Field Notes & Images
Mark Maio's 2018 Isle of Skye Photography Workshop
© 2018 Mark Maio
Along with the unique landscape of this volcanic island, weather plays an integral part of any photography workshop on the Isle of Skye. Weather systems moving across the Atlantic have nothing to slow them down until they hit the outer and inner Hebridean Islands, that form a barrier, protecting mainland Scotland. These constant changing weather systems, with clouds so low at times you can almost reach up and touch them, add drama to a landscape that doesn't need their help.
This year's workshop began just as Hurricane Florence came ashore in North Carolina. Since the Gulf Stream moderates and affects the weather of the Hebrides, it seemed like Florence was going to become a part of the workshop. We started the week with overcast skies and rain. My fear, like anyone either attending or conducting a landscape photography workshop, was that this was a precursor for the entire week.
Watching the weather and the tide tables, we headed to the most southwesterly village on the island, Elgol and the fantastic vistas of the Cullin Hills across Loch Scavaig. I planned on arriving at low tide but the fifteen-mile single track drive from the village of Broadford, traversing along landscape that begged us to stop at every other turn, took much longer than expected.
Once there, we began walking along the miles of rock covered shoreline as the tide began coming in. At the same time, the wind began increasing. Little did we know that it would quickly reach 100 mph. I moved out along the shore, watching a massive rock being assaulted by the wind and water and picked a path that I thought would keep me from slipping or getting wet. The plan on not slipping worked out but I wasn't as lucky with the waves. Moving closer to the rock and looking at my composition with each step forward, I lost track of the frequency of the waves and was drenched in short order. Fortunately, I had my camera protected and after about forty-five minutes of playing hide-and-seek with the waves, I was able to make "Storm Moving In, Elgol, Isle of Skye, Scotland".
Completely soaked, I continued along the rocky coastline, looking for a large round rock I had discovered a few years earlier at low tide. I found it just as the light disappeared again. I was in that zone between the storm and it becoming clear. Waiting for the light, I walked around it following a lesson I had been taught many years ago by photographer Ted Orland, to let the subject tell you how to photograph it.
After an hour of maneuvering myself between a series of ledges and rock formations, I finally "heard" what the rock was telling me and settled in to wait for the light. A half hour later the clouds opened again, providing me with a couple of opportunities to make images - timing my exposures to coincide with the series of waves coming ashore. The effort produced, "Elgol Beach, Isle of Skye, Scotland".
Mid-week brought us less wind, breaks in the clouds and with it, dramatic light. Consulting the tide tables again, we headed to Carbost and three abandoned boats at the end of the loch. With the tide moving out, the boats became more exposed. Like most of the week, there never was a time when the clouds opened up and we had an extended period of direct light. We watched as large patches of light moved in front of, behind and to the sides of the boats, but never illuminating them directly. We spent over an hour watching the sky and trying to predict when some open area in the clouds would allow some light on the boats. Finally, after being teased more than once with the glimmer of light hitting the boat, the sky rewarded our patience with almost a full minute of light. Just enough time to make the seven exposures comprising the panorama above.
The end of the week brought spectacular Skye weather. Moving clouds framed by sunny blue skies with an occasional brief rain shower and if we were lucky, a rainbow.
We stopped at the Kilmur Old Churchyard and although I have been photographing it for ten years, it always reveals something new to me. The ruins of the church are surrounded by a graveyard dating back a few centuries. I typically concentrate on the old tombstones but this time the light led me to the church itself. Walking in I was drawn to the bright light illuminating the far wall and the dark shadows encroaching from both sides, giving it an unusual 3D effect. With my back up against the far wall, I wasn't able to include the entire image I had visualized. Using my 35mm lens, I made a series of four vertical images to create a panorama that essentially replicated a wider angle lens.
The final day of the workshop brought more great weather and light. During the day we counted eight rainbows as we moved from one end of the island to the other. We finished photographing at Neist Point, the most westerly part of the island.
Driving back, we saw one end of a beautiful double rainbow and stopped to photograph. Continuing on, we rounded a corner and were treated to one of the most beautiful rainbows I have ever seen. Stopping to photograph guaranteed we would be late for our dinner reservation.
