In the Field - Loughcrew

Loughcrew Cairns - Co Meath

There are some locations I associate with sunrise more than sunset, and this evenings location, The Cairns at Loughcrew, or Sliabh na Cailli (Hills of the Witch) in Gaelic, in Co Meath is definitely one of them. 

On top of Loughcrew, the wind is warm but strong enough to cause camera shake, especially with a 70-200mm lens in place. To overcome those concerns, the shutter speed is increased by bumping up the ISO, and as ever the camera is tripod mounted.

Below, evening light rakes the landscape, and as I peer through the viewfinder the challenge is a composition that excludes the foreground clutter and the dwelling of to the right. 

Waiting to trip the shutter, part of me is torn. Shouldn't I really be photographing the 3500yr old passage tomb that aligns with the Spring and Autumnal equinox that this location is famous for? 

County Meath, Ireland

With the sun sinking, and the shadows creeping across the landscape, the shutter is tripped. A quick check of the histogram and everything looks good. No blocked shadows, no blown highlights, and no foreground clutter.

Now back to the Cairn, to see if I can get a picture of what I really came here for!!.

Nothing into Something

The Lee Big stopper, transforming nothing into something

Anyone who has ever heard me talk or rant, knows I have somewhat of a love hate relationship  with the Lee Big Stopper. Its purpose, to drastically reduce the amount of light hitting the camera's sensor (by up to 10 stops), is something that camera manufacturers could implement as a "feature" on modern SLRs. Until they do, Lee are filling that gap with a piece of glass that transforms day into night.

Using the filter is tricky, but what is undeniable is its ability to transform something into nothing. Seconds become minutes, and minutes become hours. Leaving the user with a set of moody ghostly images.

( L) 1/3sec @F11, (R) 121 sec @ (F8)

( L) 1/3sec @F11, (R) 121 sec @ (F8)

Above, this image taken at the base of Howth Head in County Dublin shows were I am coming from. Taken at practically the same location, the rather dull image on the left taken at 1/3rd of a sec @F11 is transformed by the use of the "Big Stopper". A third of a second becomes two minutes, and that rather dull snapshot morphs into something a little more interesting.

The example, below shows its capability again.

Here perched on the edge of the rocky Inis Oirr coastline, seconds become minutes and a rather dull image is transformed into something a little more.

(L) 1/30th @F11 (R) 15sec @ F11

(L) 1/30th @F11 (R) 15sec @ F11

If you are thinking of buying one, or its new cousin The "little stopper" then have a look at the exposure card from Lee below. Be prepared for lots of standing around waiting. Not for the light but the camera this time :)

Lee Big Stopper Exposure Guide

Lee Big Stopper Exposure Guide

A day in the Irish Landscape

A day in the Irish Landscape

Ireland's leading photographic society (Dublin Camera Club) have organized a one day series of talks titled "A day in the Irish Landscape" featuring myself (Peter McCabe) and a number of other Irish landscape photographers including Carsten Kreiger, Simon Stewart & Norman McCloskey.

The event takes place on Saturday March 29th and kicks off at 10a.m. Full details, and booking information can be found at the following url - Dublin Camera Club - "A day in the Irish Landscape"

2013, a photographic year in review

Five images from 2013

2013 has been somewhat of a strange photographic year for me. As ever not enough time was spent In the Field, too many images were taken with my iPhone and my photographic to do list seems to get bigger instead of smaller.

The images below are a selection of my own personal favourites that I captured along the Southwest, West and Northwest coasts of Ireland.

Mulranny County Mayo:

Standing in darkness, storm clouds raced across Clew bay, the heavens opened as the moon hung low in the sky above Croagh Patrick. The conditions where hair tingling wild.

The resulting image is one of my all-time favourite seascapes.

Mulranny Light Co.Mayo ©P McCabe

Clew Bay Surf

The second image titled "Freedom", was also taken in County Mayo and features a surfer riding a wave. I love the energy and interaction between man and nature in the image. 

Freedom, Clew Bay. © P McCabe

Derrynane strand, County Kerry

Situated on the Iveragh Peninsula County Kerry, the beach at Derrynane is amongst the most beautiful beaches in Ireland. During May of this year with low magical morning light raking the coastline I captured an image I was happy to put my name too.

Derrynane Strand, Co Kerry. © P McCabe

County Donegal

As Ireland basked in the warmest summer in years I spent a week in my home from home, County Donegal. Warm days and cool mornings meant morning mist. On one such morning I captured this view which looks back across Lough Greenan to Crockmore mountain. The movement of the morning mist has created a ghostly, yet peaceful Irish landscape.

