Togs & Tales

Alan Hennigan

Alan Hennigan

Landscape Photographer

My name is Alan Hennigan, I am a photographer and videographer from Dublin originally, but I moved up to southwest Donegal at the ripe old age of 28. I never went to college or had the attention span to do well at school so up until I got the job I’m in now, I was doing warehouse work in Dublin. I work in a boat building company in southwest Donegal and I do all their internal photography and videography, as well as graphic design and and look after their online presence too in terms of websites and social media.

In terms of photography, I only picked up my first camera aged 34 and and it was as part of my day job, providing progress reports to boat owners. The company camera was a bridge camera, a Fujifilm HS10 and I used that for a few months until summer 2014 when I bought a second hand Nikon D50 for €100 so that I could take better pictures for my day job.

What was your path to becoming a Landscape Photographer & What was your first camera?

So for 18 months I used the D60 (technically my first camera) every other day, and I picked up a free Nikon 18 – 105 with a broken autofocus motor during this time too. I rarely used the camera outside of work, I still had zero interest in photography at this point. That all changed in January 2016 when a local photographer was upgrading his camera and he sold me his very old and very used Nikon D300. I remember looking at it and being totally lost, it had no automatic mode. 18 months shooting in auto without the flash and then this thing arrives and it has no dial for modes at all. I went online looking for a user manual and found Ken Rockwell’s website where he had a user guide that went through all the features and functions and I just became hooked. Once I learned what P, M, A and S, modes were I started wondering about what the exposure control button was, then metering, then iso which lead me onto the exposure triangle and on and on it went. I felt like every door I opened lead me to a room with more doors and more things to learn. I was absolutely obsessed at this point and I wanted to try out all these techniques so I started going out with the camera before work, then during lunch, and after work and I was very self conscious so I went to isolated enough places and living in rural Ireland, that just happened to be landscapes and thus the landscape obsession was born. So technically a second-hand Nikon D300, with a shuttercount of 170,000 was my first landscape camera, but the first camera I bought myself was the Nikon D7200.

Your passion for photography has also inspired you to go into business ventures, where being a photographer has came at a huge advantage to your work, can you tell us about your work?

Yeah to be absolutely clear here, landscape photography is my first love when it comes to photography. Its what I do to relax mentally….. being out alone with a camera and just messing about with no pressure is absolute bliss. However, I wasnt really gifted with a mind thats capable of focus and very quickly I started to try other forms of photography. I sold my first prints October 2016 when I went to the Harvest Rally in Donegal and shot stills and video of the event, the video I shot was seen and I started getting interest in doing videos then too. I believe it was early 2017 I set up my own facebook page and pretty quickly and surprisingly I started getting people enquiring as to if I sold prints and so I started selling prints regularly and things just kind of grew from there. I started getting hired by local businesses for video work, and covering events like the Wild Atlantic Marathon, and then ultimately working with companies like Daks of London to produce a video and I even travelled to France to film Chateau La Carriere just before the Covid lockdowns. Most recently I have shot footage for the RTE and BBC documentary The Island

You also have teamed up with some other local artist to run a craft shop in your local town, can you tell us a wee bit about that an how its benefited you as a photographer?

The craftshop in question is Wild Atlantic Crafts in Killybegs and its an amazing group of talented people all producing local made crafts. I think the great lesson in the craftshop is understanding the business of selling. Of my 10 best selling prints, maybe 2 of them are shots I actually feel have any sort of merit from an artistic standpoint. Tourists like to buy quality images of places they have been, in a way that looks kind of familiar to them. I love a self indulgent fine art print as much as any photographer but ultimately, regular people dont appreciate the fine details that go into an amazing photograph. They dont understand luminosity masks, exposure blending or dodging and burning so its up to me to be humble and sell what people want, at a price they are willing to pay. None of this is to say that there is no market for fine art prints, its more a case of understanding the market you are trying to sell in.

What was your favourite Landscape Adventure Story since becoming a Photographer?

I had a commission in 2018 to do promotional video and still images for a Chateau in the south of France and landscape images of the area were a part of that brief. It was my first job abroad and its a strange sort of pressure for a part time landscape photographer to have a set deadline and window to capture images that justify people paying to fly you to a foreign country. Normally we are incredibly patient, waiting for the conditions we envision for our shots but this was all about delivering results regardless of the conditions.
I had a commission in 2018 to do promotional video and still images for a Chateau in the south of France and landscape images of the area were a part of that brief. It was my first job abroad and its a strange sort of pressure for a part time landscape photographer to have a set deadline and window to capture images that justify people paying to fly you to a foreign country. Normally we are incredibly patient, waiting for the conditions we envision for our shots but this was all about delivering results regardless of the conditions. So I travelled over and arrive at a car rental company in Bordeaux to collect my rental car and long story short, they wont give it to me due to basic admin reasons. So there I am in Bordeaux with all my gear and no way to travel the 200km to get to where I need to shoot, and no car when I am there to get around how I needed to. Looking back I had a near mental breakdown as the pressure and strangeness of the whole situation just overwhelmed me. Money had already been spent on me and I was failing over something stupid. But at some point when i was arguing my case with the manager of the car rental place, something just clicked in my brain and I just accepted the situation and let go. I remember thinking this is what most normal people consider to be an adventure they look back on and laugh about so thats how I treated it. I took out my phone worked out there was one train that could get me where I needed to go, but it was on the other side of the city so that became my goal. Get to the train station. So we hopped on a shuttle bus, and while there I booked train tickets but the bus was scheduled to arrive 5 minutes before the train departed so it was stress all the way. At the train station I couldnt find the train as on top of general stress and time pressure everything was understandably in French. This was the last train of the night, so if we didnt make it a huge section of my shooting time the following day is gone and I have to try find a hotel for the night. So I spot the train I think we need to get on down the end of a very long platform and we ran across the station, under other platforms and away we went. When he got there however I realised it wasnt the one, and figured it had to be the train at the opposite end of the platform and I made a run for it. At the time I ran 25 – 30k a week but with all the gear (and a suitcase thathad broken a wheel so was nearly dead weight) this was absolutely lung bursting effort but I made the train as the doors were closing, I got on a cattle cart and showed my phone to locals who didnt speak english but one confirmed it was the right train. Unfortunately, I had left my girlfriend halfway down the platform and I needed to stand in the doorway to prevent the train leaving. I had conducters running at me, whistles in mouth but I held the door and delayed everyone for a minute or so and we made it to our destination and I got my full filming and stills work done. It was challenging at times but I dont think any event in my journey as a photographer has given me more personal growth than that experience.

