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by Andy McInroy
Photograph Of The Month - November 2008

East Lighthouse, Altacarry, Rathlin Island, County Antrim
IR394, East Lighthouse, Altacarry, Rathlin Island, County Antrim
A Landscape Weekend
on Rathlin Island

In late September I spent an enjoyable weekend on Rathlin Island with several members of the Photography Ireland web forum. Landscape photography can sometimes be a lonely pastime so it was a pleasant change to be able to enjoy the company of some like-minded photographers in such an inspiring setting.

Rathlin Island lies three miles off the north Antrim coast and is positioned as a stepping-stone between Ireland and Scotland. The island is surrounded by a line of almost continuous cliffs which give it a wild and rugged feel. One of the aims of my visit was to explore and photograph some of the magnificent sea caves to include in my current project. You might like to read that new chapter for an insight into Rathlin's dark and secret halls (The Caves of Rathlin Island and the Hunt for Bruce's Cave). However, the visit also gave us an opportunity to sample Rathlin's fine landscapes above ground too.

After a damp first day, we consoled ourselves in the Manor House bar where we were inspired again by a fine photograph on the wall. The photograph was of a magnificent sunrise behind the east lighthouse at Altacarry and we decided to make an early start the next morning in the hope of similar conditions.

It was with some disappointment that we awoke at 6am to the heavy patter of rain. It felt like the middle of the night as we cycled down the track to the harbour through the rain. As the rain eased, our spirits started to lift and we pressed on uphill and over the moor towards the old coastguard lookout station. As the first light of day began to break through the clearing cloud we could sense a change to the east where the first signs of colour were starting to appear on the horizon. We quickened our pace to position ourselves in time for the rising sun. The old coastguard lookout proved to be a superb vantage point over the long line of cliffs towards Altacarry lighthouse at the eastern end of the island. In the distance, we could see the coastline of Scotland where the sun was slowly rising out from behind the Mull of Kintyre.

As the sky gained colour, our chatter stopped and the clicks of our cameras were the only noise in the breeze. I decided to use the long end of my standard zoom lens to bring the lighthouse a little bit closer and focus attention on the more interesting parts of the sky. I also placed a weak 2 stop neutral density graduate filter over the lens to balance the exposure between the brighter sky and the darker cliffs. Initially I had some trouble timing my photographs to the flashes of the lighthouse and after several failed attempts at capturing flashes I decided a longer exposure was needed. I attached a solid 3 stop neutral density filter to the camera which slowed down the exposure to 1.5 seconds. By timing my release I was able to capture 2 full flashes in these exposures which gave a good, bright point of flare. As a finishing touch, a ship in the distance entered the frame in the nick of time.

With this photograph taken, the colour gradually started to drain from the sky and our moment was over. I stood for a while in the fresh dawn air and contemplated this magnificent landscape view. In the distant east I could just make out the shores of the Ayrshire coastline of Scotland where I was born. As I turned to the south I could see the coastline of Northern Ireland where I now live. It was fascinating to stand in a place where I was able to strongly connect my old Scottish roots to my new life in Ireland.

With that moment of quiet contemplation ended, it was time to contemplate breakfast. We headed back to the B&B for fine helpings of sausage and eggs.

If my article has inspired you to visit Rathlin, I can recommend Paul Quinn as a guide who offers walking tours of the island. You can visit his webpage at www.rathlinwalkingtours.com.

Technical Details
Date/Time: 7.04am 28th September 2008
Aperture: F8
Exposure time: 1.5 seconds
Focal Length: 45mm
Lens: Pentax 16-45mm DA
Camera: Pentax K10D
Support: Tripod
Filtration: 2 stop neutral density graduated filter (to balance exposure)
3 stop neutral density filter (to lengthen exposure)

Other photos from the weekend
Landscape Photograph
Landscape Photograph
Landscape Photograph
Landscape Photograph

Text and photos © Andy McInroy