Togs & Tales

Brian Maguire

Brian Maguire

Landscape Photographer

I was ‘born and bred’ in Belfast, but I think I must have been from Donegal in a previous life! I am lucky enough to have a second home in Dunfanaghy and it’s Donegal where I love to spend most of my spare time. I retired last year and I’m really enjoying having more time for photography, even if the long-anticipated travel plans have had to be put on hold for the time being. The kids are all grown up and flown the nest so now it’s just me, my wife and our dog at home. I love being outdoors, even when conditions are not conducive to photography, so the dog gets well-walked, whether I’m in Belfast or Donegal.

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

I’ve always loved the outdoors and my Dad ensured that I was very well-travelled throughout Ireland while I was still very young. I doubt that there is a county in Ireland that I didn’t visit as a youngster. Even now when I might mention some spot I’ve recently visited, my Dad will usually say “Sure you were there before, we visited there on our holidays”. My Dad always had a camera in hand on these travels and I’ve no doubt that’s where my interest in photography came from. My first camera was a Kodak Instamatic 33. It had three settings, Sunny, Cloudy and Flash – couldn’t have been simpler! My first digital camera was also a Kodak – a Kodak Easyshare 2MP model! My Lightroom library goes all the way back to the year 2000, but I have boxes and boxes of those 6” x 4” photographs from all the various film cameras I owned in previous years.
I should say that I interpret “landscape” photography fairly broadly – I do love urban landscapes (cityscapes if you prefer) too. Before retirement I used to do frequent overnight business trips to England, and I loved getting out and about in London in particular, with my Fuji gear and a wee travel tripod.

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

In spite of my long association with Donegal, I had never climbed Errigal until about three years ago. My first time up there was always going to be special, but it was truly spectacular as there was snow – not just the top of Errigal – all over the Derryveagh mountains and through the valleys below. It was just myself and Rory O’Donnell and the views were just amazing, it felt like we were in the Alps rather than Donegal.

We got to the summit and both put our drones up. By this stage there was freezing mist rolling across the top of the mountain and since we had stopped moving the cold started to kick in really quickly. When I realised that I was rapidly losing all sensation in my hands I quickly landed the drone. Rory left his up for a few more minutes and was lucky not to lose it – when he landed it, the propellors were all encrusted with ice!
The most annoying thing about this particular trip was that the best photograph was taken by Rory – using my Fuji camera – he lifted it out of my camera bag and (despite not being a Fuji user at this stage), quickly worked out the settings and took an absolute banger of me standing on the peak as the mist was rolling in. I actually have this image framed and on my wall, as a reminder of a very memorable trip.

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

I was due to go to the Isle of Skye (for the first time) in September 2020 for a 5 day photo-trip. Everything was booked and we’d been planning it for months. With just 3 days to go, I was in Donegal to collect some camping gear for the trip and I was involved in a really horrendous head-on collision.
My car was completely written off and a lot of my camera gear was damaged. I ended up in hospital for a few days with a fractured vertebra and other injuries. I’m still not fully recovered, but I’m getting there and I was very very lucky to survive. Being involved in something like that really helps putting things in perspective. The trip to Skye was re-booked for September 2021 and, thankfully, we got to go this time around.

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

Short answer would be sunrise.
However I tend to photograph more at sunset, purely from the practicality aspect, in that you can aim to arrive in plenty of time and plan your composition in daylight. It can also be less of a gamble than sunrise, in that you can monitor the actual weather for yourself, rather than relying on weather apps to figure out your chances for the morning!
Shooting sunset is also less disruptive to family life than sunrise, where (depending on the time of year) you can effectively be getting up in the middle of the night to give yourself time to get into position for that pre-dawn light. Having said that, when I do make the effort to get up early, I do love the feelings of solitude when I’m out alone and watching the sun come up.

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

It’s hard to pin down a specific location… I do love Donegal and I lost count long ago of the number of times that I’ve visited Fanad Lighthouse, but there’s good reasons for that and I will keep going back in search of that beautiful light. I also love the area around Port and Glencolumbkille in west Donegal – despite the fact that the younger Instagram generation have now ‘discovered’ it, it remains largely remote and undisturbed.
I’ve only recently started to visit the Causeway Coast for photography – no excuse really given that it’s only an hour away from Belfast. The sheer numbers of stunning locations along that coastline offer so many opportunities and, because of the geography, it’s perfectly feasible to shoot seascapes at both sunrise and sunset. On one occasion in mid-June this year, I shot sunset at Dunluce Castle, astro at the Causeway, and then sunrise at Ballintoy (after two hour’s sleep in the car). I definitely want to do a lot more shooting up there.

Pre-Covid, I visited Kerry with Michael Byrne, Rory O’Donnell and Dermott Sweeney. We had a fantastic trip and only touched some of the many locations there, so I’d love to go back. I still remember vividly the night we spent in Cahirsiveen. There was a power outage across the whole area. Now bear in mind that there is already a Dark Sky Reserve in Kerry – and here we were under totally clear skies with zero light pollution. Unfortunately none of us was sober enough to legally drive anywhere but walking down the main street in Cahirsiveen and looking up at the crystal clear night sky was just breathtaking. It was also great fun drinking Guinness by candlelight in the pub… good times.

