Gortin Glen & Seven Sisters Aerial Winter Scenes - February 2nd 2019

After my recent Winter photo shoots it looked like the action was over, the snow was patchy on Glenshane Pass however much to my surprise a last minute upgrade appeared on GFS. Behind a cold front moderately cold air would advect across N. Ireland over night producing scattered snow showers for high ground regions. I spent the night watching radar and it was obvious that the greater bulk of the showers where falling over the S and W Sperrins, in fact, it looked like SW parts of Co. Tyrone were doing very well indeed. Originally we were planning a night photo shoot however due to patchy snow locally and no moonlight we decided to call it off and instead we arranged a new shoot in the morning instead. We decided to hit it early and spend the day filming Winter scenes on the Sperrins with our drones, the forecast was for light winds, clear skies, sunshine, it looked like it could be the perfect day for filming. I prepared my gear overnight, charged the drone and DSLR and prepared a flask and suitable cold weather clothing. My alarm went off at 07.00 UT the following morning, as I made my breakfast the sky was still dark with an advancing twilight glow, the Moon, Venus and Jupiter made for a nice arrangement in the pre-dawn sky. By 08.00 UT I had hit the road and headed SW into Co. Tyrone.

The entire road down was beautiful, however there was no snow anywhere except for a dusting on the hills, at this stage I became concerned there may be no snow at all at our location, but I kept going, I was committed, I would take whatever nature was kind enough to offer me. My concerns vanished once I reached the Omagh road and took the turn off for Beaghmore Stone Circles which was our meeting point for the day. Once I ventured onto the higher ground the entire road was covered in snow and ice, the van was reading -3C, everywhere I looked was covered in snow, it was spectacular.

I arrived and took in the view, the sun had rose above a hill to the E casting gorgeous golden hour light across the snow fields and stone circles, the stones themselves had cast long shadows, the sky was crystal clear, there wasn't a breath of wind and it was bitterly cold, I mean the good kind of cold which was a joy to be out in with clean air and the wonderful sound of dry snow crunching under foot, needless to say I was in my element, I made myself a brew and took in the view, I'm glad I held off on the night shoot because this day was already spectacular, I knew we had made the correct decision. Soon after, Paul Martin, Nigel McFarland and John Fagan arrived and the four of us chatted in the snow and came up with a plan for the day. We went for a walk into the ancient stone circles and grabbed a few images with the DSLRs.

This is the first time I have experienced the stone circles in snow, it really was a memorable experience, all the guys were taking images and savoring the view, each of us were in high spirits and there was no shortage of laughs and jokes. Once we had captured what we needed we decided it was time for aerial filming and a new location was needed, Paul suggested the Gortin Glen area outside Omagh (in the distance in the above two images) which sounded a great idea. I had done a test drone flight with the Mavic 2 Pro over that location in early January however I was eager to capture it in winter mood so I was eager to go. This was Paul's home ground so he led the way and our four vans formed a convoy across the back roads, it was a surreal feeling, we must have been the only group of drivers out at this time specifically doing photography, it seemed so bizarre from the outside but from our perspective it was the most natural thing in the world to be doing. The last time there was a group of us on the road was back during a heat wave in June when Paul, John and I were chasing thunderstorms in this very same area, those days are not far away again for despite the cold we already could feel solar heating on our faces, its something I look for early in the year, in another two or three months solar heating will be strong enough to fire strong inland convection and when that happens our thunderstorm season will be underway, I can't wait.

Paul took us along the scenic route, back roads, through Greencastle then we climbed in elevation and entered the snow again, proper snow too, then we arrived at Gortin Glen. This place was beautiful, a series of ancient hills, valleys and lakes, the lakes were frozen with patchy snow and the vivid blue sky was framing everything like a postcard. We parked beside a frozen lake, warmed the batteries up then took to the skies. On location where a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced, a DJI Phantom 3 Professional and two DJI Mavic 2 Pro drones, we were all excited to acquire aerial images and footage to add to our content. I did my flight, recorded video and images, this was an image I loved, check out the frozen lake, I called this Yin and Yang because of the black and white colours, I got a close up clip of this which you can view on the footage. We stayed here for quite a while and at one time there were three drones in the air at the same time, we simply communicated with one another and maintained a separation on height and all was good, another brew was had then a walk to investigate the area and check out look out points which might come in handy for Summer storm chasing.

