What a start today! Not exactly the smoothest possible.. I woke up at 5 am to try and catch the sunrise at Shrove beach, but the door of my hotel was locked and nobody was around to open it. I went back to my room, got out from the window (thank to my girlfriend who helped handling me all my gear!) and jumped a fence to get to the car. Opted to go to the closer Fanad Head. Typical ideal conditions.. splashy waves, wind and rain. I fought the elements for half an hour trying to protect my gear as much as I could, when finally it all started to turn for the better and gorgeous light conditions showed up. Right then my battery ran out of juice! I always have a spare one.. but today (left behind me during the “break out” from the hotel). This is one of the last shot I could get.
Hi fellow photographers!
It has been difficult to find the time to write any posts in the past month; I have preferred to spend most of the spare time doing what I like most, which is travelling all around Ireland, exploring its hidden gems, doing a lot of spot scouting, combining photography with hiking and exploration in general. Yes, because photography can be quite addictive, and curiosity is a powerful driving force to keep us always on the move!
Last week my curiosity brought me to this amazing megalithic monument in the West of Ireland, called Poulnabrone Dolmen, and to move my first steps into the amazing world of night photography. It’s completely new to me but I’m already liking every bit of it!
Location: Poulnabrone Dolmen, County Clare, Ireland.
I still find it simply amazing to think that every day we have two magic moments. I’m talking about the two magic hours which take place daily, around sunrise and sunset.
What gives that magical feel is actually the light. And not only it’s possible to enjoy that magic atmosphere in real life, it’s also possible to capture it with our photography!
But first of all, let’s try to get an idea of what the golden hour is. The golden hour is a short period of time just after sunrise or just before sunset, and it owns its name to the typical golden light which characterizes it. But why is its light so different? Which characteristics have this peculiar light? And when can we see it?
Light is the key element in photography, and our most important natural source of light is the Sun. To allow us see things its light has to travel from the Sun itself to the Earth, passing through the terrestrial atmosphere. And here it is where the magic begins! Just after sunrise and just before sunset the Sun is levelled at the horizon, so that its light has to travel through a much thicker layer of atmosphere compared to what it does in broad daytime. In doing so the light is scattered into the atmosphere, but this affects mainly its blue component, while the yellow, orange and red ones travel more easily. The result is that beautiful golden light all outdoor photographers always look for.
Now that we know why we get this particular light, let’s see which characteristics it has. Golden light is:
Soft (or diffuse). Travelling through a thick layer of atmosphere, which acts as a giant diffuser, the intensity of sunlight is reduced. The result is a softer, diffuse light, which produces a more evenly exposed photo, expanding naturally its dynamic range, reducing overly exposed bright areas and harsh shadows.
Warm. Scattering (blocking) mainly the blue component, the resulting light is warmer, throwing a golden glow on what it illuminates.
Directional. When the sun is low on the horizon, shadows become not only softer but also longer, adding to the sense of depth of the image, and highlighting textures.
You see? Plenty of reasons for waking up early in the morning or hanging out until sunset with your camera. Don’t forget your tripod, though. Being the light much less intense than in full daylight means that your shutter speed is going to be longer, and a solid support is necessary to avoid blurred images.
Next time we will talk about the other “half” of the magic hour: the blue hour!
No matter if you are a travel photographer or an enthusiast tourist, nobody is happy to go back home with just a bunch of dull pictures. It’s quite frustrating to look at those images and realise they don’t reflect the emotion and the atmosphere you experienced in that particular moment. Still, this is a very common circumstance.
To avoid this frustration and get the best out of your travel experiences the most important tip probably is: plan it!
Plan it in advance as much as possible. Gather the information about what you are going to visit, check the opening hours, how to get there, what’s in the surrounding, read other people reviews check the forecast, sunrise and sunset times, look at other photographers’ pictures and don’t forget to take advantage of services like Google maps and street view.
Well, if you’ve done all of that, your chances to be satisfied with your pictures, and overall experience, are starting to increase. Which is great!
A bit of experience, good technical skills, and a trained “photographic eye” will do the rest of the trick. Don’t be scared, it’s way easier than what it seems. The most important thing to do is to start off on the right foot: Plan it!
And if you don’t know from where to start with your plan, there are plenty of valuable resources around the web. One among all: Jimmy McIntyre. He is a terrific travel photographer, a brilliant communicator, and is blog is a precious source of inspiration for any photo enthusiast on this planet. Here you can find 32 of his tips on how to plan for landscape photography.
Many of them have been an essential part of my workflow for long, like the ones I considered while planning for this shot, which I am going to share.
I use an app called the photographer ephemeris, a map-centric sun and moon calculator. Thanks to it I knew that in summertime the sun sets just in front of the Giant’s Causeway, so I planned my trip here accordingly. This also leads us to our the next tip:
A strong light source can add depth and contrast to the scene, attract the eye of the observer, highlight the texture of other elements present in our image while “bathing” them with light beams. Overall, it enhances the mood of our photograph. A sun setting or rising, or the bright sky just after a sunset, or before sunrise, are some invaluable natural sources of strong light which can really make your photographs “pop”.
A mistake I’ve made many times. Being so captured by a gorgeous background, maybe a sunset, and take a pictures of it, forgetting the foreground. The result is usually an image which lacks of depth, and lose much of its impact. Add strength to your images including an interesting foreground. In this case it was utterly important, since the peculiar hexagonal pattern of the basalt columns is what makes this place unique, and you definitely want to highlight it in your picture.
