gallery, cafe & apartment

Archive for the category “photographic”


If you follow us on Facebook [other social media are available] you will know that we have recently been away for a week to Lewis and Harris for a wet week.  Our arrival was delayed by over ten hours as the morning ferry was cancelled due to gales which had kept the ferry over in South Uist and which also closed the Skye Bridge.  This further delayed the ferry as by the time they hoped to run there were only a handful of vehicles waiting.  We finally sailed at around 6:30pm, via an unscheduled stop at South Uist which turns a 90 minute crossing to Harris into 4 hours, so it was nearly midnight when we arrived at our firs accommodation in Great Bernera in North West Lewis.

For the most part the weather continued wet and often windy.  Now, this sort of weather can be quite conducive to photography – the dark brooding skies, misty landscapes, that sort of thing.  However, horizontal rain at 40 mph does tend to get onto your lens, however deep the hood and I’m grateful that Pentax SLRs tend to be weatherproofed*.  So for the most part, photographically it turned into more of a recce for later trips.  The bad weather was, however, good for working on the beaches.

Luskentyre beach #1. Shot from below the level of the tops of the breakers from a hopefully safe distance!

Now, I hear you say, if the rain is horizontal at 40 mph why do you want to be on a beach?  Fair point, but if you want waves, you need wind.  And I have set myself a project over winter to shoot a set of seascapes.  I also have a strange affinity for the coast [just as well, living a couple of hundred metres from it…].  Although I was born in the heart of the Midlands as far away from, the sea as you can get in Britain I spent much of my childhood in Northern Ireland where the coast was only a 45 minute car-ride away, and a frequent destination at weekends.  And then later, a few years after university I spent time working at a marine station in the Irish Republic doing rocky shore surveys.


Luskentyre beach #2. Wind blowing the tops off the breakers…

So I love beaches [although not hot sunny ones full of sunbathers!] and the shoreline in general.  I love being at the margins, at the edge looking out.  Which is perhaps why I love the west of Scotland and the west of Ireland, at the edge of the continent, looking out…  When I stand on a beach, on the margins of the land, looking out onto a stormy sea I see raw power, I see chaos, I see a terrible beauty,  I see a universe that is utterly indifferent to my continued existence and could sweep me away in an instant – yet I am beguiled.  There is an intensity that overwhelms the senses and I become marginalia, simply a passing mark on the sands, at the edge, indifferent to everything but the moment.  And if I have a camera, trying to capture the moment.

If you do follow us on Facebook you will have already seen two of these images, but I make no apology for including them here, not least because I’m still working on the others!  Usual when shooting water I use slow shutter speeds to suggest movement, or even stillness with very long exposures, but here I’ve tried to capture the power and forms of the sea so the shutter speeds are quite high, up to 1/1250 in #1.


Luskentyre beach #3. The blue and the grey and the white…

I did take some photographs of other things, and one of them has a little lesson to teach.  But I’ll tell you about that next time…

* In the days when we could afford trips to both Antarctica and Greenland I happily shot away while users of more lauded brands of camera had theirs seize up in the cold and damp, and in at least one case, terminally…

Currently listening to: The Time Has Come – Anne Briggs.

On the road again…

So on Monday evening after work I finally got out to take photos and DO NOTHING ELSE for a few hours.  I took myself off to Talisker Bay in Minginish.

A few words for the uninitiated [Sgitheanachs can move along: nothing to see here…]. Talisker Bay lies about five miles from the Distillery that shares it’s name – the distillery is in Carbost, on Loch Harport, although it was on the Talisker estate, hence the name.  The area is a Site of Special Scientific Interest because of two rare species of Burnet moth and the geology.  And the geology gives us black and white sand, which opens  interesting photographic possibilities.  Also, as it faces due west into  The Little Minch you get spectacular sunsets.

