour completed...we had quite a skilled tasting party. One of the highlights of the tour is seeing the barrel room filled with whiskey of various ages, and wondering how those old sherry and wine barrels are kept up for the decades....well lucky for us, we had a tour at the nearby Speyside Cooperage, where we got a lesson on how the barrels for whiskey are made, and how they are maintained. The coopers are trained as apprentices for 4 years, before they know all they will need to know to work the barrel fixing and making business. These coopers rarely make new barrels though because there is a constant supply of barrels that need to be mended...the speed and accuracy that the coopers use to work the barrels is astonishing, and they never seem to take a break.

The next location was a cool little high arching stone bridge, in Carrbridge. This little bridge is not used anymore but its shape and location makes it a great photographic stop. After saving one of our participants from a major headwound, we all scoured the location high and low for cool comps using the moving water as an interesting leading element into the photos. The weather had found our location, and after 40 minutes of quality shooting we decided it was time to head out and try to find something dry, namely the lobby of the hotel where we spent a late afternoon working on post processing.

The next morning we set out early for a boat tour on Loch Ness and a tour of Urquhart Castle. The boat ride on the calm waters of the loch offered up some nice shots of the simple curves of the Scottish hillsides and the reflections in the water. Once we arrived at the castle, we discovered a pirate ship filed with dressed pirates waiting to yell pirate obscenities at us as we docked and set off to explore the castle. The castle was crowded, but Scott offered up some tips on how to shoot a location like this, and remove the crowds later in processing.

Most of the group was having so much fun exploring the castle they opted to stay while we went to fetch the vehicles on the return boat, and come get them after. A lot of folks expressed interest in exploring the Carrbridge area again, and reshooting the bridge...learning from their previous mistakes...being it was better weather, and right on the way to our sunset stop we obliged and made a second go around of the cool little stone bridge. While we shot, a local bagpipe troupe made up of high school kids treated us to a very cool couple songs as they practiced for a big competition the next day. We'd have loved to listen to them all night, but we needed to head north again to shoot Bow Fiddle Arch for sunset.

This cool sea arch sits out in a small harbor, and is a blast to shoot. We all lined up high first to shoot the whole bay, before setting lower and using the curves of the rocky foreground to help us compose some shots of this moody structure. The sky was overcast and ominous, but we managed to hold back the weather while everyone got the shots they wanted...and we set off back to the hotel with cameras filled with new images.

DAY 6 and 7 - Plockton/Isle of Skye

The next morning we set off easily to the town of Plockton to explore the Isle of Skye...but first we had a tour of the wonderful Dunrobin Castle, where we were treated to an UP CLOSE and personal falconry exhibit. Easily one of the most informative and coolest tours! The sky was awesome as well and we were all able to get some great shots of the castle and the grounds that surround it.

From one tour to the next we hurried over to Eilean Donan castle for our last tour of the day exploring this fixed up old island castle. The insides were awesome, and they were busy setting up for a cool wedding that evening. We saw the grounds, shot a little and really got ready for our night shoot there that evening.

The clouds were cool when we rolled up on scene that night, and everyone moved about to get some of the best comps and eventually made our way on to the island where we utilized some of the pools of built up water to get reflections of the castle as the lights came on. Being in Scotland is made cooler by the fact we are able to walk around these historical buildings all night and photograph with nobody bugging us, something that would not happen in the US. Once everyone had captured some magic with the lens we set off to the hotel for some much needed rest. What a LONG day!

The next morning it was off for a full day of exploring the Isle of Skye. We made a stop at the Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls first, and the very moody Skye weather was feeling generous and gave us great clouds and dappled light on the hillsides as we shot this fall. Our next stop would really showcase the crazy weather that Skye produces as we made our way to the Quiraing. This high mountain pass offers some great views of the valley below, and for the first 40 minutes it was great, no rain...and some nice shooting of the views and a few sheep who happened to be hanging out in the area. This area was actually used in the old days as a route to move livestock to higher ground for hiding when enemies attacked. Our joy was short-lived as the crazy weather the Skye is known for caught up with us, in the form of high winds and driving rain. Everyone was able to laugh it off though, and just enjoy the rain and wind as it turned us all into wet rats as we made our way quickly back to the car.