What was your worst in-the-field experience as a landscape Photographer?

I havent really had bad experiences in landscape photography, even when a plan is ruined by the weather I am very much a process orientated person so I always get something out of every trip. I think without being negative or cynical I generally always prepare mentally for the worst so when conditions are amazing it feels like a bonus. Like any Irish photographer I have spent many a morning standing beside a tripod underneath a matt grey sky, as the drizzle descends, wondering what the hell I got out of bed for….. but nothing horrific has happened on a landscape shoot. Commercial photography is another story…. Plenty of disasters there over the years!

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

Sunrise! In Spring and Autumn when you still have an early sunrise, its hard to really describe the feeling I get when I am out in a location alone. Not the ideal preference when living on the west coast!

Where is your favourite Location in Ireland to Photograph & Why?

Muckross Head in Kilcar. The location itself is about 5 minutes from my home and without a doubt its the place I have photographed the most. I probably love it the most because its comfortable, but genuinely its also a location that’s just incredibly versatile, regardless of the weather you can go here and guarantee a composition. Plus people dont go there so I always have a nice quiet experience. There’s small cliffs, exposed rocks, beaches, big waves and its a great location for sunsets.

What is your favourite photograph, that you’ve taken to date, & Why?

I genuinely dont like most of the pictures I have taken, when I get the files onto the computer they leave me underwhelmed. Typical Irish Landscape Photographer! I think though that for multiple reasons, my aerial panorama of Sliabh Liag is my favourite pic I have ever taken. Its probably my best selling shot, I have a 2.8 meter long vinyl print of it on my office wall, but I actually took it on St Stephens Day in 2018. Its a sunrise shot on a -8 morning and I took it in my pyjamas from the upper carpark. I had a dressing gown and slippers on but no gloves and I was shocked at how fast the hands go numb in those conditions. The final image is comprised of 15 exposures and I had to get back in the car twice to restore feeling to my hands but it was worth the hardship!

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

Though in my heart I am a Nikon shooter, commercial realities mean I have had to gravitate towards the Sony e-mount system in recent years. I now shoot mostly on the Sony a7iii with the Sigma Art 24-70 f/2.8, Sigma Art 14-24 f/2.8, and the Tamron 70-180 f/2.8 in the bag also. Next year I will probably invest in the Sigma 16 – 28 f/2.8 for landscapes. I am upgrading to a Sony a7R v for stills when it is launched and I just bought the Sony A7s iii for video work…. so the beloved Nikon D750 and lenses will be sold as they just arent being used at this point. I also have a sony a6400 with the Tamron 17 – 70 f/2.8 for more of a day to day shooter/backup videography camera. The last camera in the bag is the DJI Mavic Pro 2 which i use for my dronework.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Get out with the camera as much as possible, figure out where your strengths and weaknesses are, and dont let social media stifle your own creativity. Its vitally important that at the core of what you do is work that makes you happy or fulfilled. It may not be practical in a commercial sense to do it 100% of the time but its vital that a substantial part of what you do is something you enjoy.

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

Not so much advice, but I met the late John Eagle once. He had a few books published and was mostly known for photographing lighthouses, we chatted a bit online but the year before he passed away he was leading a tour group in Donegal and he took time out away from his group to shoot a bit with me. I was very early on in photography and he was super knowledgable, he had amazing gear and I was very impressed but towards the end of our time he looked me dead in the eye and said to me “I have no idea what i’m doing when it comes to photography.”

It was a crazy thing to hear from a published, professional photographer but in the years since its something I hear from most photographers. Most of us dont really appreciate our own talents, and it makes it easier knowing thats more common than not.

Who is your biggest inspiration as a Landscape Photographer.

As I explained above I had a different journey in how I came to landscape photography. I never really put much thought or planning into it, I just started shooting and when I couldnt get a result I wanted I just went on to youtube and looked up a tutorial. In fact I remember early on being very determined to NOT be influenced by other photographers as I felt I was doing well because I was producing images that were somewhat different from what people see elsewhere.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment ?

The truth is there are too many amazing photographers for me to just settle on one so I would rather mention someone who doesnt have the profile they deserve in my opinion. Stephen Dunbar, in terms of raw talent across multiple disciplines such as wildlife,astro, landscapes and aerial the man is just an exceptional photographer and if anyone isnt familiar with his work, they should change that.

© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Alan Hennigan
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