With only a few days after the workshop to do any photography on my own, my wife and I took advantage of the much improved weather to do our own exploring. We live near the furthest northern end of the island and routinely, on the last late afternoon before we go home, we do a drive around the "north end". Approaching the true north of the island and looking towards Iceland 625 miles away, a storm in the shape of a mushroom cloud moved across the water. I found it a fitting last image to make after a week dominated by such severe weather on an island named after, not its magnificent landscape, but for the sky which reigns over it.
My next Isle of Skye photography retreat will be May 26 - June 1, 2019. I have decided to keep the number of attendees to a maximum of five. Please contact me if you are interested in joining me.
The Grim Reaper - Labor Day Weekend: Critical Distance Blog Post by Mark Maio
"The Grim Reaper - Labor Day Weekend"
© Mark Maio
Five years ago, my brother and sister-in-law moved from the metro Atlanta area to an older home on a country road just outside of Eatonton, Georgia.
Ever since my first visit to their new place, I had noticed a very large metal cross nailed to a huge tree just down the road from their house. Like the many roadside memorials I've driven by over the years, I wondered who was memorialized and what circumstances converged to end life at this particular spot.
The cross itself faces east, and on previous trips to Eatonton we had always driven by in the afternoon, so I never had an opportunity to photograph the cross when it was illuminated by the sun. Recently, however, we stayed over night. I was able to get to the tree and cross in the early morning, just after the sun crested the trees that stand to the east.
Walking up to the tree, I experimented with various angles and compositions. I wanted to show the sun reflecting off the metal which, depending on my angle of view, almost glowed. I made a number of exposures, moving to the left, right, up and down, none of which "felt" like what I wanted to convey.
As my wife and brother and sister-in-law waited in the car, I had that all too familiar feeling most photographers experience of hurrying to keep them from waiting too long. This in spite of the fact that they were there to spend the morning with me driving around and photographing - they weren't rushing me at all. Some habits are hard to break.
I stopped photographing, took a deep breath and started "slow looking", the process I use when photographing alone without time constraints. For me, "slow looking" is the act of letting myself get into a "zone" which allows the subject to tell me how to photograph it. I slow down, stop looking through my camera, and by walking around the subject I find what it really is that drew me there to make a photograph.
Once I stepped away from concentrating only on the cross, the final image appeared. The cross was attached to a large tree whose branches hovered over it like outstretched arms. Between the two arms was an outcrop of wood, which to me looked like the face of the Grim Reaper in the middle of a long scream. I made my photographs and then really needed to find the story of the accident.
It was Labor Day weekend 1997, and some of the local high school kids were having a party at a house down the road. Early in the morning, one of the boys, whose father owned a dairy farm, realized he had to get his father's truck home before milking time at 3:30AM. Another boy had a brand new Jeep and he volunteered to follow his friend back home and bring him back to the party. Many of the kids at the party wanted a ride in their friend's new jeep, so the first three to get into the jeep got to ride along.
The driver and his three passengers followed their friend home and then the five of them started the drive back to the party. No one knows how fast the jeep was going but when it came around the curve, the jeep left the road, hit a small tree in a culvert and went airborne. Hitting the large tree, it burst into flames. All five died instantly.
In addition to law enforcement and fire department personnel, half of the local young people arrived at the scene of the accident. They stood vigil until early morning when the sun came up over the trees, revealing the reality of the horrific accident. I couldn't shake the feeling that at approximately the same time of day all these years later, the scene had revealed to me how to best photograph it.
Summer Rain: Critical Distance Blog Post
© 2018 Mark Maio
Critical Distance Blog Post
Atlanta summers follow a predictable cycle: muggy mornings, sweltering afternoons and stormy evenings, especially during July and August. As I try to forget the heat and humidity, the one thing I love about summers in Georgia is the possibilities of afternoon thunderstorms and the beautiful cloud formations that accompany them.
I constantly watch the weather and have spent a number of late afternoons photographing as the clouds move overhead. When I am at home I have the choice of my usual cameras and as I drive around town, I make it a point to have one of them along with me.
