Clouds

The Burren

The Burren

The otherworldly landscape of the Burren in County Clare, Ireland

Ireland is largely a lush patchwork of beautiful green fields, crashing ocean, and deep blue skies with cottony clouds floating by overhead. But, she is also dark and bereft of color in places. The Burren is such a place. The Burren is a 250 square kilometer area composed largely of limestone with sparse vegetation growing throughout. Compared to the beautiful green fields that surround it, the Burren stands in stark contrast. Relatively few trees grow through the limestone grid that composes much of its surface. There are a few scrub trees and shrubs that grow in the cracked limestone. But, the landscape is largely gray and lifeless.

This shot is taken from a road that winds toward Gregans East. On the steep descent there are some amazing views of the Burren in the distance. The green trees in the foreground, the blue sky, and the white clouds show how very different the Burren is from the surrounding countryside. Enjoy.

Rainbows Over the Cliffs of Moher

Rainbows Over the Cliffs of Moher

As the sun settles below a passing storm toward the horizon, rainbows appear above the Cliffs of Moher

I can’t recall where I first remember seeing the Cliffs of Moher, but I immediately put photographing them on my bucket list. When I started planning our trip to Ireland I knew that I had to have at least one sunset to try to capture some of their beauty.

As it turned out, we would visit the Cliffs on two separate occasions while in the west of Ireland. And the first trip seemed even more promising than the second. As part of the tour that we were taking for the middle six days of our time in Ireland, we would load onto a boat in a nearby town and view the cliffs from the sea. Needless to say, I brought my gear along looking forward to some iconic shots. Unfortunately, the day that the boat trip occurred, the weather was rainy and the sea was turbulent. I’m not much of a seagoing guy, but I think even the locals looked at us as a bit crazy for boarding a boat in the weather we had that day. Here’s a shot of a passing boat headed on our same route or as a ferry to one of the outlying islands.

The Doolin Ferry

A ferry boat headed to the Cliffs of Moher on a stormy Irish afternoon

Notice the gray skies, the fact that very few people are onboard, and that everyone who is onboard is covered head to toe in rain gear. And when we ran into the wind the waves piled up in front of us and it was an extremely rough ride. We did end up with some pretty amazing views of the cliffs, but they were so shrouded in fog that it just didn’t make a great shot. Not to mention I was terrified that the sea spray would corrode my camera and lenses.

Fortunately for me, Pamela and I had scheduled our final two nights in Ireland to stay on the coast within easy driving distance of the Cliffs in the town of Lahinch. As we made our way up from the Dingle Peninsula towards Lahinch, the weather was rainy and windy. It was beautiful weather in which to see the lush Irish countryside but not so conducive to hiking and making photographs. We were just looking forward to getting to our hotel and having a warm, dry place to lay our head for the night. But, I still kept an eye on the weather just in case the sun might make a late afternoon appearance and spread some golden light on the Cliffs of Moher.

As it turned out, that is close to what happened. My long-suffering wife saw me looking wistfully out the window at dinner and quickly agreed to take a drive up the coast just in case the light might get good. Isolated storms were sweeping up the coast but moved on quickly and sometimes let brief glimpses of the sun and blue sky overhead appear. We made it to the parking lot of the Cliffs just as another small squall moved through the area. It wasn’t looking good. But, we put on our rain jackets and I strapped on my Think Tank Trifecta 10 bag and tripod and we began the walk up to the viewpoints.

Once we set up it became apparent that there was a small shot that the sun would make an appearance that night. We could see squalls moving across the landscape but they were spotty and sunlight was definitely hitting parts of the landscape in the distance. So, we began the wait for magic light.

In Ireland in midsummer the sunset doesn’t happen until nearly 10:00 at night. We were probably there by 8:30. Once I had picked the ‘right’ spot, I set up my gear, got my rain covers ready, and started looking for the right light. I had two bodies ready. I had my D700 with a 70-200 2.8 lens and a D800 on a tripod with my 24-70 2.8 on it. I was shooting wide with the D800 and a bit more localized with the D700.

