As the side road leading to Luskentyre vanished in my rear-view mirror, I accelerated along the recently constructed single-track road. This curving causeway separated the expansive sandy area of Traigh Losgaintir, formed by the estuary’s head, from the salt flats neighbouring Loch Carron. Racing uphill through Seilebost, my mind shifted to the next destination. Long-exposure beach shots were on my agenda for the day, and despite the stormy start, the weather appeared to be improving as the day unfolded. However, the persistent 60 mph westerly wind showed no signs of relenting despite the sky indicating otherwise.
Considering the beaches around Seilebost, I mentally noted to explore them for future reference as I drove past, even if I did not capture any shots. Continuing south on the A859, the next beach on my route was Traigh Niosaboist, accessible through a sharp right turn onto Horgabost campsite and a track across the dunes leading to a small car park above the beach. Though I slowed as I approached, I decided to push forward and explore on the way back later in the day as the sun would be better positioned (if it stayed visible) and who knows sunset may be a colourful affair today. The undulating road followed the coastline, and after cresting a hill, the car traversed a noisy cattle grid before descending to the parking area above Traigh Iar. The beach came into full view, with massive waves thundering in from the Atlantic, crashing against the shoreline in a tumult of white foam. Quickly pulling over into a marked parking bay, I rolled down the window, to be greeted by the roar of foaming breakers and the relentless wind, which also buffeted the car quite noticeably.
Seated in contemplation, my mind was occupied with the desire to capture long exposure shots. However, attempting this endeavour in the midst of a strong wind seemed futile. The relentless gusts threatened to induce movement in the camera, potentially rendering the images soft or, worse, blurry. Complicating matters, the addition of neutral density filters to achieve the desired longer exposures did nothing to improve the camera’s aerodynamics; if anything, it exacerbated the situation, behaving like a sail on a small boat.
Caught in a dilemma, I pondered my options. Eventually, I decided to venture out and assess the difficulty first-hand. Summoning up the courage I stepped out of the car, and braced the door against the oncoming blast, squeezing my bulk through the limited gap it afforded. The car door almost closed by itself. After securing my camera bag, tripod, and flapping Paramo ‘Halcon’ jacket from the back seat, I descended to the beach through a timber gate. Making my way down a short gravel path, I traversed some small dunes until the vast expanse of the beach lay before me, devoid of any other soul. Thankfully, it stood in stark contrast to Traigh Rosamol, a mere 2 ½ miles away along the coast northwards.
Arriving at any new location, my initial ritual involved aimlessly wandering for the first 15 minutes, simply observing and attempting to discern the nuances of the surroundings whilst mentally calculating their compositional value. On the horizon, a substantial dark cloud loomed, its unmistakable silhouette signalling an imminent heavy downpour. Faced with the prospect of quick action once again, I weighed the abundant opportunities for capturing remarkable shots so opted for a more laissez-faire attitude and systematically proceeded with my routine and let the dark cloud go about its business without any impact at all on my speed of setting up.
Retrieving my camera from the backpack, I secured it onto the tripod, firmly embedding the legs into the sand to prevent any mishaps in the gusty wind. Next, I delved into my camera bag to extract the filter pouch, a repository of graduated and neutral-density filters. These attachments allowed me to swiftly decrease the shutter speed for long exposure shots. Safely stowing the pouch in the capacious inside pocket of my Halcon jacket, I appreciated its functionality for accommodating various photography essentials like lenses, lens cloths, filters, lens caps, and batteries. With around ten pockets at my disposal, stuff was readily to hand, but I acknowledged the potential for organizational challenges, especially when combined with the numerous pockets in my Craghoppers ‘Kiwi’ shirt and trousers. These clothing items bringing the pocket total to over twenty. Despite contemplating the need for a systematic approach to stowing items, I often found myself forgetting the system devised on previous photography trips, leading to the occasional, albeit temporary, ‘loss’ of items that were, in fact, on my person all the time. Lens caps, batteries, remote triggers, car keys, glasses, food items, compass, map print out and phone have all seemingly “vanished” in the past, only to be miraculously found again an hour later in a random pocket somewhere. A humorous reflection on the need for better organizational habits with my clothing crossed my mind, but practical considerations prevailed – I had not taken a shot yet and that dark cloud was still approaching.
