Destination Wedding Photography – Dubrovnik Romantic city by the sea

I visited Croatia for the first time recently and stayed in Dubrovnik, an incredibly romantic city by the sea. It has a beautiful old town paved in white marble which reflects the light giving it a special glow. The old city walls have windows carved which perfectly frame the rooftop views, and you can walk the length of the walls for stunning views across the town and ocean. This UNESCO world heritage site is located right on the cliff top overlooking the Adriatic sea and if you’re a Game of Thrones fan you might recognise it as the setting for ‘King’s Landing’ with its cliffs topped by ancient city walls.

Dubrovnik is filled with beautiful buildings including some incredible wedding venues. The Sponza Palace is a 16th century palace built in the Gothic-Renaissance style with a shady portico surrounding an atrium that’s open to the sky and can be used for intimate weddings or celebrations up to 150 guests. The Church of St Blaise (patron saint of Dubrovnik) is a baroque church in the heart of the old town, built as a square it has a high domed roof topped by statues. For a wedding with a view across the water to the old town the Palm Terrace at the Hotel Excelsior is able to host up to 180 guests, or you could choose a viewpoint in the surrounding hills for an intimate outdoor ceremony overlooking the city.

If you’re looking for a romantic cliff top city for an epic elopement, a perfect proposal or a magical wedding, Dubrovnik should definitely be on your list! This special city has captured my heart and I’d love to go back – if you’re getting married here please send me a message.

www.hannahlarkinphotography.com

Sparkling Santorini

Looking for the perfect spot to propose, a magical setting for a destination wedding or the ultimate choice for a luxury honeymoon? With sparkling seas, gleaming white washed churches & the most incredible sunsets – Santorini truly is an island made for romance.

This crescent shaped island is the top of a volcanic caldera, with steep cliffs running down into the Mediterranean Sea. Here are some of my favourite spots…

Oia – home of the luxury hotels and packed at sunset, Oia is popular for a reason. The sunsets here are incredible – bathing the white washed buildings and coloured roofs in beautiful golden light.

         

Oia-Fira Hiking Trail – to escape Oia’s crowds, hike South along the crater’s edge from Oia towards Imerovigli and you’ll find little blue and white churches tucked away and breathtaking views over the ocean.

Imerovigli – another lovely spot for sunset is the little Chapel of Theoskepasti near Skaros Rock with the ruins of a Venetian castle.

 

Finikia – a small village walking distance to Oia, with small winding pathways lined by tall white washed walls and friendly donkeys who carry supplies into the village.

  

I fell in love with Santorini and I’d like to go back! If you’re planning an island proposal, a Greek elopement or Santorini wedding I’d love to talk to you about capturing your special memories on this beautiful island paradise.

www.hannahlarkinphotography.com

Romantic Iceland

Looking for the most romantic places in Iceland? Iceland is an incredible country filled with beauty, whether you’re looking for the perfect place to propose, a magical spot to elope, a wonderful wedding location or the honeymoon of your dreams. From majestic icebergs to soaring basalt, tumbling waterfalls to rocky reflections, safe harbours to culture central and spots to soak under the stars…. Here are my top 7 romantic Icelandic destinations:

Majestic Icebergs – Jökulsárlón

This may be the most magical place I’ve ever visited. As you drive along the south coast of Iceland from Reykjavik you suddenly round a corner to this amazing view. On your right is a beautiful black sand beach and on your left is a lake filled with icebergs – glacier lagoon. When the wind is low the water is still and calm giving perfect reflections of the incredible shapes and colours of the icebergs which calf from the Breiðamerkurjökull glacier. There’s a small cafe, a nice spot to sit and watch the seals in the lake, you can stroll along the beach where icebergs sometimes wash up shining white against the black volcanic sand or wander around the lagoon until you find the perfect place.

Soaring Basalt – Reynisfjara, near Vik

This stretch of coast between Reykjavík and Jökulsárlón is a black pebble beach with a dramatic view and a beautiful backdrop. Looking out over the ocean you see Reynisdrangar – 66m high columns of volcanic rock that stand out of the Atlantic. According to legend these three pillars of rock are three trolls who stayed out too late and were frozen by the light as the sun rose. As a backdrop there’s an amazing pyramid shaped cliff of basalt columns.  There’s a shallow cave in the basalt rocks that allows you to tuck away out of the rain, look out at the sea stacks and admire the neatly stacked hexagonal columns up close.