Crockmore, Donegal. © P McCabe

Inis Óirr

This image was taken on the Island of Inis Óirr, the smallest of the Aran Islands. The location is one I first came across 10 years ago, and it was only this September that I got back to photograph the location. The view looks back towards the still functional lighthouse as wave’s crash on the Islands shoreline.

Inis Óirr Lighthouse, © P McCabe

That's it for 2013, time to tackle that to do list. 

Irish Landscape photography workshops

Donegal Photo Workshop & Tour

Marble Arch, Horn Head

Marble Arch, Horn Head

Capture and Discover Donegal and get lost in the wild beauty of one of Ireland's best landscape photography locations.

During these workshops we will visit truly stunning locations, perfect for enhancing you landscape photography skills and portfolio, while staying wonderful in quality hotel accommodation.

For further information see the following link.

Blackberries & Banjos

Exploring Inis Oirr

Inis Oirr, Lighthouse

The Island is buzzing, tri-colors are flying, a TV crew has been spotted, and clinking champagne glasses can be heard in the pub. Sadly it isn't all for me!! The Irish president, Michael D is in town. 

Despite the temptation of clinking glasses, I am off up a hill and down the winding dry stone lined roads to explore the Inis Oirr coastline. 
The smallest of the Aran Islands it is probably the most beautiful. I was last here 9 years ago. It's coastline, and images I never managed to capture have haunted me over the years. 
This evening, with the wind blowing across it's exposed rocky landscape, I am hoping to make amends. 

Sheltered by a bluff, with the ocean trying its best to soak me I'm playing with my latest gadget, a cable release of sorts from Triggertrap. Like everything these days it's controlled by an APP, that allows the user to  trigger the shutter by various means including sound and distance on their smartphone. In my case I'm using it to count down a 2minute exposure. Results to date have been pleasing, it's replaced the somewhat expensive canon invervalometer that I normally carry around.

Evening comes quickly, the walk back to the village is slowed by my foraging of the swollen blackberries that shelter among the dry stone walls. Near the village, the magnetic sound of traditional Irish music spills out the door of Tigh Rúairí's bar. 

Inside, the soothing harmonies of the Murphy sisters from Mayo fill the bar. Families sing along as young lovers get lost in their own world. Moments later a joyous fiddle fills the bar as young girl dances a jig around a broom. A late night of song and dance has begun.

The following morning, with a slightly sore head ( yep, it was a late one) I'm peering through the viewfinder at the rusted hulk of the Plassy, a cargo ship that was ship wrecked here in the 1960s. The shore line and the surrounding fields are criss crossed with furrowed limestone that is reminiscent of the Burren. As the first rays of sun illuminate the ship, the moon dips behind the distant stone walls and I trip the shutter. Am I happy with the final image? I'm not too sure.  

The Plassy, Inis Oirr

Somewhat of a tourist attraction, I wonder if the Plassy will survive many more wild Atlantic seas. It has deteriorated rapidly since my last visit and I wonder if it will be on my next visit . I can understand why the islanders are on the look out for a replacement :) 


In the Field - Beara Peninsula, West Cork

Southern Storm - West Cork

For the past week I have photographed the wild beauty of the Beara peninsula in West Cork. It's Ireland, so as usual the weather has been a mixed bag! Amazing light for the first few days, and now on my last night, stomping across the rain-sodden bog, the weather is as it has been for the last few days, crap!! ( sorry for the language )

In hope, I am peering through a 5D Mk11 & a 70-200 F4 lens into the murk, hoping, trying to craft an image from the scene before me.

On the far side of the bay, patches of light momentarily appear across the distant Iveragh peninsula, only to be smothered by an encroaching blanket of darkness from the South West. 

As another downpour power piles in, I can't help but feel, that these type of conditions tell the story of this part of Ireland, better than any of the "pretty" blue sky images I took earlier in the week. .

The monochromatic look, brings me back to my days of shooting Fuji Neopan, and the long nights standing under an enlarger, burning and dodging prints.

Pre-visualising those burns and dodges, the shutter is tripped.

Southern Storm, Co.Kerry

Southern Storm, Co.Kerry

In the Field - Lough Greenan, Donegal

Lough Greenan - Donegal

It is 10 mins before 4am, and for the second morning in a row I am slipping out of a cottage, into the mist. A short while later, high above Lough Greenan I’m walking back and forth up across the mountain bog, chasing compositions that so far remain unseen.

