I don't go to Scotland as often as I'd like, and each time I return I'm reminded how truly amazing and beautiful the country is.The people are friendly and helpful. The food is always better than you'd think. The landscape is truly spectacular as well. Scott and I love taking our groups here and each time we return, it's like falling in love with it all over again.
Scott and I don't like to start our workshops with day 1 being a travel day. We're taking you out to shoot on that first day, even if it's only for a couple hours. After a lovely orientation meeting in the beautiful Dakota Hotel we had a nice dinner in a restaurant there, and set off to the Forth Rail Bridge, on the Firth of Fourth.This bridge is a UNESCO World Heritage Site...I found that interesting. It's also damn cool to photograph.
We set the group up, and the clouds and sunset were a perfect way to start the workshop. Scott and I made sure that everyone was comfortable with their settings, as well as had ideas in mind on compositions. We had plenty of time to wait. The sun sets after 10pm, which means it's well after 11 before it is dark enough to get some night shots. Once it was dark enough, boy did it get awesome. A small passing storm grabbed the light from the bridge and made almost a laser of light beaming to the sky. The low clouds grabbed color as well, and the whole scene looked like night and sunset blended together.
It was a fairly long night, but we gave everyone a little time to sleep in the following day.
DAY 2 & 3
Off to Aberdeen. We made a brief stop at St. Andrews Cathedral ruins for folks to check out the cool stone work, and grab lunch. The stop is a touristy spot, but this cathedral was once the largest catholic church in the UK, and it warrants a stop. Scott and I helped the group work with some different compositions, and encouraged everyone to try and see things in a black and white processing style. This meant sometimes doing it in camera so everyone can begin to see how cool it could look if processed in that manor.
Once in Aberdeen we took a short break, ate dinner in the hotel, and then set off for Rattray Head, to see a lone lighthouse on an island. The sky looked promising, and we were all hoping for some great color...and boy did we get some. Great pastels over the lighthouse, and some intense color and clouds over the sand dunes. We worked with various shutter speeds from fast to longer in order to find some different types of exposures that we thought worked well.
Typically Scotland has some unpredictable weather, and it's not often that sunrise looks incredibly promising, so when it does...we highly encouraged everyone to get up at 3am and go give it a go. Naturally, not everyone wants to get up at 3am...so we had a smaller group of the crazy ones head out with Scott and I for a sunrise shoot at Dunnottar Castle. We had the place entirely to ourselves, and it was a really nice sunrise, with pinks, oranges, and all kinds of light ...eventually the sun came up and shone on the castle walls and made for some spectacular images as well. It was an early morning, but so worth it. Once back at the hotel we took a few hours to nap before our afternoon shoots at Kildrummy and Corgarff castles. One of these castles, Killdrummy, is in ruins...but still fun to see and photograph. Corgarff castle is more of a fancy fortress than a stereotypical castle..but with the dappled light we had it was very cool to photograph.
On the way back to the hotel we saw some great light over a river valley filled with green and gold fields, and it begged so highly to be photographed that we stopped to give it some attention with the cameras. That night it was back to Dunnottar Castle so those who missed the morning shoot could get some images of this awesome castle nestled on the edge of the sea. Sunset was great...so nobody felt too cheated that they'd slept in. It was awesome. Some folks spotted the swarms of little bugs around the foliage...it was a precursor for what was sitting in wait for us farther down the road.
DAY 4 & 5
It's off to Inverness...we're getting into the highlands now. Nothing says highlands, like scotch. Our first stop of the day is a tour of the Glenfiddich distillery. Here we get an in-depth tour on how the whiskey is made, and the group gets to top it all off with a sample of a 12-15-18 year old whiskey. This is actually secret protocol we use...if the photos weren't looking amazing prior to today, the evenings' photos will be amazing after three drams of whiskey. One of the keys to whiskey making is the barrels that the whiskey ages in...these barrels are made in a place called a cooperage. While the cooperage for the Glenfiddich distillery is on-site, we go up the road to Speyside Cooperidge, one of the largest in the area. Here we learn how the barrels are made, and have a chance to watch the coopers do their thing. Watching this process really helps you appreciate the whole art of whiskey making.
That night after checking in to the hotel we set off to Portknockie and the Bow Fiddle Rock, this little sea arch, is AWESOME to photograph. The forecast said a colorful sunset was possible, but the color didn't seem to get the memo...but the weather was still FANTASTIC for this kind of shooting...moody clouds really helped give the scene a dramatic feel, and as the group worked the area for leading lines, and found what length of exposure made things the best, it was a lot of fun to see those images start to pop up on the cameras.
After a lovely trip on Loch Ness looking for monsters, and taking a tour of Urquhart Castle, we set off to the Carr Bridge. This old 1300s bridge is really unique, and though photographing it is quite a challenge given all the tones in the area are roughly in the same range. It seems every time we come here something unique happens. The first time we brought a group here we were treated to a group of school kids practicing for their bagpipe competition. This time we had some of the local youth come swim in the freezing waters. They were 100% highland Scots, as one of them informed us as he swam about the peet colored waters. The kids chanted for Aaron to show up, because he would jump from the bridge. This we had to see. Sure enough, Aaron came, and leapt from the bridge. Of course, all the mothers were concerned about water depth, and whether he had waited 30-minutes after eating before he jumped (I made up the last part)
After the bridge, the sunset forecast wasn't great, and everyone was a little tired..so we spent some time that evening working on processing with the group, and showing them how their images could work with different techniques.
