Togs & Tales

Cathair Dixon

Cathair Dixon

Landscape Photographer

I’m Catháir, I’m a 29-year-old Photographer from the hills of County Derry who, when not wearing his landscape photographer’s beanie, dons his hard hat as a Geotechnical Engineer.
I had been living in England since, up until the pandemic. At the start of the first UK lock down, before things went really Pete Tong, I managed to get myself back home to Ireland. Being a country boy, for me lockdown was spent reconnecting with nature and falling back in love with hiking, which is now my other passion.
A few short months into the madness and fair Éireann had cast her spell on me; it was time to return to the Motherland for the foreseeable. Thankfully, in doing so, I’ve been able to pursue landscape photography and gain a new appreciation for our beautiful island.
Landscape photography is relatively new to me as I’d originally fancied myself as a street photographer and managed to bag myself a few jobs in England as an event, interior, and portrait photographer. Now we’re coming out of the pandemic, I’m making moves to get more work in these sectors here in Ireland, in addition to developing in landscape photography.

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

Recently I have found out my grandfather was into his film photography. So, on some romanticised level, I like to think my photographic roots developed there. In reality, my love for photography has probably developed throughout my life. As a kid, I remember taking those rickety wee disposable film cameras on primary school trips. Interestingly, I still use these when on holidays or travelling now; I’m clinging on to that nostalgia tooth and nail!
Moving into my teens with the age of camera phones, I would have always been snapping away, which then of course carried over into my twenties with the dawn of smart phones, not that I ever put any thought into a photo. It wasn’t until a trip to Australia with a phone bought purposefully for its camera that I actually tried photography seriously. Of course, regarding composition, I hadn’t a clue what I was at. Although I did enjoy snapping away. Which begged the question, “what would happen if I bought a DSLR?”
Well, I bought one, and it sure as hell didn’t make me a better photographer. Isn’t coming to that realisation a rite of passage for all budding photographers? What it did do however, is give me a real hunger to get out shooting, and take up photography as a hobby. At the time I bought my first camera, a Nikon D5600, which I still have and still think is a great travel camera, I was living in Birmingham. Birmingham obviously isn’t known for its wide vistas and stunning waterfalls. But it is a big city with lots of people.
Well, I bought one, and it sure as hell didn’t make me a better photographer. Isn’t coming to that realisation a rite of passage for all budding photographers? What it did do however, is give me a real hunger to get out shooting, and take up photography as a hobby. At the time I bought my first camera, a Nikon D5600, which I still have and still think is a great travel camera, I was living in Birmingham. Birmingham obviously isn’t known for its wide vistas and stunning waterfalls. But it is a big city with lots of people.
So, I initially styled myself as a street photographer, but I’d shoot anything and everything except landscapes, simply because I never had the opportunity. It wasn’t until a trip to Iceland in 2020, in the days before the first UK lockdown, that I’d given landscapes a go. I was so excited for the trip to Iceland that I’d bought myself a new Nikon Z6 with a 14-30mm F4 lens and a drone before it dawned on me that I hadn’t a clue how to compose landscapes; The phrase “all the gear no idea” springs to mind!
I remember the months leading up to that trip. I was watching endless Mads Peter Iverson videos in an attempt to instil some skill in myself. Of course, it didn’t work, from the whole trip I got maybe three or four photos that I was happy with. In saying that, I did get one of my portfolio images “Habitat”, on this trip. Landing back in England to a national lockdown, I somehow managed to get one of the last flights back to Ireland a few days later.
Once home I got myself back into hiking, which obviously goes hand in hand with photography. Although, most of my shots were snapshots, anything I produced which was compelling or eye-catching was purely down to luck, or maybe nice light; there were no “good” photos on a technical level. However, it was the end of Summer 2020 before I decided to do landscape photography more seriously. I no longer take the camera everywhere with me in hopes of capturing something, but instead setting dedicated days and times out to be alone with the camera and tripod so that I can turn out quality images with which I was happy.
So that’s where I’m at now. I’m focussing on improving my skill and in the meantime, I’m enjoying all the secondary activities which come off the back of landscape photography. You know; the location scouting, weather watching, early mornings, late evenings, spending a wild amount on diesel, all the good stuff!

