Yesterday evening as I was leaving the Co-op (shoehorning a tired little girl and some contraband sweeties into her car seat) a friend and neighbour came over to my car and leaned in the window

“I need your autograph!” he smiled. I blushed a little, but I have become used to this as an opening conversational salvo of late.. Here’s the story of how I progressed from being a small island photography girl to being a girl photographed on a small island.

About a month ago I was at my desk, hard at work, or more accurately, surfing Facebook, where I stumbled over a post by STV Creative looking for people to be filmed going to Islay (a beautiful island on the west coast of Scotland) for the first time. It was for a  Visit Scotland short video that would encourage we Scots to explore our own country a little more… or at all.

I thought we had an interesting reason for going. Before we moved to Skye our old house in Kintyre overlooked West Loch Tarbert. For 7 years we had looked down onto the Kennacraig ferry terminal from where the Islay ferry departs. We had watched the ferry pass up and down the loch below us and almost daily thought “We really should go to Islay. Maybe tomorrow?”  Tomorrow never came and we moved to Skye and took our regrets with us.

After a little electronic chatting up and seduction via email and Skype STV Creative liked the sound of our story the next thing we knew we were off to Islay!

Early one Tuesday morning we met up  with the crew who would be filming us and the chaperone who would be looking after our children. That was pretty much the last we saw of the kids. The children immediately took to their nanny and ignored us.

We were wired for sound. The wires were run under our clothes from transmitters in pockets to microphones on our collars. They stayed there all day for both days of the shoot, held in place with increasing amounts of tape.


being filmed en route to Islay
No need for straighteners while being filmed in a gale.
Glenreasdale House, Kintyre

Our old house – finally seen from the sea.

Our first experience with the crew was doing a piece to camera where we sat and spouted some stilted drivel about why we were here and what we were looking forward to seeing. The minute Blair the director said action we became  mumbling, dry mouthed, empty headed and humourless . For the next shot they asked us to look away from camera…can’t think why… We sat for what seemed an age on sharp and damp rocks being filmed watching the ferry arrive. It was our first introduction to sitting around and just well sitting. We would sit still, moving closer when told, it was always closer, until Carlo the cameraman was happy with what was in the frame then there would be muttering and the camera would move a little, some more filming then another move. Blair would finally declare himself content. That would be when Marcin the sound guy would declare himself not quite so happy and could we go again?


The ferry MV Finlaggan is very warm and comfortable inside. Unfortunately, we all had to spend half the journey across the sound of Jura outside battling a tremendous wind to do “admiring the lovely view” shots with the distinctive Caledonian MacBrayne red and black funnel in the background. It may have looked good but it offered no protection from the elements. We stood trying to look at the view while being blown to bits and soaked in spray. The rest of the passengers sat on the other side of the thick protective windows highly entertained by us while enjoying their lunch.


We finished the ferry filming and had our lunch. Nicole the runner, the person who makes sure that everything happens smoothly, asked what we all wanted to eat and drink. She was relying on ordering lots of diet coke for, as she pointed out, everybody drinks diet coke. This was when the only production crisis occurred. Calmac doesn’t do diet coke. There had to be some rapid re-evaluation of drinks orders. As disasters go it was highly survivable.

When we arrived in Port Askaig on Islay there was a rush to the cars and vans. My husband got left behind on the ferry as the director decided to improvise an arrival shot and he jumped into the driver’s seat of my car and the camerman leapt in the back and off we went. Andrew was left standing on the ferry wondering where we were all going. Luckily, he’s a resourceful and forgiving sort and tracked us down to a car park half a mile away in a wee while.

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Our first port of call was Loch Finlaggan. There are two small islands at one end of the loch .The smaller one is the ancient council island of the Lords of the Isles and the larger had a collection of atmospheric ruins. It is brimming over with of history. We were shown round by Donald Bell who was much more comfortable in front of camera than us.

There was a rather splendid wooden walkway onto the island so we  walked onto the island with the camera behind us. Wewalked on to the island with the camera in front of us. We walked onto the island with the camera following us and we walked onto the island with the camera being walked backwards in front of us. The urge to speed up and slow down our walking and change our clothes between shots was huge but we behaved ourselves. Donald was filmed telling a potted history of Finlaggan repeatedly from many angles. We nodded and repeatedly looked interested from the opposite angles.

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Beth the producer, the boss of the shoot, then hustled us back to the cars and van and we zoomed off to Port Charlotte and our hotel. The shoot was on a tight schedule and delays were not acceptable.  Islay looks softer and less grimly Presbyterian than our home island of Skye. There are farms and fields where we have crofts and cottages. There are also geese, almost 60,000 of them. They were everywhere. My husband *may* have bored the pants of everybody pointing them out.

