April 2014, 04:30, the alarm sounds. Ordinarily, the thought of getting up at this hour would be insane. Stay in a nice cosy bed, why don’t you? It’s freezing cold outside, are you crazy? But this time it was different, my first ever sunrise shoot at Glendalough, Co Wicklow with my shiny new D800 camera, yay!
I was keen to get out and try manual shooting for myself, having recently completed a superb workshop in Connemara with ExploreLight. As a beginner, I was amongst some very experienced photographers, but thankfully I was expertly and patiently guided by Peter and Ed. I may have been in at the deep end, but I learned fast and it was worth every minute.
Glendalough is about an hour from where I lived in Dublin, and I wanted to be there in good time to experience the ‘blue hour’ before sunrise, due at 06:24. The pre-sunrise sky can often be stunning, the blue tones coupled with some early morning mist can add amazing atmosphere to a scene.
I parked the car a 20-minute walk from Upper Lake. Hat and gloves on, photography gear in hand, I set off along the Green Road walk. I passed the historical Monastic City and tried not to let my imagination run wild! Do ghosts lie in wait for photographers, ready to ambush and steal their gear? I walked on, albeit at a brisk pace.
Unsurprisingly, there was not a soul living or dead in sight and there’s something quite awe inspiring about the Green Road approach to Upper Lake. In the twilight there were glimpses of the lake ahead through the trees, but once I arrived at the shore the breath-taking view of the valley was revealed in all its glory!
In any weather this view is magnificent, but especially at 6am with the whole place to myself. There was a cool breeze and only the sound of distant waterfalls broke the silence. After taking a moment to be present and enjoy the scene before me, I then realised the problem photographically…that lovely cool breeze.
Glendalough is famous for its reflections, the valley sides gloriously reflected mirror-like upon the lake’s surface – although I am sure the resident ducks just wait for an opportunity to photo-bomb those perfect calm waters. I love ducks! On this particular morning, the breeze was wreaking havoc with those reflections and no sign of light in the cloudy sky.
At this moment it would have been easy to just instantly give up, walk back to the car and go home for a nice breakfast. I mean, there’s no light and no nice reflections so it’s a waste of time hanging around, right? Wrong! One thing I learned fast is to never ever give up. If those perfect conditions you hoped for don’t materialise, just wait and get creative. There’s usually a shot to be had. Just a dash of light can transform a scene and salvage a shoot. Landscape photography is most definitely a game of patience, so I waited…
Sunrise came and went, the ‘golden hour’ after sunrise came and went, I received some nice cheery hellos from friendly folks walking their dogs, then the cloud started to break. Behind me to the east, it allowed the morning sunshine to enter the valley and catch the trees either side of the lake. Ahead of me to the west, a glimpse of blue sky and a dash of light touched the lake. Delighted, I set a 5 second exposure to help smooth the water and took the shot, entitled Glendalough Morning.
Worth the early start and patience. It was coffee time!