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Ballintoy Harbour Moonlit Showers - Stars - Moonbow & Seals

I was eager to get doing photography however I had been house bound for days due to a bad cold/flu which had been doing the rounds which pretty much had me in bed for hours every day and night with shivers, warm sweats, a light head and all the usual side affects from such things which was really starting to get me down. More recently I was feeling a change for the better and a country walk with a friend in the fresh air really lifted my spirits and a few days later I felt my energy return and with it came a deep craving for photography. On October 2nd 2012 I did a local storm chase on Glenshane Pass and intercepted a large cell with strong radar echoes which was in the process of crossing over the Sperrins and even though it didn't have outstanding structure it did have a brutal dark gust front which made a notable impression as it passed over the car delivering heavy rainfall. Earlier this same day a supercell thunderstorm moved from the ocean over the W shore of Ireland and crossed inland for some distance producing alot of c-g lightning, this may have been the third supercell in UK/Ireland this year however there may have been other suspects, in any case the thrill of the chase and being out in nature combined with the sound of the shutter clicking gave me renewed energy to get out there and shoot something cool and it didn't matter if I was sick or not.

Roark's Cottage In Moonlight With Stars

I studied the online charts and came up with a great plan which would be plenty of fun. During the night hours of October 3rd an unstable post frontal air mass would be in place across the country with some 200 CAPE over the N and NW coasts and with showers forecast over the warmer waters of the ocean I knew there would be a good chance of getting moonlit convection and perhaps an isolated off-shore thunderstorm. In addition to this already tempting mix of ingredients was the waning gibbous moon which would be rising at 20.30 not long after darkness in the E and with its low position in the sky there would be a very good chance of catching moonbows over the ocean so there was plenty of potential on offer from nature. I left Maghera soon after sunset and found myself enjoying a great upbeat drive through the dusk sky with little in the way of traffic on the road so I felt everything was flowing nicely, even the traffic lights always seemed to be on green when I encountered them so my spirits were high. My destination was my favourite location in the entire Antrim coast called Ballintoy Harbour which is a very special and ancient location well isolated from lights and extremely dark and complimented by rich foreground interest for photography. While driving along the lone dark road outside White Park Bay I could see the large orange coloured gibbous moon rising over the horizon with striking moon illusion effect and from my perspective it seemed as if the moon was sitting on the end of the road and so close that I could drive into its vast Maria, this is something seldom seen in the country and is one of the joys of observing the sky from the flat horizon of a coastal location.

Roark's Cottage & Dusk Stars

I arrived at the harbour, waited for a shower to pass, then was immediately out setting up the camera and the sky was buzzing with moody energy. I couldn't let the opportunity pass to shoot the famous Roark's Kitchen Cottage beside the ocean, I have photographed this many times at night however on this night it looked particularly appetising lit yellow-orange by the harbour lights and contrasting with the deep blue moonlight/twilight sky just as the first stars came out. The streets of dark cumulus clouds blowing in from the ocean generated a wonderful sense of depth in the scene which really added a new dimension to the images, in both images you can see the top tower from distant shower which was trying to form a small anvil lit by the pale light from the rising moon.

Ballintoy Harbour Moonlit Clouds & Stars

I climbed down the large boulders with tripod in hand and set-up on the small beach. This is looking N over the cottage as more fleecy cumulus clouds drifted from L to R with a nice starry backdrop, you can't beat twilight and moonlit photo opportunities, the contrasting colours and the enchanting foreground in this harbour made the images look like paintings. The ocean was in a gentle mood however at times the tide lapping at the beach would suddenly surge in catching me off guard until the tripod legs where surrounded by sea water which made the photographic process alot more fun.

Ballintoy Harbour Moonlit Convection & Stars

I went for a walk around the W side of the harbour and when I passed a dark cave and rounded the corner of the cliff I saw this beautiful scene unfolding so I quickly composed the frame and began taking exposures before the moment was lost. This is facing NW at a large convective shower which earlier was near Donegal but which was now moving from Ocean to land (R to L) and getting closer. This shower was actually pretty massive for it was still some distance away and it seemed to be growing rapidly to the point where I would have called it a cell.

These were my favourite images from the night, if you are a weather or storm photographer then you can really appreciate the joy of getting convection at night in favourable light conditions. For me this was magical and nature really did come up trumps because the main body of the shower was lit white by the moon and below the distant town lights from Portballintrae lit the underside of the cell and precip core into a dramatic orange colour while above was the blue moonlit sky filled with stars which cooled the temperate for a wonderful scene. The foreground of Ballintoy and the isolated house on the shore added the icing to the cake.

