Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Up Early to End Early

Today we got a packed breakfast to go from the B&B so we could be out the door by 7:00 AM headed towards the “Fairy Pools.” The B&B does breakfast at 8:30 AM to 9:30 AM which would have been too late for us to get to the Fairy Pools and manage to get a parking spot.  Thus we asked the hotel to pack a to-go breakfast, I was surprised it didn’t come with a thermos of hot tea, instead we got juice boxes. The breakfast also included for each person a ham sandwich, a smoked salmon sandwich, yogurt, a piece of fruit, and candy.  It was a decent to-go breakfast.

Near End of  Fairy Pool Path (cell phone)

On to the fairy pools; we got to the fairy pools around 7:30 AM and hiked to and from the pools before eating our packed breakfast.  The hike is a out and back trail along a mountain highland stream that has several small waterfalls and pools. Once you hit the end of the trail there is a sign that says this is the end of the fairy pool trail, beyond this point is dangerous back-country. I would say we took about two hours to walk the path to the end and back which includes stopping and taking photos along the way.  Honestly I was expecting something a little more spectacular based on everyone saying you have to see it, but is really just a long babbling brook coming down from the mountain.  Now it might have been better if the sky did not have heavy dark cloud cover causing the sunlight to be dispersed causing the day to appear dreary.  It was a good thing we arrived early, because by the time we got back from the hike the parking lot was full and people were waiting for parking spots.  We decided to pull out of the parking lot and go down the road to another parking pull off to eat our breakfast before continuing on to our next destination.

Near beginning of pool path (cell phone)
Along pool path (cell phone)
Entrance to Dunvegan Castle
Our next major stop was Dunvegan Castle, with a quick stop at the Talisker Distillery visitor  along the way. Dunvegan Castle was nice, however you could not take pictures inside.  They also provided seal tours because they have 300+ seals living in the loch that castle sits on. Sadly we did not go on a seal tour because they were all booked up.  From there we had lunch at an art gallery/cafe. The cafe had a lovely view of the loch and decent food.  From there it was up to Uig to see the “Fairy Glen.”

The Fair Glen is lush green hilly pasture land, whose mounds look like broughs that the fey used to live in.  The glen is also covered with grazing sheep.  That was basically the last planned thing, so we headed back to the B&B.  

Panoramic view of Fairy Glen from one of the mounds. (cell phone)

After spending a little bit at the B&B we walked down to Portree so I could get the traditional post card picture you see of the town. The whole town does not look like the postcard, it is just one row of buildings along the bay.  Sadly my picture did not turn out how I wanted since the light was coming from the wrong direction and not illuminating the buildings.  That basically ended the day.  We are eating at the hotel today because, we determined if you want to eat in town you need a reservation and we still cannot find the Chinese place.

Post card view of Portree (cell phone)
Tomorrow head to Trossachs National Forest.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

A Rainy Drive to Skye

Today we left Ullapool after a late breakfast, usually we have breakfast earlier than 8:00AM but that was when they started serving breakfast.  That meant I got to sleep in till 7:00AM.  After breakfast we loaded up the car for the three hour drive down to Portree in Skye making a couple photo stops along the way.

View of Castle Strome (Cell Phone)
We took the more direct route down to Skye, rather than the scenic route so the drive only took about 2 hours. Our first photo stop was along A890 at an overlook that had a view of Castle Strome over Loch Carron.  Our second photo stop was at Eilean Donan castle, where it was raining.  I was glad I had a raincoat and water resistant pants. That castle required tickets to go into but had a visitor center and gift shop that did not require tickets.  We took some photos from the outside and got some items at the gift shop.  I got a large bead charm made from heather (the flower).  From there we crossed over the bridge to Skye.  There are some lovely views from the ends of the bridge, but we did not stop due to the rain, just continued on our way to the hotel. After checking in, we got lunch.  In hindsight we should have gotten lunch before entering Portree because there are very few locations to park, the road through the center of town in horribly congested due to people parking wherever they want,  and the food selection is limited.  There are times I just wish there was a McDonald's around to grab something quick.

