John O’Groats & the Orkneys: Ring of Brodgar, Skara Brae, Italian Chapel

John O’Groats, the small port from where you can take a ferry to the Orkneys, is basically shots of “The Last House in Britain”, the old John O’Groats Hotel (Scottish Baronial influences, now closed) and the signpost giving the distances as the crow flies to various world capitals.  The ferry ride over to the Orkneys usually offers some photo opportunities whatever the weather.

Once there, your first stop will be the “Italian Chapel” which consists of two Nissen huts joined together endwise.  Decorated in amazing fashion by Italian prisoners-of-war during WWII with anything they could find.  No special photo problems for me except the number of tourists – difficult to get a clear shot.  No need for flash, and it would be a bit impractical anyway given the length inside and the low curved ceiling.  Ultra-wide angle lens a godsend.

The Ring of Brodgar” (very Harry Potter sounding) was trickier.  I tried shooting the wide standing stone circle from the outlying “watch” stone, but the circle looked small in the background.  Probably the best approach is to take part of it, say emphasising one stone with several others curving away behind.  There’s a ditch with purple heather patches that could add important accent colours.  In one place there’s a couple of mounds outside which provide a higher viewpoint.

Skara Brae” a neolithic village, is another important archaeological find, and it provides good photo opportunities.  Start with the recreated full-size mock-up of a village house.  Very dim inside, I tried  both indirect flash and slow speed, have to see it on a big screen to know which was successful.

Shooting the excavated village houses is simpler, as they are inset within a grassy dune and you look down into them.  A zoom is useful to have to frame the details more tightly, but the wider overall effect can be quite graphic.

Kirkwall has a small town centre of a few streets, the main shopping one is pedestrianised.  It leads to a harbour that is quite photogenic.  The Kirkwall Church is worth exploring, don’t miss the antarctic explorer John Rae‘s grave in the back corner and the bell off the Royal Oak (sunk in Scapa Flow with all hands by a German u-boat in WWII) in the south side aisle.  Slow exposures but plenty of pillars, etc. if you didn’t bring your tripod!

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