Angel's Tower, Torabhaig Distillery, Isle of Skye
Torabhaig Distillery, Isle of Skye

I was fortunate enough to join the South Skye Camera Club the other week for a visit to the new Torabhaig distillery on the Sleat peninsula in the south of the Isle of Skye. In the final stages of renovation, the grade 2 listed barn had been joined by the new buildings of the distillery and the elegant shapes, forms and lines immediately drew my attention.

As I wandered round the outside, a gentle breeze doing its best to keep the midges at bay, I noticed a nice balance between the cooling tower rising to the meet the early evening sky and the lower shuttered window in the almost pure white wall. The flashing made a fine job of linking the two and I knew straight away what I wanted the print to look like.

It was a while before I got the chance to go back and look at the images I’d captured on the day and this distance is good as it makes you think, “what was I doing? What on earth is that?”. But it also helps identify images that match your vision at the time. It’s a bit like the flow of time sweeps away some of the chaff, leaving behind images that have the potential to meet your vision, identified on the day.

I always associate ornate distillery cooling towers with the Victorian period. They’re a little like the extravagent spa buildings and they hark back to a different era for me. So I wanted to not only emphasise the forms in the image but I also wanted to bring some nostalgia into it too. Those days always seem simpler and I wanted to somehow reflect that way of life in the photograph.

For this study I decided to use Silver Efex Pro instead of a full zone system treatment as I wanted a sepia look and also to finely control the leading lines and remove extraneous distractions such as blemishes on the wall and various shrubbery shadows. So I started off with the Antique Plate II filter, boosted the contrast a little and lowered the structure a fair bit. I then created lots of control points to alter the brightness of the flashing and roof tiles to bring out the contrast between them. A red filter boosted the cooling tower and shuttered window which were both made of red wood. Saving it as a smart object in Photoshop let me revisit should my interpretation change.

In Photoshop I darkened the entire image then masked the flashing to lighten it, bringing the contrast in line with how I’d ‘seen’ the image on the day. Some selective darkening of the wonderful stone surround of the lower window brought out the connection between it and the tower, helping pull the image back to centre. By now the roof was a little too dark and I wanted to show some of the details of the tiles so another layer for a little lightening did the job.

I didn’t want the top of the tower to be in stark contrast to the sky as there’s a part of the maturation process where the whisky, stored in oak barrels, loses some of its volume through the grain of the wood. What escapes and goes into the atmosphere is called “The Angels’ Share”. I imagined this intoxicating vapour slowly finding its way out of the cooling tower and up to the sky, forming a diaphanous link with another world.

All in all, I think I managed to bring my vision to print and no doubt as I keep learning new techniques, reading more of the masters and following better photographers, I may revisit in time. But for now I like the simplicity and balance in the photograph. I just have to print it now.

Angels’ Tower, Torabhaig
Nikon D5500
Nikkor 10-24mm, 22mm, 1400 @ f8, 100 ISO