Eilean Donan castle (Cell Phone)
Kilt Rock and water fall (cell phone)
After managing to grab a late lunch we drove up east side of Skye to Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls.  Kilt Rock was not what I was expecting, I thought it would be a rock in the center of the water, it is only a cliff face.  The waterfall is hard to see from the viewing area because it is on the side of the cliff face and you almost need to hang over the protective railing to get a good view of the falls.  From there we traveled back down the road to Leat Falls.  When you pull off you don’t see the waterfall at first, what you see is a path out to the cliff edge.  If you walk the path it takes you to a viewing area where you can look at cliffs and a beach.  On the way back you see the falls because it nestled into bend in the cliff face you don’t see walking out.  It was a nice waterfall.  From there we traveled a bit further down the road to see the Old Man of Storr rock formation.  

The Old Man of Storr is a pointy rock separated from the cliff face.  There is an uphill path with several switchbacks that gets you fairly close to it, and if you want to get closer there is very steep muddy path, that you might need to be a mountain goat to use,  that leads you further up a large hill for closer views.  I stopped at the bottom of the muddy path; my husband, who I believe is part mountain goat, went up the steep muddy path.  The photography video we watched before the trip, stated it took about 30 minutes to go up the path to see the Old Man of Storr, I think he lied.  It took us 30 - 45 minutes just to get to the muddy path.  I do believe I got some good pictures of the Old Man of Storr even if the light was playing peek-a-boo with the clouds after the rain finished pushing through.  That basically ended our day.   

Tomorrow we should be heading out the fairy pools and some standing stones.

Monday, May 29, 2017

The Scenic Route

View at stop along route (cell phone)
Today we left Thurso after a standard breakfast of eggs, bacon (more like ham), baked beans, toast, and tea to head down to Ullapool for the night.  The route takes three hours to drive without stops, we only made a three major stops and a did a few quick pull off for pictures.  The drive was very scenic, however much of it was on a one lane major road with passing pull offs,  not the type of place you want to stop.  

Our first major stop was Caisteal Bharraich (Castle Varrich) in the town of Tongue.  The hike up to the castle and back takes a little over an hour.  The trail crosses over a stream and then climbs up a large hill to the remains of the castle tower.  Once you reach the castle tower you can climb the metal spiral staircase erected in the tower center to get a 360 view of the valley below and surrounding mountains and the Kyle of Tongue.  

Caisteal Bharraich (cell phone)

The scenery was beautiful even if the sky was cloudy and thinking about threatening rain.  From there we traveled on to Durness where Smoo Cave and our lunch stop were located.  We might have stopped at the Smoo Cave but the visitor center and overflow parking was full.  Also, we weren’t sure how long that would take, since some estimates said it was going to be a couple hour hike while some said it was shorter. Plus you can only enter the cave at low tide.  Thus, the decision was made to skip Smoo Cave.  We also contemplated taking the long way to Ullapool using a “B” road to see the Old Man of Stoer rock formation, however that was also one lane with several 14% or more grades.  But just decided to skip that with four passengers and luggage in the car.  Thus, we just continued on the main “A” road that eventually turned into a two lane road.

As we continued down the scenic mountain route to Ullapool we stopped at Ardvreck Castle which had three parking areas.  One gave you a nice view of the castle sitting in the loch, one at nearby Ardvreck House, and the other was parking so you could walk across the road and up the castle ruins.  There was a bonus with parking in the second parking area, a two-level waterfall.   The waterfall was not very high but had a strong flow of water over the levels.  The castle was across the road from the waterfall and parking. It was quick 5 minute walk to the castle ruins, which consisted of the remains of the tower and some lower level possibly dungeon.   There were sheep droppings everywhere but no sheep. I think a few sheep bouncing around would have made an interesting picture.  From there we continued down to Ullapool.

