New Brighton Lighthouse, United Kingdom

Back in England, we headed towards Liverpool, where we planned to photograph another stretch of coast and another lighthouse. This one was the decommissioned New Brighton Lighthouse, which was built in the early 1800s and was in use until 1973.

New Brighton Lighthouse in the Evening, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 17mm, aperture f/9, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Unlike the Fanad Lighthouse, which stands on a jagged, rocky coast, the New Brighton Lighthouse sits on a sandy beach. It sits where Liverpool Bay the River Mersey meets, and although it is no longer necessary to guide ships away from the shore, the lighthouse is still meticulously maintained and is a historic landmark.

The coastline here was not the dramatic coast of Donegal. Standing among the rock formations near Liverpool Bay, the sea didn’t feel ominous or threatening. The water was a welcoming presence and I imagined families coming here for picnics and looking for shells in the shallows. The lighthouse, once a guardian and guide, is now merely a reminder of another time, a draw for modern-day photographers rather than a guide for seafarers. I found myself again lost in thought, thinking of the not-so-distant past.

Among the photographs I took of the lighthouse, I discovered during processing that one of my colleagues made it into a shot. My first instinct was to scrap this shot, since my purpose was to capture the lighthouse and not my traveling companions. But on second thought, I liked the image. It shows the scale of the lighthouse, and the comparatively tiny stature of my colleague suggests the vulnerability of humans against the sea.

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Fanad Lighthouse in the Evening, Ireland

Our next stop in Ireland was along the coast of County Donegal, in the Republic. Donegal is remote and it takes a bit of effort to get there, but the reward is one of the most strikingly beautiful stretches of coastline I’ve ever seen. The Atlantic here can be savage and unpredictable, and the rugged coastline reflects its long, frequently tumultuous past with the sea.

Fanad Lighthouse in the Evening, County Donegal, Ireland
Panorama from 2 horizontal shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 60 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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We made our way to the Fanad Peninsula, which is one of the few remaining Gaeltachts, or Irish-speaking regions, left in the Republic. The windswept peninsula feels far removed from the modern world and the ancient tongue spoken by many of the people there only adds to the feeling of having stepped into the distant past.

The entire peninsula is beautiful and untamed, and popular with photographers as a result. The Fanad Lighthouse, in particular, is a popular location for photo shoots because it’s framed by rugged cliffs. In Ireland, the weather can change dramatically in a short period of time and it’s often said that you can experience all four seasons in one day. While shooting on the peninsula, we found this to be true: in the span of a few days, we experienced stormy skies, roaring ocean waves, vibrant sunsets, and rainbows. No matter the weather, the Donegal coastline was breathtaking.

We returned to the lighthouse over several days, shooting in different light and in different weather conditions, hoping to get the perfect shot. This one, with the faint hues of a rainbow over the lighthouse and the sky lit by a distant sunset, is my favorite of the lighthouse shots. I think it captures the dramatic beauty of Ireland’s coast and its ever-changing conditions. Those conditions almost cost me some of my equipment, by the way. While photographing between the rocks, I caught the full force of a wave as it washed over me — and my camera! Fortunately, both camera and photographer survived.

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Panorama of Giant Causeway, Northern Ireland

As it happens, I wasn’t the only one whose mind took a mystical turn at the sight of the Giant’s Causeway. The place has inspired myths and legends from time immemorial and the most persistent is the one which gives the causeway its name.

Panorama of Giant Causeway in the Evening, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Panorama from 5 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 71 seconds, ISO 320, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Ireland is a place with a rich culture of legends and folklore dating back to the ancient Celts. One of the most well-known figures from Irish mythology is Fionn MacCool, a giant. According to legend, MacCool had a feud with the Scottish giant Benandonner, who challenged MacCool to fight him. MacCool built the causeway between Ireland and Scotland so that the two giants could meet, but realizing that Benandonner was much larger than he expected, MacCool was hidden by his wife, Oonagh. Oonagh disguised her husband as a baby and tucked him in a large cradle. When Benandonner crossed the water and found the sleeping “baby,” he was terrified and concluded that if the baby was that large, his father must be a giant among giants. Benandonner then retreated to Scotland, pulling up the stones of the causeway as he went.

It’s a fantastical story, but the otherworldly landscape of the coast is the kind of place that inspires such thinking. Looking out over the water — where, on a clear day, you can just see the coast of Scotland — I can imagine ancient people, prone to colorful tales and with a love of the spoken word, crafting a story worthy of such a magical place. Ireland is bewitching, a place that captures your heart as well as your imagination.

After a few days, the other photographers and I left Northern Ireland, as we had other destinations to explore. But the Giant’s Causeway is a place that will linger in my memory for years to come, I’m certain. In all of my travels, I’ve never seen another place quite like it.

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Giant Causeway in the Evening, Northern Ireland

Two months after my children returned from England, I returned to that part of the world as part of a group of photographers who would travel to England, Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland to photograph landscapes. I knew from my time in the United Kingdom earlier in the year that that part of the world was a dream destination for landscape photography. With mountains, wild coastlines, and lush green countryside, I knew it would be a productive trip.