Tumbling Waterfalls – Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss

Iceland has many beautiful waterfalls so there’s plenty of choice if you’re looking for romance by tumbling water. Whilst Gullfoss is the big name waterfall – if you’re looking for a slightly quieter spot I recommend Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss. These two waterfalls are between Vik & Reykjavík, near Skógar just off Route 1. Skógafoss is over 60m high and you can climb the rocky steps for a view from the top or walk by the foot of the falls and according to legend a chest of gold was hidden behind the waterfall. Seljalandsfoss falls into a deep pool and there’s a hidden path behind the water so (in summer) you can peer through a curtain of water out at the meadows surrounding it.

Rocky Reflections – Snaefellsnes Peninsular

The Snaefellsnes Peninsular includes spectacular scenery and some beautiful windswept churches. Búðakirkja, an unusual black wooden church in the village of Búðir and white-washed Hellnar church are two of my favourites. Further round you’ll find Djupalonssandur beach with its huge waves – and four lifting stones to show off your strength. Along the northern coast of the peninsular you’ll find fields full of jagged lava rocks – a crazy landscape like something from another planet, a mix of hardened spikes and moss-covered boulders. In the midst of the 4000 year old Berserkjahraun lava field is a sea inlet called Hraunsfjordur – its a quiet spot, sheltered by the hills providing stunning reflections.

Safe Harbour – Stykkishólmur

A picture perfect town set around a natural harbour on the North coast of the Snaefellsnes Peninsular.  With painted houses and reflections of coloured boats in the harbour it’s a lovely setting. You can walk out across the stone causeway to the basalt island of Súgandisey with a lighthouse and an incredible view across Breioafjorour – a broad fjord filled with small islands. Local legend says there are only two things in the world that can’t be counted – the stars in the sky and the craggy islets in the bay. Sitting up there enjoying the quiet and tranquillity you can at least try…

Culture Central – Reykjavík

If you’re looking for a pretty city spot you have plenty to choose from in Reykjavík. From Hallgrímskirkja, the immense concrete church designed to reflect the volcanic basalt columns, you can take the lift to the top of the 75m high tower for incredible views across the city. There’s also a quiet tree-lined avenue at the back of the church. Then there’s Harpa a beautiful concert hall also inspired by the natural basalt and featuring walls of coloured glass panels right by the ocean, particularly striking at night. Or for quirky al fresco dining don’t miss the world’s best hot dogs at Bæjarins Beztu Pylsur, the little shack by the harbour – buy them two at a time… otherwise you’ll simply rejoin the queue as soon as you’ve eaten the first one!

Soak under the Stars – Blue Lagoon

Finally, not far from Reykjavík, you can find the incredible Blue Lagoon. An outdoor pool filled with geothermal water from 2,000 metres below the earth’s surface and rich in silica, algae and minerals. It’s generally a toasty 37-40°C year round and although the water is actually white, the silica reflects the sunlight to give the blue colour of the lagoon’s name – although it’s often hidden by all the steam. With additional spa options available it’s a wonderful way to relax and enjoy the fresh air in comfort no matter the weather. You need to book in advance but they are open from 7 or 8am to 10pm or midnight depending on the time of year, so for extra romance you can even enjoy the lagoon at night under the stars.

To combine all of these, I’d recommend flying into Reykjavík, driving East to Vik to visit Reynisfjara, then travelling further East to Jökulsárlón. Head back West via Skógafoss & Seljalandsfoss. Explore Reykjavík further before heading West out to Snaefellsnes peninsular including a stop at Stykkishólmur then make your way back to the capital, ending your trip by soaking aching muscles in the Blue Lagoon.

                                                

I’ve made several trips to Iceland and I’m keen to go back! If you’re planning an Icelandic proposal, elopement or wedding I’d love to talk to you about capturing your special memories in this incredible country.

www.hannahlarkinphotography.com

Eagle Hunter Life in Kyrgyzstan

Photographs of Kyrgyz eagle hunters inspired me to learn to ride, book flights to Kyrgyzstan and arrange to stay with a master Burkutchu (eagle hunter). Through Tilek at CBT Kyrgyzstan I made contact with Ruslan, a medal-winning eagle hunter, and arranged to spend time living with him, his family and his golden eagles near Lake Issyk-Kul.