Ardvreck Castle (cell phone)

Today was the first day we checked into a hotel before 6:00PM, we got to the hotel a little after 3:00 PM.  This allowed us time to go over to the grocery store to pick up some water, walk around a little bit before the rain, and just relax before dinner.  Tomorrow, we will be getting a late start down to Portree in Skye, since breakfast doesn’t start till 8:00AM. So I get to sleep in a little bit.  I am looking forward to Skye.

Killing Time

Jim on hill near a loch, he is the orange dot. (cell phone)

Today started with the same unexciting buffet breakfast, then packing up to leave Orkney.  The weather this morning decided it was going to be traditional Scottish weather (cloudy, dreary, windy and rainy) this morning so I needed my raincoat and glove liners. Our original goal was to go see the Mayshow chambered cairn, but it by tour only and the only tours available were the 12:00, 15:00 and 16:00 which would not work out with the ferry schedule.  So we drove around Orkney to the Orphir Circle Church ruin, which was smaller than I expected.  It was quarter of a domed structure.  From there we headed to the Tomb of the Eagles which is has a bronze age and mesolithic site at the southern tip of the main Orkney Island.  Once you arrive at the parking area for the site you walk along a mile loop trail along the cliff edge.  The bronze age site was first, it was small compared to the other we have seen. They speculated that the site was used for making hot water.  The second site was the mesolithic tomb where they found several artifacts and eagle talons.  To get into the tomb you had to pull your self in using a creeper and rope system. So you would lay down on the creeper and pull yourself in with the rope then stand up in the tomb pushing the creeper out to the next person to use.  You reversed the process exit the tomb.  After that it was off to lunch.

We had lunch at a cafe located about a quarter mile up the road from the tomb site.  The cafe was situated on the cliff edge overlooking the Pentland Firth.  It was also the location of the Tomb of the Otters, which we did not see.  From there we traveled back into Kirkwall so Bill and Jim could stop at the Scapa distillery.  Apparently, Scapa Scotch cannot be found in the US.  From there it was over the St. Margaret's Hope ferry terminal to wait for our ferry to take us back to mainland Scotland.

The ferry crossing was unexciting. We did not see any sea life, except birds. Our B&B is nice, with very large rooms.  Tomorrow we head along the coast to Ullapool.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Standing Stones

Stones of Stenness with sheep (cell phone)
Today started with a subpar breakfast buffet at the hotel. We tried finish breakfast quickly, because there was a tour bus group at the hotel, that we were pretty sure intended to go to all the same places to which we wanted to go.  Our first stop was the Stones of Stenness, which are three large standing stones with two pointer stones that align with the sun during the solstice.  There were four sheep hanging out by the stones, that really didn’t care if people were wandering around, and because of that you had to be aware of sheep poop. From there we walked at short distance up the path the remains of a neolithic settlement and over to the Watch Stone. From there we got back into the car and drove up the road a short way to the Ring of Brodgar, which is a large circle of standing stones.  Part of the circle was blocked off for archaeological excavation which ruined the ambiance of some of the pictures.  I originally had an idea to go out and photograph both sets of stones at sunset/sunrise, however that plan got the kibosh since the sun comes up round 3:00 AM in Orkney, and doesn’t go down till 10:30 PM.  Our days are so long as it is, and I get so little sleep on these trips getting up at 2:00AM or staying up till midnight just was not going to happen. So there will not be any sunrise/sunset pictures.

The Ring of Brodgar (cell phone)

From the standing stones we went to Skara Brae and Skaill House.  Skara Brae is a prehistoric village which has been partially excavated.  The homes were extremely small and very interconnected.  Skaill House is manor home of a Scottish Lord.  I was very surprised they allowed you to take pictures inside, since all the previous manors/castles did not allow photography inside.  From there we went to Yesnaby to see a rock with a hole in it.  

