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Friday Mar 25, 2011

Skye Landscape Workshop

Skye Landscape Workshop

Last week I attended a workshop run by Bruce Percy in Skye. I had been to one of Bruce’s weekend workshops in Glen Coe before and really enjoyed it and I felt I got a lot out of it so I wanted to go back and do a five day one. I chose the Skye one as it is not a part of Scotland I am familiar with and there are only four students on this particular course so I felt I would get lots of Bruce’s time.


Staffin Bay from the Quiraing 

Glenview Hotel

We all met up at the Hotel, the Glenview near Staffin on the Trotternish peninsula. It is a small hotel having only five guest rooms but I had seen the reports on Trip Advisor and was really looking forward to some great food. It did not disappoint. Simon is a fantastic chef and the food was consistently great all week. So good that I put on three pounds in weight despite all the outdoor activity.

Simon and Kirsty run a very friendly establishment and they could not have been more helpful. Highly recommended.

The other three students on the course were all from North America and they were good company throughout the week. One of the interesting things about these workshops is how a number of people can go to the same location at the same time and still produce very different images.  They found Skye's "four seasons in a morning" weather a revelation. It's definitely not like that in California.


The format for each day was that we would leave in time to be on location before sunrise. This meant getting up between 4.30 and 5:15am depending on how far we had to travel ( Skye is much bigger than I thought). Shoot for a couple of hours then back to the hotel for a late breakfast. We then usually had an hour or so to ourselves then a critique session with Bruce for two to three hours. Simon would bring in sandwiches and delicious home made cakes for lunch during the critiques.

After that, there was usually no break as we then went back out to be on location for sunset and shoot till twilight. Then back to the hotel for dinner.

It was pretty tiring but good fun.


We went to Elgol twice, morning and evening. This was partly due to a dental emergency with one of our party which required a trip to Kyle of Locahalsh. However it was useful in seeing the same location under light from 180 degree different direction and what a difference that makes.

I have to confess that I made a poor copy ( no lets call it an homage, it sounds better ) of one of Joe Cornish’s most famous pictures which is on the front cover of his book “First Light”.


Elgol - with apologies to Joe Cornish 


This one is all mine however.


The Cuillin from Elgol 

Storr Lochs

An early start but almost not quite early enough as it was starting to get light when we got there. There was no wind, a bit of frost and lovely light. Sometimes just being there is good enough and the photographs are the icing on the cake. It was definitely worth getting up for.

We all got some good shots of the loch with the Storr as a backdrop. James even found a roll of Fuji Velvia film that a certain Mr B Percy had dropped when he was last there in December. We were surprised that he hadn't missed it.


The Old Man of Storr poking his head in the clouds 



The rising sun lights up a tree 


In the afternoon we climbed up to the old man of Storr. It was pretty windy and cold but a dramatic location. The walk back to the car after dusk ended in the dark and head torches were needed to find our way.


Old Man of Storr and Needle Rock 


We were on location early enough to see the pre-dawn light. However the weather had other ideas and it was cloudy. Bruce is never one to be put off by the weather though and we walked up the path to the Quiraing anyway. Good decision! We saw some great light and clouds and we all got some very pleasing photographs. Had I not been on a course I would looked out the window, saw the gray sky and gone back to bed and missed the whole thing.


Soft light on Trotternish 


Staffin Bay 



Early sun on Trotternish hills 



Incoming! Hailstones about to arrive.

Neist Point

This is another of Skye’s well known locations. My knees were hurting after the fun on the Storr and Quiraing so I didn’t move about as much as I would have liked and got fewer good images as a consequence, but I still got a shot I like.

Neist Point at sunset 


This was another morning and evening visit to see the varied light and how that changes the subject that are available to shoot. In the afternoon visit I decided to take the training wheels off and do my own thing to see how I got on. My confidence in being able to produce a decent shot was much higher than it was on Tuesday morning and I feel that this is a good reflection on Bruce’s teaching.



River Sligachan and the Black Cuillin ( looking quite white ) 


Boulders in river Sligachan 



Marsco with Bla Bheinn ( Blaven ) behind



A boulder, a waterfall, red sky and a snow capped mountain. Cliche overload! I like it.



Getting dark. Time to go home. 


