Capturing the Causeway

There are only a handful of truly extraordinary landscapes in the world; the places that postcards go on holiday to see. The Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland is one of them

Giant's Causeway, County Antrim
Giant's Causeway, County Antrim

When TripAdvisor listed its 10 Most Dramatic Landscapes in 2012, the Giant’s Causeway calmly held its own between epic deserts and salt flats.

The moment your eyes fall on the 40,000 hexagonal basalt columns, sliding into the sea like dark stone steps into bubbling foamy waves, is a jaw-dropping one. You’re going to want to high-five nature, call your old geology teacher to say “you were right, rocks CAN be awesome!” and pull out your camera all at the same time.

Not so fast. There are tricks to capturing the visual wonderment through the lens. We asked the experts how to get it right.

The Giant’s Causeway
The Giant’s Causeway

Chris Hill is an award-winning landscape photographer who counts the Causeway as one of his favourite subjects. His secret for capturing that misty magic in his image above is waiting for sunset.

“The Causeway always looks best during the last two hours of the sun. In spring and autumn it comes in from the side and turns the columns a beautiful golden colour. If the sea is rough it always makes for a better photo.”

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But what about Ireland’s famously tempestuous skies, liable to change colour quicker than a mood ring?

 Giant’s Causeway

Landscape maestro and County Down man Simon Brown is well used to these conditions, and his advice is to work with them.

“Don't be put off by dark skies,” he says. “They can add atmosphere to a shot.” For the smooth wave effect in the photo above, his trick was “use a long shutter speed to capture the movement of the waves".

All the pros agree that patience is not only a virtue, but also a necessity in landscape photography.

Luckily veteran Chris Hill has it in spades.

Giant’s Causeway 

“It's true to say I waited 30 years to take this shot,” he says of his brilliant scene of the Causeway's basalt columns capped with snow.

That’s not to mention the travel difficulties winter weather means: “It’s not an easy place to get to in the snow – especially when you live 60 miles away." But once you’ve got patience, then warm clothes, good boots and a tripod are all you need.

The biggest struggle for professionals is the fact that a place like the Causeway has been photographed hundreds of thousands of times before.

Giant’s Causeway 

When Brian Morrison got his most recent Causeway commission, he knew it would be hard to get an angle that hadn’t been seen already. His solution was simple: to put people in the picture.

“I wanted to show people in exploring the stones,” he explains.

“The sun was low in the sky, about an hour away from setting so I decided to go with a silhouette. This meant that I could keep the exposure of the light on the stones and while getting interesting shapes with the people in the foreground and headlands in the distance”.

With a wide-angle lens, a polarizer to enhance the contrast and ISO set at 100 (maximum quality), he used a fast shutter to snap the figures passing the sun. The result is a striking new way to see the Causeway, and one that lets you imagine yourself standing there.  

So if you learn anything from the professionals, it should be to find your own angle when you want to capture a place so famously photogenic. After that, it’s just a matter of dark skies and a tripod, right?

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