We were staying in the Port Charoltte Hotel and it was lovely. All homely, warm and inviting. Very Scottish and very comfortable. Our task for the first night was to eat some food, watch local musicians play in the bar and look like we enjoyed whisky. The first two were easy the last a bit more tricky. It may be a little late but we have to  confess to not liking whisky. Islay has 7 distilleries and is renowned world-wide for the quality and quantity of it’s malts. We faked it pretty well though – we were getting into the swing of filming. I also faked enjoying the fab locally caught langoustine we were pretending to have for dinner. We had already eaten dinner so it was okay that we had to sit with a mountain of crustaceans sitting in front of us for ages while the cameraman’s lens of choice demisted.

We were impressed with how accommodating everyone in the tiny bar was when the crew moved everyone around and settled us in prime position next to the band. We shared a couple with a lovely French couple who were a little surprised but entirely unfazed to suddenly feature in a commercial and between set up s I chatted to the accordian player in the band. Turns out David would be our tour guide at a distillery the following day. Having 2 or 3 jobs and roles is not at all uncommon on the islands. It keeps life interesting and helps to pay the bills during the leaner winter months (although these are the months when the islands are at their most wildly beautiful – more people should visit in winter.)

It seemed to us old timers that the entire crew were about 14 years old and I felt even more out of touch when we came down for dinner and I noticed that everybody had diet cokes (at last), lemonades and water in front of them. “We’re still working.” The hell with that. We had wine and beer. It was a method moment. I felt better the next morning when I heard mutterings of whisky being sampled after the gear had been packed away. Though I was annoyed at how fresh and cheerful they all were if there had been strong drink taken.

Our first location of the day was the beach near Kilchoman. The weather gods were against us. It was pouring with rain and blowing a gale. Just like home. The beach was huge and backed by dramatic dunes. Our dogs would have loved it but they were in kennels on Skye. The camera crew liked it a lot less. Not a fun way to film. They still made us walk all over the beach looking a bit too windswept and not interesting enough. We were entertained by the crew circling round us at ever increasing speed to capture a particular shot. In the finished film you can see me looking down and biting my lip as a case of the giggles set in. We were soon steaming up the car and off to our next location.

This was the Islay Woollen Mill. Not like the Edinburgh Woollen Mill, purveyors of cardigans, tartan rugs and cheesy CDs. This was a working mill. It was filled with mighty machines that weave fabulous tweedy stuff. It was old, oily and fabulously atmospheric. Neither we nor the film crew could get enough of shooting in there. It was a photographer’s paradise.

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From there we moved on to the Bridgend Hotel for lunch. We were to be filmed eating some of their fine dining creations. That meant sitting watching a plate of pheasant and a plate of monkfish go cold while Carlo and Blair found the right shot/angle/light. The food, the hotel and the staff were lovely. This seems to be a recurring theme on Islay.

Next up was the Laphroaig Distillery. We arrived, we learned how whisky was made and then we spent what seemed like hours while the perfect shot of a smoky peat fire was captured. We turned barley, we marvelled at the stills and we talked about the Angel’s share (the term for alcohol evaporated during the distillation process). At the end of our tour David served copious and generous drams with wonderful oatcakes and Laphroaig cheese.As the storm clouds descended outside it was hard to tear ourselves away.
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Due to the photogenic nature of a distillery we were behind schedule and there was a dash to Port Ellen to meet Florence, Islay’s secret PR weapon of verbal mass destruction. We were to be filmed sitting at a bar while she told us why Islay is so special. She was awesome. In one 5 minute take she sold the island to us. Everything that Visit Scotland wanted and a whole lot more. She even got a few sly digs in about why Islay is better than Skye. Then she was asked to do it again. Which she did. What a star.


And that was it. There was a hurried charge from Port Ellen to Port Askaig to get to  the ferry. One more piece to camera on the ferry during which I proclaimed myself too tired to think let alone speak and that was a wrap. We had started at 10am and finished at 10pm.

We disembarked and bid a fond farewell to the crew. Our children were in floods of tears to be leaving their chaperone/nanny/best friend ever.


A week later we were sitting watching STV waiting for the ad break in Coronation St.  Then it was us. Our two days in Islay distilled down to our one minute and one second of fame. We thought it was fantastic except for us.  That’s why we are photographers. Always behind the camera.

I may be a little self critical. Everybody who has stopped us while we walked the dogs around the village to tell about seeing us on telly have been complimentary, so have the people who mentioned it in the Co-Op and at last weekend’s mini-rugby tournament too. The video seems to have worked, many comments on our Facebook pages and Twitter accounts are about how people want to visit Islay now.

And you really should. It’s beautiful.

To view the  finished commercial click on this image of the two adorable dogs who greet visitors to Port Askaig.


Words and images Rosie and Andrew Woodhouse Love Skye Photography and Landscapes 365