A few weeks ago we spent the weekend working in our yard. I made a number of trips to the local Home Depot, and late in the afternoon I headed out to make the final trip of the day. As I exited the store, I couldn't help but notice two weather systems slowing moving across the sky towards one another. The Home Depot is located at the end of a quarter-mile long shopping center with stores ringing the perimeter of hundreds of parking spots: the perfect place for observing and photographing the sky.
Most photographers have been asked the question regarding which is the best camera. For me, the answer has always been the one that I have with me. In this case, it was my Apple iPhone 8+. Recently I had purchased the app Manual, which allows the capture of images in RAW format on the iPhone. Setting the camera to its telephoto lens, I quickly made a series of multi-frame vertical panoramic images as the two weather fronts converged. Within ten minutes, the rain was coming down in buckets.
I subsequently imported the images into Adobe Lightroom® and after selecting two of these panoramic frames, I merged them and applied my usual black and white conversion workflow. Upon adjusting the Lightroom® develop settings, the image I had previsualized in the parking lot appeared on my monitor.
Watching the digital file I captured using my smartphone transformed into the final form you see here, I found myself thinking about Ansel Adams. In the early 1980s, he made a prediction about the future of photography being an electronic image. I wonder if he could have imagined most of us having the ability to make images like this with a device that's so portable and easy to use.
I'm excited to see what's next.
© 2018 Mark Maio
Critical Distance Blog Post
© Mark Maio
There's been a gap in blog posts over the past few months as I recently accepted a new position with an ophthalmic medical device company (Haag-Streit USA), as Director of Diagnostic Sales and Marketing. My new responsibilities in addition to travel has consumed most of my time. I'm finally at a point where I can devote thoughtful time to writing again.
Having a second home on the Isle of Skye in Scotland for the past four years has allowed me as a photographer to acquaint myself both with the island and with the extreme and constant changes in weather patterns. Although it's seldom really warm there, there are times when we can literally go through all four seasons in a single day.
Photographically, the clouds, light and atmosphere continually combine and constantly challenge me. During our very first visit in 2008, exploring a new location with a limited number of days left me more confused than connected. The landscape was completely foreign to me (think of a combination of the Big Island of Hawaii and Grand Teton National Park). None of the roads go straight anywhere and given the zagged coastline, you can be driving towards all four compass points within five minutes.
It took a few years for me to get a feel for the island photographically. Learning about tides and their affect on the rugged coast; judging where the sun was going to be at a certain time of the year; or how a weather front was moving across the island, took extended time on site to fully understand.
Extended trips also took the pressure off me from feeling like I had to be constantly photographing. If the light or the weather wasn't right, all I had to do was wait a few hours or until the next day. More importantly, I always have my camera in the car with me.
"Levitating Cloud" was made on a trip to the grocery store, which is twenty miles from our house. Other than a few homes, there is nothing along those twenty miles other than some of the most beautiful landscape you can imagine. Skye is a volcanic island and the northern peninsula we live on is often referred to as "Jurassic Skye" because of the rock here being formed during that period 170 million years ago.
At the half-way point of my drive, the road passes by the most visited site on the island, the Old Man of Storr. The "Old Man" is actually an enormous flamed shaped piece of rock towering over the adjoining mountain range. It is the one place that always seems to have its own climate. Snow, rain and at times clouds flowing over the side like a waterfall.
Beyond the Old Man, the road dives straight down to sea level, running for a few miles along a "loch" and the ocean. Driving along the loch I watched as two storm systems started to come together with a window of sunlight between them. A cloud appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, and hovered just above the loch.
Previsualizing my ultimate image, I initially noticed the scene and the tall grass in the foreground was being lit by the same rays of light hitting the cloud. Now it had disappeared.
With the two weather systems becoming one, my window of light was fast disappearing. Continuing to frame and compose the final image in my viewfinder, I made a series of exposures until, for one brief instant, it was as if someone had turned a light onto the tall grass in the foreground. I had time to make one more exposure before the light and the cloud disappeared.
Standing there, I was reminded of Ansel Adams and the events leading up to his famous image "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico". Ansel saw the image as he was driving down the road and had just enough time to set up his view camera and make one exposure. By the time he flipped his film holder over to make a second exposure, the light was gone.
I am often asked which is the best camera. Like many photographers, the answer I give is: "The best camera is the one you have with you."