At the critique sessions, we handed over our memory cards and Bruce spent time going through our efforts good and bad. It was important to leave the bad ones on the card as well as Bruce often explained why they didn’t work and how they could be improved. He would then pick two or three that he liked best from each person and we would discuss why they worked and how they should be post processed. This would normally consist of a crop and some areas lightened and some darkened to help guide the eye round the shot. He doesn’t do cloning and the changes he makes are what the traditional darkroom guys would have done during printing with dodging and burning.

It was good to hear the critiques of the others work as well as my own. You can be more objective about other peoples images and it can make it easier to see what needs done to them.

These sessions were also good for learning more about composition, framing and balance.   

What I learned

Get out there

There were quite a few things I took away from this week. First of all, as Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up”. If I don’t get out there in the field at the right times of morning and evening, I will not make great pictures. It’s too easy to look at the forecast and say, “It’s not worth going out”. I saw first hand that this is not the case. One thing about the weather is that weather that is good for photographers is probably not good for photographs.

ND Grads and live view

I am now a convert to the use of Live View and neutral density graduated filters. Previously if the light was over too high a range to capture in one shot then I would bracket exposures and either combine them with a layer mask or use HDR and tone mapping. There are still occasions when that is the way to go but I found that most of the time on the course, using the filters and live view to see the shot as it would be recorded made composition easier and better. This will definitely be the way I’ll work in future unless a particular picture could not really be made that way.

Aspect ratios

Bruce mentioned this in the previous workshop and he has definitely warmed to his theme as he has an ebook on the subject now. This came up during the critique sessions quite a lot, that sometimes, in fact, usually, the native 35mm format of 2:1 is not right for an image. It obviously depends on the individual but I found that when I switched on the 5:4 guide lines on my camera and composed to that, it just got easier to find the composition.

I bought Bruce’s eBook when I got back home and it makes a lot of sense. So expect to see plenty of 5:4 or even square format picture from me on Picsmap in the future.  


If you are serious about landscape photography then Bruce's workshops are highly recommended. I have been on two now and I have learned a lot. I said last time that I thought it was better to upgrade the photographer rather than the camera. I have been fortunate this year in that I have upgraded the camera and I hope the photographer as well.  


Photos are amazing- I'll be picking some out for my living room! Good too see what you were up to as well :-) xx

Posted by Bews Major on March 25, 2011 at 08:57 PM GMT #

Fantastic photos as always! The scenery is stunning itself but you've managed to make it look more vibrant, and make me jelous I wasn't there! xx

Posted by Bews Minor on March 28, 2011 at 06:13 PM BST #

Well it's nice to see my daughters read my blog even if no-one else does :-)

Posted by Norman Bews on March 28, 2011 at 06:23 PM BST #

Hi Norman

Others do read your blogs! [although maybe not promptly ;-(] Good to see that Bruce has converted you to the ND grads (I carry 3 of differing densities with me altho' don't necessarily use the right one at the right time!), next should come the polariser! Still need to get on one of these workshops myself.

All the best.

Posted by Campbell Barrie on March 28, 2011 at 08:15 PM BST #

Very nice pictures Norrie.

Posted by Callum MacDonald on April 01, 2011 at 03:38 PM BST #

These images are incredible well done

Posted by Ryan Mc on October 22, 2011 at 07:29 AM BST #

Thanks Ryan, much appreciated.

Posted by Norman Bews on October 24, 2011 at 10:44 PM BST #

Fantastic photographs Norrie. Really good! I would love to be able to get shots like that.
I have recently read and seen results from the added benefits of using graduated filters, so I can see a additional purchase or two on the horizon to go with my new Sigma 10-20mm lens for my Nikon. I am now also very keen on trying some kind of workshop too. Well done.

Posted by stuart king on July 03, 2015 at 08:30 AM BST #

Dear Norman! Thank you so much for this story and the gorgeous pictures. I like very much the part: "What I learned": you are hitting the nail on it´s head-this are the "true secret`s" of successful outdoor photography! And at last: be very, very proud to your family,because they are watching your work and give lovely comment´s from the deep of their heart´s, take care on them! How did I find your website? I was far a week with Bruce Percy on the Lofoten and go "deeper" in his website (and them of his successful participant´s). Cher´s FJK

Posted by FJK, Franz-Josef Kovacs on February 07, 2016 at 07:41 AM GMT #

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