Ruslan was a wonderful host – I arrived and was welcomed to his home, a pretty white-washed house with blue trim. Ruslan was dressed in his full eagle hunter finery – which is rated and scored in competitions – and showed me his medals. After sharing tea in the living room which the family had made over to me to sleep in, I ventured outside. Ruslan has an outdoor kitchen and long-drop toilet, a vegetable patch, lots of rabbits in hutches and three golden eagles. Each eagle has a wooden enclosure with a grassy seat and Ruslan showed me how he goes a little way outside the village and digs up a new circle of turf every few days to refresh the seat. He smiled and chose some grass with flowers as “a present” for his youngest eagle.

During the day the eagles sit out in the garden, perched on little hoops. Ruslan explained that they bathe and showed how he fills a metal tub with water for them. One eagle was keen and jumped right in, whilst another was reluctant and even with gentle coaxing didn’t want to get his feet wet! I could see how much Ruslan loves his eagles – and how they respond to him – turning towards his voice, pushing their head like a cat against his hand as he strokes them and calling to him. Eventually the reluctant eagle allowed Ruslan to cup water in his hand and pour it over her – his soothing voice talking to her the whole time.

Ruslan explained how he makes the little leather hats from a basic template, altered for each eagle to make sure it’s a comfortable fit. As eagles have such incredible eyesight he said when they’re out in the garden, they’re calmer when they wear the hats rather than straining to fly after everything they see. He showed us how he makes simple nets by tying thin twine and uses these to catch a young eagle ready to train. The custom is that each eagle is trained and stays with the eagle hunter for around 7-9 years before being released back into the wild.

 

The eagles also have a swing in the garden – “car training” Ruslan said, explaining that it helps them to learn how to balance on a moving perch. I didn’t understand until later that day when we took the eagles out to the nearby mountains to practice hunting skills – they seemed perfectly happy: one in the backseat and one in the boot of his little car!

Seeing the eagles flying freely in the mountains – coming back to Ruslan when he called or calling and repeatedly looking over towards him when they caught something – showed just how strong the bond is between eagle and hunter. There’s nothing stopping the bird just flying away – Ruslan explained that the importance of this bond is why he spends hours everyday sitting with, talking to and stroking the eagles. This bond is also the reason he’s only been scratched once – and that was when he had to separate his eagle from another hunter’s eagle when they started fighting over a kill.

We watched one of his older and more experienced eagles as Ruslan demonstrated how he trains them – pulling a fox skin along the ground for them to ‘catch’. Then it was time for his youngest eagle to attempt her first kill. A rabbit had been brought from the hutch in the garden and was released on the ground. Ruslan was anxious – but the eagle swept down, caught and killed the rabbit with ease. Ruslan was beaming with pride and the eagle too seemed very pleased with herself – fluffing up all her feathers. She was able to eat a large part of the rabbit meat, until there was a visible bulge under her feathers!

                                        

Having the opportunity to stroke and hold the eagles myself made me appreciate just how strong Ruslan is! When he hunts in the winter for foxes and wolves he takes his eagle on horseback using a small forked stick to rest his eagle-carrying arm on while he rides. He laughed at my efforts, encouraging me to hold the eagle higher – rocking my hand back and forth to encourage the eagle to stretch their wings. I managed this just long enough to be captured on camera – before quickly supporting my eagle-arm against my side! I tried out my limited Kyrgyz – I’d learnt the words for eagle and the word beautiful that is used for animals. Ruslan smiled and corrected me – for him the word beautiful used for humans applies to both humans and eagles, they are in the same class.

That evening I watched Ruslan gently cleaning the eagles’ feet, applying a special cream to their talons. Now in an Adidas jacket rather than his eagle hunter finery, it was an intimate scene and I felt privileged to be seeing this nightly routine. Ruslan’s young daughter had found my white face quite unsettling – crying every time she saw me much to Ruslan’s amusement. However, seeing Ruslan with the eagle she was desperate to stroke the soft feathers and showed none of the fear I inspired in her!

The time I spent with the family was the highlight of an incredible trip to Kyrgyzstan. I learnt about this centuries-old tradition (now recognised by UNESCO as an endangered living form of cultural heritage) and made friends with the eagles and their family.

                

You can see more of my photography on my website and if you’d like to talk to me about photographing a love story (between people or eagles) or an adventure (a wedding, family outing or travel across the globe) I’d love to hear from you.

Chelsea Flower Show 2016 – Gardens & Sculptures

I love the RHS Chelsea Flower Show as there are always so many ideas to inspire and admire. Some years I find my attention is mostly caught by the flowers, but this year the gardens and sculptures were my highlights.

