Ireland: A Photographers' Guide
Trends affect all of us: It can be the latest equipment, new techniques and even where to go to make images. At the moment Iceland seems to be the place to go if you want to be trendy, and images of an iceberg on a lonely beach are constantly popping up all over the Internet.
Many years ago another island was the desired destination for the traveling photographer: Ireland. There were no icebergs on beaches but Ireland produced its own stereotypes: Green fields divided by stone walls, thatched and white washed cottages (or their ruins) and plenty of red-haired 'characters'.
|Coumeenoole Bay and Great Blasket Island, Dingle Peninsula, County Kerry - probably one of the most photographed scenes in Ireland.
EOS 1Ds MK3; 45mm TS-E, f22; 30 seconds; ISO 100; 3 stop ND grad; tripod
Today Ireland has lost its magical appeal a bit for both the common tourist and the traveling photographer. It's hard to say exactly why this is, but part of the blame for this probably lies with the short lived economic boom, known as the Celtic Tiger, that kicked Ireland violently into the 21st century. The sudden wealth brought with it an array of side effects, both good and not so good.
On the positive side, the road network has improved considerably over the past decade with motorways now connecting most of the big cities and good food is now available even in the smallest country pub. You even can get good coffee in Ireland now...
The dark side of this sudden development was that Ireland became one of the most expensive countries in the world and environmental issues including habitat destruction, water pollution and littering are now as common here as in the rest of the world.
Despite all these changes Ireland is still a great destination for the picture hungry traveler. In many ways Ireland is a miniature of Europe with many different landforms and environments within a few square kilometers and some of the most impressive historical buildings you can imagine. Ireland is one of the very few places where you can photograph a sunrise at a sandy beach, catch the morning light in the mountains and then visit an old ruined abbey and only travel a few kilometers in the process.
Getting there and getting around
Ireland has a number of international airports. Belfast in Northern Ireland (which is part of the United Kingdom, as distinct from the Republic of Ireland) serves the north east, Dublin the east, Cork the south and Shannon the west of the country. There are also a number of smaller airports like Kerry (south west) and Knock (north west). Ferry ports in Belfast, Dublin and Wexford also allow to bring your own car from the UK and France.
Although Ireland has a reasonable public transport system and cycling is still very popular among visitors the best and fastest way to get around and to the photographic hot spots is the private car. Rentals are available at all airports and the only thing you need to remember is that just like the UK, the steering wheel is on the right and you should drive on the left side of the road...
When to go and where to stay
The seasons in Ireland aren’t as well deliniated as in other countries. The Gulf Stream that passes close to Ireland’s west coast brings mild temperatures that rarely drop below freezing and the Atlantic Ocean provides a lot of precipitation. Exceptions do happen though, and especially over the past few years Ireland has experienced some rather strange weather including long cold snaps with atypical ice and snow as well as heat waves.
Statistically the driest and sunniest times are around April and May and then again September and October. These months are also off-season, which means traveling around is more affordable than during June, July and August. Winter can also be a good time to visit Ireland, especially for landscape photography. Days are short and the sun stays low in the sky all day which means beautiful light. It is a gamble however because you can also end up with weeks of high winds and pouring rain. Having said that, winter storms can also provide unique photographic opportunities if you don’t put yourself and your equipment at too much risk. Freak waves and wind still kills a number of people and cameras every year.
In my opinion the good old Bed & Breakfast is still the most comfortable and affordable option for accommodation in Ireland. Staying in smaller, more rural locations is a good way of getting in contact with locals and get some pointers for good photographic locations.
What to bring
Photographic subjects in Ireland range from landscape and wildlife to architecture, and of course 'street' photography. The choice what to bring is therefore pretty much yours. What is essential however is a good collection of water protection and cleaning utensils. Wind, rain and salt spray is never far away and it can sometimes be tricky keeping your camera dry and the lens clean.
Apart from that there is really nothing special you need for a photographic holiday in Ireland. Just remember the battery charger and loads of memory cards and external storage.