Chasing Light in the Hebrides

Date published: 30 January 2019

I have a confession to make. I have never sailed. This might surprise those who know me. I was raised in the Maritimes in Atlantic Canada, and then spent much of my adult life in Nova Scotia on the coast. I love being around the ocean. There’s something about the dynamic energy, the constant change, that gets to me. I feel drawn to it. It’s in my blood.

When I discovered that Vertical Shot Expeditions, in conjunction with MUSTO clothing, were offering a sailing expedition to Scotland, and that the photographer accompanying the group was Lars Schneider, I realised that this was a chance to set things right. An opportunity of a lifetime.

I have spent time in Scotland before, but the scenery was different then. It had been spring, and the landscape was still waking up from winter slumber. I had never seen the west coast of the country, and certainly not the isles there. I’ve also travelled with VSE before and know that their local guides can get you to the best places, in time for the best light. I’ve also had the pleasure of working with Lars who is an excellent photographer - but more than that he is a patient, knowledgeable instructor with so much to share, and the decision to spend time with him on a sailing yacht in the Scottish isles was an easy one to make.

Lars Schneider © Jason Nugent

I reconnected with Lars and the VSE crew in Oban, a beautiful town on the Firth of Lorn. To get to Oban, I took the train through the lush Scottish countryside. It was a pleasure. I love travelling by train, and getting there from Glasgow this way gave me a chance to get a small taste of the scenery I was about to experience from the sea.

I arrived at Dunstaffnage Marina and Colin and Pauline Taylor, our skippers for the expedition, graciously invited me aboard. After a tour of the incredible Moonshadow of Lorne, a 67 foot Oyster yacht, I stowed my gear in my cabin below deck and prepared myself for my first real day at sea.

Tacking against the wind © Jason Nugent

We set sail from Oban and moved across the Firth of Lorn and into the Sound of Mull early in the afternoon. The weather was wet, windy, and overcast, but my spirits were not dampened. How could they be? I was finally here, at long last fulfilling a dream of sailing on the open sea. At that moment, I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way. It was time to explore.

Sunrise over Canna © Jason Nugent

And that’s just what we did. We pored over maps each day, discussing alternatives and choosing the best places to go ashore. Ultimately, we were photographers, and we were going to do our very best to make sure that we came away with great photos. The crew of Moonshadow were incredibly accommodating and created routes that would put us the best places at the best times of day.

Towards the Inner Hebrides © Jason Nugent

As a photographer, I pursue light. Scotland definitely gave me a run for my money, but if you remain persistent, eventually the land will share its secrets to you. Landscape photographers need to be patient, and especially so in Scotland. The light eluded us on the Isle of Eigg, but we were rewarded with some exceptional evening light on Canna, and a brilliant sunrise the next morning from the cliff tops behind Tobermory. The previous day, after coming ashore on Skye, we climbed high above Loch Coruisk. The day had started out overcast, but as we moved towards the top the sun began breaking through the clouds, with amazing warm light hitting the lush green hillsides and igniting them. When we arrived at the top, it was huge grins all around. The effort had paid off, and we had incredible views of the loch, the bay, and Moonshadow anchored beyond.

Lars Schneider takes in the view on Skye © Jason Nugent 

On our last of day of sailing, we tacked through the Sound of Mull towards Oban, and then up around the Island of Kerrera. It was a beautiful day, and while sitting on deck I had time to properly reflect on everything that I’d seen and done in Scotland. Here I was, 7 years after my first visit, sailing past islands dotted with castles, their hillsides carpeted in green and purple. As I write this article, I am back in Canada, but I can still feel the sway of the boat, the thrum of the mast as it strains against the wind. I don’t think it is a feeling I will soon forget, and for that I am glad, because I can’t wait to return.

Jason Nugent

Vertical Shot Expeditions