Castle Rock at Yesnaby (cell phone)
Yesnaby is a lookout point at the edge of the island with a 4 mile walking path that leads to Castle Rock.  The rock is interesting because it is large free standing column with a hole at its base.  Do I think it is worth the walk, possibly but not something I necessarily have to do again.  However, I do believe I got some nice pictures of the cliff faces that we were walking along. We had lunch at Yesnaby in the car overlooking the North Sea, then traveled all the way to the other side of the island to go to the Italian Chapel and the Orkney Wine Company.

The Italian Chapel was built during World War II by Italian prisoners of war located on the island.  The chapel is all hand done and the painting inside is beautiful.  If  you walk in you would think it was lined with carved stone but upon closer inspection you can see it is just painted that way. Everything, was done by the prisoners, so they could have a place to worship.  

The Orkney Wine Company makes wine and liqueur from local fruits, berries, and flowers that grow on island. They had a wide selection of three actual wines and ten liqueurs. I tried a few of their liqueurs and ended up getting the berry port and the flower mead.  The port is nice with a full body, while the mead is strong but sweet.  After the winery it was back across the island to Brough of Birsay with a stop at Broch of Gurness.

Broach of Gurness (cell phone)

Broch of Gurness is an iron age settlement with a large circular meeting hall.  It was also one of the largest settlement iron age settlements in Scotland.  From there we went over to Brough of Birsay to take advantage of the low tide and walk to over to the island where the Brough of Birsay is located.  It was interesting to walk to an island.  Was it worth it, not really sure, but at least I can say I walked to island.  The Brough of Birsay was a Viking settlement, that includes one of the first churches built on Orkney.  From there it was time to head back to the hotel. Tomorrow we finish up on Orkney with a few more historic stops then catch the ferry back to mainland Scotland to continue the rest of our vacation.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Stones, Signs, Castle, and Ferry

Hill o'Many Stanes (cell phone)
Jim at John o'Groats (cell phone)
Today we left Archiestown to head up to the Orkney Islands located in the North Sea. The only limiter on this was we had to make it to the pier at Gill’s Bay by 6:00 to catch the ferry to cross to Orkney.   Since Jim did not have a good feel for time, even though GPS said it would take three hours, we made very few stops along the way.  I was able to convince him to stop at the Hill o’Many Stanes near Overton along the way to Gill’s Bay.  The Hill o’Many Stanes had 27 stones arranged in a fan pattern on a hill.  While probably not the most exciting thing to see, it was a bit interesting if you are into neolithic history.  From there we continued up to John o’Groats which is a town at the north east corner of mainland UK.  There is a pole with signs pointing to various cities such as New York, London and Edinburgh.  We ate lunch at little cafe in John o’Groats.

Since we still had plenty of time before the ferry, we traveled further down the road to the Castle Mey.  The Castle Mey was the residence of the Queen Mother while she was alive, it was the only house she owned. After she passed, it was willed to the people and opened up as a tourist and educational castle.  The castle was nice and had several family heirlooms and her personal belongings out on display. They also have a small animal center on site which has a variety of sheep, chickens, and geese. They also had a donkey and a bunny.  However,  what surprised me was they also were raising chipmunks. I don’t know why they were raising chipmunks, and the sign did not say.  From the castle we traveled down the road a bit and stopped at the beach.  

Castle Mey (cell phone)

It has been in the upper 70s the past couple days  thus perfect beach weather. We really were expecting upper 50’s not upper 70’s in Scotland.  Since it was so warm we went down and walked on the beach to the edge of the water, which happens to be the North Sea. We did not go wading in the North Sea. But there were other people sunbathing and wading in the water.  From the beach we headed towards the ferry dock so we could board the ferry and cross over to Orkney.  