Amazingly, as one of the storms rolled by overhead, the sun began to break through behind. I don’t know that I ever actually saw the sun, but it would occasionally light up the entire foreground, the cliffs, and the landscape beyond. And, as often happens in these conditions, rainbows began to form! At first Pamela and I both thought we could see a weak rainbow, but as the storm clouds moved by it became more and more vibrant. Then, a second smaller rainbow formed. I started shooting as quickly as possible making as many different compositions as possible. I bracketed exposures, shot with a neutral density filter, shot with a polarizer, and sometimes with a combination of all of those. I wanted to capture the moment as well as possible making sure I had enough images to capture the ever shifting mood of the scene.

Finally, the sun settled behind some clouds on the horizon. I never had the warm glow of the setting sun on the Cliffs of Moher that I had envisioned. But, I had my own unique version of the Cliffs – two rainbows and a dramatic stormy sky overhead. Overall, it was a magical and memorable evening. I hope this image conveys some sense of the magic that we felt that midsummer evening at the Cliffs of Moher.

The Winding Path To The Sea

The Winding Path

The steep, winding path of the Blasket Island Ferry at Dunquin, Ireland

As we drove the route around the Dingle Peninsula we often found ourselves abandoning a former plan in order to pursue some other beautiful sight. Sometimes the views we were chasing were based on what we saw ourselves and at other times we were going on information gathered from a new-found friend. This shot, though, was inspired by a postcard of all things. Although I prefer to find my own compositions I often spend a few minutes in a local drugstore or gift shop perusing the postcards from that area. Sometimes the images on the postcards are stock and not even from the region. But, oftentimes the images are from great local scenes both well-known and obscure.

In this case, I saw an absolutely wonderful image of sheep walking up a steep, winding path with the sea and coastal islands in the background. The image was simply too intriguing to not discover more about it. After doing a bit of research I found that the shot was taken at the Blasket Island Ferry terminal in Dunquin, or An Daingean as it is known locally. I won’t even attempt to show how the location is spelled in the native Irish Gaelic!

After driving around a bit and making a few wrong turns, we finally found the ferry. But, the shot from the “terminal” (a very simple six by six hut with a stove and sliding window) was not what I was looking for. So, I set off on foot toward the water hoping the shot would materialize. I quickly found my location and was amazed by what I saw. The ferry-boat docks in a somewhat sheltered cove about a hundred feet below the top of the cliff. Passengers – and sheep, too, apparently – disembark onto a small platform and wind their way up a narrow path toward the headland where I was standing. Even then, the wind was howling. I simply can’t imagine making that transition on a raw winter day with rain and sleet pelting down in frigid temperatures.

For this shot, I found a perch on the grassy knoll you see in the foreground of this shot. I broke out my 14-24 2.8 lens in order to take in as much of the landscape as possible. By balancing in a fairly precarious position I was able to keep my tripod stable and shoot off a series of frames. The biggest enemy this day was the wind. At times it blew so hard that I thought my whole rig would topple to the ground. Fortunately, that didn’t happen. Unfortunately, the ferry was not running this day so no unloading of sheep would be occurring. I look forward to visiting Ireland again in order to possibly see that sight and to visit the Blasket Islands.

The Dingle Peninsula is a magical place. Hopefully, this series of images conveys some sense of the beauty of this special place. Enjoy.

Slea Head Drive

Slea Head Drive

Slea Head Loop Road follows the coast of Ireland’s Dingle Peninsula

While staying in Dingle, our favorite pastime was to circle the peninsula on the Slea Head Drive. Of all the places we visited, the Dingle Peninsula was the most like the Ireland that I had envisioned. It was full of low rocky walls, small verdant pastures, picturesque houses, and views to the sea from around every corner. As a photographer I found myself stopping every 500 yards – or feet! – to compose another picture.

This shot is from near the westernmost point of the peninsula, Slea Head. I had to park our car several hundred yards up the road and walk back to this spot. As we drove around the corner I wanted to stop in this location but that would have been impractical and a bit suicidal. The roads in Ireland are very narrow and in this spot don’t even have a centerline. When two cars meet head to head it’s basically every driver for himself. So, I parked the car in a relatively wide spot in the road and dodged cars on the way back to this location.

I love the way that the low rock barrier wall leads my eye into the scene toward the lush green hills in the distance. The contrast of the blue seal with the green hills and blue-white sky makes for some great pops of color. It’s also apparent from this angle how steep the hills are and how precipitous the drop to the ocean below is. It’s a great visual representation of the beauty of this part of Ireland. Enjoy.

