The gorgeously scenic Isle of Skye is a photographer’s paradise – Chris Orange explores its secrets
All images by Chris Orange
With so many photographers heading to Iceland these days to photograph its magnificent landscape, it’s easy to overlook what the UK has on offer when it comes to dramatic scenery. But just off the west coast of Scotland there’s a wonderful alternative to Iceland in the form of the Isle of Skye. It’s the largest of the islands in the Inner Hebrides, and the furthest north – sitting close to the north-west coast of the Scottish Highlands – and contains a wealth of photographic opportunities.
A visit to the Isle of Skye feels a bit like taking a trip to Middle-Earth from Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. Its glorious mountains, volcanic landscape, glacial history, incredible far-reaching views, beautiful colours, picturesque waterfalls and stunning, magical light make this island a must for any landscape photographer. It’s one of those places where it’s hard to take a bad shot, as the views in every direction seem to offer you something worth capturing.
The island is approximately 50 miles from north to south and 25 miles from east to west, which equates to a lot of photographic opportunities! The coastline is full of caves, bays, sea arches, fossils, huge cliffs, stacks and numerous other interesting subjects for your photos. In fact, there’s so much to capture here you’ll need to return many times to fully appreciate all it has to offer.
With so many interesting subjects, it's helpful to have some locations in mind that you want to capture, although you’ll still find yourself stopping your car every few minutes to photograph the scenes appearing before you. It’s very easy to get gloriously lost in the island’s dramatic landscape, but that’s all part of the Skye experience!
An easy way to get to the island is via the Skye bridge. It connects the mainland village of Kyle of Lochalsh to the village of Kyleakin on Skye, and if you follow the main road (A87) it will wind through increasingly stunning scenery as you begin to approach the Cuillin mountain range.
The Cuillin mountains are considered to be a true mountain range, and one of the most dramatic in Britain. The main Cuillin Ridge (Black Cuillin) offers more jagged and tall peaks, while the Red Cuillin hills to the east give you a slightly softer look to your photos.
A fabulous place to stop is at Sligachan where there’s an iconic-looking bridge which is perfectly situated over the River Sligachan and offers you an abundance of landscape photography opportunities before you even get out of your car! The Cuillin mountains provide a majestic backdrop to the bridge. If you’re visiting during winter you may get lucky enough to capture the snow-capped peaks, but they look beautiful anytime of the year.
Given that Cuillin is such a large mountain range, you can photograph it from various locations and it looks very impressive if you’re driving south from Portree on the A87. There are several places to stop there to give you the chance to walk over the grassland to find a good place to set up your tripod.
One of the other locations that offers a magnificent view of the Cuillin mountains is from the small road that eventually leads to the Fairy Pools. If you take the A863 from Sligachan and then turn left at the B8009, and then left again at Merkadale, the road winds around the side of the mountains and at mid-morning catches the sunlight perfectly. It looks breathtaking from this angle.
As with this whole area, the weather is very changeable and can be extremely windy, so you’ll need a heavy-duty tripod if shooting long exposures. It’s also advisable to pack suitable waterproofing, as a sunny morning can quickly become a very wet one as the weather moves up the coastline. I found that small packable waterproofs were really useful as you can tuck them away in your camera bag for when you need them.
Make sure your camera bag also has some waterproofing built into it as well – wet cameras are never a great idea!
Continuing along this small road will lead you to one of Skye’s most famous natural wonders – the Fairy Pools! The crystal-clear blue pools of water lie at the foot of the Cuillin mountains, and when the sun is shining they provide stunning colours for your photographs. The walk from the car park is just over 1km – the walk itself will also give you a few opportunities for great shots too. The Fairy Pools are very popular with tourists and the car park isn’t that big, so an early start is advised for this location.
If you drive through Portree and take the A855, the road leads you north towards The Storr – a rocky hill on the Trotternish peninsula and an incredible place to photograph. You’ll begin to notice the landscape changing as you continue on the road as the north of Skye is composed mainly of solidified lava flows. This road offers some of the most incredible views to be found on Skye. Look to the right and you’ll see the Sound of Raasay, the Isles of Rona and Raasay, and the impressive-looking range of mountains that stretch along the west coast of the Scottish highlands. This is a glorious view, especially in the evening golden hour, as the light can be so clear and soft as the sun sets behind The Storr, casting a beautiful, soft glow over the distant mountains and seas. It’s a very special place.
You can park on the A855 at the foot of the hill and walk up the steep path to the top, where you’ll find the iconic-looking rocks at the top of The Old Man of Storr. This is worth the long climb up as the views it affords are magnificent.
If you want to venture further, a lesser-known and slightly hidden gem is the Knoydart Peninsula, located in the Lochaber district on the west coast of the Scottish Highlands (between Loch Nevis and Loch Hourn). Although on the mainland, it’s completely cut off from the road network, making it only accessible by ferry from the port of Mallaig or a two-day trek through the mountains.
The journey from Skye involves a 30-minute ferry from Armadale to Mallaig, and then a short ferry trip from Mallaig to Knoydart. The ferry crossings are themselves fantastic photo opportunities as the mountain ranges on the mainland and views towards Skye offer you a completely different perspective of the landscape.
As the small boat approaches Knoydart you immediately fall in love with this remote location, and realise why it was designated as one of the forty national scenic areas in Scotland, identifying it as an area of exceptional scenery. If you’re lucky you may even see a few dolphins!
A small community lives at Knoydart, and the village has the most remote pub in Britain!
The Isle of Skye is without doubt one of the most dramatic and diverse locations in Britain, offering an abundance of landscape photographic opportunities. I am sure that a lifetime of visits wouldn’t be enough to fully capture this location, as it really does offer you so much.
While I was on this landscape photography trip I made a short vlog showing some of the landscapes and some behind-the-scenes footage of the shoot. Click here to see the film.
Chris Orange’s favourite locations for photographers visiting the Isle of Skye are…
- The Cuillin mountains: One of the most dramatic mountain ranges in Britain.
- Fairy Pools: One of Skye’s most famous natural wonders.
- The Storr: A rocky hill on the Trotternish peninsula.
- The Knoydart peninsula: A hidden gem that’s only accessible by ferry.
About the Author
Chris Orange is an award-winning food, interior and landscape photographer, based just outside of London. To find out more about Chris and to view more of his stunning photographs, visit his website.