The Dark Hedges – behind the scenes

Dark Hedges photo by Jennifer McCallum GOT Game of Thrones

One of my goals on a recent trip to Ireland was to visit and photograph the Dark Hedges in Northern Ireland. I was already familiar with the tunnel of trees from various photography websites, but it was most recently made famous in HBO’s “Game of Thrones”.


Backstory:
I was slow to get into the “Game of Thrones”. I think I was initially reluctant from overhearing part of the TV show while I was working around the house. It sounded extremely dark and violent, which doesn’t appeal to me. I probably wouldn’t ever have gotten into it except that my husband asked me to read the books and then watch the shows with him so that he could talk about the characters and compare the books to the TV show. My husband loves to read but fantasy isn’t really his genre. So if he wanted to discuss the characters I knew they had to be good.

Fast forward several months. After I finished the first book we binge-watched the first season on HBO. The same after the second book and so on. I’m officially hooked! I completed the fifth book of the Game of Thrones series by George R.R. Martin while I was traveling in Northern Ireland. It just seemed like the right thing to do, except that I had to carry that huge book around! And yes, the books are dark and violent, but the characters really are that good.


The shot:
While planning our Ireland trip I found all kinds of listings for GOT filming locations. My priority was the Dark Hedges since I consider it beautiful in it’s own right. I knew I wanted to shoot it at sunrise. That morning came early, crazy early, like 4:00 am early. On vacation. But I needed to get to the site before the sun came up to plan my shot.

I got to the Dark Hedges before sunrise. It was so cold, even dressed with every layer I had. An unusually strong wind storm had passed over Northern Ireland the previous day (have you ever seen it rain upwards? Now I have). Apparently the storm wasn’t completely gone yet. The wind was blowing so hard that even with a tripod I couldn’t get a shot in the low light before sunrise.

I sat in the car with the heat on high until the sun came up. Once the sun came up I saw a sign posted nearby warning against being under the trees in any kind of windy weather. Whoops! Glad no branches came down on my little car!

Even with the additional light after sunrise I was unable to use a large f-stop to get any kind of depth of field because of the wind. This was my only chance to photograph the Dark Hedges so I tried to make the best of it. It was still so cold and windy that my eyes wouldn’t stop watering and my fingers were numb. But I moved around and tried various compositions until I found a few that worked with a shallower depth of field.

I’d still like to go back to the Dark Hedges and shoot them in better weather. And I’d still like to have the quintessential Dark Hedges at dawn with the sun rays filtering through the branches photo in my portfolio, but I’m actually quite pleased to have a variation on the traditional scene. What do you think?


P.S.
I still find the HBO version of “Game of Thrones” to be heavy on the gratuitous nudity and the over-detailed violence. But I do like to compare and contrast the TV version to the books. If you haven’t read the books I highly recommend them. Follow this (affiliate) link to Amazon for the full 5-book boxed set and celebrate National Buy a Book day a little early! And yes, that’s a real holiday.

Jennifer McCallum

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