Dandering after thon light

Chase the light: it’s an oft quoted photography cliché. But what makes it a cliché is that it’s oft quoted. For all that overuse, it’s still true.

Normally, that is. If you’re shooting in the golden hours of sunrise or sunset, that chase can take on a literal meaning, as you may well end up finding yourself doing that funny photographer’s run, complete with gear, bag, filters and tripod, as you move to find just that perfect composition in those few minutes of perfect light that might be on offer. 
But sometimes, the pursuit is an altogether more sedate one. A stroll; an amble; or, to use a good Ulster term, a wee dander. 

I had one such rather more tranquil experience the other weekend in the Mournes. The skies were overcast all day, and we didn’t see a drop of sun. But the clouds had a bit of texture and interest in them that could be pulled out a bit with the use of filters. The moodiness of it all seemed to suit the beautiful bleakness of the rugged terrain of the Mournes. And, crucially, this atmospheric light remained pretty much the same all day. No chasing was needed. No scrabbling to get into position just because the light had aligned perfectly. Just plenty of time to slow down, to observe, and to enter deeply and peacefully into this wonderful landscape.

Listening to Charlie Waite one afternoon

What had prompted me to look for such light was a lecture I attended recently by world renowned landscape photographer, Charlie Waite. His talk was informative and engaging, full of anecdotes and example after example of sublime and inspirational photography. 

But, of the many things I learned that afternoon, one thing stood out above all others: for all the amazing light he had captured, there was hardly a sunrise or sunset to be seen. Received wisdom for photographers is that these golden hours – with their soft, warm light and pleasing shadows cast by the sun low in the sky – are the times to shoot. But here was a top class photographer showing us that, if we had eyes to see, there is great light to be had all day, and in a variety of circumstances.

And so, I’m on a bit of a photography quest: to train my eye better to see these other luminosity opportunities. Listen, if a good sunrise or sunset comes along, I’m still going to go chasing. But I want to push myself out of my comfort zone and try some new things. Surely this is the essence of creativity; I certainly hope it pushes me forward as a landscape photographer.

In gentle pursuit of some subtle light

But now, back to that Saturday. Fellow landscape photographer buddies, Ryan Simpson and Gary Blair, and I had planned a cross-Mournes hike, starting at Carrick Little car park; heading up to Buzzards Roost, with its views over Ben Crom Reservoir; down to the reservoir where we would walk to its east end for a barbecue; and then up to Hare’s Gap and down Trassey Track.

On the way up, I was on the look out for the subtle light. And here are some of the results.

The wee dander begins...

Lamagan and the Annalong Valley. Donard is hidden in the cloud in the background.

I was so struck by how much colour the drab skies allowed me to notice in the landscape all around. The coppery tones in the water especially caught my eye.

Granite slabs mark the path to Lamagan.

 I have some very brave friends. You wouldn't catch me doing this!

Overlooking Ben Crom

From the shores of Ben Crom Reservoir, looking towards Ben Crom mountain

As if the rocks and reflections weren't enough at the eastern end of Ben Crom, we came across a random weathered tree trunk. Perfect for that foreground detail.

Looking back down Ben Crom

One of the little rivers that feeds into the reservoir

What did I discover during this experiment? I noticed how the colours of the landscape can really pop when the light and backdrop are more subdued. I noticed how a tranquil and moody beauty can be drawn out, even in the dullest of days. And I thoroughly enjoyed that leisurely pace that this unchanging gray light brought – I had time to look around; I was able to move on to another location without wondering if I should have stayed a few more minutes in case the light changed. Most of all, I discovered again the joy of pushing yourself into something new, something beyond the norm, and just how much of a catalyst that can be for creativity. 

Here’s to the dander!

Oh, and one other thing. The dander ended up being a bit longer than planned due to a rather stupid mistake on my part. After spending a good 45 minutes hiking up to Hare's Gap from the end of Ben Crom reservoir, I discovered I'd left my phone back down where we had our barbecue. Back down at Ben Crom. I tell you what, you discover just how good your friends are in moment like that, when you have to confess such a thing and suggest we retrace our steps. And I discovered my friends are the finest indeed! So here's to my dander buddies, Gary and Ryan. I promise to zip my phone up securely next time, guys!