Photographing the Old Man of Storr

September 20, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

In my previous post about Isle of Skye photography I briefly mentioned  several of my unsuccessful sunrise attempts at the Old Man of Storr. You may naturally wonder what makes it so difficult. Well, the answer is a combination of several reasons. Firstly, it takes around 5-6 hours to drive to the north of Isle of Skye from Glasgow; as a result it becomes truly hard predicting when the weather conditions will be at their most spectacular. Harsh winds, freezing temperatures, frequent rain and hailstorms are likely even when the weather is warm and pleasant just a few miles away. Skye is in the far north of the UK and unsurprisingly it is battered by ferocious and frequent Atlantic storms. One of my first ascents took place on a clear summers morning last year. Unfortunately on the top of the hill a thick blanket of cloud rolled in and visibility was reduced to just a few meters. My second attempt wasn't much better even though Portree town had clear skies all day. I felt like I should have at least a couple 'safe' shots by that time, however  all I managed lacked any reasonable light and clarity.

The fortune turned around in June this year (2015). The summer arrived very late and was unusually wet and cool. The weather in Glasgow was poor, however the satellite image data from MetOffice indicated a possible storm break in the far north. A swift decision to embark on the journey was made and just before sunset I crossed the Skye bridge. The weather still looked distinctly poor however there was just a glimpse of red and orange far in the horizon. After another half an hour or so I reached the weather front and red sunset was unfolding in front of me. Had I left an hour earlier I could have made it to Elgol and potentially witnessed something truly dramatic (however it is important to consider that the sky may have looked totally different just 30 miles away!) The colour in the sky faded away very quickly and soon I was back on track and reached the slopes of the Storr in the next hour.

I camped overnight. It was very chilly sleeping under the stars. The alarm clock rang at 3AM and I swiftly grabbed my gear and started the ascent. The path had been significantly improved since my last visit. The pair of wellies was really no longer needed. In around 45 minutes time I was ready at the location waiting for the light. However, the Old Man didn't want to give up so easily even this time. Stormy clouds rolled in at a very fast pace and moments later hailstones started to fall. Pleasingly a break in the clouds appeared just as the sun was rising. So in a matter of just an hour the conditions changed from cloudless to hopeless to dramatic. My trusty Canon EOS 5D Mark III with Canon 16-35 mm f/4 EF L IS USM Lens lens was on tripod recording the data while I was soaking up the light and could hardly contain my joy. The Storr was finally conquered.

Old Man of Storr sunriseOld Man of Storr sunrise

The Old Man of StorrThe Old Man of Storr

Old Man of Storr, Isle of SkyeOld Man of Storr, Isle of Skye

The rainbow in the last frame was a really nice touch of the constantly changeable weather. It was a wonderful nature show and I was its sole spectator. I decided to go further up to a higher vantage point for some different angles. There is a wee path twisting right around the steep cliffs directly in front; It then goes over a sheep fence and up on the Trotternish Ridge. 

The weather calmed down dramatically, and the skies were clear once again. The sunlight had intensified an hour after the sunrise and the warm colours were gradually replaced by cooler tones. The scene was now very different, yet just as striking. The 5D was still very busy. 

The Old Man of StorrThe Old Man of Storr

The Old Man of StorrThe Old Man of Storr

It was already after 6AM when the first tourists and hikers started to arrive. The views were still lovely and it was a fine day for hillwalking, however the golden morning had already faded into the history.

My next stop was Quiraing, the famous landslip just a few miles north. The light was still reasonably interesting, so I was pleased with the opportunity for more landscape photography.


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