Dingle Harbor

Dingle Harbor

The rising moon and clouds lit by the setting sun hang over beautiful Dingle harbor

My favorite part of our trip to Ireland was our time on the Dingle Peninsula. It was everything that I hoped Ireland would be and more. The scenery was beautiful, the music was enchanting, the people were friendly, and the food was plentiful and tasty. I can’t imagine having a better time. I only wish that we could have stayed there for a week or more.

Our stay was made even more perfect by the hotel we stayed in. The Castlewood House is one of the best hotels I’ve ever stayed in. It’s either a large B&B or a small hotel. In either case it’s a perfect place to stay. The owners were helpful without being overly inquisitive. The breakfasts that we had there were some of the best I’ve had in my life. The rooms were modern and yet filled with antiques. All that and the walk to “downtown” Dingle was maybe five minutes. I can’t recommend Castlewood House highly enough.

This image was made just after dinner and just before the live music began in the pub we were in that evening. I kept looking up from our table to see how the light was looking. My long-suffering wife shooed me out of the restaurant knowing that I wouldn’t enjoy the music if I had missed the sunset. I spent twenty or thirty minutes taking in the show as the clouds turned cotton candy pink above Dingle Harbor. This image is a bit soft but it gives a glimpse of the pretty little town and harbor of Dingle. Enjoy!

Peaceful

Peaceful

A solitary fishing boat lies at anchor in Dingle harbor

Well, it’s taking me way to long to work through my images from Ireland taken last summer. I clearly need to pick up the pace or I’ll never get around to posting a new series of images. Here’s one from the lovely Dingle Peninsula. The tide moves so much in this area that this boat would be laying on its side in the mud six hours later. At this point in the late afternoon, though, it made for wonderfully peaceful image as it lay at anchor with the beautiful Irish countryside in the distance. Enjoy.

The Dingle Races

The Dingle Races

The race track at Ballintaggart hosts the Dingle Races each August

As we drove deeper onto the Dingle peninsula, the scenery became more and more mesmerizing. There were snatches of ocean views, rolling hills, and an ongoing cascade of green in every direction we looked. Adding to the beauty of the scene was a constantly evolving partly cloudy sky that covered the landscape in a parade of shadows from the giant cumulus clouds passing by majestically overhead.

It was one of those road trips where only discipline would allow us to arrive at our destination on time. We literally could have stopped every half mile to take in yet another remarkable view. Instead we pushed on satisfying ourselves with the view through our windshield and windows. That is until we came to this scene. I literally jammed on the brakes to take in the view that you see here.

We had arrived in Ireland in the midst of race season. Although we didn’t watch much television while we were there, the local coverage was fixated on the horse races as they moved from one town or county to another over the course of the summer. We had great fun viewing the spectacle of the races at Limerick Racecourse while we were in the west of Ireland. It very much reminded me of the Kentucky Derby where the people watching is every bit as much of a spectacle as is the great race itself. Ladies in their fancy hats, gentlemen in their suits, and jockeys in their colorful silks made for an hour or so of fascinating television.

Unfortunately we were a week early to see the Dingle races in person. It would have been great fun to watch beautiful Irish horses thunder around the rolling grass track at Ballintaggart under a splendid sky with colorful banners flying and the cheer of the crowd resounding across the valley. But, I’ll have to be satisfied with my imagination coupled with the memories of the race course on a brilliant summers day. Hopefully we will be able to enjoy the Dingle Races in person someday soon. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this image.

Ireland the Beautiful

Ireland the Beautiful

Clouds and lush green fields as viewed entering Ireland’s incomparable Dingle Peninsula

With apologies to my beloved national song, America the Beautiful, I’ve titled this post Ireland the Beautiful. This is perhaps my favorite image from our trip to the Emerald Isle.

As we left the Ring of Kerry, we began the short journey to the next peninsula on Ireland’s western shore, the Dingle Peninsula. Although I had enjoyed our short circuit around the Ring of Kerry and our ferry ride across the Shannon River, I was truly looking forward to spending time in and around Dingle. I had read extensively about western Ireland and the consensus among those I respected most was that the Dingle Peninsula was and is the most beautiful part of Ireland.