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

Favourite landscape photograph is probably an image I took a few years back of the Church of the Sacred Heart, at Dunlewy. I had photographed the church before but I wanted to capture it in the snow, with a long lens to really emphasise the backdrop of the Derryveagh mountains. I drove from Belfast to Donegal specifically for this shot and based on the forecast of snow, and this was one of those rare occasions (for me anyway!) when everything went to plan. There is still room for improvement in the shot – although I got the snowy backdrop I wanted, the actual light was fairly flat. Next time I’m aiming for an alpine glow on the mountains!
My favourite photograph though is probably a cityscape/street photography image that I took in London a few years back. I was there on a business trip so I was travelling light. I had seen pictures of Millennium bridge and the view across the river to St Paul’s Cathedral so I knew the composition I wanted. I remember arriving there and initially being disappointed to see that there was some poor unfortunate sitting with his dog right in the spot where I had planned to sit my tripod. I quickly realized however that (a) there was room for me behind him and (b) that his presence there added a whole new dimension to the image. The sun was setting and there was some gorgeous light in the sky but it was this poor guy’s presence centre-frame that (for me anyway) really made the image. There he is sitting there with his faithful dog as the evening commuters stream past him, largely oblivious to his presence. There was no interaction between him and I – I’m not even sure that he was ever even aware of my presence, but I thought the end result was a very powerful image.
The most effort I ever put into a shot was probably the time I went alone to a certain lough in Donegal in the dead of night to get a selfie of myself under the stars in a kayak… I knew the shot I wanted, I just underestimated the effort involved in getting it! I had to get the kayak down to the water’s edge – kind of eerie doing this in a forest in the dead of night – then set up the camera on a tripod, then paddle out into position only to find that the phone remote control wouldn’t work at that distance… so I had to paddle back in and set the intervalometer, which of course meant that I wasn’t entirely sure of the composition… I had to paddle back out and in several times before getting a shot I was happy with!

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I’m currently using a Nikon Z6 and Z7.
I love Nikon cameras. My first decent Nikon camera that I was using properly (off the Auto setting!) was probably the D90 – but I’ve also owned the D40, D60, D70, D700 and D800. I also like Fujifilm and have owned the X100, X-T10, X-T2 and X-T3. Pre-retirement, I found the Fuji system perfect for travelling light on those business trips to England. Post retirement, it no longer made sense for me to be lugging around two distinct systems, so I’ve recently moved on all my Fuji gear and now it’s just Nikon. I’ve only just picked up the Z7 – I got a good deal on a secondhand one, and I’m really impressed with the additional resolution. My iMac is less happy, having to deal with those massive file sizes….
I’m also a drone user – I was an early adopter of drone technology and my first drone was a DJI Phantom 3 Advanced. I then got a DJI Mavic 2 Pro about three years ago – and have just recently replaced it with a DJI Air 2S. I’m not big into video – I really admire what some people can do with drone video but I lack the technical know-how to produce those slick videos – and the motivation to learn how to do it! My passion will always be for still photography – for me the huge advantage of having a decent drone is getting an alternative composition that just wouldn’t be possible from ground level. The reason I got the Air 2s was simply that it was lighter than the Mavic 2 Pro and would take up less space in my camera bag.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

My favourite photography-related quote is ““In the right light, at the right time, everything is extraordinary” (Aaron Rose). It really is all about the light. The ‘right’ light – or unusual light – can totally transform a scene. Obviously, this will most often happen around sunrise or sunset, but with Irish weather being as it is, it can also happen throughout the day during changeable conditions. So my advice would be to always be flexible in your approach, be prepared to change your plans – even if that means pulling off the road if you see something unusual. When you are on location, keep looking around, sometimes the best light is right behind you! I’ve often travelled to a location with a particular composition in mind, only to come away with something else entirely, but something that is altogether better than what I had planned!

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

That the sun doesn’t need to be in your composition when shooting at sunrise and sunset. It probably seems obvious to most seasoned landscape photographers, but it certainly wasn’t to me when I started out. It goes back to the importance of light again, and how the setting and rising sun can totally transform a landscape even if the sun itself isn’t in the frame.

Who is your biggest inspiration as a Landscape Photographer?

Probably Nick Page – I love his style of shooting – and his sense of humour. His processing skills are phenomenal and, as anyone who has watched his tutorials can confirm, he also a great teacher. He is very well-travelled but he has shown that he can take absolute bangers anywhere.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment?

Ah now that’s hardly a fair question, there so many talented people out there! If we are talking about current impact then the person who has most impressed me recently with her photography is Orla Fleming – she has really been knocking it out of the park with her landscapes, some amazing stuff and she has a fantastic ability to do something different with a scene that has been hammered by other photographers.

© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Brian Maguire
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