Talisker Bay sunset

Terminal Beach*.  Landscapes on drugs: surreal colours in the sunset at Talisker Bay…

And so it proved.  I was a little late arriving, not least because the road down Glen Oraid faces directly into the setting sun and I had to stop and clean the windscreen and drive slowly as I was completely dazzled despite sunglasses and a peaked hat pulled right down.  It’s a twenty-odd minute walk to the beach and I got set up just as the sun was setting.  The tide was receding as well, even faster than my hairline, so more sand was being uncovered which was what I wanted.  That said, the extreme contrast between the sky and the beach, even after sunset needed a three-stop hard grad neutral density filter to hold detail in the sky [yes, there is post-processing as well, but best not to burn out the sky, or there’s nothing to process] in addition to various ND filters to add different effects to the sea.

Making tracks: drainage at Talisker Bay

Making tracks: drainage at Talisker Bay

Sometimes the most pleasing images are at your feet.  A the sun sank lower below the horizon, I decided to concentrate on the beach and take the horizon out of shot. The lighting was also influenced by a very bright moon over my shoulder.  And here you can clearly see the thin layer of white sand on the black sand base, picked up in the low light, like the trail of some ancient sea creature returning to the waves.  They will both be available as prints i the gallery very soon.

*The Terminal Beach is a short story [and a short story collection] by the late JG Ballard.  The terminal beach in that case is at Eniwetok [now Enewetak], which was used for nuclear bomb testing by the US, including Ivy Mike, the first hydrogen bomb detonation.  I like the title for the image, although in my imagination the colours fit better with the mood of the shimmering land- and waterscapes of The Drowned World.

Currently listening to: Veckatimest – Grizzly Bear

Went the day well?

So it happened.  After all the waiting we are open.  We went with a quiet opening – we are new to the cafe business, so are feeling our way into it but it was good to see friends and neighbours dropping in not least because we want to be there for the community as well as tourists, and we did get drive-by custom as well.

Here’s how we looked before opening – still room for a few more pictures maybe, but not too cluttered for the cafe atmosphere.


The OldByreSkye on the wall was a freebie from the VitalSigns who made the roadside signs.  Apparently they printed out the wording the wrong size (too large), so when we collected the signs they owned up and gave us the extra lettering for free. They were able to reuse the blue and green underscores, but even so it looks rather smart.  Nice one guys!  [It basically works like giant Letraset: and I’m old enough to have used plenty of that…]


Tomorrow I’ll try to get some foodie shots: but if you’re in the area why not drop in and see for yourself?  Same menu as today.  Wednesday is our day off and then a new menu for Thursday and Friday.

Currently listening to: Pour Down Like Silver – Richard and Linda Thompson.  And yes, we do have PRS and PPL licences for the gallery/cafe [and the hole in our bank balance to prove it…], so you can legitimately listen to anything we play.  Or say “What’s that racket” and put your fingers in your ears…

T minus 12 hours and counting. Do you copy Houston?

A very quick post to confirm that we open the OldByreSkye gallery and cafe tomorrow, 23 September at 11:00.

Here’s what will be available.  There’s slow-cooked pork belly in BBQ sauce in a honey and mustard roll; smoked salmon with dill mayo and home-baked bread; a Scottish cheese board and white bean and sweet potato soup. Plus a selection of sweet things, including our cranachan cheesecake, and a range of coffees and teas. And, of course, lots of photographs to look at [and buy!].

There will be photos of it all tomorrow!

Currently listening to: my brain in overdrive…

On the road again…

So, we’re at the annual Clan Donald Craft Fair down at Armadale in Sleat on Saturday and Sunday, the largest event of its type on Skye.  Sleat is the south-western ‘arm’ of Skye, so that’s a 100 mile round trip each day…  We’re in marquee B if you’re around.  Then on Monday, just for relaxation, we’re at the Craft Fayre [sic] in Waternish.  Don’t forget to visit our Zenfolio gallery to see the full range of images available to order.

Highland cow

Handsome beast am I not? If you visit the OldByreSkye stall you can buy my portrait. McMoo.

Currently listening to: Nothing Can Stop Us – Robert Wyatt [augmented version with Shipbuilding, which isn’t on the original album]

Leica rangefinder, but different…

If you’re not interested in camera talk [or bad puns], look away now – you have been warned [although it’s too late for the pun…].

