Beautiful Winter Scenes At Binevenagh & Aerial Snow Photography - Jan 30th 2019

2019 has got off to a great start, the weather has become more dynamic and photogenic, in fact, during the previous week I had already got treated to beautiful snow scenes near home including an unexpected inland thunderstorm (the earliest I've ever seen) which produced thudersnow and my personal best Winter storm structure to date, I was already more than satisifed yet at the same time I was still buzzing and ancitipating more action. Another unstable set-up arrived on January 29th in the form of an Arctic NWly flow with 50-100 surface based CAPE, -30c air aloft and up to 20 knots of deep layer shear. The models promised a day of scattered hail and snow showers, however it was the Winter convection near coastal areas which got my attention so I ended up spending the day at Benone beach with photographer Nigel McFarland. It was a classic day of passing convection, hail and snow, then back to blue skies, we saw a particularly beautiful white cell in full sunshine surrounded by blue sky which I time-lapsed with the DSLR, a memorabe highlight was standing out on the beach in the middle of a snow storm which felt surreal.

As the end of day approached and the sun was close to setting we drove to the top of Binevenagh to check out the view at Gortmore viewing point which looked across Lough Foyle and Co. Donegal. There was a good dusting of snow, the timing was perfect, the sun was setting and a huge snow cell was approaching from Donegal with sheared anvil towering over the landscape which blackened the sky offering one final photo opportunity. Nigel and I hiked across the frozen mountain top to get images before the light was gone, the conditions were brutal, a nasty raw wind blew over the top which chilled us to the core, I set-up the DSLR and shot a short time-lapse sequence of the statue in twilight with the approaching anvil, I couldn't stick the penetrating wind any longer so I grabbed the gear and ran back to the van for shelter. The short exposure to the elements was worth it for a scene like this. I didn't know it then but this area (far left of frame) would end up producing some of the finest Winter scenes I have seen in years on the very next day.

On the morning of January 30th I wasn't out as there didn' seem to be much snow showers the previous day to produce much of a covering. However unknown to me there had been frequent and heavy snow showers all through the night (Ninja snow) while I slept, I didn't know a thing about it until I got a surprise phone call, it was Nigel, he informed me of substantial snow in his area and that the light was great so it would be worth checking out, I looked out the window and saw a Winter wonderland, snow was all over Maghera at ground level so no doubt the hills would be more impressive. I decided that this couldn't be missed and that I would dedicate the day to drone snow scenes and once again see what the new Mavic 2 Pro could do. I prepped the van, packed a flask and snacks, dressed in thermal layers, topped up fuel then hit the road, I decided to head north and would check out the view on the high ground, first stop would be the wind turbine farm above Swatragh.

This turned out to be quite the adventure, the roads were elevated and covered in snow and frozen over with temps of -1C to -2C, the roads here are winding with steep climbs and big drops, at times the van was spinning and sliding and it took every ounce of concentration not to come off the road into a ditch, I had to keep the momentum going to get up the hills or even just to keep going on the straight roads, there are many spots on this road that if you stopped in the snow you may not get going again and there would be few people around to help you. After a period of intense concentration I made it to the wind farm, I had to park on the edge of the road as the snow was too deep in the layby, I kept the drone batteries warm then immediately got in the air while the going was good. There was a raw breeze however the sky conditions were subime with sunlit snow, perfect light and clean blue skies, the Mavic was performing exceptionally well and I ended up having a thrilling flight with the rotating turbines, the cold sticks and the metal tablet holder attached to the controller really killed my fingers with the cold, they were in agony to be honest and it took all my will power to keep flying and maintain a smooth flight, it ended up a great filming session, check out the video footage below. Once I landed the battery went straight on the charger then began the treachrous drive back again, this time down hill in the snow, I breathed a sigh of relief once I arrived at ground level, but I have to admit the drive was great fun, I then headed north to see what was going on at the coast.

I was amazed when I arrived at the coast, I didn't expect to see any snow there due to the salt air and warmer temps however it was the complete opposite. A nice dusting of snow surrounded the famous Mussenden Temple and Downhill Estate, I have never captured snow here with the drone before so I made sure not to waste a second and ended up having another nice flight. I launched from two different locations to cover various aspects of the flight, the FPV 1080p view on the screen was superb, if you have never flown a drone before then you wont know what it feels like, its a feeling beyond description, experiencing these locations from the air at any angle you desire which very few others can see is a rush that I can't explain, I mean a good rush, the kind of glow you get when you experience something exceptional in nature. I landed, charged up again, had a brew, met up with Nigel again then ventured around to the NW side of the coast where I entered into an epic land of Winter bliss, you can watch the footage here.

