The things you can never plan

In my recent podcast interview for 'The Photographer's Craic' host Ross asked me about how I planned my shots.

The reality is, I often tend to be more spontaneous than planned. With a family and job, I get out when I can, fitting in around my other obligations. The experience of being out is the main goal. The photos - when the light and conditions are good enough to make them happen - are the overspill of that.


A recent photowalk along the Causeway cliffs was certainly proof of that! I had had my eye on a wee island - Benadanir - in Portmoon Bay on the Causeway Coast. Since i first walked the 5 miles along the cliff tops from Dunseverick to the main Causeway, this little island caught my eye.  Triangular in shape, yet really quite thin, its shape changes dramatically depending on the viewing angle - and you don't need to walk too far to get a completely different perspective on it. On top of that, its western flank is colonnaded with those distinctive basaltic columns. 

But, more that a geological wonder, its history is fascinating too. Benadanir translates from Irish as Peak of the Danes. It appears to have reminded my forebears of that ominous sight - the sails of the Viking longboats, which must have been visible here during the 8th century, when those Danish men of lore roamed the coasts around the British Isles. 

What is must have been like to have stood on these self same cliffs and to have seen that recognisable - and terrifying - shape appear from the distance, and sail along the rugged coastline. Did the eyes of the Irish meet those of the Danes, the former only protected by the hundred feet of sheer basalt between the sailors and the locals...?

Whatever the history, it left its mark - and its name in this stunning location.

I had seen lots of shots of Benadanir at sunrise, lit from the side by the rising sun to the east, mostly as a foreground interest to Portmoon Bothy in behind it. But I had seen none from here at sunset.

But that night, I just happened to be free to head out there in hope. The light had been good all day. There was cloud forecast to come in later. But I thought I'd give it a try anyway.

As I drove to the location, the cloud gathered in and the light began to fade. Ah well, I thought to myself, I'll get a nice wee walk anyway.

The fifteen minutes it took for me to dander round into position saw the light deteriorate further. The milky haze of cirrostratus gave way to the flat grey of lower stratus cloud. The wind picked up, the temperature dropped, and I felt for sure rain was on the way.

Nevertheless, I took a few shots, thinking I'd get something nice and moody. These locations often suit that anyway. Then I packed up with about half an hour to go to sunset and started to dander back.

Peak of the Danes before the sun 2 (large) WM.jpg

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I glimpsed it. The cloud that had been a bland, monochrome layer parted ever so slightly. A gap emerged, and a hint of glorious light poked through.

Would we get something after all, I wondered? I got my gear back out, fitted my filters, got back into position - and BOOM!

The sky lit up with the most insane colours. And yet they were soft and diffuse, washing across the sky as if painted by the lightest and deftest of watercolour brush strokes. That meant the cliffs were not thrown into dark shadows against a bright sky. The detail was still there to be seen.

Peak of the Danes pano more contrast (large) WM.jpg

The sea far off acted as a chorus to the sky, echoing the glorious refrain coming from above. And nearby, the aqua colours of the shallows added yet another hue to this polyphonic symphony.

Just goes to show. You can plan, or you can be spontaneous. But the light will do what the light will do. And our job - our privilege - is simply to try to be there when it happens, and to stand back in awe at the glory of creation all around us.