The ferry crossing was smooth, we were the second car to be loaded thus were the second ones off when we arrived at St. Margret’s bay on Orkney.  The crossing took about an hour and passed a couple of the smaller islands including the island that had Churchill’s defenses for World War II on it. It was also windy on deck and a bit chilly, so I had some hot chocolate.  We ended up getting to the hotel around 8:15 PM.   Thus, it was kind of a long day. Tomorrow I’m looking forward to visiting several neolithic ruins, stone circles, and one winery.

PS. If you are wondering why these are all cell phone pictures, it is because I shoot RAW. Thus I would need to edit the photo from my camera before posting. Since we get back so late it is hard for me to do that. Thus cell phone pictures are easier.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Castles and Distilleries

Today we stayed within a 10 -15 mile range of our hotel in Archiestown visiting distilleries, castles, and a woolen mill.  We started the day by stopping at the Craigellachie bridge which has round turrets and was built in the late 1800s. From the bridge we continued on to the Macallan distillery. We got there just when it opened at 9:30 AM, but could not get a tour because they were booked.  So Bill decided to just do a tasting, however they couldn’t do tastings till 10 AM, so we spent time just hanging around the visitor center and gift shop.  After the tasting, we continued on to Ballindall castle.

Ballindall castle is more of a large country estate than a castle.  The lord of the estate still lives in the estate and is apparently friends with the Queen since there were several signed pictures from her and pictures of her visiting.  It is a well appointed home with two nice gardens and a very soft lawn.  Sadly,  you could not take pictures inside the home,  but you could take pictures outside. The interesting thing about the castle is they recently found a letter from George Washington to the one of the previous lords in the attic/tower. From there we went to the wool mill for lunch.

Ballindall Castle (cell phone photo)

The wool mill is a working mill and co-op. The shop at the mill sell hanks of wool yarn and finished wool products made by volunteers. They also have guided and self guide tours of the mill itself, which we did not go on.  We mostly stopped there so Cristina could get yarn and we could have lunch.  They run a very nice yet simple cafe.  The sandwiches were tasty, and the cola I got seemed spiced.  I think it is what a chai cola might taste like.  From there it was off to another distillery which was basically across the road.

Hairy Coo named Fluffy (Cell Phone Picture)
We stopped at Cardhu distillery, which is owned by Diageo, which also owns Johnnie Walker.  Cardhu is used in the blending of Johnnie Walker  As a side note Cardhu is single malt scotch.  Since, we arrived there about 20 minutes before the next tour we did their distillery tour.  I would say I have been on better distillery tours, but I did like the initial nosing the different scents found in the scotch bouquet.  The tour did include a tasting of seven of their scotches.  Neither Jim,  Cristina, nor I were impressed with any of the scotches. The only highlight was that distillery was near a farm and the hairy coo (cows) were out, so we could get pictures. We also found out they like digestive biscuits.

From there we went to go see the Inveravon Pictish Stones.  The stones weren’t what I was expecting. I thought they were going to be in a circle.  Instead, they were carved stones in a church entryway.  From there we headed to Balvenie Castle. Balvenie Castle is a castle ruin, that does self explore tours. I would say it is a small sized castle. We only took about 45 minutes to cover the whole thing.  From there we went to Glenfarclas Distillery.

Balvenie Castle (Cell Phone Picture)

Jim at Glenfarclas Distillery (Cell Phone Picture)
Glenfarclas distillery was the last distillery and place we stopped at today.  We did not do a tour of the distillery, but Jim and Bill did do a tasting. Jim and Bill tasted a 15 year, 21 year and 25 year scotches. While Cristina and I just wandered around the visitor center looking at 7,000+ pound sterling scotch. That ended our day out.  Tomorrow we head up to Thurso to catch the ferry to Orkney.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle

Last night we had a late dinner at the hotel.  The dinner was a two course meal, and we added a desert for each couple.  I had the prosciutto and melon plate to and Jim had the skenk soup to start. I had the sea bass and Jim had the venison steak for the main course, and we split a toffee topped cheesecake.  It was a very good dinner, and good way to end the day.  

