For those whose interests lie in the related disciplines of mountaineering and photography, the mountains of the Black Cuillin on the Isle of Skye pose probably some of the greatest challenges to be found anywhere in the British Isles. For weeks at a time these precipitous and splintered summits can remain hidden beneath dense and all-enveloping mists. Then for just a brief interlude which can end as suddenly as it began, their jagged outline appears against skies of unparalleled colour and clarity. Be in no doubt, the ‘magic’ of Skye reveals itself only to the most dedicated and determined.
Whilst Sgurr Alasdair is the highest peak in the range, my eyes are inevitably and inextricably drawn towards its most northerly – Sgurr nan Gillean, a distinctive and shapely summit quickly and easily identified from so many parts of the island. Seen from Sligachan, Sgurr nan Gillean, along with the neighbouring Sgurr a’ Bhasteir and the distinctive intervening ‘fang’ known as Am Bhasteir or the Bhasteir Tooth, forms a triptych of peaks that provides one of the finest, and indeed one of the iconic views of the Scottish Highlands.
At the time this image was taken, Scotland had just endured a predominantly cold winter; a deep and particularly resiliant snow pack had built up across much of the Scottish Highlands including the mountains of the western seaboard and the Isle of Skye. A forecast predicting a morning of fine weather influenced by a ridge of high pressure was the final ingredient needed in what looked like being a rare opportunity for me to capture the Cuillin in the most perfect of conditions.
My favourite viewpoint for a shot of Sgurr nan Gillean is from true left bank of the River Sligachan, or perhaps more specifically I should say ‘in the River Sligachan’. From here the tumbling waters of the river not only provide an interesting foreground but they lead the eye of the viewer deeper into the picture and the very heart of the mountains themselves. For those who may wonder, I make a point of excluding the old bridge in my images of Sgurr nan Gillean simply because it unbalances the composition and, in my opinion, intrudes into and ruins what is otherwise a magnificent mountain scene.
On this fresh and breezy morning I had to work quickly as a front approaching from the west was producing lenticular clouds across the summits, a feature that actually enhanced the overall image. In spite of the obvious contrast in the image introduced by the prescence of snow, assessing exposure was not difficult and was aided by the application of a 0.6 soft graduated neutral density filter across the summits and sky.
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