Ireland - why it's amazing for photography

Ireland - is a small country but is probably one of the most well known in the world and is a photographers paradise

A land that is steeped in history, folklore and culture. I am biased I have two counties that I LOVE first is Co. Galway and second is Co. Donegal where I live. Two very different places, Galway is my mother’s county and Donegal is my father’s place. Some parts are very similar with mountains, hills, lakes and hidden gems very mountainous whilst very different at the same time. Galway with its stone walls and flat level land and Donegal with its narrow winding scenic roads and epic landscape like something from a Hollywood movie. In fact, the last Star Wars film at the time of writing, “The last Jedi” was filmed very close to me here in Malin head about twenty minutes from me.

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It’s not hard to see why this area was chosen for such an epic film. The scenery here can hold its own with any location in the world, wild and rugged coastline with very changeable weather, you literally could get the four seasons in the one day.

Over the years I have ran many workshops and photography tours here and the one thing visiting photographers have all said is the light is amazing for photography. As any photographer will tell you one of the most important elements in photography is light, seeing the light, shaping the light, finding the light, controlling the light, these are terms photographers use. A lot of photographers that come here are from all over the world have mentioned there is a very different quality of light that you will find here in Donegal that can be found in very few other countries. Scotland, Norway and Iceland have a very similar type of light and this makes for amazing portraits and also dramatic landscape photography.

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Photography is about storytelling

So we have amazing landscapes, beautiful light and what else could the photographer want from an area? To create a good story characters are essential and Ireland is certainly full of them. In the coming blogs I will be posting I will be introducing some of these and writing about them so stay tuned :) For me I like natural photos in beautiful landscapes with people doing everyday things. I like people to be relaxed and if possible forget about the camera, the camera is only a tool in capturing a special moment that when its gone can never be got back again. I love having fun with people and making them feel relaxed, you can’t replicate a natural smile, it has to be natural and the real thing. When it comes to props I don’t like using them for the sake of using them, if they add to a story and help create emotion I will use them. Sometimes it can be as simple as using a loyal family pet, an item of clothing, it does not have to be over complicated.

There are certain sights, sounds and smells that we all have when we are children that once in a while they come back and reminds us as adults. I want to go back to that moment when I was a child and relive it again.

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I will always remember the oily smell from a Ferguson tractor and the feel of that tractor steering wheel. All the mechanical fittings in the engine and big tyre tread of the big rear wheels. These old tractors were the Celtic Cadillac for many families and even yet today these old machines can still be found in beautiful condition and running as well as the first day they landed on the farm. Another typical feature of farm life here in Ireland over the years and still yet today is the black and white collie sheep dog, family pet, one of the family and employee. I love photographing scenes of life here in Ireland especially with animals in them, combine this with children and together you have all the magical ingredients for an amazing story.

One thing I have learned over the years on my ongoing photography journey is that when you have children or pets on their own they can be very difficult to photograph as any child or pet photographer will tell you. Bring them together and all of a sudden their attention is focused on each other, this is the time to be ready to capture that special moment. You always have to have the camera ready in a split second, never force children or animals let them decide the pace of the pace of the shoot.

Best friends.jpg

People often ask do I use flash or am I a natural light photographer, I use both and it all depends on the situation at that moment. I will use whatever tools are at my disposal to produce the best possible image that I can. I believe in learning all the time and to try and learn as many new techniques and skills that I can to be the best possible in my work. Going back to the start of this blog about light be it natural or artificial as long as you know how to see it and use it to your advantage you can create amazing images in most scenarios. We often hear of the golden hours that one hour in the morning and that one hour in the evening and how very bright sunny days are not the best. This can be true in some circumstances but these last two images were shot mid afternoon on two of the brightest days we had and I used off camera flash to my advantage. Never restrict yourself always keep trying to improve and shoot in different locations and times of the day or night. A lot of the time we don’t always get the perfect weather and lighting conditions so you have to make the best out of what you have at that moment in time. Very often the day that most people decide to stay in can yield the best results, try something different, get out of your comfort zone you will surprise yourself with what you can achieve.

Boy and his pony.jpg

Photographers from across the world ask before they come here what is the weather like and I always tell them we never have bad weather here, there is only bad clothing. Donegal in particular we can and do get the four seasons in the one day here, but this we can use to our advantage some of the most dramatic images are taken when the weather to most people is not the best. We don’t get too much extreme weather, mild winters and cool summers make it an ideal place to visit for photography at any time of the year.

History, culture and people

Ireland was known as the land of the saints and scholars and many traces of this can be found in Ireland today. Old historic ancient ruins of churches, standing stones, castles and old forts can be found all over the country. Donegal the area where I live and photograph has plenty of history attached to it, for example the well known world famous hymn “Amazing Grace”. This is a Christian hymn published in 1779, with words written by the English poet and Anglican clergyman John Newton (1725–1807).

Newton wrote the words from personal experience. He grew up without any particular religious conviction, but his life's path was formed by a variety of twists and coincidences that were often put into motion by others' reactions to what they took as his recalcitrant insubordination. He was pressed (conscripted) into service in the Royal Navy, and after leaving the service, he became involved in the Atlantic slave trade. In 1748, a violent storm battered his vessel off the coast of Buncrana, Inishowen, County DonegalIreland, so severely that he called out to God for mercy, a moment that marked his spiritual conversion. He continued his slave trading career until 1754 or 1755, when he ended his seafaring altogether and began studying Christian theology. “Amazing Grace” was the result of his experience here in Ireland.

There is so much to see and photograph here and after a busy and enjoyable day there are plenty of places to go and listen to good traditional Irish music session with friends. Some of my favourite photo shoots are those showing traditional scenes here in Ireland.