Urquhart Castle (Cell Phone Picture)

Today started with a hearty breakfast at 8:00AM.  I had scrambled eggs with sausage and Jim had fried toast, a fried egg, sausage, and baked beans, and both breakfast were combined with toast and breakfast tea.  After Breakfast we headed out to find a grocery store to get bottled water, then headed out to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.  

On the way out to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle we stopped at Tomatin Distillery to pick up expressions we cannot get in the US.  Sadly, Jim could not taste anything because he was driving but he still picked up a few bottles.  Bill, did taste a few of the scotches, and ended up filling his own bottle directly from the casks in the tasting room and got to fill out a hand label for it.  After that we continued on to Loch Ness and Urquhart Castle.

Urquahart Castle is located along the shore in about the middle of Loch Ness.  It has been around since the 13th century.  The castle is now in ruins but still very explorable.  I was able to climb up several of the towers and look out over the loch.  After thoroughly exploring the castle we headed to the Loch Ness gift shop. Yes it is a tourist trap but I was looking for Nessie Christmas ornaments which they did not have.  From there we headed back towards the hotel and to get dinner.  Sadly there few places to eat in this area.  We stopped in Charlestown of Aberlour to eat, which has a total of three restaurants of which one is a take-out place.  So not a lot of options.  We ate at place just called restaurant, all the sign said, and was full of people on a bus tour.  The food was decent. That basically ended our day.

For tomorrow it looks like we will be going to several distilleries and a local castle which also has a distillery.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Driving on the Wrong Side

Today we were picked up at the hotel and taken to the rental agency to picked up the car, which is a BMW X3.  After going through the rental stuff, Jim had to figure out how to drive on the the left side of the road. I highly believe rental car agencies in the UK need a practice course for continental drivers so they can get used to the car and the the feel of being on the wrong side of the road and the wrong side of the car.  But Jim did well getting out of the airport area onto the motorway/freeway to get us to St. Andrews.  

We made it to St. Andrews in one piece and only clipped the mirror of one car parked on the side of the road.  Yay us.  Once we made it to St. Andrews we went to the abbey ruins and cemetery.  In the abbey area we climb the 160 spiral stairs of the remaining tower to see the view of the city of St. Andrews.  It was a very nice view. From there we wandered over to the St. Andrews castle ruins. The castle was rather small, but interesting.    From there we went to have a late lunch at a small Italian place.  By that time we were done with lunch it was almost 3:00 and it was supposed to take three hours to get to the hotel.  

The drive to the hotel was interesting. While some of the roads were main roads, some were back country roads and were only one lane.  However the drive did take longer then three hours.  So we did not get to the hotel till 6:45 PM with an 8:15 PM dinner time.

So today we did not do a lot of sightseeing due to the large amount of driving. Tomorrow should be a more full sightseeing day.

Monday, May 22, 2017

The First of Many Castles

Jim's Breakfast
Today started early, with a full breakfast at the hotel.  Our friend’s Bill and Cristina  had oatmeal and scrambled eggs with salmon respectively for breakfast. I had a ham  omelet, while Jim had pancakes and bacon.  When Jim’s breakfast arrived he got a stack of pancakes with a large slice of almost ham-like bacon placed between each pancake all drizzled with maple syrup. It was a very interesting presentation. After breakfast we used the bus system to get to the Royal Mile, so we could go see Edinburgh Castle.  Personally,  I like using a subway system, because I believe it is easier to get a round on then a bus system. With the bus system I have to pay too much attention, and find it harder to know what stop I need. So now onto the castles.