A little after 4.30am, as the Donegal landscape wakens below, the first frames are exposed. In my heart of hearts I know the image doesn't work. My initial reaction is to shoot a panoramic, but grand vistas can be difficult to pull off, in this instance there is too much going on, as is so often the case in landscape photography, less is more. So instead of chasing pictures I compose and wait. 

Shortly before 5a.m, a ghostly mist, eerily floats in beneath a distant Crockmore, weaving its fingers across the landscape. Eight seconds @ F11 later, and with the midges tasting breakfast, an abstract moment of reality appears on the LCD. I'm happy; it is great to exposing pixels at this time of the morning again!!

Donegal, a photographer’s paradise! - Keep an eye out for details of my 2014 Donegal workshop which will appear online soon. Or sign up for my mailing list to receive details direct to your inbox.


In The Field, Iveragh Peninsula, Kerry, Ireland

Iveragh Peninsula - Kerry

Many a trail, beach and hilltop has been explored, yet despite the beauty of the Iveragh peninsula in south-west Ireland I am yet to make an exposure. If the truth be told, panic is starting to set in.

Midge bitten and stubborn as ever, I am standing by a tripod as the last light of day creeps across the Peninsula. Above, the moon shines, and as the camera timer counts down 30 seconds, that mild panic slowly fades away, I finally have an image in the bag!.

Last Light, Iveragh Peninsula, Co Kerry Ireland

Last Light, Iveragh Peninsula, Co Kerry Ireland

The following morning, a little after 4a.m the boisterous sound of the dawn chorus stirs meA short time later I am slipping off some rocks and prancing along the shoreline at Derrynane beach near Caherdaniel.

Surrounded by the Farraniaragh & Cahernageeha mountains, it is amongst the most photogenic beaches in Ireland.

After much prancing, I am peering through the viewfinder watching the cool Atlantic weave along the rippled shoreline. Tripping the shutter, I succumb to temptation, and add a Lee big stopper to the front of the lens. It is a filter I have a love hate relationship with. I find it fiddly, why oh why camera manufacturers never build neutral density capabilities into the cameras firmware I will never know. One frame later, the big stopper is off and replaced by a soft 0.3 Lee GND. The two resulting images are below! I'm not sure which one I prefer.


Derrynane beach

Derrynane beach

Further and higher along the shoreline, and against the magnificent backdrop of Derrynane Bay, I've got a tripod spread eagled on the rocks. Instead of concentrating on hyperfocal distance and composition, I'm shooting video on an iPhone. Like Windows 95, I don't do multitasking very well, so it is goodbye iPhone and hello live view.

The light is wonderful, my biggest question, which composition works best? Vertical to emphasize the Sea thrift or horizontally to show the beauty of the bay. Pixels are cheap, and as the sun paints the flowers I shoot a vertical composition. Something doesn't quite feel right. 

Switching back to the horizontal composition, the shutter is tripped again. Yep! the horizontal composition works better. The cracks in the rock mirror the patterns in the sand, while the head of sea thrift stands out against the tide, while the water coming in from the left of the scene is just enough to emphasis the sweeping shoreline.

Derrynane Bay, County Kerry, Ireland

Derrynane Bay, County Kerry, Ireland

That mild panic is well and truly gone!.


Tall Ships on the Boyne

To quote Chase Jarvis - "the best camera is the best one you have with you". This evening as I stand on the banks of the River Boyne, watching some of the tall ships sail in that camera is an iPhone. I am slightly envious of the many people standing around with tripods and big glass.

However the photographer in me is never far away, and as the waves wash in, and with a one year old on my knee the iPhone comes out to snap the shot below.

Tall Ship on the River Boyne

Tall Ship on the River Boyne

Controlling time

In the Field - Lee Big Stopper

Via torch light, I am descending the cliff face at Howth, Ireland. The descent down is made up of the occasional bum slide and a set of breeze blocks that stick out of the mud. Behind me, my good friend and accomplice is turning back, beaten back by vertigo.

A few minutes later and I am on a small pebble beach, waiting for sunrise. 

Standing, waiting, I can't help but think, that this is a location for a wild stormy day. However, on this calm morning, with sunrise 20 minutes away I am attempting to manipulate time. Not in an astro physicist way, but in the photographers way.

In an age of ever increasing high ISOs, a big bug bear of mine is how manufacturers like Canon and Nikon bump up the low light capabilities of modern cameras, while ignoring the needs of photographers like me who want to slow things down. 

Why can't I drop ISO's below 50 (L)? Even better, why can't I dial in a desired neutral density level thereby lengthening exposures at will? I guess these kind of ideas don't fly with the respective marketing depts. So instead I am playing with a Lee Big stopper, a filter I have a love hate relationship with. 

