I have written before of the ever hopeful lottery that is the sunrise photo shoot. The early speculative start when you never know of the loss of sleep will pay off or not, but you drag yourself out of bed anyway in the hope that this morning you will strike it lucky. Yesterday morning saw me have another go at the lottery - and this time my numbers well and truly came up - although it didn't seem like my luck was in at first...
This past week saw the first proper snowfall of the winter in Northern Ireland. I was having a particularly busy few days, and so I spent the week in enjoyment as I saw the photos taken by a lot of my photographer friends of whitened landscapes across the Province. But, if I'm completely honest, I looked on at their shots a bit wistfully too - I wanted to be out there shooting as well!
So it came to pass that I set the alarm for early on Saturday morning. The forecast suggested that the skies would be clearish, the snow was hanging on at Cave Hill, and I decided to climb my favourite local hill in the hope of a decent sunrise shot with a nice snowy foreground.
I arrived at the car park on the Hightown Road about 45 minutes before sunrise. It's about a 20 minute climb to the summit from there, and often the best sunrise light is just before the sun pokes his head above the horizon. I was cutting it tight, so I hastened up the hill, not stopping to take any photos on the way up. On the eastern horizon, a low band of cloud hung just above Co Down. Above that, the sky was almost entirely clear - not the best conditions for sunrise drama as there is nothing in the sky for the sun to paint. The only colour above me was from the vivid orange contrails of aircraft, 30,000 feet above me, standing out in stark contrast to the purple/blue clear skies. But here I was anyway, and the summit was not far above me.
When I arrived on the top of the Plateau, the wind picked up considerably, sweeping off the flat-topped hill and off the cliff edge down towards Belfast below. The air temperature felt below freezing and the wind-chill took a few degrees more off the feel of the temperature. It was going to be a bracing hour on the top of the mountain all right!
I got into place with the iconic Napoleon's Nose as my foreground interest. A faint orange band was stretched above the horizon. But the rest of the sky was simply a large expanse of grey/blue. Nevertheless, there was some snow in the foreground, so I snapped away waiting for the sun to peak over the clouds.
But as I waited, my lottery numbers started to pop up one by one, as the biting wind blowing from behind me started to bring in a fine mist that flowed over the top of the hill and down off the cliff edge in front of me. And suddenly the whole place was transformed into a mistical wonderland. The sun rose, and its orange light was diffused by the mist, casting the whole scene in front of me in a magical fiery haze. Meanwhile, the light poured onto the snow, revealing the intricate topography of the snow drifts, and glistening through the flakey crystals of snow scattered all around me. It was still very cold and windy, my fingers were numb, but I was elated. What seemed like it was going to be merely an average sunrise had suddenly turned into a photographer's dream. So I spent the next hour or so bathed in glorious light, snapping away shot after shot. In the process, one of my gloves blew out of my pocket and recklessly threw itself off the cliff edge (thankfully that was the only casualty of the trip).
Eventually the colours faded as the sun rose higher and before I lost all feeling in my one gloveless hand, I decided to head back down. On the way, I was given one last treat. The neighbouring mountain, Divis, was also capped in cloud. I took a few more shots, wondering if anyone over on Divis was taking photos of Cave Hill similarly draped in mist.
And so finished my first proper winter photo walk of 2014/15. Here's to many more - including some snow shots up the Mournes. I guess my alarm clock might well be busy over Christmas!