As it’s nearly my birthday I decided to buy a new camera, to join the other 14 that I own.  It’s not a replacement for my Pentax K5, which is the current workhorse, but rather something to bring one of my old systems back to life.  By the end of the days when I shot on film I had three systems that I had built up over the years: a Bronica 645RF ; Pentax MZ-5n and MX [35mm SLRs and xx lenses] and a Voigtlander Bessa R2 and T [35mm rangefinders and five lenses].  The Bronica, which was a flawed masterpiece sits sadly in its bag, where at least it doesn’t gather dust.  The Pentax system converted to digital although nothing of the original system remains in use.  And then there was the 35mm rangefinder system with five Leica M mount lenses – 4 Voigtlanders from 15 to 75mm and a Leica 135mm f4 Tele-Elmar bought off eBay for about half its market value. So it is the latter system I’ve brought back to life.

Panasonic LX3 vs Ricoh GSR with 25mm f4 Voightlander Snapashot-Skopar

Panasonic LX3 – fixed 24mm f2 – 60mm f2.8 [35mm equivalent field of view] vs Ricoh GSR with 25mm f4 Voightlander Snapshot-Skopar – over 6 times the sensor area of the LX3…

Sadly, digital rangefinders are out of my league as there are basically Leica or nothing.  If I still had my old job in London I could probably stretch to a reasonable second-hand M8, but not now.  So I’ve bought a Ricoh GXR with an A12 -M module as they are going cheap at the moment [which probably means they’ve been discontinued].  The original GXR was an interesting, if flawed concept, in that the ‘camera’ body isn’t really a camera at all: it just houses the controls, LCD screen and most of the electronics.  The lenses came in sealed modules with the sensors onboard. The idea was that you could keep the small camera form by putting small sensors behind long zooms, and lager sensors on short zooms or standard lenses, and the sealed units would be impervious to dust.  In practice you ended up paying over the odds for the lenses – what really needs to be changeable  in digital cameras is the sensors and the electronics to run them as the turnover on camera models in any given market position other than very high-end is around 18 months, if that, driven largely by an increasingly meaningless pixel count.

But the M Module is different – it mounts M bayonet [the Leica rangefinder mount] lenses. The M module is interesting in that unlike using adaptors on [mainly] micro 4/3 cameras, the sensor is optimised for M mount lenses, which having been designed with a short registration distance can cause problems on digital sensors.  The sensor isn’t ‘full frame’* so the angle of view is reduced to what it would have been on 35mm – it crops the useable image circle.  This does mean, however, that the edges of the lenses which have less resolution aren’t used, and there is no light loss at the corners (vignetting) which is common on very wide-angle lenses, especially for rangefinders.  If you want vignetting it’s very easy to add when processing an image.  There is also no AA** [anti-aliasing] filter on the sensor, which increases sharpness.

So what’s it like?  Well, it’s not a rangefinder, but….  The lens module glides smoothly and solidly onto the magnesium alloy body, and the whole thing has a reassuring solidity about it – it’s not a budget product.  It fits nicely in the hand with all the controls easily reached.  Many of the controls can have specific functions assigned to them which is especially useful as the zoom switch is otherwise redundant on a manual focus,  prime  lens mount.  The control menus are logically laid out and easy to scroll through.  In fact the whole control interface is  quite exemplary and was very easy to get started and to explore the deeper depths of the possibilities offered.


Same size sensor: Pentax K5 with battery grip and 50-135mm f2.8 vs Ricoh GXR with VF-2 digital viewfinder, Leica 135mm f4 Tele-Elmar and IUFOO lens hood. I have no idea why Leica used to give its accessories such strange names…

The accessory viewfinder is expensive, but very necessary as the rear screen is all but impossible to see in bright sunlight.  It can be tilted through 90 degrees as well, so is good for low angle shooting.  As focusing is manual there are various software focusing aids.  The one I’ve been using increases contrast, particularly at the edges of objects – with a shallow depth of field you can ‘walk’ the line of focus across the image, and with the wide-angles I usually zone-focus anyway as per rangefinder days.

