When golden hour lasts all day
Received wisdom says that the best landscape photography is produced during golden hour, that metaphorical hour around sunrise or sunset. And this wisdom makes a lot of sense. The light is warm; it is diffuse and soft compared to the harshness of the midday light; and its low angle means it picks out details, shapes and textures in the landscape better than at any other time of day.
Many of us photographers make that special effort to get up early or be out late in order to be in the right place at the right time to make the most of this magic light. The only problem is (aside from the fact that I live in Northern Ireland and golden hour is never guaranteed!) is that golden hour is fleeting. There are large portions of the day when - if you follow the golden hour maxim - you can’t be out shooting.
But then, along comes autumn.
Autumn - the time when not just the sky but the very landscape itself turns golden. That time of year when the ground seems to want to give the sky a run for its money when it comes to glorious orange hues. Is it any wonder us landscape photographers love to be out at this time of year photographing?
And 2018 is no exception. I had two main photo excursions to make the most of the autumnal glow - the classic forest and waterfall shoot, and the perhaps less well appreciated golden flanks of the mountains of Mourne.
Gleno [Gleann Ó]
Tucked away in the heart of south Antrim is the hidden gem that is Gleno waterfall. Gleno village itself is a classic picturesque Irish hamlet, with its black and white house, packed in tightly along either side of the steep and twisting main road. St Columbas Church of Ireland is perched at the top of this brae, with beautiful views down across the valley.
But it’s the little gorge right beside the village that is the real draw for me. It’s steep valley sides are flanked with mature deciduous trees, creating a canopy which seems to embrace rather than enclose. And, flowing through the heart of this little glen is the river, cascading over a series of waterfalls before flowing through the village, creating that wonderful white noise effect that seems to metaphorically sweep over you as the water sweeps over the falls. Truly this is a magical place, a place outside of time, a place where you can lose yourself in the moment and be swept up and away from the worries and pressures that seem to have dropped away when you entered the gorge.
The waterfall is always worth visiting. But when the leaves start to turn as autumn takes hold, the paths are covered in a carpet of golden brown. Throw in some lovely soft autumnal sunlight backlighting the leaves that have managed to tenaciously still hang on and causing them to glow golden yellow, and you have the perfect recipe for a relaxing couple of hours in this secluded place.
Aside from the main falls, this little glen has lots of other places to explore. Head on up the steps, through the enchanted trees, enjoy the views down over the gorge, and enjoy your exploration.
Binnian, in the Kingdom of Mourne
Forests aren’t the only place where we can find some glorious autumnal colours, however. Head to the south east of Northern Ireland and up into the Mournes, and you’re in for another colourful treat.
Unlike the intimacy of Gleno, the Mournes are all about the expansive views, the vistas that go on and on, summits interchanging with valleys off into the far distance. Whilst Gleno is like that good friend who wraps you in a gentle and comforting embrace, the Mournes are like that buddy who takes you enthusiastically by the hand, and invites you to come running on the most expansive of adventures with them.
And as you run on up the hills (or hike slowly, with lots of ‘photo breaks’, if you’re me!) oh the colours that await at this time of year. As the verdant greens of summer begin to give way to the harsh faded browns of winter, they have one last hurrah - a riot of golden brown, glowing long before golden hour is even upon them. Even as you begin your hike into the mountains, as the summits still gaze down on you, the views are glorious. Especially when dappled by sunlight escaping from behind some cotton wool cumulus cloud. Even hours before golden hour arrived, the warm tones and hues were shining vibrantly. Things would only get even better when golden hour proper arrived.
Our hike up Slieve Binnian had lots of colour to delight us even before we reached the summit for golden hour proper. The light was soft yet clear, and there were few clouds on the horizon that would threaten to block the light just at the last moment.
When we arrived on the summit, the biting October wind was harsh and unrelenting. It makes it hard to concentrate on the finer details of composition when you are in severe danger of being unceremoniously dumped on your behind with the next gust of wind. Gleno may have been all about the peace and tranquility - but Binnian was exhilarating, the madness of the wind bringing a carefree craziness to our attempts up top to get the shots.
But, all around, the light was amazing, falling warmly on the rich oranges and browns of the mountains. As the fair weather cumulus clouds passed over, they left a dappled pattern of light and deep shadows, picking out the glorious details of the mountain landscape all around.
And then, finally, as the setting sun slipped behind some low clouds, the light became diffused spectacularly behind a nearby summit, flooding the valley with light.
Two locations, 60 miles apart, vastly different in what they offer. And yet both full of golden, autumnal charm, with or without the help of golden hour.