The Big stopper allows you to reduce the amount of light entering your camera by 10 stops. It takes a little getting use to, when using it, it is essential to compose, pre focus and turn off auto focus before seating the filter. Once it is in position, everything goes black, and you are essentially shooting blind. Its effect on exposure are dramatic!! 

In the images below, a 0.3 sec exposure is increased to just over two minutes.


Exp 0.3 seconds @ F11  0.9 Graduated ND

Exp 0.3 seconds @ F11  0.9 Graduated ND

Exp, 2mins @ F8. Lee Big Stopper + 0.9 Graduated ND filter

Exp, 2mins @ F8. Lee Big Stopper + 0.9 Graduated ND filter

You either love or hate the effect. In this instance, I think the Big Stopper has improved the image. What do you think?

Be warned - Due to a number of issues, The Lee Big Stopper can be difficult to get hold of. Many photographic retailers find it difficult to replace stock. If you are in Ireland, Mahers cameras in Drogheda, for what ever reason seem to be able to get stock easily. They are expensive, so expect to pay around €120 for one.


The Mobile Camera Bag

Apps for the landscape photographer

It is probably stating the obvious, but every photographer has a camera bag, in fact some I know have a few. Filled full of glass, gizmos and high-end digital cameras that let's them weave their magic. However in this day and age, it is likely our most used camera bag comes in the form of a smart phone from Apple or Samsung, filled with two dollar apps.


In my case, most of these APPs are a fleeting fad, an impulsive buy after being hooked by a tweet. To the left is a screen grab of my iPhone5 and the APPs that I use for photography. At a push, two maybe three are used regularly (645 Pro and Snapseed). The rest have been used no more than a handful of times, and are no more than space hoggers. Despite the many camera APPs on the market, the default iPhone camera APP remains the most used.

Snapseed, recently acquired by Google from Nik software is a photo processing APP for iOS and Android. Free to download, it is pretty amazing what this APP can do. Selective adjustments, automatic enhancements and a host of filters to play with, it comes highly recommended. In many ways it is the Photoshop elements of the smart phone world.

645 Pro by "" is the photographers APP , at present it is only available for iPhone users . The APP differs from many other photo APPs in that it offers high quality jpegs and Tiff files, along with histogram visibility, night mode, focus and exposure controls. The unprocessed files it outputs ( you need to connect to iTunes to retrieve them) are good if not just a tad noisy. 

In my opinion the GUI on the APP needs some tweaking, but after the default camera APP this is my most used APP.

TPE - The Photographers Ephemeris.

A must have APP for any photographer looking to plan a shoot. This APP is available for Android and iPhone and lets you see how the sun will fall on any part of the world at any time of day or year. In my opinion it is a must have, and is well worth the investment. One feature I would like to see the developers add, is the ability to view tidal times for any coastal locations. 

So that's my mobile bag, what have you got in yours?

Blue Hour

Forty minutes before sunrise, and I am standing on a cold deserted beach near Mulranny County Mayo, at a time landscape photographers call "Blue Hour".

Blue hour, that time before sunrise and after sunset, when darkness has not quite departed or descended. A time for daylight white balance, tripods and lengthy exposures. Automatic white balance has a tendency to destroy the cool tones that are to be found at this time of day.

Blue Hour - Co Mayo, Ireland

Blue Hour - Co Mayo, Ireland

Peering through the viewfinder, the sound of unseen waves fill the air as the moon sits low over a distant Croagh Patrick. 

During moments like this, it is easy to forget that landscape photography is more than F-stops and shutter speeds. In reality it's about the experience. The experience of watching, feeling, seeing the world at a time that most people don't see.

Mayo adventures

It is after 10pm, my family sleep soundly, as I meander the corridors of the hotel and slip out into the cool Co Mayo air, to the warm inviting atmosphere of Matt Molloys pub in the heart of Westport.

From the back of the pub, stomping feet accompany the sound of singing Irish fiddles and whistles.

I have been here many times, but tonight with the cold wind and snow falling it somehow feels more special.

County Mayo on the West coast of Ireland, is amongst the most beautiful Irish counties. So despite this being a family holiday, I tell myself that I can be forgiven for sneaking in some photography, as I follow the meandering road from Westport to the beach at Mulranny.

Standing under a crescent moon, waiting for dawn, the cool February air tickles my skin. It is mornings like these that make me glad I was bitten by the photography bug.

All images are © Peter McCabe