Rachel Keenan's Outdoor Photography Blog Part 2
Shooting on the Islands
Across every CalMac ferry route, I roam solo, photographing the scenic spots, historic landmarks and the people who call these places home. Though some assignments may present challenges to capturing that perfect outdoor shot, often they are coupled with lasting memories or some seriously unique working experiences.
The journey starts as the city retreats in my rearview, there is a sense that the adventure has begun. Mountains and lochs creep into the landscape as I drive. Once boarded, I have one priority, wildlife spotting! From the CalMac ferry, I've seen minke whales, puffins in bumbling flight, and dolphins dancing through the wake of the ferry. The sea always draws the eye.
With a wave of thanks to the smiley crew at the port, onwards into the imperceptible shift in pace of life. You are now entering island time, where even the busiest islands hold a serene calm.
Surviving West Coast Weather
Probably the main challenge to capturing the best outdoor shot is the ever changing Scottish weather. I've become something of an expert in withstanding its nuances, the good, the bad and the occasionally ferocious.The usual suspect, rain, will interrupt all best laid plans. Perseverance is key through this tragically common occurrence. I am hunched on a hill, pinning a tarpaulin over my camera waiting for the opportune moment when the CalMac ferry slides into the perfect spot on the horizon. The pay off comes when the thundering showers lift, these will be moments of photographic heaven. The sun spears the clouds, heavy with rain, illuminating an array of contrasts. Give me that over a blue sky anyday. These tempestuous moments captured, make even the coldest of toes worth it. You may find me grinning in a downpour!
Often my nemesis is hurricane-esque winds. For example, when photographing cyclists on the Hebridean Way we camped at a secluded spot on a beach in Berneray. Enjoying the sunset without a breath of wind, I snapped shots of the light sinking into the sea. Yet, things change fast. Later that night I was awakened to screaming wind and a collapsed tent. After the third time trying to reset my tent in the dark, catching tent pegs and whipping fabric, I resigned myself to dragging the remains to the car. I spent the rest of the night, spitting sand, hunkered over the steering wheel "sleeping".
Drawing some inquiring looks from early morning dog walkers at the dishevelled woman emerging from her sleeping bag, I sheepishly waved hello. I recall this hilarious moment every time I camp, searching for the largest rocks, to weigh down the edges of my tent!
It is not often your working day is interrupted by a creature sometimes called the "Pirate bird of the sea". Hiking on the Isle of Muck, I inadvertently strayed too close to the nest of a Great Skua, which became intent on driving its 1.5 meter wingspan into my head, until I fled to a safe distance. Although mildly scary, to me this just conveys that incredible link to nature the islands retain. This unique wildlife encounter simply couldn't be had in most places. With a nervous laugh I add "rogue seabirds" to my mental rolodex of "Issues to be aware of when shooting on the Islands". Lesson learned... Skuas like their space.
Deep Breath, Patience!
As a naturally clumsy person, many despair at my dented camera equipment. However, to get the perfect shot as an adventure photographer you can't be too precious, sometimes things go sideways. Patience and flexibility is key! On Skye, I donned a harness and ropes, placed waterproof housing on my camera and began slowly swimming down a river. I was following my canyoning compatriots and when we abseiled down a waterfall, I slipped, smashing my camera into the rock face, flooding it.
Although not ideal, I can tolerate drowning a hugely expensive camera. The busted kit and bruises are adventure merit badges! Mementos of a wild day, the images gathered show the unpredictable nature of Scottish adventure from a perspective not usually enjoyed by many. Just make sure to dry that memory card off quick smart and don't try this at home! These are the memorable campfire stories I enjoy recounting, that make up the fabric of a fairly unique job, helping to develop a better understanding of the places I represent with my photography.
We are living in peculiar times at present, and we've all needed to collectively press pause on our island adventures - so check back soon for some post isolation planning - for when it is once again safe for us to return to the islands.