Light and Land: A Tour of Scotland’s West Coast

After falling in love with the FUJIFILM X-T2 in his first guest blog, Ben Osborne is back to tell us all about his favourite photography tour around Scotland’s West Coast, through images taken on his new Fujifilm kit.

By Ben Osborne

My Fujifilm adventure began six months ago when I borrowed a FUJIFILM X-T2 and a couple of lenses for an expedition to Antarctica. This was an introduction to an unfamiliar camera system that I had never used before but which I immediately had to use under some of the most challenging conditions on earth. It was a baptism by fire but it was also love at first sight.

As I wrote in my first blog, I never really got as far as reading the instruction manual – but I quickly worked out the basics, made some interesting images and managed to fulfill the role for which I was being paid (“photography coach” on the Hebridean Sky, working for Polar Latitudes). I must have got something right because I am heading back to Antarctica next season. I am also learning more about the Fujifilm X Series, the FUJIFILM  X-T2 and the range of lenses that complement this wonderful camera.

This summer, I have been working on a number of projects and commissions, including running tours for photographic tour company “Light and Land”.

The latest tour is one of my favorites, based on the Knoydart Peninsula on the West coast of Scotland. I have led this tour for the past 15 years and adore the place. We stay in a stunning location and head out in a fast motor launch every day to the Small Isles, the Isle of Skye and the Knoydart coast. The photographic opportunities are endless although they are not necessarily obvious – which encapsulates what I like about photography – it is all about discovering a special place and searching for the images that define it. The emphasis is very much on landscape photography, although we always enjoy an opportunity to photograph wildlife if something interesting turns up. This provided a calmer, slower, more considered photographic experience than my Antarctic adventures.

It also gave me new insights into the functioning of the FUJIFILM X-T2 system.

Day 1 Isle of Rum

I love this island. It is wild, beautiful and dramatic. I worked there the summer I left university and have fond memories of that time (I also had an unexpected encounter with Royalty there, but that is a different story).

A few years ago we noticed a small beach on the north-east shore of the island. We’d passed it many times but not landed. It proved to be a treasure trove of stunning rounded pebbles and wave-worn rocks. The sea’s influence is obvious but there are also sign of ancient human settlement. Old walls provide delightful cameos of lichen stones interspersed with tall foxgloves. The angles are awkward, but the superb articulating screen on the X-T2 meant that I didn’t have to be too gymnastic to compose the images that I knew were there. Portrait and landscape images are catered for as the screen flips out both ways.

Day 2 Isle of Muck

This is another favorite (you’re probably getting the idea now – the islands off the west coast of Scotland touch my soul like few other places on earth). This small island has a delightfully relaxed atmosphere. Ponies graze placidly along the shoreline and are always very photogenic against the backdrop of beach, sea and distant island. I used my new XF10-24mm lens to photograph them, holding the camera low and framing the images on the screen, adjusting the point of focus with the very convenient focus joystick. The XF10-24mm lens has become an instant favorite, which is strange as I rarely used the equivalent 16-35mm zoom on my previous full frame system. I have no idea why I am suddenly enjoying the very wide angle images but this lens is a beauty.

I also used the XF50-140mm telephoto for a few close-ups head shots.

Day 3 Sandaig

This classic location is where Gavin Maxwell wrote “Ring of Bright Water”, his remarkable book about otters. We didn’t see any otters but their presence can almost be felt and I suspect they may be more visible when fewer people are on the beach! On a dull, drizzly overcast day, it was clear that looking down was the trick to good image-making. Sand patterns, shells, lichens, barnacles and other shoreline details occupied our attention (which is why only two of us spotted a stray Sea Eagle flying overhead!). I went for a square format as it seemed to suit the subject matter.

Day 4 Loch Hourn

Deep, dark, foreboding. Well, sometimes, but not this time. We visited this location on a surprisingly bright day with plenty of sunshine. This didn’t help the long exposures of waterfalls that we had planned to shoot, so I tried the multiple exposure facility to see if the alchemy of combined images would detract from the harsh light. It worked (after a fashion) both with moving water and with the birch leaves which overhung the stream.

The multiple exposure facility is simple to use but slightly limited in that you can only combine two images and it exports as a JPEG, not RAW, file. A firmware update to broaden the options for the increasingly popular world of multiple exposures would be welcome. However, as a beginner to the technique, the limitation of only two images was actually quite useful as it keeps life simple.

The fast-flowing streams also provided an opportunity for straightforward long exposure work, either by using a ND filter or by choosing a section that was in shade. A tripod is useful for this style of photography, although for most other subjects the excellent image stabilization of the lenses allows for handheld work down to surprisingly slow shutter speeds. For some of my water images I simply rested the camera on a rock or held it against a tree.

