Belfast Before Break of Day

Early-morning photography has one obvious disadvantage: It must be executed in the early morning. Pre-dawn, typically.

But there are some undeniable advantages, too: empty streets, reflections of lights in placid rivers, and no people milling about interesting locations. It allows me to get photos I can’t get any other time of day.

So I hit the streets of Belfast between 5 and 6 AM two days in a row, fighting off unforecast showers one morning. I followed a route the Big Guy and I had walked the afternoon before — a loop down to the River Lagan and back to our hotel.

The upper left photo in this first collage was the result of a city bus blasting through my scene. I like it better than the intended plain-Jane shot of the bus shelter.

3-photo collage of Belfast's streets at night At the river, the early morning jaunt showed me a light display not available during office hours.

5-photo collage of lights reflected in a pre-dawn River Lagan.Finally, Belfast has oodles of street sculpture; for example:

  • the aptly named Big Fish (aka the Salmon of Wisdom), which celebrates the clean-up of the river
  • the Spirit of Belfast, whose name baffles me, although I quite like the shape
  • the Beacon of Hope, which has attracted more nicknames than all the others put together, I expect — from Lula with the Hula to The Thing with the Ring.

As with signature bridges, city planners don’t seem to give much, if any, thought to the photograph-ability of their installations, making it hard to find a place to stand that doesn’t have street lights, garbage cans, and other intrusive elements in the sightline. Guys. Get with the program.

4-photo collage of the Big Salmon, Beacon of Hope, and Spirit of BelfastAnd the final advantage? No matter how carefully I recce and plan these photo shoots, there are always some surprises . . .



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12 Responses to Belfast Before Break of Day

  1. Judith says:

    Great to see your imaginative photos of Belfast. I was up that early, but on the bus to the ferry terminal. And I certainly agree with your comment about placing pubic art. Congratulations on such an unobstructed photo of the Beacon of Hope.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – You and the Belfast fox, eh, both up early and on a mission? As I wander around various downtowns, looking for a spot for my mini-tripod, I also wonder why cities don’t offer little perches. Maybe I’ve found my retirement project – developing a system for rating the photograph-ability of cities.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Great photos, Isabel.

  3. I especially like the empty street, which seems to have been designed like a set for an Irish playwright.

  4. Jim Taylor says:

    My mother’s family is from the Belfast area; you’ve shown me a side of Belfast that I had never seen before. When I was young, and visiting relatives, I saw the posh side of the city — as unrepresentative of the city as Vancouver’s Shaughnessy Heights is of that city. In later years, I was there to cover the IRA/Orange conflicts. I saw soldiers walking back to back, snipers prone on every street corner, boarded up windows, security gates at every bank and shopping street. I could write more about riding around in a British Army landrover, feeling like the bullseye on a target in my bright blue jacket among their camouflage and bullet-proof vests, but I won’t. Maybe some other time. My pictures of that time (all I was allowed to take, that is) are mostly of streets with high barriers down the middle of the road to divide the Catholics from the Protestants, of checkpoints, of barricades and barbed wire. All in all, it did not leave me with a sense of a beautiful city. So I see your pix with a little bit of surprise, and maybe envy — what did I miss, and why?

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Jim – Well, I also have photos of the political murals that Belfast is famous for. Those aren’t quite so cheery. We also saw “No surrender” banners, put up by Unionists. They’ve made incredible progress here since The Troubles – but still have a long way to go.

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