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“Making the most of your time”

It was the last morning of a week’s holiday in Scotland and I had just half a day before I was due to meet my wife from her sailing trip at Oban. The weather was good which was a distinct change from the earlier part of the week that had been plagued by high winds and heavy rain, conditions definitely not conducive to photography. The tale of the lost tent & cancelled ferries to Iona will wait for another day.

I really do envy those landscape photographers who are based in Scotland. Their skill and dedication play a big part in creating those magnificent images but so to does opportunity. Being able to respond to environment & light at short notice is a big advantage compared to the week’s package of “make the best of it” weather that I can afford. I suppose the only answer is relocation and that is also another tale.

“So what could I do in four hours? Lets give Kerrera a try” – there is a seven mile circular walk around the southern half of the island and it is only five minutes from the campsite to the ferry. In fact I just caught the 8.45am ferry that gave me five hours on the island before the first afternoon ferry back at 2.00pm. To get early or late light of the day you would have to stay on the island which would mean wild camping as there is limited accommodation.

Kerrera has belonged to the Clan MacDougall since the 12th Century and is still in family ownership today though there have been several bloody interludes. Despite being close to Oban it is a quiet backwater with limited car access and this adds to its appeal.

There are several photo calls available on the short circular walk, which I chose to take anti-clockwise starting from the ferry. A few hundred yards up the track is a good viewpoint south down the Sound of Kerrera where the sparkling sea offered a strong contre-jour image. Continuing uphill past a cluster of cottages eventually gains the crest of the hill that is rewarded with an elevated outlook over the Firth of Lorn to the hills of Morvern. The scudding clouds occasionally break and patience is need to await the revelation that eventually illuminates this scene that I composed using a foreground gate to open up the image. On the day I was there the wind was from the South West and quite strong so I used a gatepost to provide the firm base that was needed for an exposure using a strong polariser on my Nikon 28-105 lens attached to the F90X that is my basic system for film based photography. Turning round from this viewpoint I spotted one of my favourite images – an object set against a deep blue sky, in this case a wooden power line support. I have a fair collection of subjects like this and find the upward looking viewpoint a hopeful and positive image. The polariser sometimes overdoes it but usually only when the day is bright enough for the image to be strong enough without it. It is important to make conscious decisions with this and I have sometimes erred on the side of leaving it on when it should have been taken off.

The path now swings south and follows the power line that belies the presence of habitation ahead and sure enough another crest reveals the group of houses called Barnabuck with its small bay. This provides the next image with a heavily laden Rowan tree in the foreground and the sun picking out the cottage. After a bite to eat I moved on past a large but uninterested bull and through a narrow defile with a lovely pool that would be better with more favourable light. This leads to the small group of houses called Ardmore with some interesting geological features and a rocky beach that repays some careful exploration. There are many potential ways of treating this area but I felt most pleased with a natural rock still life. My preferred image on this occasion is recorded in soft light to give it the shadowless treatment.

The next objective, which requires a detour from the track, is Guylen Castle which is the ruined home of the Clan MacDougall and I have a mixed reaction to the fact that it is being restored. It is good that such a symbol of Clan history is being returned to its original form but the scaffolding is very intrusive! I make several attempts to capture the sense of impregnability of the castle but few work as the metal structure gets in the way and I leave disappointed. A little further on the solution is provided in the form of a wide angle view of the bay with the well lit castle shining out over the dark sea. The monopod is needed here to provide a solid enough base for a fairly slow exposure on the Velvia film that I am using.

I am now trying to get back to the track and over the next rise I meet a herd of cattle with a large threatening looking bull so a detour up the hillside is required. It has its rewards however by giving a superb image in the form of a group of Birch trees positively radiant in the now bright sun. Again the monopod braced against my two legs to complete the tripod effect allows a good solid base for the polarised exposure. I love Birch trees and this image with its strong diagonal flow is the most satisfying of the day so far.

The return to the ferry provides a few more possibilities but the best is from the slipway itself. The view North up the Sound to Oban with a dark sea in the foreground completes this set of images made on the visit to Kerrera. This delightful half day rescued the week in terms of photography and it has also inspired me to return for a longer look at this small island. Perhaps next time I will visit its summit at 189m or the North end of the island with its monument to the founder of the “Caly-Mac” ferry line and views into Oban bay. It is indeed a little treasure of an island.

© Keith Ratcliffe – Sept 04

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