By Karen Carruth

There’s something calming about purposefully taking time to stand behind a camera and take a photograph. If you are not an expert, and I’m certainly not, the thought process of tricking your camera into capturing something vaguely resembling what you want is a test of patience and quite a lot of fiddling with dials. For me, it’s good for the soul, I can’t think of anything else at that time, which does nothing but good for a busy mind.

I’m invited to spend a day with Margaret Soraya, who runs photography retreats in remote locations around Scotland. My efforts to convince the boss that five days on a Hebridean beach was work, incredibly, just didn’t wash, so I was allowed out for one day.

Margaret does two lovely things for you, she gives you all the time you need to find your way around your camera to get the shot, and she feeds you really well.

First a little background. Margaret has several strings to her photographic career, she runs the retreats that I’ll talk about shortly, she runs a specialised elopement photography service for those that want to run away to the Scottish wilds to be married – where it’s just the couple, the landscape and a commitment of a lifetime, she, of course, photographs ‘normal’ weddings and she has her landscape photography business too.

This lady loves to be out in the wilds of the world, she craves it, needs it, and she appreciates every moment of it.

Today, on my mini retreat, I’m meeting her at Drumnadrochit, near Inverness, where she stays with her two boys.

We start off by the great unveiling of my camera equipment, you can borrow from Margaret if you wish, but most people bring their own, then we head off into the woods by a fast-flowing stream.

Margaret exudes calm, we wander down a wooded track taking little snaps along the way. Me taking standard shots, she taking the camera and pointing out the sun making reflections on a leaf and snapping a little beauty. Clearly composition matters, right enough.

She loves this, sharing her knowledge and she does it with a gentle hand, guiding you to make the right decisions.

We talk about her own work, often images of roaring, crazed seascapes. Foam and waves crashing across the screen. She loves the sea, always has. And she spends as much time as possible near it, or in it. Surfing or paddle-boarding, and wild swimming gives her the chance to get in and be part of the cycle.

“It’s the movement, the excitement and the ever-changing landscape. I find it soothing, and I think it is my reset button.”

Which is why she decided to start running photography retreats, called Quiet Landscapes, whisking people off to remote beaches in the Highlands, in the Hebrides or maybe Islay next year, to spend some quality time getting to know their camera, learning about photography by doing it all day, and also enjoying top quality accommodation on an all-inclusive basis. You basically turn up with your camera (and maybe a few waterproofs) and immerse yourself in the landscape and find your photographic style.

Margaret tells me: “The idea behind the retreat workshops is to take people away from their real lives, give them time to think. I respond to that and I believe other people do to, it enables them to be more creative.

“The most important thing is that we allow time for people to spend two or three hours at each location, to slow down, and not feel rushed.

“I travel the islands constantly, so I’ve found lots of lesser known locations, I draw on that experience in these lovely little hidden gems for people on the retreats to capture some unique images.

“We are not going to the really well-known locations, so we have the chance to do some unique work in these beautiful locations.

Spending quality time with like-minded people brings an easy friendship among the participants and the tutor.

“I really do care about all the participants that come on the retreats, and its one of the things I really want to do is to help them use their own intuition to bring out the style in their own photography that they are looking for. They don’t know where to find it, so they look at other photographer’s work, its teaching them that it is within themselves, and when they see that they start to create their own unique work.”

Since I’m not allowed up to a week on a beach, we spend an afternoon together. I have many questions that really, I had no one else to ask. Why does my camera do this? Why can’t I do that? How does she get that effect? She answers everything, explaining it clearly. I’m having a great day.

We then head off up to a hillside to capture some scenic shots, and irritate some sheep who don’t fancy being papped, but stand nicely for photos.

Our meeting today replicates the 1-2-1 retreats that Margaret offers, usually on a two-day basis. And tonight I am to stay in the Hideaway, which is a superb little cabin situated out back of Margaret’s house.

It’s like a little retreat on its own for me, being a busy mum, working all week, having a night on my own is truly bliss. A wooden clad mini house, with double bed, little kitchen, ensuite shower room and a TV, and a cupboard full of goodies to tide you over. I say tide you over, I’m invited to join her for dinner at her house, which is what would happen on the 1-2-1, where all meals are included. A fabulous roast chicken with all the trimmings and a home-made pudding are most welcome after a day outdoors, as is the relaxed chat about Margaret’s work and her travels in the islands.

Then it is into the cosy cabin, with furry blankets to cocoon up inside for the evening. (I don’t get away on my own often, you can tell).

She talks about the retreats she has taken in Harris, Lewis, Orkney, Loch Ness, and Glen Coe, and she is thinking about doing one on Islay next year.

Margaret is a huge advocate of taking time to be remote, it’s good for your health she is sure.

She works with Paul Sanders, a fellow photographer from Kent. She says they work well together as he is also a gentle character and gives people the time they need to enjoy the landscape as well as working on their photography.

Photography retreats aren’t new, but she wanted to offer something slightly different. Add a luxury element to them, she finds that people pick the retreat by the location. She has just started running ladies only workshops which she hopes to expand. She takes her responsibility seriously, she took herself off to do a first aid certificate and she is a qualified lifeguard, just in case.

The photographers that come along to the retreats often come in couples, and she already has had repeat business, and always gets terrific feedback.

“I feel a real affinity and connection with the islands. I often shoot elopement weddings there, then I stay in my campervan and travel around for a week or so, taking photographs. I never tire of being near water, she spends half the year at home and half on the islands, not all at once, of course.”

When I visit, the arrangements are being made for her work to be shipped down to Bosham Gallery in Chichester, where she will be having an exhibition entitled Quiet, until mid-December, which will feature many of her images of the rugged coastline of the Hebrides. She is delighted with the compliment that the invitation to exhibit has offered.

I ask her about her elopement work.

“I love doing the elopement weddings, they are so personal. You can get married anywhere now in Scotland, and now that people know that I do this type of work, they often ask me for suggestions where they should get married, as well as whether I will take the photographs. It’s a privilege to be involved, with just the couple on their day, looking to do their own thing, out in the wilderness.

“What I really enjoy is watching the transformation during the retreats where people gain confidence, they are happy, and they have a terrific feeling of achievement. It makes me feel wonderful.”

Retreat dates:

February 8th -15th St Ives, Cornwall. Seascape and waves, Staying at Una Resort in St Ives.

March 1-7, 2020. Photography retreat in the Orkney Islands. Fully booked - wait list for 2021

March 10-16, 2020 – Photography retreat in Glencoe and Loch Ness.

September 12-18th 2020 – Photography retreat in the Outer Hebrides, staying at Lews Castle

One to one, by arrangement. 1-2-1 retreat inclusive of two nights accommodation at the Hideaway, all inclusive, with one and a half days personalised tuition around Loch Ness.