As you may have worked out, I like this camera a lot.  Whether this continues will, of course, depends on how it performs optically when I start trying to make commercial quality prints from its output.  It’s not meant to replace my K5, rather offer a more portable system for when I don’t want, or need, to carry a heavy camera bag [much as my old Bessa] but it still needs to be able to sing for its supper, as it were.  I’ll post a second report when I’ve done some serious shooting.

*’Full frame’ in digital terms is a sensor the same size as a single frame of 35mm film [24 x 36mm].  It’s an irritating term as all sensors and film are ‘full frame’ – the sensor covers the frame.  Most digital SLRs are APS -C [23x15mm], which is Advanced Photo System (Classic), another film format.  ‘Full frame’ is much smaller than my Bronica rangefinder [60x45mm] and my old 617 panoramic camera [60x170mm], so what’s ‘full’ about it?

Currently listening toShining Brother Shining Sister – Jackie Leven

Gestation of an image

I’m not giving away any trade secrets when I say that process of producing photographs has changed dramatically since the advent of affordable digital cameras.  And if we are honest, the internet has pretty much killed the concept of a ‘trade secret’ anyway, if you can sort the wheat from the chaff*.

Any digital image you see has been manipulated in some way, whether in ‘post-processing’ at home on a computer, or in camera.  Yes, your camera manipulates your images, whatever you tell it to do or not to do.  It must, as it has to convert the signal from the sensor into a readable file.  Even so-called ‘RAW’ files are manipulated according to the manufacturer’s needs (there being no real industry standard) often auto-correcting geometric distortion from the lens – it’s cheaper than producing top-notch glass…

The level of digital manipulation that people think is acceptable varies greatly.  The purists think that anything other than a straight file conversion is wrong, but as I pointed out above, there is no ‘straight’ conversion.  Are optical filters on the camera lens wrong?  I still use graduated filters and polarizers .  Were ‘wet’ darkroom tricks wrong?  As long as it’s clear what you are doing there’s no real problem, but as a landscape photographer I draw the line as adding or removing major elements of an image.  There were a couple of essays by an award-winning photographer on a well-respected online landscape photography site last year demonstrating how he had, among other things, added trees to one side of a road up to a ruined castle to create an avenue.  The finished result might look visually impressive, but in my book is totally dishonest, and relies on the viewer being unfamiliar with the subject.  Would he have dared to do the same with an iconic view of, say, the Taj Mahal, or the Eiffel Tower?  I think not…

The image awaiting birth is the one I used for the Season’s Greetings, taken on 2 December and initially edited the same day.  It was produced by taking a series of images taken by a regular  digital SLR mounted on a tripod and rotated between shots and merging them in Photoshop Elements.  In this case they were standard horizontal images, although if possible I prefer to merge a larger number of vertical shots as this gives greater potential for enlargement or cropping.  It also takes longer and it was getting very dark, so the series of vertical shots wasn’t sharp enough for what I wanted.

Cullin panorama, version 1

In the beginning…

As edited for the season’s greetings it works nicely, but the exaggerated blue tones in the sky are OTT for a large print and cause some poor gradations.  None of this is helped by my ‘standard’ panoramic print size being wider than this, thus including more sky†.  There were also some artifacts in the sky, caused by the merge and subsequent editing, (and dust on the sensor) that needed attention.  So, I went back to the original.

Although this is a series of merged JPEGs it’s still very blue.   Once the sun is down the light is blue, and I’m not that bothered about tweaking the white balance in the camera that much as I always post-process anyway, and usually use RAW files.   [In film days I would have used a pale orange filter on the camera to warm the tones.] There are other things that are less apparent.  When you enlarge the image and drop a reference grid on it, you see that it is slightly crooked. [You have to look at the edges of the houses – the telegraph poles on Skye do lean every which way.  As long as they are leaning in the same direction in the evening as they were in the morning we don’t worry…].  Some editing is in Elements, some in Adobe Lightroom, which is a specialist RAW editor.

Crooked image

Look at the houses, not the telegraph poles!

