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Adventure to the Isle of Coll! Art Retreat in Suil na Mara

Fantasy witch couple exchange gifts of clay against a grey sky in this dark fantasy aesthetic photoshoot on the Isle of Coll, in the Hebrides, Scotland.

I am writing this on the ferry back from Coll to Oban, with the sun streaming through the window, rainbows and islands and lighthouses surrounding the ferry.

This has probably been one of the most hectic, photography busy weeks I have had in at least a few months. I am still catching up on the editing, but I am happy with the amount of art, ideas, and inspiration I have going forward.

Just a quick warning, from here on, there may be some not safe for work photographs, including the most corrupting, ungodly sight to look upon: the female presenting nipple. Be warned, and stay safe.

Day 0

More or less as soon as I arrived in Oban and put down my things, I started taking photographs. We stayed for the night in a small B&B on the harbour, to get the next ferry in the morning. We did some shopping, had a nice wee jam, a drink, and then headed to bed.

Day 1

Waking up early the next morning before sunrise, I decided to go for a mooch around Oban to see what I could photograph, as a warmup, but also to set a tone for the trip for me, that I would try and push myself not to just take the easy out, but push myself physically and mentally to make the most of the week.

It was cold, and wet, and dark, but an interesting place to explore nontheless, and I found a few structures and colours that were really interesting. One of the areas I really wanted to work on was colour and tone, something I have struggled to really nail in a satisfying way at times.

Around 9am I arrived back into the B&B, and we set off for the ferry, very aware that with the weather conditions there was a good chance we would be back here tonight, as the docking in Coll is far from guaranteed.

The ferry ride set the mood for the island perfectly, and what tends to be expected of the Scottish Highlands, it was misty, rainy, windy, and very dramatic in a very particular way. It was surprisingly warm though.

After a tense hour of docking, we had arrived! We walked onto the island, and immediately appreciated the colour palette, thick grey skies, and muted reds, browns and greens of the grasses, ferns, seaweed, and marsh plants, alongside the gray and whites of the stark boulders in the landscape. The rest of the day was focused on settling in, deciding how to organise the rooms, making food, and preparing ideas and planning for the week, ending in another jam and drinking a bottle of Port between us.

Day 2

After breakfast I set out to do some location scouting, and gain a better understanding of the island visually. I had a few plans already set out, I was keen to shoot something involving seaweed, potentially with fishing rope playing a part as well, and also something less coastal, using the colours of the boggy wetland.

I headed south, and found a few potential spots, and eventually took a footpath to Fiskary Bay, finding the dark rocks and the nuclear green-orange of the grass and seaweed very compelling. I headed further to the coast, and found a few other spots I would be really happy to do some shooting with. I very quickly realised after taking a break, that I was tired, and that I was on a very isolated island, increasingly cold, and decided to head back for now, and consolidate my notes, and a few bits I had found across the shore.

Day 3

Waking up to an equally muggy day, we spent most of the day inside, eating, and getting on with art. Kat working on watercolour, Daniel on clay sculpting, Andy on music writing, and Sarah on drawing and planning sketches. The day before, I had floated the idea of doing a shoot in the bath, using a mixture of ideas from Ophelia, seaweed, and using milk to make a bath more opaque (and a bit less revealing).

We decided to try that shoot in the evening, with me in front of the camera for the first time ever, and Kat behind it. After buying far too much whole milk, picking up some seaweed from the shore (Mostly bladderwrack and serrated wrack for those interested), I set up the scene, and experimented with some different flash gels, settling on purple with a big of green. Here are the results:

Overall, I am really happy with them! It was my first time in front of the camera, and an idea I knew might not work, but I think its a really good start, and definitely a jumping off point for future work. I also would have loved to try some more poses, but I was quite quickly overheating, from overcompensating the bath heat for the milk.

Day 4

In more of a travel focused day, we headed south together to visit the Breachacha Castles, and head down to Crossapol Beach. After ambling through some sand dunes, spotting hares, sheep, and an out of place hedgehog, we arrived to a gorgeous sunny beach.

One thing Kat was keen to find was some interesting smooth rock surfaces for some posing, which I found on one of the larger rock formations, and so we set up an impromptu shoot hiding them in the smooth area between two rock surfaces.

Despite being pretty tired and a bit cold, we decided to go to see the Clach na Ban-righ, a rocking stone on the top of Ben Hogh, the islands highest point. It was the perfect day for it, with a very intense sunset. The climb was challenging, a mixture of steep verticality and thick bog, even at the top of the hill, but it was worth it for the view of the sunset and the stone.

It was dark when we arrived back, and for the first time, we could see some of the stars! Being a dark zone, we took the opportunity to look at them properly, and I tried my hand at night sky photography for the first time, with mixed results, but it was a beautiful sky. We also watched Song of the Sea, which made us all cry.

Day 5

The next day, I woke up around 7am, realising that blue sky was still, unexpectedly around, and decided to scramble down to the bay, and across to the town, Arinagour.

Surprisingly I was joined partway by a handful, who were curiously following me, and I slowly moved across, before being treated to an incredible sunrise from the edge of the town.

From there, I headed back to our lovely place and we agreed to swap around days, sightseeing more today, while the weather was good, and use the cloudy day tomorrow for the more moody photoshoots, that would benefit from the thick cloud.

We did get stopped in our tracks by some lovely cows, but we made it eventually to the pristene beach of Sorisdale! following a bit of exploring, and me trying to convince people (mostly unsuccessfully) to eat seaweed, we headed back, with a few extra props for the shoot the next day: Some old rusted chain, some wool from a fence, and some bones that needed cleaning.

Day 6

The last full day in Coll was the most hectic, at least for me, and I suspect for a few of us. First, heading to Loch Ronard to photograph Kat and Daniel, both in brown and grey costumes with clay sculptures made by Daniel on the trip, and varous parts of the local space, including wool, chain, and bone. Finding the location and avoiding getting too bogged down in the literal sense, we tried a few different things, and I am really happy with the results.

Afterwards, quite cold and a bit tired, we headed out to Fiskary bay, for a second, quicker shoot, with Kat modelling against the black rock formations of the bay, and standing using muslin cloth to obscure their figure.

Finally, we headed back to the bog I had marked out earlier, for the last and most ambitious shoot, Kat submerged in a bog, surrounded by heather, grass, and local found materials. Accessing the bog was tricky, and everyone involved came out with at least one knee deep in the bog. Kat tried to get in, but after being partially in, decided (probably wisely) that it would be one for another day, after already working hard for most of the day. Either way, we managed to get a few quick shots before ambling back, quite cold and more than a bit wet and muddy, but happy with the hard work.

Day 7

We got back in, relaxed, and and started packing, toasting the island and heading off the next day! The ferry ride back as I am writing has been gorgeous and sunny, and I am looking forward to being back home tonight.

It has been challenging, and I have spent more time than I would like editing on my laptop, after trying to avoid looking at screens for a while. But I am really happy with the amount of work produced, and the amount of time and effort put into the experience. I absolutely intend to work on developing some threads from this trip to Coll.

Jacob Forsyth-Davies


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