Back of Edinburgh Castle

We arrived at Edinburgh Castle a little bit before it was to open, we thought it opened at 9:00AM but it didn’t open till 9:30AM.  We got our tickets then started exploring the castle. We started exploring, then quickly lost a member of our party.  Jim, Bill, and I went down to see the Lower Defenses believing Cristina was following, she was not.  By the time we came up back up, about 10 minutes later, she was gone.  We looked everywhere in that location for her but she was nowhere to be found.  So we made a collective decision to continue exploring the castle, hoping we might find her.  We got through about half the castle and watched the changing of the guard, before asking one of the castle staff to report Cristina missing and see if she approached any of them saying she was separated from her party.  Sadly, none of the staff saw her, but the castle was extremely crowded due to several cruise ships being in port. So we continued on our tour of the castle.  I finally spotted her in the entrance area as I was looking down from where the big cannon (Mons Meg) is located.  Thankfully Jim has an orange raincoat, thus when he yelled down to her and she looked up she could easily spot us. We discovered she explored the castle on her own so we departed the castle and headed for the Whisky Shop and lunch.

Polish War Bear Statue
We ate lunch at the Red Squirrel, then walked through the Princes Street Gardens on our way to the bus stop to head up to Craigmillar Castle. In the gardens is a statue of a Polish war bear. The bear was befriended by the Polish Army and would help them unload artillery shells.  

Craigmillar Castle is a small castle and is also self explore castle, meaning they don’t give you a map.  So you naturally discover the castle and its rooms. The view from the top of the castle is nice. Plus since this one is out away from the city center, it did not have hoards of people at it.  It was nice.  

Craigmillar Castle from the castle gardens

From Craigmillar, Bill and Cristina went to Mary King’s Close, while Jim and I headed up to Calton Hill.  Calton Hill has several monuments on it and very good views of the city, too bad it was cloudy and dreary looking.  So we took a few pictures, before heading back down to go to dinner.  We ate dinner at a Mexican restaurant,  their Mexican is interesting, they used curry powder instead of cumin.  From there we met back up with Bill and Cristina, to head back to the hotel, thus ending our day.

View from Calton Hill

Tomorrow we pick up the rental car and travel to Aberdeen Shire. It will be interesting, especially for Jim since he will be driving on what we consider the wrong side of the road.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Scotland Travel and Climbing a Volcano

Waiting in the airport with the mammoth
It's that time of year again, for Jim's and my annual vacation. This year it is Scotland. We had an evening flight out on British Airway.  The flight was smooth and uneventful to London where we cleared immigration and customs before getting on the flight from London to Edinburgh to start our Scottish adventure.  

So what do normal people do after a long overnight flight and checking into a hotel, usually clean up, eat lunch,  relax, and maybe take in some local city sites.  Not us, we went out, got lunch, then climbed a dead volcano. Yes there is a dead volcano in Edinburgh, it is called Arthur's Seat, then went to see some old church ruins.  There are two ways to get to the top of Arthur’s Seat, the long gradual incline that can take up to 3 hours or the steep 30 minute, hope you're a mountain goat,  ascent.  Guess which one we took, the steep one. Now the climb wasn’t that horrible just some spots were a little tricky for me because I have short legs. The other issue was the wind, the higher you got the more wind there was; I wish I had about 10 more pounds in my bag so I wouldn’t feel like I was going to blow away.  Now if you are wondering why we made this ascent the first day we arrived and jet-lagged,  no specific reason it got the blood flowing and it provides gorgeous vistas of Edinburgh.

View from part way up Arthur's Seat

Sitting at the top of Arthur''s Seat
Ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel

After we made the summit of Arthur's Seat we came down the easy way, it had steps and nice gentle path that lead to the ruins of St. Anthony's Chapel.  There is not much of the chapel remaining but it makes for a nice photo opportunity.  This is one of those spots I wish I could just summon a model in a magnificent dress.  It is such a lovely location.  From there we headed up the Royal Mile to get some dinner.