I also wanted to crop it to my ‘standard’ ratio.  This means losing the right hand side [Ardtreck Point on Minginish, since you ask], and on the left, the peaks of Glamaig, which is a Corbett.  [Look it up, I can’t explain everything!].  This puts the village of Portnalong nicely off centre, one-third of the way across [look up ‘the rule of thirds’ as well], with Loch Harport and the wooded cliffs around Fernilea giving a nice diagonal path into the picture.  Of course, the main feature are the snow-capped Black Cuillin, which sit majestically in the background.  Hence the title “White on Black”.

Still not completed.  Although the blue cast had been removed, the image was flat, so the sky was darkened with a digital graduation – the original shots were made with a 1.5 stop soft graduated filter to hold the detail in the sky.  Similarly, the foreground needed a little brightening.  Being an irregular shape this needed the selection brush.  So that’s where we are.  I’ll probably play about with it a bit more, especially when I start printing.  I don’t hold this up as an exemplary image or claim to be the world’s greatest image editor, and there are some steps I’ve missed out, as I’m already over 1000 words (!), but it’s a brief insight for the non-photographers of what goes into producing what will hopefully be a saleable print.

Snow on the Black Cuillin

White on Black

Oh, and Happy New Year!

*This latter point is a bugbear of mine.  Never mind teaching children to use computers (they can do it better than you and I can straight out of the womb), what we need to be doing is ensuring that young people develop the critical faculties to be able to differentiate what is genuine, properly researched and sourced information from what is personal opinion, invective, prejudice and ‘urban myth’ – the information age’s version of Chinese whispers.  And no, Wikipedia, for all it’s glories, is NOT a primary source.

† The length/width ratio of my printed panoramas is derived from the maximum width of paper roll that my printer will take, coupled with the first panorama of Skye that I wanted to print.  Curiously, the ratio of the images is within a whisker of that produced by my old  6×17 cm panoramic film camera…

Currently listening to: Aleyn– June Tabor [Di nakht nor aleyn iz mit mir –The night alone is with me…]

Season’s greetings

Season’s greetings to all who follow the OldByreSkye blog, follow a link to it, or just blunder across it.

Black Cullin, winter evening

Black Cullin, winter evening*

As tomorrow is the winter solstice and the beginning of the astronomical winter it seemed the right time to do this.  Oh, and if the world does end tomorrow, at least I got it in in time.  Not that it will, of course…

* the Gaelic greeting means ” Health, wealth, and happiness”

Currently listening toFire And Sleet And Candlelight – Coope, Boyes and Simpson

On Display this Weekend

We may not have a gallery yet, but we will be on display in Portree this Friday and Saturday (30 November/1 December) at the Christmas Craft Market at the Skye Gathering Hall, and again at Waternish Community Hall the following weekend, Saturday 8 December.  Cards,  mounted, and framed prints available, and orders taken.  The full range of our current images can be seen on our Zenfolio website.

Piano in the frame

Santa’s little helper. Piano – in the frame, but not for sale!

Currently listening to: I Love This Town – Clive Gregson

The best laid plans…

The big news at the ‘Byre this month is that the plans for the photographic gallery and cafe have been completed, and are now with the Highland Council.  What this means in the short-term is successive demands for money.  Money for the planning application.  More money for the planning application as they decide the plans constitute ‘change of use’.  Money for Building Standards (fee based on their valuation of the work, which fortunately matches ours!)  More money for planning as planning applications have to be advertised in the local paper (and given that there are at least three or four a week, they must make a tidy profit!)

The best laid plans of mice and men (and cats)…

Now the waiting game begins.  The official notifications have gone out to our neighbours – anyone within 20 metres of the curtilage – which on Skye means about three people, who have 21 days to mak any comments.  The notification should be in the paper this week, which has a 14 day response period, so comments should be closed before Christmas.  Hopefully we will have building quotes in by the end of the week as well.

It’s not a huge job – basically  weatherproofing and insulating the existing garage, re-roofing, and adding an extension to the rear gable for the WC and store, and another extension to the side for a small kitchen.  Most of the windows will be rooflights, to allow us to keep the walls for display and avoid too much direct light on the display walls.

The wait begins – the plans had best not gang aglay…

Currently listening to:  the Jimny getting its MOT (written in the service reception of Kenny’s Garage, Dunvegan!)

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