Light racing

It's one of the more over-used cliches in the photography world that we 'chase the light'. But it is true - and sometimes literally.

I wanted a shot from this particular location from the Causeway cliffs for a while. But I knew that I needed the light to be right for me to nail it the way I had envisioned it in my head. I knew I wanted soft, warm light to bathe the cliff walls and to draw out the amazing details of the cliff-face columns.

But there are no guarantees of that quality of light. Even on evenings when you do see the sunset, still you may get only the merest hint of a glow. However, this evening as I drove to the Causeway, I had a good feeling about the conditions. Most of the sky was covered in storm cloud from the showers earlier that day. But there was a band along the horzion that was clear. Often, these make for the best kind of conditions for landscape photography, as when the sun pokes through the gap, it can cast a warm glow on the dark clouds above and create lots of drama.

That's what I was hoping for as I parked the car and set out for my location - as fast as I could! The sun was dropping lower in the sky and any minute now it would appear in the gap. The warm light produced may only last 10 or 15 minutes, so there was no time to waste as I hurried and puffed my way along the cliff top path. Having scoped out the location before, I knew where I wanted to end up. But time was very much against me as I found myself racing against light itself!

As I rounded the final bay towards the headland, it happened: the sun descended far enough, and it spilled its warm glow on the landscape all around, like someone had just turned on a light in a darkened room. And I was still 5 minutes away from my goal!

That gave me the final impetus I needed, and I redoubled my efforts to get to the headland. The light to my west was good - but patchy. Just in front of me, the cliffs were lit, as was East Strand in Portrush in the distance. But, as I got my tripod into place, the glow disappeared. The sun was still out, but I couldn't believe I had just missed the light. 

But, just as I was about to curse my luck, someone flicked the light switch back on and: boom! The light was back, but even more dramatically that before.

Wasting no time, I got my tripod into position. I knew the composition I was after, and I got everything set up. Using my camera remote control app on my phone, I headed off to the headland and triggered the shot. 

For those interested in the technical side of things, I used my Tokina 11-16mm ultra wide lens so that I could capture as much of the scene as possible. Plus that lens is great for shooting into the sun with - the sunbursts it produces are sublime. I stopped my aperture down enough to bring out the rays of light burst. As I wasn't using filters, I took two exposures - one for the sky, and one for the land - so that I could blend them in Photoshop afterwards. If I hadn't have done this, the dynamic range of the light would simply have been too much for the camera to capture.

I rushed back over to my camera to see that I had captured. And I was pretty happy! The light, the colours, the colours and details on the cliff. It was all I'd hoped for - and then some!

Not long after, I became aware of a couple standing nearby. They were clearly and kindly trying to stay out of may shot. I got talking to them and, handing me their phone, they asked if I could take a photo of them. As you know, I love people in my landscapes, so I was keen to try a photo of them with my own camera. Given the light and conditions, the silhouette of the couple (Jane and Eoin) at sunset enjoying their first visit to the Giant's Causeway would just set the whole thing off.

So I recomposed for this photo, switching to portrait mode to emphasis the columns in the cliffs below them. I must say, they were great models and posed very well. Having said that, my heart was in my mouth somewhat when Jane did a handstand right at the end of the headland!

Within a few minutes, the sun had set, the light began to fade, and the photo opportunity was over. We exchanged a few final words and it was time to pack up.

On the way back to the car, this time I was able to take my time and to amble along the clifftop, enjoying the views. As twilight took over from sunset, I headed to the headland overlooking the main Causeway. The light was fading fast, but the last embers of warm light from the horizon were still casting something of a glow on the dark, wet stones of the Causeway and the Atlantic Ocean around it. I put on my 300 mm zoom lens. The conditions seemed ripe for one more shot. So, from high above, I zoomed right in to the end of the Causeway and took a long exposure shot of 30 seconds. The quiet breakers turned misty white during this time, and the gentle waves blurred out slightly. I haven't taken a shot of the Causeway quite like this before, and I was quite pleased with how it came out.

From there, it was a 15 minute dander back to the car, allowing me time to ponder and reflect on the excitement of the earlier chase. The evening I raced against light - and won!