Epic sunrise at Murlough Bay, Northern Ireland

Landscape Photography, Murlough Bay Panorama, Northern Ireland by Stephen Dickey

Murlough Bay Panorama, County Antrim – Northern Ireland Landscape Photography by Stephen Dickey
Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L II @ 16mm, 15s @ f16, ISO 100, Lee 1.2 soft-edge graduated neutral density filter, Manfrotto tripod

It has been 5 weeks since I last had my camera out.  I have been working and travelling almost non-stop since then and although I have enjoyed viewing the landscape photography of others in that time, making the effort to capture images myself has been far from my mind.  However, mid-week I decided that ‘if the weather was good’ (an excuse I have used many times to avoid getting up at 5am!), I would take photographs on Sunday morning.

In the earlier months of the year, during which the sun rises further to the south, landscape photographers in Northern Ireland should consider the eastern coast for great light and beautiful landscapes. My favourite place is Murlough Bay near Ballycastle, another favourite being Murlough Bay in County Down!  There must be something in the name because both beaches are absolutely stunning.  The latter is a vast sandy beach, the former a rocky cove as shown in the landscape photograph below which I captured in 2008.  This is one of my favourite landscape photographs that I have taken, so much so that I have not expended much effort returning to the same location to try and improve upon it.

Landscape Photography, Murlough Bay Panorama, Northern Ireland by Stephen Dickey

One of the first things I do before any landscape photography shoot is use the Photographer’s Ephemeris.  It allows you to see where the sun will rise and set in relation to a given location and also provides other useful information such as the times of dawn, sunrise, sunset and dusk.  As I looked at the direction of sunrise for Murlough Bay on this particular morning I noticed it was very similar to the location of the sunrise in the photograph above.  I decided that of all the locations on the east coast of Northern Ireland I could go to, the rocky shore of Murlough would give me the chance to photograph an old favourite again.


On Saturday evening I went through my other regular pre-shoot checks, namely the tides and the weather. I used the ‘Tides Near Me’ app on my phone to check the tides at Ballycastle Bay, the closest recording station to Murlough Bay. This indicated that at sunrise, 7:38am, the tide would be on its way out and that it would be most easily described as a ‘mid tide,’ by which I mean it was the middle of the time between high tide and low tide. Different locations suit different tidal conditions but for the most part, photographing the coast at high tide yields the most interesting results, based on my own experience. High tide tends to hide clutter on the sea-bed and simplifies compositions, as well as the fact that the water seems to have a bit more energy at high tide.

These photographs were taken with…

This camera:Canon 6D

This lens:Canon EF 16-35mm

Using these filters:Lee Neutral Density 1.2 Filter Grad Soft-Edge

Whilst tidal conditions seemed good, the weather was looking far from perfect. The forecast was for a very thick layer of cloud to be passing through the area at sunrise and in fact it was due to be overcast for most of the morning. The only saving grace was there was absolutely no chance of rain forecast. Even in overcast conditions a landscape photographer can try and capture a beautiful image, but any rain really makes things very difficult. (That said, on days when a mixed weather front is passing through, the light between rain showers can be some of the most beautiful, having a very clear and crisp quality to it. Sometimes landscape photographers refer to this as ‘storm lighting.’)

Arriving at Murlough Bay with my friend who is also a landscape photographer, we walked along the coastal path heading north.  I couldn’t remember the exact spot I had photographed from before, but that didn’t matter, I wanted to include the beautiful coastal rocks in my photograph rather than try and replicate an old composition.  My friend decided to shoot from the pathway whilst I started the short scramble to the edge of these rocks.  As the tide was on its way out the rocks were wet and offered no grip whatsoever.  I spent a lot of money on my walking shoes and boots, but no matter how good they claim to be, nothing offers even basic levels of traction in places like this.  Using my extended tripod for support, I edged my way slowly over the rocks, wedging my feet into gaps between the rocks before slowly moving forward.  It took me at least 10 minutes to reach the point from which I took the photograph below, but yet it lies only 10 metres from the path.  This will give you some indication of just how treacherous it was.  A further 10 minutes was spent getting both myself and my tripod into a stable position from which I could safely photograph this beautiful sunrise.

To begin with there were some hints of colour in the sky, but the closer we got to sunrise the warmer the sky became, eventually reaching its peak which I captured in this landscape photograph.  Murlough Bay is shaped like an amphitheatre and the light was so warm that it almost felt tangible, like a mist hanging in the morning air, transforming the landscape which curved around me.  I can say, with certainty, that this was the most magical light I have ever photographed in.  My old photograph shows the suns orb rising, which I would have loved to have captured in this shot instead of the very cloudy sky.  However, upon reflection I realised that the cloud had acted like a sponge, soaking up all that colour and allowing me to show you, the viewer, just how beautiful and special a morning it was.  My favourite thing about this landscape photograph is the reflection of the light off the wet rocks.  It gives them an ethereal look and really visually ties the sky and foreground of this photograph together.  In order to demonstrate just how quickly the light, including its colour, changes at this time of the morning I have included a second shot taken about 5 minutes after the first one.  The colour of the light has changed considerably and altered the whole feeling of the scene.  This shows just how important it is to be early for a sunrise, setting up whilst it is still quite dark so that you can capture every colour and mood that the morning throws at you.  Had I not been to this location before, or at least spent time researching it, I think it would have been impossible to capture this image as finding a good composition in low light isn’t easy!

Landscape Photography, Murlough Bay Sunrise by Stephen Dickey

Landscape Photography, Murlough Bay Sunrise by Stephen Dickey

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