Stood in the crisp air of a spring morning, enjoying the view through Stonehenge across the Wiltshire countryside; it was all too easy to forget for a moment that what I was photographing had been built over 4,500 years ago – by our Neolithic ancestors – out of 25 tonne “sarsen” stones transported for over 20 miles to be here.
It was a morning that had been planned for a while – with weather that seemed set to disappoint. The nearer I got tot the date in the diary, the worse and worse the forecast became, to the point of 4:30am that morning where for the first time I saw Met Office symbols that weren’t a solid dark cloud. What had been, the night before, a likely cancellation due to storms – had suddenly become a rush to get there and set up.
Arriving to the relatively new visitors site was a little strange, when I think back to how I’d visited Stonehenge all those years ago, with security all around and no standard vehicle access to the henge itself. It used to be that you could drive right next to the stones, park off the road nearby and walk across from the car – that all changed in 2013 with the re-routing of the A303 road and opening of the new centre. Where many complained about the move at the time, the new centre really is fantastic, albeit nearly 2 miles on a tourist bus from the site itself.
At 5:00am, however, with pre-arranged access, things are slightly different. Yellow-jacketed security guards with clipboards are there to greet those who should be there (and remove those who shouldn’t) and guide our car along the bus route to the site.
The weather, while 99% better than my initial fears, was still not perfect for the golden sunrise I had in mind – but most definitely good enough to capture (and I wasn’t going to let this chance to get up-close and inside the visitor walkways to the stone circle itself slip by).
The pre-dawn colours in the sky began to increase, slowly, as the cloud broke up above my head. Gone were the chances of a sun-flare on the horizon as the time for sunrise came and went, but with the sky shifting as quickly as it was, it was worth hanging on “just in case”…
Light levels continued to grow – the stones began to find themselves in the shadow of the rising sun – the contrast in the scene building as the sky appeared to come alive. Switching from ultra-long 4 minute exposures (such as the shot above) to faster shutter speeds with graduated filters, over a tiny period of minutes it felt like I’d captured the scene on entirely different days.
With those images stored, it was time to move into the circle amongst the sarsens and bluestones themselves – a prospect not normally possible when visiting the site during the day. Security were very clear that the stones must not be touched under any circumstances, but otherwise I was free to roam. With the sun rapidly escalating in the sky, the moment to capture the soft golden tones was running out and while set behind a cloud at the time, it was an all-or-nothing final shot I aimed for to capture before my time at the site was up.
Moments before security made the final instruction to leave, it managed to break through. A starburst across the tip of one of the huge stacks appeared through the layer of cloud that had been in place during the morning, and with the help of two glass filters, I captured this shot through the circle. At 100 megapixels, every single grain of rock and lichen is visible in the harsh shadows that fell across the site, along with the morning mist across the fields in the background.
One last chance to capture a quick iPhone “pano” before leaving, and it was back to the hotel to grab breakfast before everyone else woke up. Not a bad morning all-in-all, especially given that even the forecast on the day turned out to be completely wrong: The rest of the day was covered in cloud and rain from 8:00am onwards…