On our visit to Loch Hourn, I also found time to experiment with the partial colour mode. This became a bit of a fad among the whole group. The in-camera options are fine although in the end I preferred to process out specific colours from the RAW file in Lightroom. This required more processing time but gave more flexibility. However, if you want a JPEG in a hurry, the camera delivers this perfectly. In an ideal world, it would be good to be able to identify a specific colour within the frame by means of a dropper. The partial colour technique works well with colourful but contrasting items in a landscape as in this image of an orange rope on a pebble beach. (The image above of the jellyfish also illustrates the same technique).

Day 5 Isle of Eigg

We landed on the classic beach at Laig Bay on the west coast of Eigg. This beach is most famous for providing spectacular sunset views towards the Isle of Rum but at midday and with cloudy skies, we were more interested in the extraordinary patterns in the sand itself. Although overcast, it was extremely bright so I used the excellent built-in electronic viewfinder to compose some dramatic images of the sand patterns. There is full information in the viewfinder so you can see all the settings. A glance at the handy dials on the top-plate will also give instant confirmation of shooting mode, ISO and exposure compensation. Once again, the XF10-24mm lens totally justified its presence in my rucksack.

Day 6 Isle of Skye

Much of Skye is very accessible but we tend to land at the locations you can’t get to so easily by road. On the way to our first landing, we encountered a pod of Bottlenose Dolphins. I only had a XF50-140mm lens as my longest telephoto on this trip but with a constant aperture of f2.8 the focusing was lightening quick, picking up the dolphins as they surfaced. The action was very fast and extremely unpredictable but even on the “multi-purpose” auto-focus setting it handled the situation very well with most images pin sharp. This one reveals a moment when the dolphins were chasing fish – that was the one that got away!

We spent the middle of the day at a lovely waterfall on the coast near Boreraig in Loch Eishort. It wasn’t the weather or the time of day to shoot moving water but with a suitable ND filter and a polarizer, I managed to achieve a low-angle view of this beautiful fall and the patterns of stones under the water. The XF10-24mm and articulating screen both ensured the accuracy of the composition. Also, it looks as though the image is tilted but it is the rocks which are at a strange angle. The “level” was checked using the electronic level in the camera. Further up the burn there is a wonderful series of waterfalls and deep pools but it is also very sheltered and the clouds of ferocious midges prevented any kind of photography. Maybe I’ll visit again on a windier day or another time of year.

Our final landing was on the Point of Sleat, the southern most tip of Skye. It is a spectacular viewpoint giving panoramic views in all directions. Which makes it pretty obvious what mode to use!I switched to “panorama” and created some lovely wide scenes of the offshore islands in one direction and the nearby coastline in the other. The camera outputs JPEGs only if used in panoramic mode and the JPEG quality is spectacular. Admittedly, RAW files would provide a few more options in post-processing but if you need this option then you are probably going to use a panoramic head, shoot a series of RAW files and stitch them in Lightroom or Photoshop. In practice, I was extremely pleased with these panoramas and it was incredibly simple to shoot them.

Fujifilm X-Photographer Chris Weston’s recent article gives a clear and comprehensive guide to the many panoramic shooting options available in the X-T2.

The bay where we landed is one of the most beautiful in the area and was a fitting location to end the tour. In fact, if you look carefully, it seems that photography has finally taken a back seat to paddling (image below) – but it was so tempting! And sometimes it is OK to just soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the moment.

A footnote about this tour (and an invitation to come and join in next year, or the year after, or any of my other “Light and Land” tours!). A few years ago, there was very little variation on the usual formula of full-frame DSLRs and a sack of hefty lenses. Increasingly, however, I have noticed that photographers joining this tour have opted for mirrorless cameras. And on this year’s tour, over half the participants were using Fujifilm X Series cameras.

I find that very interesting… it reinforces my view that Fujifilm cameras not only deliver excellent image quality but, more importantly, they provide an intuitive user experience with well laid out, easy-to-use controls which make photography fun again.

More from Ben Osborne



Light and Land Tours:

More about FUJIFILM X-T2

FUJIFILM X-T2In its compact, lightweight and robust body, the FUJIFILM X-T2 delivers everything you need. A large, high definition EVF, easy to use dials, high-speed AF, compatibility with an extensive range of high-performance interchangeable lenses, Film Simulation modes that inherit the legacy of Fujifilm colors, unparalleled image quality and outstanding 4K movie recording, made possible by the latest sensor and processing engine, It is the X series perfected.

Find out more here.


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