I’m writing this post knowing very well that I’m way off the mark - the summer solstice has been and gone already (at 4.54pm to be exact).
I won’t be the only one bathing in the fading light of this fleeting astronomical event though, because just like thousands of people across the world, there’s something about the solstice that really captivates me.
Why? I can think of a few reasons!
1. It appeals to the scientist in me
At 4.54pm today, the Earth’s rotational axis tilted to 23.44 degrees towards the sun, placing the sun at its highest point in the sky. That was the solstice. Centuries of spirituality, folklore and all-round celebration have been bolstered by the ability of scientists and astronomers to pinpoint the precise moment in time that the solstice occurs - a perfect combination of nature, science and cultural tradition.
2. It’s a celebration of light
Admittedly, the high solstice sun doesn’t make for the best photographic conditions, but there are few things more important to a photographer than light and the solstice offers a whole 3 seconds more of it than yesterday! For me, that’s a chance to relax and enjoy the luxury of time as I stroll to my chosen location after eating dinner at a sociable hour; set-up, warm (hopefully dry), content and ready for the golden hour.
3. Mysterious things happen
Mystery surrounds the solstice, but one of my favourite phenomenons (partly because it’s local) is the Chrome Hill double sunset. As if the pleasingly ‘peaky’ landscape isn’t enough, Chrome Hill offers not one, but two sunsets around the solstice - from one particular vantage point, the sun sets southwest of the summit before re-emerging and setting again. It really has to be seen to be believed!
4. It unites us
From shamanic rituals of Mongolia and exuberant Swedish Midsummer to pagan, wiccan and sun worshipping at Stonehenge, solstice celebrations are deeply rooted in faith, culture and tradition. The importance of the solstice extends beyond these things though, because whatever you’re into, be it spirituality, science, history or nature, we’re all united by our dependency on the sun - there’s something terrifically humbling about that.
5. It connects us to our ancient selves
The notion of the solstice has been understood and celebrated by cultures around the world since prehistory. The apparent ‘standing still’ of the sun marked the change of seasons, revealing cycles of life, growth and death. The success of harvests and provision of resources quite literally depended on understanding the solstice, so there’s little wonder that ancient civilisations such as the Greeks, Mayans and Aztecs began to mark its significance with rituals, temples and religious celebration. However much we learn and our lives become more complex, the solstice is a poignant reminder that we’re not too different from our ancient selves - we’re simply surviving and feeling curious about our incredible world.
6. Because... yugen
When I contemplate moments like the solstice, I not only gain perspective on my place alongside nature, but I’m peculiarly awed and overwhelmed by it too. This is yugen - a wonderful Japanese word for the indescribable emotional response that nature gives us and a feeling the solstice inspires in me.
The pivotal moment may have passed, but there’s still light left to reflect on the thing that we as photographers, nature lovers… human beings, often overlook. Whatever you believe and however you choose to observe the solstice, make the most of the light and enjoy!