Ireland by iPhone

Increasingly it seems I take more and more images with an iPhone. The freedom it gives to sketch / experiment at a location is perhaps why I find myself leaving the DSLR in the camera bag and enjoying the creative freedom these small camera phones bring.

Granted, they have a long way to go in terms of resolution, which falls apart the moment you zoom. But it has me wondering, will the day come when I can leave the DSLR permanently in the camera bag, and rely solely on a smartphone?

iPhone Panoramic; Loughcrew Rainbow

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

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!.


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.


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.