I was recently reviewing some of the photographs I have taken from my travels this year and I kept revisiting this particular one from the Faroe Islands. It was around about this time last year that I began to plan visiting these incredible islands; now, one year on, I thought I'd reflect on why it has quickly become one of my favourite shots.
18mm, f/11, 1/100s, ISO 100
Where and when?
The island of Kalsoy in the Faroe Islands, June 2018.
The background story
It's a scene that epitomises the raw essence of the Faroe Islands: rugged clifftops, moody weather, and a sense of drama. This viewpoint overlooking Kallur lighthouse has it all. With only a few days on the islands I knew that I had to be realistic about what I could achieve with my time but I was determined to at least attempt to get this shot, come rain or shine. Turns out what I experienced was something between the two.
Getting to this clifftop on Kalsoy involved about an hours drive, a half hour ferry crossing, some more driving to reach the end of the island and then a 45 minute hike. Without the luxury of time to take multiple visits and with the weather looking OK-ish – that's about as reliable as it gets on the Faroes – we headed out and hoped for the best. It really was a one-shot opportunity so my preparation primarily involved not taking anything for granted. I wasn't able to scout out the location beforehand so I had only limited knowledge as to what I was getting into and what gear I would likely need.
How it came together
The weather was, mercifully, kind. And by that I mean it didn't pour with rain. There was a fair amount of cloud cover and the few moments when I thought the afternoon sun might just break through didn't quite materialise. What I did get was light cloud and fairly flat light. But, crucially, it was dry. I took that as a huge win.
The hike leads you through lush fields and meadows to the lighthouse but to reach this particular viewpoint you have to walk a couple hundred yards out along a fairly narrow ledge to an outcrop at the end of the cliff. You can just about make out the worn path to the left of the photo; trust me when I say that the sides are more steep than they appear!
From this vantage point you can make out the slight curve of the shoreline, the impressively sheer cliff in the background and, of course, the lighthouse itself. I started out with a 24mm but quickly realised that in order to have some of the sea in the bottom of the frame I needed to go much wider (or risk backing off the cliff) so opted for the widest length on my 18-35mm. Being so wide and with the lighthouse too far away, I decided to use the path as a leading line.
Why is it a favourite?
The Faroe Islands are undoubtedly dramatic but sometimes it can be tricky to always reflect that in photographs due to the lack of objects or infrastructure that so often help to give context to the place. When I returned from this trip I found myself wondering if the sense of isolation that I felt when looking at the photos would necessarily be conveyed to people who had not visited.
But this is a shot where I believe it does work. By shooting wide I made the lighthouse a feature of the landscape but not in an obvious manner; it is visible without being distracting and gives a sense of scale to the entire scene.
Wedged between the moody skies, dramatic cliff-face and the cold waters below, the lighthouse gives a subtle reminder that life exists, even in this most bleak and isolated of spots. In a perfect world the sunlight would have played ball but for me it was more important and a greater achievement that this photograph, first and foremost, captures a message that I had struggled to convey in other photographs of the Faroe Islands.