This is the first post in a series documenting our photography trip to Ireland in 2014
Ireland is a breathtakingly beautiful country, with myriad, sweeping landscapes of rocks and grass, undulating hills and lakes, and sheer seaside cliffs. There are a multitude of ancient ruins dotting the land; crumbling, simple rock structures showing the stark past of the Irish. It is all very rough and primeval when viewed from afar. But change lenses and it also hosts an amazing array of color as well, hidden in tiny wildflowers and brief sunsets veiled in Ireland’s dramatic clouds.
My wife and I toured Ireland for two weeks in July 2014. My goal was to focus on landscape photography, which I love but am only beginning to learn how to capture images I can be proud of. Ireland proved an interesting training ground. By car, we started in the far west and made a clockwise journey along Ireland’s backcountry parks and small villages, making only a brief stop in Dublin. In each locale we visited we attempted to capture the landscapes with our OMDs.
I carried an OMD EM-1 with the 12-40mm Pro. I had at my disposal a Really Right Stuff tripod and ball head, a Black Rapid sling, and Lee Seven5 Circular Polarizer, Big Stopper and Soft Grad ND filters. My wife, who has great raw talent as a photographer, is primarily interested in birds and so used almost exclusively an OMD EM-5 with the 75-300 Mk1 and a Black Rapid sling. The rest of our kit consisted of cleaning gear, extra batteries and chargers (though sadly not a car charger — an oversight to remember), and an FL600 flash (which I only used once or twice).
This trip was largely my chance to explore the OMD’s capabilities and develop my ability to use it most effectively. I wanted to share my lessons learned and experiences on this trip — its highs and lows — from the perspective of a photographer enthusiast, and how our OMDs were able to cope with Ireland’s quirks. You see, Ireland is not a readily photographer friendly country, despite its great beauty. We found that this beauty is effectively locked. We caught glimpses of it, but for two main reasons couldn’t easily capture it.
The first problem was the weather. The “natural sprinkler system” (as one Irishman put it to us) that makes the country so green also makes its sky perpetually grey. The first week of our journey, every day was rain in the morning, grey skies for the rest of the day, and a brief clearing in the evening. Actually getting wet was not too much of a problem on our trip, and the few times it rained on us, the weather sealing of our OMDs allowed us to push on without worry. The grey skies, however, flattened both our pictures and — over time — our moods. The savior here was to change the style of our shooting, and Olympus’ Dramatic Tone art filter proved the perfect setting for Ireland’s cloudy skies and rough landscapes. It accentuated the contrasts and textures of the grass and stones and ruins, and brought incredible life to the clouds. I tried not to overuse it, but particularly in the overcast part of our trip Dramatic Tone literally defined Ireland for me.
The second problem pertains to seeing Ireland by car, especially for someone who has driven their entire lives in the U.S. The back roads are harrowingly narrow and cars are oftentimes pushing into both lanes. There are no shoulders and the speed limits are higher than one would expect on such winding roads. The locals don’t seem to mind, as they typically tear along without concern for blind curves or scraping their sides against hedges. Furthermore, there are (with a few exceptions in the national parks) almost no scenic overlooks to pull over for a particularly spectacular view. As a result, we saw countless amazing landscapes we would have loved to stop and photograph, but it was so dangerous that the most we could manage was drive-by shooting. Some of the best locations we saw went unrecorded. If I could make one plea to the Irish government, it would be to put in shoulders on the roads wherever there is room. It would make everyone’s experience a lot more enjoyable, and probably save lives.
Rental cars are expensive in Ireland, especially if getting an automatic (recommended if coming from a country that drives on the left side of the car and/or right lane). Also, a GPS (or smart phone with WiFi, the route we took) is essential. While all of the streets seem to have names, in many rural areas there are no street signs, making map navigation difficult.