Some particular favourites were the space-saving Garage Garden by incredible Japanese designer Kazuyuki Ishihara and the perfect symmetry in the Winton Beauty of Mathematics Garden. I loved the quirks of Diarmuid Gavin’s Harrods’ British Eccentrics Garden set around a tall thin house – twirling trees, rotating flowerbeds and even a Wallace & Gromit style sundial! In contrast I appreciated the peaceful space afforded by the cool, calm, grey pool of the Cloudy Bay Garden and the glorious pink and purple planting of the LG Smart Garden. Two of the smaller Fresh Gardens also caught my eye – the AkzoNobel Honeysuckle Blue(s) Garden showing the use of plants for dyes to create beautifully coloured fabrics and the intriguing Antithesis of Sarcophagi – a garden within a giant granite cube that can only be glimpsed through small peep holes.

There were sculptures that caught my eye too from Ukranian sculptor Victoria Chichinadze’s arching bronze figure to James Doran-Webb’s intricate driftwood animals, Brendan Hesmondhaigh’s fox sculptures to Woody Fox’s willow work badger. There was a theme of love running throughout the show this year with a lovebird bench, Nigel Peterken’s driftwood sign and a gorgeous grass table-setting complete with hanging cake stand, garden fork & trowel! The whole show was set against the striking backdrop of the Royal Hospital with its garden full of 26,000 handmade poppies.

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You can find out more about the RHS here and see more of my photography on my website www.hannahlarkinphotography.com

Explore London – Chiswick House Magical Lantern Festival

Following the incredible Lumiere light installations in January, London has been lit up again, this time by the Magical Lantern festival. The festival is a Chinese tradition to celebrate the lunar new year and features amazingly complex lanterns, ranging from kitsch figures to a 66 metre long dragon, beautiful flowers to terracotta warriors – and as an English twist, even a telephone box! Chiswick House, a stunning neo-Palladian villa set in gorgeous restored 18th century gardens, is hosting the festival every evening until 6th March so there’s still time to visit!

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You can see more of my photos here.

Photos © Hannah Larkin www.hannahlarkinphotography.com

Explore London – Lumiere

This January, although the Christmas lights have come down, London has been lit by the Lumiere London installations. This free light festival covered 30 locations across London, grouped around Kings Cross, Mayfair and Piccadilly Circus. There were images and animations (including an elephant!) projected onto buildings, colour changing dresses and an installation made of recycled plastic bottles. However one of the most mesmerising displays was Les Luminéoles – illuminated coloured fish that floated across the sky in graceful patterns. The sites were packed over the four evenings, the incredible installations (and food stalls including the utterly English Tea & Crumpets van!) proving a wonderful way to brighten up January – I hope it can become an annual event.

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You can see more of my photos here.

Photos © Hannah Larkin www.hannahlarkinphotography.com

Vienna Christmas Markets & Lights

Vienna is a beautiful city to visit at anytime of year, but when the Austrian Christmas Markets are running and the city is strung with a dazzling array of Christmas lights it is really special. Vienna has many Christmas Markets throughout the city – ranging from the spectacular ‘Vienna magic of advent’ and old Viennese Christmas market in Rathausplatz to the stalls in the narrow cobbled streets in Spittelberg’s market. The tall Christmas tree in the Rathausplatz market was decorated in lights the colour of the French flag this year in memory of those who died in the recent attacks in Paris.

All the streets around Stephansdom are filled with strings of intricate golden lights in chandelier, crown and firework patterns. The Maria-Theresien-Platz market is found between two striking buildings – the museum of fine arts and the natural history museum – whilst the university quad in the old AKH has a small market complete with rinks for Bavarian Curling. Karlskirche provides a beautiful backdrop for an arts and crafts market, complete with piles of straw for children to play in! Freyung and Am Hof are very close to one another and offer a lovely mix of stalls including some pottery, glass decorations and artworks that I didn’t spot elsewhere. One of my favourites was the Schonbrunn Palace market, with a stage for carol singers, a lovely mix of food and craft stalls creating a cosy feel in the cold and the beautiful Palace itself lit behind the Christmas tree. Although the market at Belvedere Palace is smaller, I think the incredible reflections still make it worth visiting.

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Read about Slovakia’s Bratislava Christmas market on the blog and visit my website to see more of my travel photography – and please leave any suggestions and tips for future Christmas market trips below!