A long-time fan of plastic cameras, Argentinean writer and photographer Lorraine Healy is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera. Inspired by the recent article and images by Tristan Aitchison, Healy shares her images from a workshop in the Western Highlands of Scotland.
Reading Tristan Aitchison’s wonderful article on driving the North Coast 500 across the Highlands for a week in the midst of winter inspired me to dust off my images from my time in the Scottish Highlands and the Isle of Skye, taking a workshop from English photographer Lee Frost and Scottish photographer Duncan McEwan. It was at the beginning of autumn, with really pleasant temperatures — but still a bunch of midges!
The workshop had us based in two locations: the first three days in the area of Kyle of Lochalsh, across a narrow strip of water from the Isle of Skye and then the last four in Skye itself. It is hard to describe the beauty of these places, so I won’t even try; hopefully the images will do the talking. As a visitor there for a mere week, it would have been impossible to be in so many places at the time of perfect light. Not only had Lee and Duncan photographed here in all seasons, but Duncan’s intuitive, unerring sense of Highland weather would make us change plans on the spot, turn the bus carrying 15 photographers around to find the most spectacular light you can imagine.
I had long been intimidated by “serious” landscape photography—the kind you see in famous magazines. I had also wanted to see more of Scotland, beyond the Edinburgh I had fallen in love with at 16. I also knew I did not want to reprise my experience of the previous year in Ireland, driving on the opposite side of the road—when I returned my rental car to the Dublin Airport dinged and scratched all over. So this trip tailored for landscape photographers seemed like utter perfection.
Except… well, I really, truly did not look the part. Relying mostly on my toy cameras, the iPhone, and a mirrorless digital camera with a 35mm fixed lens, I was rather under-geared, considering the rest of the group’s equipment. But no matter! My Holgas and I were warmly welcomed. People let me try their equipment just so I’d get a feel for it and since pretty much everyone there had started photographing in the analog age, they understood what I was going for. Being longtime serious landscape photographers, though, they were all possessed of a preternatural patience and an indifference to the vagaries of weather that was startling to me. They could wait for hours for the perfect ray of light to come through the banks of dark Scottish clouds, if Duncan said the ray of light was coming. And come it would!
Does that mean that I learned to wait for the magic shot, under the pouring rain or being eaten by midges? Hmmm… The two images above show two instances where I did not wait and ended up missing those magic rays of light coming through fog and cloud. But I did learn to be more patient! No real zoom to speak of? The wee zoom on the Leica point and shoot I was carrying was rather puny. I zoomed with my feet, the old-fashioned way.
The idea of shooting from the hip would have been incomprehensible to my fellow photographers. They valued precision, composing carefully, and they produced photographs of stunning beauty. The fact that I choose to photograph with analog gear did not mean anything. The fact that I don’t always take enough time to do a landscape justice was an important lesson to learn.
Tristan Aitchison’s article talks at length about the many abandoned crofts in the Scottish Highlands, about the sad historical reasons for these structures slowly crumbling all over Northern Scotland and the Scottish isles. They were my favorite places to photograph and I found them incredibly moving. We had the opportunity to walk into one in the village of Struan and in the trashed inside we found an abandoned Bible, open to the last place its owner had been reading. Clearly this place had been inhabited until a few years ago, but still, it felt as desolate as if it had stood empty since the 1800s.
A week in the Scottish Highlands was merely scratching the surface. Many of my fellow photographers (half the group was English and half was Scottish) had been shooting in the Shetlands, the Hebrides, the eastern Highlands, the isle of Eigg. You can spend a lifetime just photographing in Northern Scotland without needing to go anywhere else. Well, maybe get down to Edinburgh during August to do some street photography during the Fringe Festival.
Lorraine Healy (@lorrainehealy) is an Argentinean writer and photographer living in the Pacific Northwest. A long-time fan of plastic cameras and she is the author of “Tricks With A Plastic Wonder,” a manual for achieving better results with a Holga camera, available as an eBook from Amazon.com.