Dramatic weather shifts make landscape imaging in Ireland a challenge, but also create stunning skies and light with the right photo techniques…
Every time I go to Ireland, I go prepared for typical Irish weather. Most photographers consider rain to be a bad thing, but actually some of the best conditions occur on the edge of a weather front. I don’t think it would be the same with blue skies all the time and besides blue skies are boring for landscape photography. Ireland was certainly anything but boring as we had a mix of dramatic skies and sunshine in between the showers. They have a saying in Ireland, ‘if you don’t like the weather, just wait a few minutes’, which was actually attributed to the American writer, Mark Twain. Twain may not have visited Ireland but he was right about the weather.
Donegal is probably my favourite county in Ireland as it has endless gorgeous beaches and stunning rocky coastlines, many virtually undiscovered. Being the fourth largest county out of 32 in Ireland, photographic locations tend to be spread over a large area, but I had chosen a base for my photo workshop near several of the major iconic locations and some not so well-known.
I had seen a few images of this sea arch a couple of years ago, which enticed me to go and explore. I try not to let photos of locations influence me too much whenever possible as I want to keep an open mind about what the location can offer. The prevailing weather will often dictate where the best position will be to photograph, but I try to wander around to discover all possibilities. I scrambled down the cliff-side to find these amazingly colourful rocks. I thought they would provide a wonderful foreground to compliment the arch in the background. I chose a 4-minute exposure using the Lee Super Stopper 16 stop neutral density filter to create a misty water effect and to get movement in the slow moving clouds. Perhaps I’m just a romantic, but can you see the heart in the arch?
Fanad Lighthouse is close by so we were able to visit it more than once. The sun rises behind the lighthouse, which provided the perfect opportunity to capture the drama. Unfortunately this time of year it requires a 4:00am start. As we waited for the sun to make an appearance, a large black cloud moved in from the left to cover the sun. We thought our spectacular sunrise was going to be non-existent, but the clouds suddenly erupted with drama. Using the Lee Big Stopper 10 stop neutral density filter, I exposed for 135 seconds @ f/8 to achieve this effect.
The waterfalls were in perfect form on this occasion with just the right amount of flow to capture the texture in the cascades instead of raging torrents like I had experienced earlier in the year. The beauty of photographing Ireland is when you do have those grey, overcast days or even light rain, you can still get out and photograph waterfalls as the soft lighting is perfect for this subject.
After the Donegal workshop, we had an extension for a few days in Northern Ireland where we experienced fantastic conditions at Giant’s Causeway. The beauty of photographing coastlines is that every image is different with every crashing wave. That’s why I prefer to settle on one composition and work it as the light changes, creating totally different looks by varying the exposure times from one position. I made long exposures of 1-minute to create the sense of peacefulness by smoothing out the water and short exposures like this one pictured here at ¼ second to capture the power in the crashing wave.
I had a few days on my own in Northern Ireland where I was able to photograph a sea cave that I’ve been wanting to do for a few years now. Finding it wasn’t easy and getting into it was extremely difficult. After negotiating down a sheer grassy headland to the beach, I carefully walked along sharp rock ledges until I made it into the cave. As it was at the lowest tide, I had to work quickly before the tide started to come in closing off the exit point. It was like being on the TV show the Crystal Maze, I had to work fast keeping an eye on the time before I would be locked in forever. It was magnificent to see how nature has sculpted the arches and column and best of all not many other photographers have been there, no wonder as it’s so dangerous to get into.
I had to put myself in the shot for perspective so I used a Miops remote trigger controlled by my mobile phone to fire off the shutter on the Nikon D850. I shot bracketed HDR exposures just to make sure I had all the information covered, but the exposure range of this sensor is so good I could retain the highlights and increase the shadow detail with minimal noise from one single image. As I didn’t plan to make this journey again, I wanted to make sure I captured all the information possible. I will most definitely be going back to the Emerald Isle again as there is always new locations to explore even if it is between the showers.
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