A good photograph is knowing where to stand - Ansel Adams

Isleornsay, Skye
Friday, 10 April 2009 20:55

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Eilean Iarmain Lighthouse

Isleornsay is a small fishing village on the Sleat peninsula of the Isle of Skye. Across the waters from the village, and over the Sound of Sleat lie the Knoydart mountains of the Scottish mainland, giving a spectacular backdrop to the nearby tidal islands of Ornsay and Eilean Sionnach. On Eilean Sionnach stands a lighthouse built by Robert Louis Stephenson's father in 1857 and automated a little over a century later in 1962.

The lighthouse of Eilean Sionnach is a perfect centerpiece to a quite spectacular bay, surrounded on three sides by cloud-wreathed mountains and the waters of the Sound of Sleat. The fast-changing weather in the bay makes landscape photography a slightly more fast-paced affair than you may be used to, and the tidal nature of the islands means that the character of the bay can change dramatically thoughout the day... Though after a few days on Skye, you'll have gotten used to that.

The village itself can be reached via car on the A851 from Broadford, or alternatively you can take the 52 or 52C bus, which departs from Broadford roughly every two hours. Whichever way you travel, keep a lookout however, as the A851 passes a small and rather steep road down to the village that may be easy to miss if you're not on the look out for it. If you take the bus, you'll be dropped off at the top of this road, and will have a little over half a mile to walk to reach the village. See the linked map at the bottom of this page for more details.

As I mentioned earlier, the road from the A851 is initially quite steep, and in places overlooks the lighthouse so it will be worth stopping to take pictures. There are quite a lot of trees lining the road however, so you won't necessarily be able to take the photograph you want until down in the village itself. The best views of the lighthouse are to be obtained from the pebble beach, so expect to have to clamber over a rock or two to get the shot you want. The pebbles were quite slipperery with seaweed on my visit, so it's probably best that cameras and lenses remain bagged until you need them.

Eilean Iarmain Lighthouse

In terms of recommended equipment, I wouldn't leave home without a tripod and telephoto lens. The lighthouse is quite a distance from the beach, and I found that to fill the frame with the lighthouse to any degree, as well as to compress perspective with the nearby mountains, a focal length of 70-135mm* worked best. Alternatively, you could try a more wide-angle approach and catch some of the water lapping against the large pebbles of the beach, however the waters were so still when I was there that it wasn't an approach I tried. Additionally, I found that most of my wide angle lenses rendered the lighthouse a little too small in the frame for my liking. To each his own of course.

Depending on the conditions, and if you have one, you may find a graduated neutral density filter useful to tone down the brightness in an overcast or cloudy sky. More importantly, you'll also find it helps add drama to the scene, particularly when photographing in black and white.

As I said at the beginning, Isleornsay is a fishing village, so there are other opportunities for photography than those afforded by the lighthouse and surrounding mountains. I visited largely to photograph the lighthouse and so sadly became somewhat blinkered, but the village itself has a number of attractive builidings, and is as picturesque as you would expect from a small Highland fishing village.

One final mention should go the the Hotel Eilean Iarmain adjacent to the harbour, which looks like a rather nice place to stay, perfectly situated as it is with a view across the Sound of Sleat. As I often do, I'd have loved to stop for a pint and report back on the local brews but time was pressing... I suspect I'll be back one day though.

* Bear in mind DSLR magnification factors when judging what lenses you may need. My EOS30D has a magnification factor of 1.6x, so if you plan to take a 35mm or full-frame camera you might want to adjust these focal lengths upwards accordingly.

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I am on a constant lookout for new and interesting locations. If you know of a potentially photogenic location you'd like to see included in the guide, please let me know.