Panorama of Giant Causeway in the Evening, Northern Ireland, United Kingdom
Panorama from 2 horizontal shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 13 seconds, ISO 31, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Northern Ireland’s Antrim Coast quickly became one of my favorite destinations on the trip. It’s a strikingly beautiful part of the world where ancient castles dot the countryside and each bend in the road seems to reveal a misty glen. It was hard not to be charmed by this beautiful land.

I found one of the most picturesque spots on the Antrim Coast at the Giant’s Causeway. It’s a landscape from a fantasy and unlike any other place I’d ever seen. The causeway is made up of thousands of octagonal basalt columns of varying heights that lead, like stepping stones, down into the sea. The columns were formed millions of years ago, when Antrim was the site of intense volcanic activity. When lava forced its way up out of the earth, it eventually cooled, and as it cooled, cracks formed, which created the columns.

As a man of the twenty-first century, I understand how the Giant’s Causeway was formed. I have enough knowledge of science to understand the processes that went into the column’s formation. But just the same, there is something about that place — about all of Ireland, really — that puts me in mind once again of distant, lost worlds. Wandering along the jagged Antrim coastline and its mysterious columns that lead down under the water’s surface, I found myself again lost in reverie, imagining an ancient people dancing underneath a night sky.

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Man O’War Beach, United Kingdom

Returning to Lulworth Cove just as the sun was starting to set, I decided to wander a bit more in the area and see what other natural wonders Dorset would reveal to me. In my years as a travel photographer, I’ve learned that sometimes the best photographs are the unexpected ones, images made of places that you never intended to find.

Man O'War Beach in the Evening, Dorset, United Kingdom
Single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 29mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 32 seconds, ISO 200, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Near Durdle Door, I found one of those places. The small, horseshoe-shaped cove ringed by Man O’War Beach was a place I had somehow managed to miss earlier in my trip. Now I found the small inlet lit by the fading sunlight of a late afternoon, a pink haze falling over the horizon. I was grateful to see it colored by sunset.

I made my way down the cliffs and onto the pebble beach. I knew there were other travelers nearby; I could hear voices and traces of laughter in the distance. But I felt very much alone, as if I were the last person on earth. This wasn’t melancholy; I was perfectly at peace and content to be alone, to see this small sliver of England’s coast without the distraction of other people. At the end of what was sometimes a challenging trip, those blue hour moments at Man O’War Beach were an unexpected coda, serene and lit by a fading sun.

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Stack Rocks in the Morning, South Wales

As the days passed, I explored more of Wales’s southern coast, becoming more charmed by it each day. Though getting to some of the area’s most scenic points often involved additional planning and extra effort, it was worth it; the landscape was ruggedly beautiful and I had the sense that I was standing on the edge of the world.

Stack Rocks in the Morning, Pembrokeshire, South Wales, United Kingdom
Panorama from 3 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 61 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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Near the Green Bridge I found the Stack Rocks, two limestone pillars that once formed an arch themselves. Seeing the two formations in such proximity to each other made for a fascinating glimpse of the workings of nature, a sort of before and after image of the effects of time and the sea on the coast. One day — likely in the very distant future — the elements will take their toll on the Green Bridge and it, too, will remain only as stacks.

The trip and the Pembroke coast continually led me to whimsical frames of mind. Getting to the Stack Rocks required traveling winding, narrow roads only wide enough for one car at a time. Driving through the rural, largely unpopulated countryside, I encountered more animals than people. In the beams of the car’s headlights, rabbits, foxes, and even a badger darted across the road. I began to think back to one of my favorite childhood books, “The Wind in the Willows,” by Kenneth Grahame. It seemed that at any moment, I might encounter Toad in his motorcar.

I took many photographs at Stacks Rocks, but this is my favorite. I think it captures the solitary beauty of that part of Pembroke, and the misty, otherworldly quality that left me imagining characters from my childhood as well as legends of old.

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Green Bridge in the Morning, Pembrokeshire

Arranging transportation to the Green Bridge was only one of the obstacles I faced on this shoot. As I discovered after my arrival in Pembroke, the area lies within the Castlemartin army tank range, and on certain days, tourist access to the area was closed because of tank firing. I’ve photographed some rather inaccessible places and had traversed steep, winding cliff paths to get a shot, but the Green Bridge was beginning to feel impossible.

Green Bridge in the Morning, Pembrokeshire, South Wales, United Kingdom
Panorama from 3 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 60 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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There was no schedule that I could find regarding the army training, and I certainly didn’t want to inadvertently find myself in the sights of a tank gunner. Eventually I found that the Pembroke tourist office maintains a schedule for the tank range within the nearest two or three days. The tourist office informed me that the Green Bridge was open to tourists for at least the next day. Finally, it seemed I would reach my destination after all.

I photographed the bridge from every possible angle, hoping that I’d be satisfied with at least a few of the shots. As it happened, I’d picked a good day to see the bridge. It was early in the day and the bridge was shrouded in mist from the crushing waves; it made for a particularly atmospheric image. Again my mind wandered to distant worlds.