DAY 6 & 7
The next day we set off for Portree, on the Isle of Skye. On our way we had a tour of one of the coolest castles on the block Dunrobin Castle. Scott told us it is actually a ‘Stately Home”. Whatever, Scott. It looks like a castle...and if I lived there, I'd say it was a castle 40x a day, every day. The real draw for this location is the raptor show. We tuned up the cameras for some ultra fast shutter clicking, and set our sites to try and shoot falcons in flight. It's real hard. A few people got some nice shots though, and afterwards the handler put the bird out so we could all get as many close ups as we wanted. It's always a lot of fun!
We arrived on Skye with beautiful weather. We checked in, grabbed dinner, and set off for our sunset shoot at Sligichan. This little icon is RIGHT on the road...even though it looks a million miles away in photos. There's an old stone bridge to shoot, cool highlands, and of course a nice river running through it all. This was where we all got REALLY acquainted with those little bugs we saw earlier...MIDGES. These little bastards are ruthless. They bite, they leave marks, and they won't ever stop attacking you...and oh yeah, there's nothing to make them stop. They eat DEET for dinner. We were all eaten up pretty good, and everyone was ready to set fire to themselves in order to make it stop. After our shoot, they nicknamed this area “The MIdge Bridge”
The next morning, we decided to tort- I mean reward the group with another hike.. in the dark up a muddy hill to a viewpoint looking over a rock formation known as the Old Man of Storr. This place is SO beautiful. The hike was not fun, but it wasn't terribly long, and the views more then made up for it. Our group handled it like champs, and we set in the crazy winds and waited for a sunrise that never really materialized...but it was close, and the clouds structure made for some awesome images anyway.
That afternoon we dropped one of the group off at a local castle to visit family history and the rest of us set off for Neist Point and the cool little lighthouse out there. The last time Scott and I were here the wind was so nasty it blew waterfalls upwards...I guess that makes them waterups, not waterfalls. Anyway, we had fun shooting this little area, and driving on some 1-lane roads.
That night we assembled the whole team and went to the Quiraing...another awesome high vantage point looking out over the lush green of the Skye area. We had some amazing light that showed up from time to time to light up the hills and valleys. Again, the last time Scott and I were here the wind and rain was sideways. Strange, to see it so calm and lovely.
Time really seems to fly by here...we're almost ⅔ of the way done! Off to Fort William the next morning.
DAY 8 & 9
On our way out the group had been really wanting to shoot some of the “Shaggy cows” otherwise known as Highland Coos' We found great spot with a few of these wooly beasts, and turned the group loose. Everyone shot to their heart's content. And when one group of camera wielders stops, it turns out EVERYONE must stop...before we knew it there were 20-25 people wandering around looking at cows.
From here it was off to Eliean Donan. Another landmark castle...the tide and clouds were perfect...and everyone got some great reflections and shots of this postcard pretty castle. That evening after checking into our hotel on the river, some of the group opted to rest, while the rest of us braved the midges and went to check out castle stalker. This castle is best known from the French knights in Monty Python and the Search for the Holy Grail...
We had some lovely color and reflections and were able to get some pretty nice images.
The next day we scoured Glencoe and stopped at a few nice vistas, as well as shot some moving water under a pointy mountain in an area known as Buachaille Etive Mor. This isn't a large area, but everyone was great about moving so others could get in to find a shot. One of the real treats of the day was watching the “Harry Potter Train” come over that stone bridge. In reality that bridge is the Glenfinnan viaduct. It's one of those hurry up and wait scenarios. Climb up, set up, then wait for a train to come with 200 other people...shoot for 45 seconds, then leave. It's plenty of time to talk about all the bug bites you have, and try to see if you can acquire more. Luckily by this point everyone had nets for their heads, and enough different sprays and repellents to keep most of them at bay.
That night we did some more processing with the group, and let everyone get a nice rest before our last day in Edinburgh...
The weather had been soooooo, unScottish that we forgot it COULD rain here...and on the last day it surely rained. It rained on the drive to Edinburgh, and on the way to the castle, at the castle, and on the way back. It was still fun to see all that history though! We came back had our last dinner in the hotel, and then had a little more processing for those who needed it...and a group of die-hards walked with Scott and I up to Calton Hill to shoot the city skyline after dark...it was pretty nice, and the rain let up JUST enough to get our shoot in.
When you can get 9 of 10 nights in Scotland with no rain, you really lucked out...so everyone was really happy for all we got to see, and the lovely weather we got to see it in. All in All, we came, we saw, and we conquered. It was one hell of a fun ride, and we couldn't have done it without such an awesome bunch of photographers. Iddy Biddy Bladder Committee for LIFE!
Until Next Time,
Brian, Scott, and the rest of the Aperture Academy Team
If you'd like to join us at one of our workshops, you can find the schedule/sign up here.