Seated beside the crackling logs within the former crofter’s cottage transformed into an Air BnB, I meticulously reviewed the weather forecast for the upcoming morning. The outlook appeared relatively favourable – dry conditions with some clouds, albeit accompanied by a brisk wind. Despite the windy forecast, there was a glimmer of hope for a vibrant sky and the chance to witness the sun’s ascent. My focus settled on the vicinity surrounding Callanish, and a firm decision crystallized in my mind to return there and capture the sunrise once again.
The peculiar atmosphere of this location always struck me. Standing alone amidst the ancient stones erected five millennia ago, the historical resonance was nothing short of mind-boggling. The notion of a timescale spanning 5,000 years seemed almost incomprehensible to me. As they say, the past is a different country, but 5,000 years might as well be an entirely different planet!
Anticipating the morning ahead, I roused myself and dressed by 7 am. A steaming cup of tea awaited me in a thermal mug with a sealed lid – a practical choice for sipping on the go as I drove southward. With sunrise expected around 8:15, and dawn breaking roughly 30 minutes earlier, I aimed to reach the site by 7:30. This early arrival would afford me ample time to set up and prepare for the unfolding spectacle.
Upon reaching the location and parking my vehicle, I observed that solitude accompanied me. The wind, forceful and unyielding, prompted me to bundle up warmly. The stones, elevated slightly above the surrounding terrain, left me exposed to the elements, emphasizing the need for extra layers against the buffeting winds.
Stepping out of the vehicle, I retrieved my tripod and camera bag from the back seat. My journey led me beyond the information board, guiding me towards a small, galvanized steel access gate. Progressing along the track, my attention was drawn to a dark-coloured Mercedes People Carrier traversing the road parallel to the perimeter fence. It came to a stop in the car park, a mere 5 meters from my own parked vehicle. Intuition signalled that my solitude amidst the stones would soon be disrupted.
The side door of the Mercedes slid open, disgorging a group of seven or eight photographers. With swift efficiency, they gathered their gear and proceeded along the path I had just traversed. Having claimed the first arrival advantage, I had the luxury of choosing my shooting location. Opting for a wide composition that suited my vision, I positioned myself with the hope of capturing the rising sun above the tallest of the stones.
A workshop led by Lee Frost had also arrived, journeying over from Tarbert, located further to the south on Harris. Engaging in a brief conversation with a couple of his clients, who stood beside me, we found ourselves assisting one another in bracing each other’s tripods while retrieving and stowing various equipment in our camera bags to prevent mishaps in the gusty winds.
Low clouds adorned the horizon, affectionately dubbed “Yorkshire Cloud” by me, a source of frustration for us Lancastrians, as they appear at the most inopportune moment to ruin a shot. The presence of these clouds complicated the task of predicting the exact location of the sunrise, ruling out the possibility of capturing the sun seemingly perched on one of the stones – an image I had entertained in my mind’s eye. Nevertheless, it contributed to a vibrant and ever-changing sunrise as the clouds traversed the landscape. Though I hoped for the sun to pierce through the cloud gaps, the alignment between the two never materialized. Despite this, I managed to capture some sunrays, a welcome addition that I aimed to enhance in post-processing.
The powerful and unyielding wind required me to adopt a crouched posture to protect the camera and tripod from its ceaseless force. Positioned to the east, I was fortunate to have my back shielding me from the strong westerly wind. This wind gained even more intensity as it swept up the small escarpment behind me, amplifying its speed through the venturi effect created by the surrounding topography.
Although I find joy in this historically significant place, I view it as a singular opportunity for landscape photography. While it is conceivable to capture detailed close-ups of the stones, the abundance of other photographers documenting the sunrise dissuaded me from encroaching on their shots. As the sun climbed higher, the colours slowly diminished, and the light grew more intense, acquiring a harsh quality. The ephemeral moment had elapsed. Acknowledging that lingering would offer no more vibrant or dramatic scenes, and feeling the fatigue brought on by the relentless wind, I considered the prospect of packing up.
As some members of Lee’s group had already decided to call it a day and headed back to their vehicle, I found myself on the brink of stowing away my camera. In that uncertain moment, I hesitated, fearful of missing an unexpected spectacle. After a minute or two of scanning the sky and surroundings, anticipating cloud gaps or passing rainstorms to add a touch of drama, my hopes were dashed. The camera was carefully detached from the tripod and securely placed into the rucksack. Folding the tripod to a manageable height marked the beginning of the trek back to the car park. The impending drive back to the crofter’s cottage Airbnb loomed ahead, accompanied by daydreams of bacon sandwiches and steaming hot mugs of tea swirling through my mind.