In the same way as light, water can strongly influence the mood of your image. Capture a choppy, rough sea with a short exposure time if you want to show the power of this element, or play with a longer exposure to “flatten” the sea’s surface, as I did here to let the rocks and the “pipe organ-like” structure of the causeway stand out more.
The golden hour may be that “perfect” moment of the day for a photographer, whit is gorgeous and warm light. But don’t underestimate what the blue hour can look like. It often carries some magical atmosphere to the scene, and can give a dramatic mood to your images even after a dull sunset. Besides, you’ll be probably one of the few photographers around by that time (if not the only one), which is gorgeous if you want to capture the wilderness and loneliness of some landscape or seascape. That’s what I’ve done here; there were dozens of people walking on these basalt columns just before sunset. Not even an hour later I was left alone, and the majesty of the scenery seemed to be magnified in its wilderness.
The histogram shows the amount of pixels of particular brightness in your photograph, ranging from black (0% brightness) to white (100% brightness). Looking at it you may have a precise idea of “what’s going on” in your picture regarding the exposure. If your histogram is “touching” the left edge, you are probably clipping the highlight (losing details in the most bright areas of your image). If it is “touching” the right edge, you’re clipping the shadows. Either case can be usually fixed adjusting the exposure settings. In my case, the histogram showed that I was clipping the highlights. Underexposing a bit I got back all the details in the sky.
Very rarely I’m satisfied with my pictures as they come out of my camera. Most of the time there is some fine-tuning to do and some details to correct in “post-production”. Personally, I think that editing an image is as much important as actually taking it and, with some practice, can also be good fun! Therefore, when I shoot, I do it thinking how I will then edit the image. In this case I had to underexpose it deliberately to get as many details in the sky as possible. The foreground would have been too dark then, but I knew Lightroom has a very powerful tool to bring out the details and fine tune the exposure selectively in the shadows, so I could take my shot, confident it would have looked as I wanted after some basic editing.
Do you have any other tips you follow when you plan for your photography? Please share it here in a comment!
Location: Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland – UK.
Coordinates: 55°14′27″N 6°30′42″W
Hello fellow photographers!
Let’s start the year with one of the most iconic place in Ireland: the Giant’s Causeway, rightfully considered one of the greatest natural wonder in the United Kingdom, and a world heritage site by UNESCO, located on the north coast of Northern Ireland.
This incredibly peculiar natural structure owns its origin to the intense volcanic activity which took place in Antrim around 50 to 60 million years ago, when fluid molten basalt formed an extensive lava plateau. As the lava cooled, an horizontal contraction occurred, originating the fractures still visible nowadays, which shaped the hexagonal pillar-like structures, making this site almost unique in the world.
Being one of the greatest natural wonder in Ireland, it is also one of the most visited tourist attractions of the country. Therefore, if you want to get some good pictures of this gorgeous place, avoiding the hundreds of people which daily crowd it, you’d better plan your visit accordingly (don’t despair, with a few tips it is absolutely possible).
See you next week, with another picture from the Giant’s Causeway, and more tips about getting the most out of your visit.
Location: Giant’s Causeway, County Antrim, Northern Ireland – UK.
What to shoot: The peculiar natural structure is undoubtedly the primadonna of this seascape and will have a prominent role in your shots. You will either focus on the hexagonal pattern of the basalt columns, or on the “pipe organ-like” shape of the coast. Of course other more common natural elements come in handy to boost your composition.
In particular water can help changing the mood of your picture. Try to catch the movement of a choppy sea, or use a calm, flat water surface to get the most beautiful colours out of its reflection.
And don’t forget the “ever changing” light of an Irish sky. Again, the movement of the clouds can be highlighted with a long exposure, or you can just wait for the right beam of light entering your composition.
Ideal time to shoot: Sunrise and sunset. I know it doesn’t come as a surprise, but these are really the ideal times to get both the most beautiful light and the less people around. Try to get there before sunrise, or to stay after sunset. The blue hour can add some extra drama to the place, and you’ll be probably the only one there.
There is an extra advantage to go there out of the operating hours of the visitor centre. Access to the Giant’s Causeway is currently free, but during the opening hours of the visitor centre you’ll be asked to pay a fee in order to park your car (and it’s quite difficult to leave your car elsewhere). But out of the opening hours you can actually park for free.
Gear: Wide angle lenses to standard zooms.
How to get there: By car: The Giants Causeway is on the B147 Causeway road. It is 2 miles from Bushmills village, and 13 miles from Ballycastle. Onsite parking is reserved for visitors admitted through the Visitor Centre.
There are Buses and a Park and Ride Service available. For more information click here.
Coordinates: 55°14′27″N 6°30′42″W
And welcome to all of you, fellow photographers, into this new year. I hope you had a fantastic winter break! I also hope you are now ready to take your camera out again and follow me into the great journey of exploring the world around us, looking for the most breathtaking views, the cutest glimpses of our cities, the liveliest moment of our neighbourhoods, and get the most fabulous pictures out of them. Along with all the fun that photography brings, of course!
This year I’ll be focusing on Ireland, scouting both its most iconic places and its many hidden gems. The goal is to visit Irish most beautiful photographic spots and collect them all here, in a sort of simple, unpretentious guide to Ireland for photographers and photography lovers. A “drop-in” to Venice is also on the agenda. So, if you are looking for hints and tips about what to photograph in these locations stay tuned.
See you next week with our first photographic spot of the year, the Giant’s Causeway, in Northern Ireland.
Good bye 2016, it has been fun meeting you and discovering many new places!
Now it’s time to move on. Wish you all a happy new year, full of your best images and inspiration.