One day, the same forces that created the bridge will bring about its end. Time and the inexorable power of the sea will wear away the stone arch, or possibly send it crumbling into the bay. But that time was far away, and for the present, I was content to have the ancient formation to myself and to look out over a misty seascape from my rocky overlook.

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Green Bridge in the Morning, South Wales

My week in Dorset came to an end and I traveled to South Wales, a somewhat complicated journey that involved a train from Brighton, where my children were in school, to London, then a train from London to Cardiff, another from Cardiff to Swansea, and finally a train ride from Swansea to Pembroke. The trip took most of a day, and I hoped that it would be worth the effort.

Green Bridge in the Morning, Pembrokeshire, South Wales, United Kingdom
Panorama from 3 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 61 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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In South Wales, my plan was to visit the famous Pembroke coast, another scenic stretch of coastline known for its dramatic rock formations. My first stop was the Green Bridge, a dramatic arch extending into the Wash Bay. But unlike the Durdle Door, which does indeed resemble a welcoming entryway, the Green Arch was jagged and formidable. Though they were created by the same forces of water and time, the sea formed the Durdle Door with a comparatively gentle hand. The Green Arch appeared to have been battered by an angry sea. Reaching some 20 meters into the sea and with a height of 24 meters, the arch is an impressive sight.

It takes some effort to reach the arch. There are no accommodations nearby; the nearest was ten miles away, which is too far to reach on foot each morning and evening. And since I wanted to photograph the arch at dawn, walking there would mean leaving my hotel in the middle of the night, even if I had been willing to walk 20 miles a day. Instead, I called all the taxi services in the area and finally found one that would pick me up at 5AM and bring me back to my hotel at 7AM.

Arriving at the Green Bridge in early morning, before the previous night’s mist was burned away by the sun, I realized that all of the extra effort was worthwhile. I had the Green Bridge to myself and found the best views on an overlook high above the sea. Cloaked in mist from crushing waves, the bridge almost appeared to float over the water, beckoning like an entrance into another realm. I wondered what ancient people — without our understanding of science — believed about this place. I imagine they believed it be carved by some sea-dwelling god who, in a final bit of whimsy, pierced through the jagged stone with his mighty hand.

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Durdle Door in the Morning, United Kingdom

After wandering in Swanage for several days, I made my way to Lulworth Cove, another picturesque spot along England’s Jurassic Coast. In a particularly scenic bit of England, the scallop-shaped cove and its pebble beach are an especially lovely place.

Durdle Door in the Morning, Dorset, United Kingdom
Single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 42 seconds, ISO 31, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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The cove, like the rest of the Jurassic Coast, was formed thousands of years ago. It’s believed that the cove’s formation began roughly 10,000 years ago, carved out of the coastline by the relentless power of water. And the coastline there is still changing, its chalky surfaces continually eroded by the sea and the passage of time.

Close by the cove is one of the area’s most beloved landmarks, Durdle Door. The door is a natural limestone arch that rises almost vertically out of the water, its creation the result of softer rock being gradually worn away by the sea until this bit of the coast was pierced through by the sea. Scientists estimate that the arch was formed some 140 million years ago. It boggles the mind.

The logical part of my brain understands how this process worked. But there is something about this part of England that encourages illogical thinking, something that draws my mind into fantastical places. Arriving at Durdle Door early in the day, before the inevitable tourists and hillwalkers, I again found myself imagining the area inhabited by sorcerers and druids, casting their spells and telling their tales underneath a night sky. Along this ancient stretch of coastline fossils emerge from time to time, gradually revealing the landscape’s history. And walking in this antediluvian country, it isn’t difficult to get lost in reverie, imagining a world far removed from the temporal realm.

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Old Harry Rocks in the Morning, Dorset

Perhaps it’s because I grew up reading the Arthurian legends, but for me, the English countryside and its jagged coastline has always inspired images of sorcerers and high priestesses from another time. There is something about the deep green of the landscape — seemingly untouched by modernity — blanketed under a veil of mist that brings to mind Morgana Le Fay, using her incantations to both protect and bewitch men.

Old Harry Rocks in the Morning, Dorset, United Kingdom
Single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 36mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 13 seconds, ISO 31, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

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It isn’t difficult to find oneself bewitched by the Dorset coast. It isn’t often that you come face to face with that kind of physical manifestation of history — millions of years’ reflected in the chalky white of Dorset’s cliffs. The Old Harry Rocks have eroded in places over the millennia, but it’s still a striking sight, and the knowledge that these formations have stood along the southern coast of England for more than 60 million years leaves me awestruck.

I came back to the Old Harry Rocks each morning for several days, hoping to capture in a photograph something of the mystical quality that England possesses for me. I approached the rocks from different angles, careful to notice changes in the light and the way that it fell on the faces of the rocks. From any angle, the rocks were a brilliant white against the blues and greens of the country’s coast, and no matter how I approached them, their magic held.

One of the legends surrounding the name of the Old Harry Rocks is that the Devil (once referred to as “Old Harry”) took a nap on the pinnacle of the rocks, and locals bestowed the name in his honor. But I think I prefer my own myths of the rocks — I like to think that among these ancient formations there once dwelled high kings and enchantresses, and that their whispered incantations still linger in the mists.

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