Location Report: Isle of Skye, UK

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If you enjoy landscape photography, you can find no better place to visit than the Isle of Skye. Photographers worldwide come to this area located on the northwest corner of Scotland to point their lens at some of the world’s most dramatic landscapes and wildlife. Skye is the second-largest island in the Hebrides, with a population of around 10,000 and an area of 640 square miles. Human habitation dates back 10,000 years, and today tourism is the most important element to the local economy. Skye is mostly reached by automobile. Most visitors take flights to Glasgow or Edinburgh and drive from there. Skye is a five or six-hour car ride from Glasgow airport. Once there, your car will be the best form of transportation around the island. The town of Portree is the popular location on the island, and most tourists will stay in and around Portree. While very photogenic, you will want to grab your hiking shoes and get in the car and visit many of the island’s epic locations. While Portree can be very crowded, you will find many of the epic scenery locations sparsely populated. Most locations will require some hiking to access the best scenery. Some hikes are easy, and some are quite hard. You can easily find a good hiking challenge regardless of your fitness level. My most recent visit was in September of 2019, and with the help of my guide, I was able to pack in many epic locations during my four-day visit.

Skye packs a lot of geography for its relatively small size. Photographers can expect jagged mountains, scenic lochs, flowing moors, and plenty of epic sea cliffs. Toss in a handful of epic flowing waterfalls, and you have the ultimate landscape photographer’s candy store. Like all of Scotland, weather plays a big part in daily life. Expect everything. Summer days can provide beautiful light all day long, while other days can be a total wash-out. Winter can bring snow at any time to any location —plan on spending lots of time out in the elements waiting for good light. Whenever I braved the elements for prolonged periods of time, I was always rewarded with great light eventually. Proper rain gear is important for yourself and your photo equipment – you and your camera will get wet. A good set of waterproof boots is important. Even if the water is not falling from the sky, there is plenty on the ground where you will be hiking. All Photographic equipment works on Skye. Bring your favorite equipment. Wide-angle, telephoto, it all works. Equipment rated as weather-resistant is important. Make sure to bring a sturdy weather-resistant camera bag/backpack. A sturdy tripod is a must considering the low light conditions. Filters have somewhat limited use for Skye photography. You may get a chance to use a polarizer in water shots, but you are best off filter-free most of the time.

You managed to get yourself to Skye, you brought all the proper equipment for both yourself and your camera, and you are ready to head out – but where go? This would be a good time to mention that hiring a local photography guide can be tremendous. A good guide knows where best to go under current weather conditions, how best to get there, and often has access to areas that visitors are not permitted. The return on investment is high with a photography guide. There are many to choose from, and a quick Google search will provide names. I highly recommend the Skye Photo Academy. Based in Portree, they have an excellent crew of professional photographers that are extremely knowledgeable about the island and photography techniques. They have clean, comfortable vehicles to transport you to all the locations on your checklist.

There are dozens of scenic locations worthy of your attention, and hopefully, you get to see them all, but there is a handful of must-see locations. I can not list all the great locations here. This post would go on too long if I did, a simple Google search can help you find the extensive list. I will stick to a handful of the most popular ones you will definitely want to visit. The Old Man of Storr is Skye’s most recognizable landmark. Forming part of the Trotternish Ridge, Storr is a decent hike from the road; however, it is such a large landmark seen from great distances, and a couple of good vantage points are roadside. The choice is yours – hike up to several vantage points or photograph from the road – why not both.

At the northern end of the Trotternish Ridge is a group of formations known as The Quiraing. The Quiraing has several excellent views to behold, and like other locations in Skye, there are great views right from the parking lot. For those that venture out along the hiking trail, there are several more stunning views. The hiking trail stretches for miles, and you are free to go as far or near as you like. The longer you go, the better the views get.

Neist Point is the most westerly point on Skye and one of the best sunset locations anywhere. The slender jagged peninsula points out into the ocean, and its end sits a Lighthouse. The whole scene is best viewed from the high cliffs jetting out above the peninsula. It is best to get out and move around this location since there are many views and compositions. If you are there for sunset, the light will determine the best composition. It can take some time to get here from Portree as the last part of the drive is a thin winding road.

Just south of Portree on highway A87 in Sligachan. With its dramatic view of the northern peaks of the Black Cuillin mountains, this location is a popular destination for photographers, campers, and hikers. There are excellent compositional foreground elements here, such as a winding river and an old stone bridge. The bridge and river are roadside and easy to access. There are park and shoot locations here, but you should definitely get out on foot and explore the trails here for more opportunities.

At the southwest edge of Skye lies a small fishing village named Elgol. Getting there requires taking a winding single-track road, but once you reach the village, things begin to open up. The village and fishing dock gives you an excellent view of the Cuillins from across Loch Scavaig. This is one of Scotland’s best views. Expect to find photographers here when you arrive. Again, there are excellent views from the parking lot, but those looking for a little extra can do some rock hopping along the coast for more dynamic compositions. Just be careful along the rocks and shore and pay attention to the tides.

The locations above are my favorites, and I did not even have space to mention other must-see locations like The Fairy Pools, The Fairy Glenn. Skye is not just about epic landscape locations, don’t pass up the opportunity to grab photos of the local villages and even the wildlife. Portree’s fishing dock is a fun place, and the Highland Cows are always a willing subject. If Skye is on your list – good, make sure you get there. If it’s not, add it.

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