The Fairy Glen was our next stop, a crazy high mountain glen where landslides have formed some unique rock shapes (one that looks like a castle) and twists and turns of lush green hills. Everyone had fun wandering around Castle Ewen and using the dirt path as a leading element to the natural stone enclosure. We had held off the rain again...and as luck would have it we managed to keep it at bay for our sunset stop at the Sligachan Bridge.

This old stone bridge is another in a long list of great stone pathways and really fun to shoot as it looks out over a rocky area, and on to the mountains in the back...very dramatic skies were everywhere, and when people had finished shooting the bridge it was off to walk the river banks working the rocks and small cascades as leading lines into the images...it was a long night and everyone returned to the vans at dark, ready to head to the hotel and get some much needed rest.

DAY 8 and 9 - Fort William

On our way out for the first day in Fort William we hit up a show at the Glenfinnan Viaduct to watch the famous Harry Potter Steam train roll across the high stone bridge, filled with great archways. It was a bit of a huff and puff up the hill to the viewing area, but seeing the train pass and getting the shots of it framed right brought a smile to everyone's face, and proved that being in the right place at the right time pays off!

Buachaille Etive Mor, our next stop, was a cool little spot with a falling waterfall and a great mountain backdrop. Here we helped with refining vision, working on longer exposures, and we helped remind people of the settings and filters needed to shoot these awesome scenes. The great thing about this workshop, and the challenges with the weather is it forces people to really fine-tune their compositions, and figure out what works...by this time the group was hardened and ready for anything the weather threw their way.

The next day was spent exploring the wonderful Glencoe area...here rugged peaks and lush valleys and canyons wind throughout the countryside...we hiked up to a vista that overlooked all of the splendor of the valley, The weather monster had not been able to track us down to this point and beautiful skies and dappled sunlight hit the peaks...it was really spectacular. As we made our way to Kilchurn Castle for sunset, we found beautiful sunrays, great clouds, and warm inviting light on the countryside and made a couple roadside stops to take advantage of this wonderful light and grab some images.

When we arrived at the castle the sunset was underway, and some great colors set above this glass like loch...everyone moved into position, braving a boggy walk to get there....some people went right for the shot with the colors and reflections of the mountains, where the color in the sky was most prominent, while others went for the castle and the reflections of it in the still waters...there was plenty to shoot that's for sure, and everyone had fun playing with longer exposures, and different visions of the scene...we stayed until almost dark...and had another fun adventure crossing the bog on our way back to the vans.

We spent all day in the field, and were not once chased away by weather...it was a spectacular day...everyone deserved the rest as we would need all our energy for the last day as we headed back to Edinburgh, where our journey began.

DAY 10 - Edinburgh

After a stop at the engineering marvel that is the Falkirk Wheel, we set back out for Edinburgh and our wonderful downtown hotel. From here we would tour the mighty Edinburgh Castle as well as the gardens, and get to explore one more night of photography together before concluding our evening atop Calton Hill, with arguably the best view of historical Edinburgh. The sky was dramatic and had hints of warmer tones strewn between moody grey skies, rain streaked down in locations throughout the city, though none found us. It was an awesome and dramatic way to end our shooting time...and people got some tremendous shots of the skyline with the lights on all of the great cathedrals and castles in the shot. What a great way to conclude.

Rain, of course, found us on our walk back to the hotel but nobody seemed to mind much, we'd seen worse, and fought through it. Rain is a part of daily life in Scotland, and though it found us often and tried to keep us down we managed to shoot all of our locations, and never had to miss one spot for photography due to the weather. We saw all we wanted and more. Though the bugs tried to dissuade us from continuing our journey, we braved through, midge nets at the ready and got shots through the buggy, boggy marshlands. Scott and I couldn't have asked for a better group to accompany us on this adventure...it was truly awesome to share the countryside with all of you, and get to know you more during the time we had. We hope you enjoyed the adventure as well...and look forward to seeing your images and having another adventure in the future....Iceland 2016 anyone?!?

Until our next big adventure,

Brian, Scott and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team!

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