So now after a long day of hiking and walking it is time to turn in and get some much needed sleep. Tomorrow will be a full day with going to castles, some monuments, and The Whisky Shop.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

20 Feet of Red Fabric and Blossoms

Near the middle of April, I did a fashion/editorial style cherry blossom shoot, with Orisen Cosplay who was wearing the lovely “endless fire” dress, with a 20-foot train, rented from Dream Shoot Rental.  For this evening shoot, I used a three light set up which included a honeycombed key light, a shoot through umbrella fill light, and a straight speedlight as a back or rim light.    I positioned the key light using a C-stand with a boom arm so the light could be placed within the branches of the tree and angled down onto the model.  I also put a large honeycomb grid directly onto the flash head to narrow the light and provide a spot or beam of light look.  I used a flash inside a reflective bounce- shoot through umbrella angled up into the tree branches to light the cherry blossoms. I also place a flash with no modifiers directly behind the model to act as a rim light and light up the train of the dress to add depth to the shot.   Additionally, I shot using ISO 100, a focal length of 18mm, an aperture of 4.5f, and varied shutter speeds between 1/100s (18% of shots), 1/160s (50% of shots), or 1/250s (31% of the shots).  The flashes were fired in all shots and the power of the flashes were adjusted to eliminate as much of the ambient light as possible and varied throughout the shoot as the ambient light changed. 

Below are a few of my favorite final photos from the shoot and one extreme edit.

To get this shot we tossed the train in the air several times to get this shot.  The exposure and contrast were increased slightly. The whites and highlights were completely darkened while the shadows and blacks were darkened slightly. I then applied a filter based off slide film with a poppy orange and teal colorcast. I removed the grain applied by the filter and adjusted the vignetting around the edges.  Also during post processing I removed my assistant (my husband), who was tossing the train in the air, from the shot. 

In this next shot, we decided to drape the long train over the tree branch then had her sit on the branch and reach for one of the delicate cherry blossoms. I to give this shot more of moonlight feel, I applied a filter to put a blue cast on the image using a blue and grey split tone. I then adjusted the setting of the filter until I got the look I wanted. From there I added a heavy vignetting around the edges to bring focus to the model. 

For this shot, I draped the long train on the tree branch and then had her lie along the branch looking up contemplation. You may notice the image has a slight downward tilt, because the tree itself was on a hill. I decided to keep the tilt of the image because it looked off if leveled. For this image the exposure and contrast was slightly increased along with the clarity and vibrancy of the image.  I then applied warming filter to the image that also gave the image a bit of punch. I then added a heavy vignette to the image but kept the some of the cherry blossoms lit. 

As I mentioned earlier in the post, my assistant tossed the train so I could capture movement in the shot.  I found in several of the shots were the end of the train was just tossed towards the model; it took on a head shape similar to that of a dragon.  This inspired me to work with the image a bit more, and do a bit of composite work in Photoshop. The base edits included increasing the exposure, clarity, and vibrancy slightly.  I then used a medium contrast and added some slight vignetting.  I then pulled the image out of Lightroom into Photoshop to touch up the image by getting rid of distracting features and adding the dragonhead. The dragonhead is part of dragon stock image I found on the Adobe Stock Image site.  I placed the dragonhead by dragging and dropping the image onto the base photo then used the darken mode as the blend type for the layer. Then set at about 30% opacity I moved the layer around to properly position the head.  I then returned the layer to about 90% opacity and used several eraser opacities to remove and blend the dragonhead into the train of the dress.  I then adjusted the color of the dragonhead using the hue slider to get the proper shade of red.  I then flattened the image. Overall, I do not do a lot of composite or heavy edits within Photoshop, but I’m happy with how this image turned out. 

Overall, I’m very happy with how several of the images from this shoot turned out. Orison Cosplay was amazing to work with because she took the dress I gave her and created a whole character.  It also helped that she absolutely loved the dress and was not afraid to play with it, especially the 20 feet of train.  You can see all the images from the shoot here.

Headshots and Tulips

Since all of Ohio is on a stay at home order currently,   I thought I would update my headshot and take some photos of the potted tulips m...