As we worked our way westward toward the southern coast of the Dingle Peninsula we climbed a low pass just past Annascaul on the N86. There was a small pullout that was located toward the top of the pass from which I could view the valley from which we had just traveled. I could tell before I ever stopped the car that there was an epic shot to be had from this vantage point. I only hoped that the view would not be ruined by power lines, an industrial plant, or some other modern feature.

To my delight, the view was everything that I had been looking for and more. Not only did I have the forty shades of green that I had been looking for, but I also had picturesque fields, cattle, wonderful cumulus clouds, a blue sky above them, and a wonderful soft afternoon sun side lighting the entire scene. I quickly grabbed my tripod and camera and began to capture the scene.

For me, this image captures the essence of rural Ireland. There are rolling hills, a patchwork of lush green, a small village in the distance, and even the threat of rain as the oncoming clouds touch the mountains in the distance bringing darker skies. That is Ireland – a rural country dotted with quaint villages, ancient architecture, all covered in a tapestry of lush greens and blessed with abundant sunshine and rain. I’m already looking forward to my next visit. Enjoy.

Quin Abbey

Quin Abbey

One of hundreds of ruined abbeys scattered across the Irish countryside

After we left Dublin our next stop was Ennis in County Clare in the west of Ireland. Ennis is a pretty little village with some great pubs and conveniently located for day trips. Due to some last-minute changes in our itinerary we wound up with a free day in Ennis. Some of our group headed out to the Cliffs of Moher and to the Connemara region. Since we would be visiting both areas later in our trip, we decided to make an afternoon excursion to some nearby sights.

It became apparent fairly quickly that the local bus system was not our best option. Fortunately, we asked around and found a taxi that could take us to a couple of local destinations of interest. Well, they were of interest to us at least. Neither abbey that we visited was exactly a tourist mecca. At Quin Abbey we saw one other group of three while we were there. At Clare Abbey near Ennis we scared off a group of teenage boys who were engaged in something nefarious enough that they scattered as soon as they saw us approaching. Other than that we had the abbeys to ourselves.

The crazy thing is that these abbeys were built in 1195 and 1402. Think about that. No European – other than some Vikings potentially, but that’s another story – would even set foot in the New World until ninety years after the “new” abbey had begun construction. Yet, these beautiful old structures are just scattered around the countryside with cows sometimes wandering within their walls. In America they would all be visitor attractions with paid admissions and endowments to cover their maintenance costs. Don’t get me wrong. I think the Irish cherish these structures. There are just so many of them that you can’t love them all equally.

It certainly helps that the Irish built these abbeys out of stone and not out of wood. The structures have certainly stood the test of time. Wood buildings just don’t have much of a chance to last for close to a thousand years without some painstaking care and maintenance.

Although it had been rainy or threatening rain for much of the day, the skies broke open a bit while we were at Quin Abbey. I spent a delightful twenty minutes or so composing a shot and waiting for the right combination of blue sky, cloud formations, and direct sunlight on Quin Abbey. I love the lush colors of green in the field and trees as a contrast to the blue sky, white clouds, and wonderful brown gray of the local stone. I think it makes for a beautiful scene. I hope you do as well. Enjoy.

From Under the Canopy

From Under the Canopy

Looking out onto the lush Irish landscape from an adjacent tree-lined road

On our day trip to Northern Ireland we stopped twice at the Dark Hedges. I was hoping to have the place to myself with some great light streaming through the trees. Instead, I realized that I was in a shrine to all things related to the television series Game of Thrones. There was a constant stream of traffic down the road I was trying to shoot. I think I could have waited all day long and only had a few brief intervals without a car or walker in my shot.

As is often the case Pamela saw the shot that I didn’t see this day. As I was fretting over the shot that I couldn’t have she drew my attention to what was happening beyond the tree-lined street we were standing on. The late afternoon light in the fields surrounding the Dark Hedges was becoming beautiful. I quickly moved my tripod and began to set up a shot to capture the scene.

This is a perfect illustration of how about half of my keeper shots come about. I have a destination or particular shot in mind but along the way I stumble onto a shot I never even thought about. I suppose there is a life lesson there about being flexible, enjoying the journey, keeping one’s mind open to all the possibilities, etc. All I know is that I have learned to keep my eyes open while practicing my craft. Sometimes the best shots are ones that I never saw coming. Enjoy.