One of the other lakes adjacent to the lake in the first image, I love the perspective in this one, on the horizon you can see several showers over Co. Donegal and W. Atlantic dropping sleet and snow on high ground while above us the sun shinned all day. We hit the road once more to explore the local area, Paul was in lead, we drove through a local forest covered in cool scenes, I mentally asked Paul to pull in and a few minutes later he did, he most have been thinking the same thing I was.

The inside of the forest was beautiful, the snow had melted where the sun had reached the taller trees, yet below in the shade the snow remained all day which made for a dramatic contrast in light. The guys trekked along the forest road with the DSLR for ground scenes while Nigel and I stayed behind to get an aerial view, this place was too good to pass up and was worth a drone flight, as soon as I was in the air I was impressed, the division between light and shadow was amazing, you would think this was photo shopped, but I assure you its not.

Sometimes you just cant beat the view a drone has to offer and this was one of those times, I love Winter scenes, this one makes me feel cold just looking at it.

I followed the road a little to take in the view, I loved the long shadows cast by the trees with sun beams breaking through the shaded trees covered in snow, light and dark, warm and cold, I can't decide which side of the image to look at it, its strange, maybe this is why I like it.

I had to be careful and maintain visual line of sight of the drone, also I didn't want the trees to block the signal. If this happened the drone would return to home, I have it set at 60m as default however those trees were 70m high, if it did return to home it would hit a tree on the way back. However I was 110m high for this scene, which meant the drone would return at this height because its higher than the set value in the app, but I didn't want to test it so I did my best to keep a good signal. What a view!

I landed the drone and walked the road for some DSLR images when I bumped into the guys heading back. We chatted for a while and enjoyed the snow, in places the tree branches were covered in interesting ice crystals which to me looked like hoar frost covering the snow, you could actually see the shape to the ice crystals. The temperature was dropping fast in the shadows and soon the day would be over, we had a walk in the forest where I did low level drone filming between the trees using tripod mode then we returned to the vans. John headed home as he had got word that his new lens had arrived for his mirrorless camera and he was eager to test it out. It was almost time to call it a day however Paul, Nigel and I decided we would try one last location, we had 30 minutes before sunset, Paul suggested the Seven Sisters on the Omagh road so we made our way in that direction for our final flight of the day.

We pulled off the main road onto a slip road between the famous Seven Sisters during golden hour. We got three drones in the air, all the lakes were frozen and some were covered in snow, at times it was difficult to tell what was a lake and what was land covered in snow. I flew over to a large lake and spotted beautiful patterns on the ice which became the focus of the flight. Check out the shadow streaks at the top of the frame across the ice cast by the low sun angle, almost like nature's brush strokes.

Hovering 60m above the lake, I was blown away by these beautiful structures, I called the guys over for a look

40m altitude, this was stunning, I kept thinking it looked like a work of art, it is!, nature is always the best artist, check out the contrasting patterns, structures, colours, textures and light. I could get lost in this image.

Deep crop from another image, the Mavic shoots 20MP stills so they can take a good crop and still hold detail. The rough texture has a sand paper or a canvas quality, these unexpected last minute flights often yield the best surprises.

The sun was about to set casting its last rays across the lake ice. I saw this circular hole in the ice and was drawn to it, I was getting a low battery warning at 25%, I still had plenty of time to have a look.

Intriguing sight to end the day, I landed the Mavic just as the sun set and packed everything away, Nigel and Paul had also completed their flights too so we called it a day. What a great day out filming, we had been on the road for eight hours in the snow and ice, it would be one of those fond Winter memories I will always look back on and even more so because all of us were together.

Drone footage from Gortin lake area showing several of the lakes and the patchy snow and ice-covered lakes. The highlight was the yin and yang lake which looked dramatic on camera. At one stage we had three drones in the air at the same time filming at this location.

Drone footage of the beautiful Gortin forest drive captured with a dramatic low sun angle casting shadows through the trees and contrasting warm and cold colour tones between light and shadow.

Drone footage of the golden hour flight at the Seven Sisters on the Omagh road exhibiting frozen lakes and beautiful ice patterns which looked like works of art painted by nature herself, thanks for viewing.



Martin McKenna

Sky Events Now

Observing Sessions

Storm Chasing