If I’d got to the Dark Hedges pre-dawn as intended, they might have appeared as dark as their name suggests. But the light-coloured beech trunks and even just a hint of morning sunshine made this tunnel of trees a fairly light and airy one, not spooky at all.
Spookier is the fact that the number of trees has practically halved since they were first planted in the late 18th century, some through storm damage, but also as the flux of visitors has intensified.
Early one morning looking out from Ballintoy towards Sheep Island, I wondered how the island got its name, since it has no sheep, and doesn’t look like a sheep, but apparently has a lot of cormorants and other seabirds. Mind you, as for everywhere else around here, a nice wool jumper would definitely come in handy if you were ever to go there (unlikely, since it’s uninhabited, and a Special Protection Area), even in summer.
The Seabird Centre at Rathlin West Lighthouse, whose light flickers in the distance, has plenty of birds too, including the tiny puffins that people love to photograph. But the puffins had all gone by August. The tourists and seagulls certainly hadn’t.
But back at the port it proved fairly easy to find a quiet place for a restorative cup of tea (or was it a late afternoon gin?) and an even quieter spot a short walk away to enjoy the peculiar mix of sunshine and ominous clouds to be had around these parts. Far too hot for a wool jumper on Rathlin Island that day, while we heard that it lashed buckets in Ballintoy all day.
Who said you have to suffer for your art?
No more backpack-laden uphill hikes pre-sunrise for me. I’ve had it up to here with standing around in loch-side mud getting chewed by midges. It has finally dawned on me that I’m no longer interested in putting up with endless hours in the rain and howling winds without sleep, food, relaxation or wine in the name of landscape photography. Same goes for the effort involved in trying to keep up with the exaggerated strides of blokes 2 metres tall, each with 3 cameras, 10 lenses and 2 tripods in their backpacks, as on The day I landed on Mars.
Landscape photography tours and workshops can be wonderfully inspiring thanks to the places you visit and the input and feedback provided by the workshop leader. The people you meet and exchange information, views and ideas with can also make all the difference. But do we need to experience extremes or push ourselves to physical limits in order to create interesting images?
These were my thoughts when I came across an “impressionist photography” workshop in Giverny arranged in summer 2019 by photography workshop leader Cheryl Hamer. It sounded just what I wanted: a peaceful rural location, a small group, no early morning rises, no long hikes to extreme locations in wild climatic conditions. Just an unexplored photographic technique for me to learn about and practise (multiple exposures with an impressionist effect). Plus I love French food, wine, the sounds of the French language, and Monet’s water lily paintings.
In the stunning setting of Monet’s garden at Giverny, Cheryl’s clear input and supportive feedback, both of which came in just the right doses at the right time, provided plenty of opportunities for creating images in Monet’s garden. The fact that this particular group turned out to be made up of lovely, friendly people with a sense of humour who also appreciated pain-free photography in a relaxing environment was an unexpected bonus.
Not that I’ll be giving away my midge net, wellies or rainproofs yet though: Northern Ireland is my next stop.
The high spot of the trip was the frozen Pericnik Waterfall. Brrrr…
A fair bit of puffing and panting took place on the way up in the snow, but I’d do it again any day… with a lighter backpack 😜
The picturesque Church of Saint John the Baptist at Lake Bohinj.
Yes it’s a peaceful view, but this a popular corner at Lake Bohinj, even on cold and cloudy winter evenings. The view to my right had a dozen people or more milling around admiring the ducks. To my left, this. As I set up the shot, knees buried in the snow, I could hear people approaching behind me, making their way towards the hut and pier in this scene. Peace doesn’t last.
Even standing more or less still for a couple of hours or more in sub-zero temperatures, somehow you just don’t feel the cold.
The touch of warm colour in the sky as sunset approached probably helped.