White Sea at Hook Head

February 21, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

Given the good results of my storm chase to Clare at the end of January, Tom and myself decided to try again on Saturday 8 February - for the second last storm of the stormiest winter in decades. The strongest winds were forecast for the south west and south coasts, so we headed to Hook Head in Co. Wexford, only a little over two hours from Shankill. 

It wasn’t particularly stormy on the way down but that all changed where our route met the sea at Churchtown – about 500m short of the Lighthouse  – there was a deep blanket of foam on the road and it was like driving through a whiteout! The first few shots were taken with my pocket camera, a Canon S90, before we braved the foamy blizzard. Shooting in these conditions is slow work given the need, firstly, to stay safe and secondly to keep yourself and your gear at least moderately dry and steady. Even before we got out, we had to face the car into the wind to avoid the risk of damage to the door hinges if the wind caught the car doors  – but then it was really hard to open them to get out! We worked the low cliffs in this area – well back from the edges! – trying to get the best composition and avoiding foam splatters on the lenses – it was a good day for my protective UV filter! The next two shots from this location were my favourites - the sea was almost entirely white and slightly eerie looking as the thick coating of foam had a slight calming effect on the breakers – but they still crashed furiously onto the rocks!

Eventually it was time to warm up and, after a very welcome cup of tea and currenty cake from a friend of Tom’s, we headed out the lighthouse. The next six shots were taken from viewing platform at the top where there would have been a real risk of being blown off I it wasn’t for the railing! Even though we were about 30m up – the crashing seas were spectacular! Then as I watched the rocks below, I saw “high vis. iPad seascape shooter” who, of course, had to get close in to the waves breaking at the base of the lighthouse. A few seconds after he left his rock, it was completely swept by sea!!!

Despite the storm outside, it was completely calm inside the lighthouse’s four metre thick walls and I took some time on the floor to get the best angle on the spiral staircase. Back out in the storm again and I got a shot of the red doors on the – relatively – sheltered western side of the tower. As we had been on the go since about 5am, the next stop was lunch in the Heritage Centre, followed by Ireland’s very welcome clobbering of “three a row” Wales J.

Then as dusk fell we headed home with a last stop at the still foamy inlet – and by now the beam of the lighthouse had come on. I particularly like the last shot. Yes it’s a bit blurry and noisy – 1/30th of a second at ISO 1600 with some popup fill flash – this was the best I could do handheld given that a tripod would have blown over or even away – but for me it captures the spirit of the day. I’m also impressed that John Stanmeyer won the 2013 World Press Photo competition with my idea J - just for the record, I took my shot before the award was announced!

Gear: Apart from the first two shots with the Canon S90, the rest were taken with the 7D using three Canon lenses, the EFS 10-22mm, the EFS 17-55mm and the Canon 70-200mm f4 lens with focal lengths in the range 10 to 70mm. In good light, ISO’s were in the 200-640 range and apertures of f8 to f11 were used. Interior and dusk shots were done at ISO 1600 at apertures of f4 to f5.6. Typically I used aperture priority to get a much speed as I could at these settings.


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