Choosing to set up my equipment on the foreshore, I aimed to capture the incoming waves. While they appeared dramatic and sizable from the vantage point near my parked car, the perspective from the foreshore revealed a different story. The gently shelving beach created a significant distance between the foaming breakers and the ebb and flow of the water’s edge on the sandy expanse. I was a bit disappointed by this as I was hoping to catch some large waves crashing in, but this gentle shelving turned out to be advantageous. The shallow, slower-moving water created highly intricate patterns and textures, offering a diverse range of compositions which were far more suited to what I had in mind. Large, crashing waves would have lost any detail with a long exposure, and most likely resulted in a mass of over-exposed white shades without any detail at all. Upon reflection, and from study of the LCD screen on the back of the camera, it became evident that I had successfully captured the essence of the seawater’s movement and fluidity in several shots and this was my aim when setting out.
As the tide continued its rhythmic dance, waves repeatedly washed around and over my shoes, gradually submerging them until the water reached well above my ankles. Unsure whether the tide was advancing swiftly or if my weight, combined with the water’s movement, caused me to sink into the saturated sand, I looked down and contemplated the puzzle as the water swirled around my legs. Ultimately, I chose to relocate, carefully picking my path to avoid leaving footprints in the pristine scenes I intended to photograph. With the beach in its unspoiled state, any intrusion of size 10 footprints would be solely my responsibility. Wearing my Merrell hiking sandals proved to be a wise decision, allowing me to disregard wet feet altogether. The previous year, I had opted to forego heavy boots or wellies between April and the end of October, relying solely on these versatile hiking sandals. Originally purchased as a wet-shoe for paddleboarding, their comfort and practicality made them my preferred outdoor footwear. Crafted from neoprene with a robust Vibram sole, they facilitated wading through water without the worry of damp boots, wet socks or just general water ‘overtopping’ of my chosen footwear. Drying quickly when wet and worn without socks, they did accumulate some dirt throughout the day, but a simple toss into the washing machine restored them to a brand-new appearance. Their ease of maintenance and adaptability for various outdoor activities, particularly photography, earned them my enthusiastic recommendation.
Venturing towards the southern stretch of the beach, I encountered a rugged terrain with scattered rocks rising above the sandy beach. Isolated rocks and water pools presented themselves as potential foreground points of interest. Adorned with a layer of seaweed, the rocks offered a contrasting texture against the smooth sand. As I set up the tripod again, the tide continued its advance, and the once-distant storm cloud now revealed its proximity through the onset of raindrops. Choosing a rocky perch, I elevated my camera rucksack from the tide and shielded the camera and lens with a thermal beanie hat stretched over it to provide shelter from the rain. Pulling up my hood and cinching it around my chin, I buried my hands deep into the jacket’s lined pockets, hunkering down for a brief respite as the rain passed. In this peculiar scene, I must have appeared quite eccentric to passers-by. Standing on the beach in the midst of a heavy rainstorm seemed an unusual choice; however, the strategic placement of the camera tripod served as a visual cue. It became my tacit excuse – a way to nonchalantly dismiss any quizzical looks from those who might question my sanity of being on a beach under such adverse weather conditions.
After five minutes, the majority of the storm had moved on, and the rain had subsided, but the persistent wind lingered. With the advancing breakers, the wind now propelled sea spray, sand and occasionally seaweed horizontally across the sands. As I aligned my shots, waiting for the dynamic movement of the water, I stood hunched over the camera, armed with a microfiber cloth at the ready in my right hand just out of shot, waiting to ‘pounce’ in a cat-like manner and swiftly wipe the ND Filter of sea spray. Normally, I let the camera automatically bracket my shots in sets of three, but this time, I took a different approach, manually operating the shutter between brackets. This unusual tactic was an attempt to fend off the sea spray by allowing me time to quickly wipe the filter prior to the next shot occurring. It felt somewhat futile, given that I was shooting directly into the path from which the spray originated. Frustrated, all I could do was fervently wipe the filter and click the shutter, hoping to capture something worthwhile. The wind-induced vibrations and swirling water around both mine and the tripod legs, which could potentially affect the stability of the long exposure became the least of my concerns.
Lost in the moment and absorbed in my own world and maintaining my position for about 15 minutes, the water now reached up to my knees. The surging seawater near the rocks had buried my feet in the sand, causing the tripod to lose about 8 inches of height too. I realized it was again time to move on, return to the car and head further down the coast. Retrieving my bag, and lifting the camera and tripod onto my shoulder, I waded through the advancing water and ascended the gently sloping sand onto the grass and the narrow gravel path leading to the road. Pausing at the top of the beach, I turned around to absorb the panorama – silently witnessing the mighty Atlantic breakers crashing against the shore with a roar of white noise and a heavy spattering of salty spray. After a moment of reflection, I turned away and made my way to the gate leading to the car, contemplating what awaited me next lower down the coast.