Bring the light


One of the downsides of photography is the frequent need for early starts. It you want to catch that sunrise it generally involves turning out of bed at some ungodly hour.

Not so at the apex of an Orkney winter. It seems strange to use the word ‘winter’ during a season which has been as benign as the past couple of months here in Orkney, and as I looked out of the kitchen window while drinking my morning coffee (at the very civilised time of 7.30am) it was clear that the 21st of December was going to be another of the wonderfully becalmed days that have marked the end of 2018.

It was of course the morning of the winter solstice, the point at which we look forward to the return of the light - albeit a rather gradually one. I was heading out to take some pictures at the Ring of Brodgar. The forecast was mixed, but with the promise of possible sunshine. ‘Possible sunshine’ often translates as ‘impossibly cloudy’.

Arriving at Brodgar at around 8am I realised that it was going to be over an hour before sunrise. But already there was a pleasantly soft light reflecting across the loch from the southeastern horizon.


A handful of other people were gathering, singly or in pairs, quietly awaiting the coming of the light. I’d expected a druid or two, perhaps some maidens in white robes crowned with holly-wreaths, but everyone seemed disappointingly normal.

As sunrise came, a bank of low cloud on the horizon kept the light very subdued. Still, it was nice enough, and I got the shots I’d come for – nothing spectacular, but a reasonable evocation of a midwinter morning in Orkney.

I was just packing up to go at around 10am, when suddenly the sun burst from above the summit of Mid Hill in Orphir. Sheets of mist had been slowly forming on the lochs of Harray and Stenness, and these were suddenly transformed into golden sheets which gently slid around the base of the great stones.


We were all just mesmerised, wandering around in silence, taking photos, or just standing and staring. Sometimes we’d just look at each other, strangers, and smile.

Over the past few years I’ve taken more photos of the stones than I’d care to remember, at all times of the day and in all conditions, but I’ve never experienced them like this before. I’m not a hugger of stones, and seldom run around them naked, but on a morning like this it’s hard not to feel something of their magic. The fabulous response to the images on the Facebook page suggests that it’s a magic that translates internationally.


As the light slowly returns we look forward to capturing more of it during the months ahead. Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our clients and friends.

Fionn McArthur