Updated: Feb 12
Last month we took a 10-day road-trip to the Outer Hebrides, in North-West Scotland. It was somewhere I'd wanted to visit for years, and now felt like the perfect time to seek out somewhere remote. Photographically I was intending to concentrate on the sweeping seascapes which make the islands so popular amongst photographers, but once there I soon found that my head was turned by the highland cattle cows, which are so characteristic of the area. They can be found in fields, farms, or roaming free, and I enjoyed the spontaneity of going for a drive and seeing what we encountered. If you follow my photography, you'll know I love cows and livestock generally, and I love to shoot high-key and low-key portraits to simplify the images graphically, and create something I'd hang on my wall at home. These highland cattle encounters were the perfect opportunity to explore this idea some more. All of these photos were from the Isle of Lewis and Harris, in September 2020.
Highland Cattle Portraits
Is it wrong to have a favourite cow? Anyhow, this old girl was in tip-top condition, with a lovely blend of light and dark fur, which highlights the contours, and emphasises depth in the image. Her horns were perfectly symmetrical, with a nice angle to them. A fine subject indeed. We had almost the perfect light for these portraits, and I was able to overexpose for this high-key result. A strong start - This one goes straight into my online print gallery.
I was hoping to capture a cow in this characteristic nose-lick, and managed to bag this on my first encounter of the trip. But it ended up being the only one I got. It works, but I would have liked a better body angle / posture. Still, it's a fun image.
I call this one "The Interrogation". She means business, but always in a rather non-threatening way. I made the compositional decision to clip the ends of the horns here, which is always a shame, but it does get you a closer, more intimate portrait, and the shape of the horns is still strongly implied.
A more casual glance this time. Flirtatious? Inquiring? Inscrutable? She's the Bovine Mona Lisa...
Ah, we're back to our first star again. And you can see even better in colour how that range of tones in the fur adds to the depth and character of the image. Her fur is in great condition too; all clean and soft like it's been blow-dried for an 90's shampoo advert. I've desaturated this a little bit, as full colour on white can often look a little over-cooked. This one has also gone straight to the website print gallery, so take a look there for sizes and pricing.
The last portrait is a low-key back-lit shot of this highland cow, which celebrates the iconic outline and colouration of this popular breed. It's another common thread in my photography; exploring how much information you can remove in order to simplify the image, yet still leave enough to portray a subject.
Picture Postcard Scotland
As well as the close-up portraits, I wanted to get some wider shots of the cows roaming free in their beautiful homeland. I'm pretty pleased with these two. Nothing quite says "Welcome to Scotland" like this highland cattle and her beach-front real-estate.
A more casual posture this time. I guess I should have just picked one of these to share here, but I couldn't choose.
While in Lewis, it's well worth a visit to the Callanish Alpacas. They operate on a donation-basis, and they have a whole menagerie of other animals too. I got these two photos of alpaca matriarch "Caskie".
I've been looking for an opportunity to photograph alpacas for a while, so this was great, but unfortunately time flies and I only managed to get a few 'keepers' on the day.
Alpacas: Definitely a subject to return to.
Besides the alpacas, they have three Hebridean Four-Horned Sheep. This is "Leo", the top ram, who was kind enough to pose nicely for me in front of a dark background.
This is "Raleigh", whose top horns are curling downwards, like the handlebars of a racing bike.
One more picture of Leo. The sun was low in the sky at this point, and you'd never know it, but I managed to make use of my car as a dark backdrop to this one. His enormous top horns rise up and out of shot, before curling back down into the foreground and background of this side-on profile shot.
Lastly, I've included three seascapes here, as they're not enough to justify a blog post on their own.
All three are from North West Lewis, looking out to sea at sunset.
It's when I try to capture photos like these, I remember how difficult seascape photography is. There's so much that needs to come together all at the same time, as well as trial-and-error with the timing of the waves. In hindsight I like these more than I did at the time. They sum up the calm and peacefulness of the beaches, which were quiet and empty by sunset.
I like the soft waves and pastel colours to these landscapes, and I think they're pleasing to the eye. Despite being only three and very similar, it's nice to come away with some landscapes from the trip.
But yes, more photos of livestock in this post, which seems to be what I'm into of late. Their large eyes and engaging poses make for great portraits I think. Even in the case of those highland cattle, whose eyes are sometimes obscured entirely. But then, that's part of the fun for those shots. I also think cows make a nice subject for wall art, as they're so familiar to us. Personally I'm more inclined to furnish interiors with these relatable subjects than with more exotic species, so those are the subjects I'm increasingly drawn to. The cows, alpacas, and Hebridean sheep were great fun to photograph, as well as challenging and rewarding. I might have gone for the landscapes, but the lure of the animal portraits soon reeled me in, and I think I got some really nice photos. I hope you agree. Let me know which was your favourite!