It's always interesting to look back over your photo record from the past year. Partly because (hopefully) it's a record of some progression as a photographer as you have tried new things and experimented a bit with your craft and technique. But mostly because it is somewhat autobiographical for me as a photographer - looking back over older photos brings back memories of early starts, or of late nights; of familiar places visited, and of long hikes to discover new locations; of occasions of disappointment, when the light just didn't deliver that time; and of times when all the variables that need to align for a good landscape shot fell into place and that thrilling joy overcomes you that it has all worked this time. Here is my offering of the shots that meant the most to me in 2014. Some may be what I consider to be my 'best' shots; others are included more because of the stories I associate with them. Either way, I hope you enjoy this short retrospective a fraction as much as I did putting it together.
This sunrise from the top of Cave Hill was one of those 'everything has just aligned' moments. The low cloud that dominates the top of this picture lifted ever so slightly just after the sun rose, allowing it to poke through the gap, lighting the mist licking around the mountain top, and bathing the whole scene in a gorgeous orange glow. [Photo trip with Paul Campbell]
February saw the largest aurora display over the British Isles in decades - a stunning sight to see, with such light and colour clearly visible to the naked eye. It'll be a long time till I see something like this. Unless I can arrange a wee trip to Iceland, that is... :-) [Photo trip with Alistair White]
The Dark Hedges near Armoy, made famous by Game of Thrones, is a wonderful photographic location. However, due to its popularity, it's hard to get the place to yourself. Cue a visit late at night, car headlights as a light source, and lying on the road to take this photo. Which involved me getting closer than I'd normally like to more than a few cow pats... [Photo trip with Paul Campbell]
As the evenings started to draw out in April, where better to spend the last few moments at the end of a busy day than enjoying the sun set over these ancient rocks at the Causeway. All topped off by my daughter, posing away on top of the stones. A blissful memory of a carefree evening. [Photo trip with Evelyn McCullough]
Another long late Spring evening took me this time to my favourite spot to view Slemish Mountain from. A balmy evening, still and quiet, with only the babbling of the river gently flowing past for company. Sometimes being a landscape photographer involves very early starts, long hikes, huddling for shelter in freezing cold winds. And sometime it involves blissful nights like this. I enjoy both types of experience, but peaceful evenings like this one certainly have a particular charm!
June brought us into noctilucent cloud season, these wonderful high clouds that glow in the dark, lit from below by the sun that has long since set. This is around 1.00 am at Carrick Castle, and was the start of a near all-nighter as I chased these amazing formations across much of south Co. Antrim, only to head for bed when sunrise the next morning hide them from view once more. An epic night's adventure indeed! [Photo trip with Gary Blair]
July saw me fulfil a resolution I had made last January - that 2014 would be the year I would finally get up into the Mournes. And what a way to do it in the end, climbing with a good buddy of mine at 9.00 pm, arriving at the summit of Binnian at 11.00, staying awake for the next three hours shooting the Milky Way above the mountain before dozing off for an hour. This photo is from around 3.30 am, about half an hour after we woke, and as the light from the sun rise slowly revealed the magical kingdom into which we had ascended. And a new love affair with this part of Northern Ireland was born that early morning. [Photo trip with Alistair White]
After the heat wave of July, August brought more rain - and with it the most wonderful of canvases upon which the sun can paint as it sets. This is at West Bay, Portrush, during one particularly stunning display.
September hosts the annual Portrush Air Show and this year we were in for a treat when not just one but two Lancaster bombers visited. They were due on the Saturday, but bad weather meant they couldn't come over. But nothing stopped them on Sunday, and it was amazing to see - and hear - these incredible aircraft in the skies above the North Coast. [Photo trip with Tim Swart]
Autumn sees colours galore come out to play in the landscapes all around Northern Ireland. But my pick of the month goes to this sunrise shot at the Causeway, when the oranges of autumn came this time from the sky and kindly painted a bit of autumnal light onto the dark stones at my feet.
Since my first climb up the Mournes in July, I've taken every chance to get back down again to explore more of this wonderful location. I've planned for lots of sunset shoots from mountain peaks. This means that the hike back to the car very often is in the dark. But, following along the Trassey Track in the pitch darkness presented a great photo opportunity of the mountains silhouetted against a star-lit sky, while the Trassey River flowed around me. Although clambering into the river in the darkness with an expensive camera was interesting indeed...! [Photo trip with Stuart McChesney]
December brought our first snow of the winter and I was determined to make the most of it. So my year finishes in a similar way as it started - up Cave Hill, overlooking Belfast, when all the photographic elements came into alignment - the cold, blue snow; the warm orange glow of the sunrise, diffused through a wonderful mist that descended all around me not long after I reached the top. This is perhaps one of my most favourite photos I have ever taken.The contrasting colours, the juxtaposition of the textures of the snow and the softness of the mist, the memory of lying in the pristine snow to get this shot, and the fact that, were it not for the mist arriving just after I did, this whole same scene would have been just ordinary. Herein lies the charming lottery that is landscape photography. When it pays off, it creates moments of sweet joy like this. And all the cold, early starts, hikes and disappointments become worth it all.
And, as it's the final month, I think I'll sneak another quickie in!
The most wonderful of Christmas presents - the great Christmas Eve aurora of 2014, complete with a bit of the Milky Way streaming off up into the night sky. This is my favourite aurora photo that I've taken. [Photo trip with Alistair White and David Wright]
I hope you enjoyed this selection. Thanks for all the support, comments and encouragements in 2014. It's a privilege to have you journeying with me.