Ballintoy Harbour Moonlit Showers & Stars

I was in heaven watching this, the only thing missing was a bolt of lightning. The constellations of Bootes and Corona Borealis surround the shower with bright star Arcturus like a starry beacon between the clouds. The core of the shower passed by my to the S (L) so I missed any moonbow which it produced due to the tall rock formations in that direction however I was able to watch the top of the cell as it passed near the zenith which looked breathtaking with billowing white moonlit updraughts surrounded by stars which was utterly surreal.

Roark's Cottage & Moonlit Showers With Stars

Later back near the car shooting the clouds over the cottage while waiting for new showers to form and catch a moonbow. During this time a camper van had been parked beside me and the owner had taken a great interest in what I was doing then decided to come out and join me, his name was Ian and he was from Kent and currently on holiday doing a road trip through Scotland and now N. Ireland and he agreed that Ballintoy Harbour was one of the most beautiful coastal locations he had seen, this was his second and last night staying here with his family and soon the conversation turned to photography and the sky. I showed him the earlier images I had taken of the moonlit shower and he asked if I had used camera effects on the images implying adjustments similar to photo shopping so I explained to him why the image looked the way they did due to the local lights and the effects of a time exposure and to show what I meant I took more images as he watched and he couldn't believe the results which really impressed him. He was a photographer himself since the days of film however he was new to night sky photography so this opened up a whole new world for him.

Ballintoy Harbour Moonlit Convection & Stars

His family joined us for a while despite the chilly night and I pointed out a few stars and convective clouds then explained that I was trying to catch a moonbow. Ian had never even heard of such a thing before so I described to him the natural mechanisms required to get one. The moon was less than 42 degrees high in the E I explained so if we put our backs to the moon and look over the ocean in the opposite direction we might just seen one tonight if any showers approach us. His family returned to the warmth of the camper van while Ian and I patiently waited to see what happened. Then on cue this beautiful formation of crisp moonlit towering cumulus clouds arrived from the NW which began slowly moving towards the shore, I told Ian if that rain keeps heading this way then we will be in business.

Ballintoy Harbour Moonbow

Thank you once again nature. Just before the first droplets of rain hit us we got treated to a complete long duration moonbow which stretched across the the ocean on a canvas of clouds and stars. It wasn't the brightest of moonbows by any means however it was still a moonbow all the same and as we watched we could make out subtle yellow-red and blue-white colours with the naked eye which were most striking on the N base of the bow in this image. Ian had just seen his very first moonbow, he thanked me, shook my hand, then joined is family and settled down for the night.

Roark's Cottage & Moonbow

I managed to get a portion of the moonbow in the same frame as Roark's cottage which is the first time I have ever caught a moonbow over this landmark. On a normal night this idea could have been much more stunning as the harbour lights are usually off which would have allowed me to use a longer exposure, however on this night they were on which made life more difficult for longer exposures burned out the foreground in order to catch the moonbow properly which is why this image is so bright, it was difficult to find the balance however I got a record of the event anyway. I saw more beautiful convection later from another cliff top location then I headed back home around 01.00 once the moon climbed above 42 degrees, it was a rewarding, successful, and enchanting night spent under the stars at my favourite location, and to tell you the truth I had forgotten that I was meant to be sick!.

Antrim Coast Seals

The Antrim coast hadn't yet exhausted its secrets. On October 7th Roisin and I where enjoying the peaceful isolation at Dunseverick Harbour when we spotted eight large Seals sunbathing on a distant outcrop of rocks in the sea. They where far away but with the 100-400mm lens I was able to get fairly close to them however even then I had to crop these two images in closer for a better view. It was evening time and the sun was low and casting shadows onto the rocks so the light was low for photography so I had to use a noisy ISO of 1600 to get them which is something I would hardly ever use in daytime.

Antrim Coast Seals

One was dark grey and another brown, however these two really got our attention with their black and white markings similar to a Dalmatian. The looked so cute and lazy laying there with their twitching whiskers while glancing towards the shore watching with great curiosity at the human spectators watching back at them, they seemed unaware what all the fuss was about. At one stage we saw one roll onto his back and bend his tail in the air in a big stretch then slip off the rocks into the calm water, it really was a joy to have seen these wonderful creatures. Seals, Dolphins, and Sharks visit the N. Ireland coast from time to time however this is only the second time in a number of years in which I have seen these Mammals in the wild, and quite frankly I'm hooked and want to see them again so watch this space for more images. Thanks very much for reading.


Martin McKenna

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