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Issue 24 - The Isle of Harris

History & Heritage

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Scotland Magazine Issue 24
January 2006


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The Isle of Harris

Photographer Andy Hall captures the favourite place of the Queen's artist

These rocks are the oldest rocks in the world, Lewisian gneiss, looking across the Golden Road on the east coast of the Isle of Harris, towards Scalpay and in the far distance, the Shiant Islands.

I took this shot for my recently published A Sense of Belonging to Scotland: Further Journeys.

It is the favourite place of Queen’s artist, Dame Elizabeth Blackadder who wrote an inspirational letter of introduction to this place describing the atmosphere as well as the geology of the area, often imagining eagles flying overhead.

To get to this location from my home town of Stonehaven is an expedition and a half. I made the return journey in April 2004 but, despite getting some lovely beach shots on the west coast, this photograph eluded me.

I managed one or two presentable pictures but they didn’t come near to doing this unusual and geologically significant place justice. So back I came in April 2005.

For much of the time it looked like my trans–Scotland trek would again be in vain but on my second last evening, it all came together in perfect unison, only for a few minutes. I’d set up the composition several days previously.

I wanted this fabulous rock in the foreground to give the picture depth, the third dimension that is often missing in a photograph. Essentially a photograph is a two dimensional representation. The third dimension of depth has to be recreated by including a well thoughtout foreground such as a rock, a rock-pool or perhaps a lead-in line like a river or a wall.

With the composition set up, it was a case of waiting for the quality and direction of light to give the atmosphere that Dame Elizabeth had originally alluded to.

As you can see from the distant sky, it had been an overcast day with that typical leaden sky that is so prevalent in Scotland.

Unlike most people, I’m quite excited by such a sky because if the sun does make an appearance, even briefly, there is guaranteed atmosphere. It is simply a case of waiting. This beautiful light made an appearance for only a few minutes in the final hour of daylight, often the best light of the day when the shadows are long and the light is golden.

I feel a great sense of privilege to have witnessed, and captured on film, this glorious Hebridean light.

After two years of planning, two trips totalling more than 1,000 miles and hours of waiting for mother nature to allow me just a few minutes of the most perfect lighting conditions felt like a gracious reward for my perseverance.

The key word to a successful photograph is light and its quality and direction.

Unlike a light switch, it doesn’t appear on command and, more often than not, a long wait is in prospect for the ‘decisive moment’ to present itself. Once committed to film, the feeling of elation is indescribable.