As the sun settles below a passing storm toward the horizon, rainbows appear above the Cliffs of Moher
I can’t recall where I first remember seeing the Cliffs of Moher, but I immediately put photographing them on my bucket list. When I started planning our trip to Ireland I knew that I had to have at least one sunset to try to capture some of their beauty.
As it turned out, we would visit the Cliffs on two separate occasions while in the west of Ireland. And the first trip seemed even more promising than the second. As part of the tour that we were taking for the middle six days of our time in Ireland, we would load onto a boat in a nearby town and view the cliffs from the sea. Needless to say, I brought my gear along looking forward to some iconic shots. Unfortunately, the day that the boat trip occurred, the weather was rainy and the sea was turbulent. I’m not much of a seagoing guy, but I think even the locals looked at us as a bit crazy for boarding a boat in the weather we had that day. Here’s a shot of a passing boat headed on our same route or as a ferry to one of the outlying islands.
A ferry boat headed to the Cliffs of Moher on a stormy Irish afternoon
Notice the gray skies, the fact that very few people are onboard, and that everyone who is onboard is covered head to toe in rain gear. And when we ran into the wind the waves piled up in front of us and it was an extremely rough ride. We did end up with some pretty amazing views of the cliffs, but they were so shrouded in fog that it just didn’t make a great shot. Not to mention I was terrified that the sea spray would corrode my camera and lenses.
Fortunately for me, Pamela and I had scheduled our final two nights in Ireland to stay on the coast within easy driving distance of the Cliffs in the town of Lahinch. As we made our way up from the Dingle Peninsula towards Lahinch, the weather was rainy and windy. It was beautiful weather in which to see the lush Irish countryside but not so conducive to hiking and making photographs. We were just looking forward to getting to our hotel and having a warm, dry place to lay our head for the night. But, I still kept an eye on the weather just in case the sun might make a late afternoon appearance and spread some golden light on the Cliffs of Moher.
As it turned out, that is close to what happened. My long-suffering wife saw me looking wistfully out the window at dinner and quickly agreed to take a drive up the coast just in case the light might get good. Isolated storms were sweeping up the coast but moved on quickly and sometimes let brief glimpses of the sun and blue sky overhead appear. We made it to the parking lot of the Cliffs just as another small squall moved through the area. It wasn’t looking good. But, we put on our rain jackets and I strapped on my Think Tank Trifecta 10 bag and tripod and we began the walk up to the viewpoints.
Once we set up it became apparent that there was a small shot that the sun would make an appearance that night. We could see squalls moving across the landscape but they were spotty and sunlight was definitely hitting parts of the landscape in the distance. So, we began the wait for magic light.
In Ireland in midsummer the sunset doesn’t happen until nearly 10:00 at night. We were probably there by 8:30. Once I had picked the ‘right’ spot, I set up my gear, got my rain covers ready, and started looking for the right light. I had two bodies ready. I had my D700 with a 70-200 2.8 lens and a D800 on a tripod with my 24-70 2.8 on it. I was shooting wide with the D800 and a bit more localized with the D700.
Amazingly, as one of the storms rolled by overhead, the sun began to break through behind. I don’t know that I ever actually saw the sun, but it would occasionally light up the entire foreground, the cliffs, and the landscape beyond. And, as often happens in these conditions, rainbows began to form! At first Pamela and I both thought we could see a weak rainbow, but as the storm clouds moved by it became more and more vibrant. Then, a second smaller rainbow formed. I started shooting as quickly as possible making as many different compositions as possible. I bracketed exposures, shot with a neutral density filter, shot with a polarizer, and sometimes with a combination of all of those. I wanted to capture the moment as well as possible making sure I had enough images to capture the ever shifting mood of the scene.
Finally, the sun settled behind some clouds on the horizon. I never had the warm glow of the setting sun on the Cliffs of Moher that I had envisioned. But, I had my own unique version of the Cliffs – two rainbows and a dramatic stormy sky overhead. Overall, it was a magical and memorable evening. I hope this image conveys some sense of the magic that we felt that midsummer evening at the Cliffs of Moher.