The region at Magilligan, Binevenagh and Lough Foyle was amazing. The entire area was covered in stunning snow rite down to sea level, its rare to get laying snow here but to see it to this extent beside the ocean was breathtaking. There was snow everywhere, no matter where you looked there was a beautiful photo opportunity to be had, however for me it wasn't difficult to choose my subject matter. For years I've wanted to get Binevenagh covered in snow with a blue sky, however I never seemed to get the conditions I needed, either due to cloud, wind, or the snow wasn't deep enough, or simply that I was somewhere else filming and missed it. This day my adrenaline began pumping once Binevenagh came into view, I coudn't believe how amazing it looked, I mean this mountain, the snow, the landscape, was absolutely jaw dropping! it was the epitome of Winter Heaven, when you first see it you may experience disbelief that this was actually in N. Ireland.

This mountain became my obsession for the rest of the day, however due to its great size we ended up having to fly from many different locations along the mountain in order to access key angles while at the same time keep within the drone regulations. I flew from low areas to get distant views, I filmed the snow-covered lowlands, over fields, sheep, narraw roads and train tracks. Two local farmers pulled up to check out the Mavic, I showed them the view of the mountain on the tablet and they were blown away. I then tried a steep road but the van spun out in the snow, it would be impossible to get up without a 4x4, however a local stopped and suggested another road which was more gradual, ploughed, and which would give me access to the higher ground, I took her advice and found a great location at a higher elevation. Check out this view of the summit of Binevenagh, I was in my element and buzzing, this place is spectacular, I was recording video sequences then stopping to take aerial stills, the Mavic captures 20MP images so I knew these images would turn out exceptional.

The structure of the mountain itself combined with snow, shadows and polar blue skies made for the perfect Winter scene and yet again I was beyond impressed with the camera and flight performance of the new Mavic drone, this was why I wanted a drone when I first got my Phantom three years ago, to document weather and storm scenes, but specifically for snow scenes from a new perspective, today all those goals had been achieved.

This is using the 180 degree pano feature on the Mavic 2 Pro, the drone takes ten 20MP stills then stitches them together onboad the aircraft in real time. This is the result from the first attempt, this feature offers an amazing viewing angle which is quite exceptional.

This is the normal wide field of the camera, compare to the above pano and prepare to be shocked at the area of sky covered and this with the drone hovering in the same area. I love the high resolution detail in the rock face and the long shadows reflecting the deep blue from the sky.

The following were taken from locations three and four, a long range angle then mid range. Another 180 degree pano, look at the extent of the snow in this massive vista. Lough Foyle can be seen to the right and Atlantic to the left.

What a beautiful sight, it almost felt like I was in Canada, it's the slopping flank and the forest with vibrant tree colours which makes the mountain stand out so majestically.

Another 180 degree pano just had to be captured, I love seeing an abundance of clear blue sky around Binevenagh with the sun in frame. You really can't appreciate how detailed these panos are, the only way you can is by seeing the high resolution image, on which you can zoom in and scroll across the entire scene which feels like an immersive experience, these are big files at over 8000 pixels in length.

I needed a reveal shot for my footage with scenic foreground so we visited St. Aidans chapel, it took a few goes to get there due to the deep snow but we finally made it. You need to watch the video below to view this sequence, the drone takes off and climbs over this canopy of sunlit tree tops and reveals Binevenagh in all its glory with amazing snow scenes, the trees frame the scene perfectly, this reveal is my personal favourite snow sequence I have ever filmed to date, the view on the screen as the mountain appeared was like a spiritual experience, such beauty, this scene along has made my entire Winter and the real time memory will forever say with me.

While I was in the air I had to take a few more images to document this incredible day, I reckon this is worthy of a large print

Pano from the same angle and height, amazing the difference between the two images, these scenes were like a dream come true for a Winter lover like myself.

Golden hour with sun setting soon, I was on the road to Magilligan Point, amazing to see snow here so close to the sea, there was a massive cell to the north over the ocean dominating the skyline and dropping snow over the water, it was the only cell visible, I had to pull over and get a shot of it with the snow in foreground.

The last aerial scene of the day, Magilligan beach in the last rays of sunlight before sunset contrasting beautifully against the frigid blue sky and snowy mountains in the distance, what a fine end to a wonderul day. I did a lot of aerial filming and photography this day and barely looked at my DSLR, this was a day that drones were designed for, what a phenomenal beautiful treat from nature which reminded me somewhat of a memory I have from the severe Winter of 2010, if we don't get any more snow this season then I will rest content for this day will surely take some beating.

Footage from the chase during the previous day showing the cold air convection, time-lapse, beach snow and the statue cell at Gortmore vieiwng point at sunset. As with all these videos they are best watched at 1080p HD and with the screen enlarged.

Drone footage of the wind turbines above Swatragh earlier this day after navigating treacherous road conditions, it was well worth it, these turbines are a cool sight over snow against a cold blue sky.

Full 1080p HD footage of the highlight of Winter at Benbradagh on the north coast, this is an edit from several flights at various locations and heights filmed in stunning light, this was one of those drone flights which will always stay with me, thanks very much for watching.


Martin McKenna

Sky Events Now

Observing Sessions

Storm Chasing