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

It would have to be when I went to shoot Dunquin Pier. Back in July I was travelling Kerry with my Girlfriend. We got fed up with the clouds and rain in Killarney, so we chased the sun and headed to Dingle. Arriving, we pitched our tent, explored Dingle town, and then headed out to the pier for sunset via Slea Head. What a drive that is! It was made all the more magical by the fact the road was absolutely dead, and the sun had well and truly made an appearance, blanketing the entire coast in the warmest of golden glows. So, we seized the opportunity to pull over (safely) and chill on the wall which borders the road. I even had enough time to throw the drone up. It was shaping up as the perfect afternoon.
We continued to Dunquin. Arriving, the light was more than perfect. I got “the shot” and we arsed about a bit before cooking dinner on our little camping stove overlooking the pier with enough time to enjoy the actual sunset. Of course, that must have been when I thought everything was a bit too perfect. Because that’s when I decided to fly the drone one last time.
Although, being a gentleman, I served my lovely girlfriend her dinner first. Then with absolutely no foresight, I set the drone up about two metres from her on the dry dusty ground. In the same motion as she moved her first forkful of her long awaited gourmet dinner to her mouth, I throttled up the drone. We were enveloped by a dust cloud. As it settled back around us my girlfriend came back into view with a vacant look on her face and a thousand yard stare that says “Is he FUCKING serious?!”.
Now, I did the honourable thing and sacrificed my food for her, as I had left it covered in the pot. But another few minutes would go before I would break the silence with, “well, in a few weeks we’ll look back and laugh at this!”. Needless to say, the silence continued.
We made up in the end and it is indeed something we now laugh about.

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

A few weeks ago, I had planned to climb a small hill in Donegal for sunrise which gives unrestricted views of Muckish, or so I thought.. Everything was looking well, the weather was forecast to be mostly sunny with light winds and no rain. So even if I didn’t get the photo, I thought this would be a nice trip. However, it was to be one of those days that went wrong from beginning to end.
By the time I left, there was already no way I’d be on time to witness the actual sunrise i.e. the moment the Sun breaks the horizon. Which isn’t really a problem, but I place immense value in seeing these moments because I find them so serene and surreal. I quickly got over that. Although, it wasn’t long before I was met with my next annoyance. As I crossed into Donegal the sky began to lighten and in my rearview mirror I could see the sky come alive with those lovely twilight colours. I was feeling hopeful. Until I reached Letterkenny, nearly an hour from home, whereby the sky was now bright enough for me to realise that what I thought was a deep night sky over the far end of Donegal was actually a dark dense cloud of biblical proportions. “That’ll clear by the time I arrive at the hill”, I thought with feigned hope. It didn’t.
Arriving to start my hike, from what I saw, the hill I was about to climb was the only one capped with cloud, and it was raining! I couldn’t believe it. I pressed on with the hike anyway, still living in hope of clear weather by the time I reached the peak. There’s no path up this hill, so I had to traverse a very wet bog, which would have been grand had I not unpacked my gaitors the previous night, “don’t need these taking up room if its to be dry” I remember thinking.”
It was so wet in fact by the time I started the ascent of the hill, 10 mins from the car, my water resistant trousers were soaked through up to my knees, my socks were as moist as the bog, and my boots had become reservoirs. Still I pressed on albeit in foul form. Reaching the peak, I felt some relief, believing the gauntlet had been ran this point. That was until the cloud partially cleared, revealing that I was actually on a false peak. Containing myself, I go to that peak before I realise that it too is false.
Reaching the final peak I’m broken, the cloud cap hadn’t lifted or even lightened. I spent a few minutes wondering if I should wait it out or call it a day before the cloud started to lighten. Soon later, the fog cleared in front of me and yet another peak revealed itself to me. It was the ‘real’ top of the hill, the one I was supposed to be on! But it was a few hundred metres away and across a 100m deep valley. I suddenly realised the limitation of relying on google maps terrain mode over a physical map.
I had just enough time to shout profanities and laugh manically before the cloud once again consumed everything. It was like the hill had revealed itself me in a taunt. Defeated and with no sign of the cloud clearing I decide to call it a day, head back to the car and meet up with some friends to actually hike Muckish as a consolation prize. Sure wouldn’t you believe, as I’m driving there, I observe Muckish bathing in the very golden light I had sought to capture, one last “fuck you” from mother nature!
Although, I was able to take some solace in the fact that when I climbed Muckish I could see the hill on which I had intended to shoot from was still covered in cloud. Still, it appeared to be the only cloud capped hill in Donegal.

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

Definitely Sunrise. They really are magic, especially in the colder months when we get more of that beautifully pink and red “Skyfire”. Plus, there’s nothing quite like witnessing the sun break the horizon. It’s like witnessing the beginning of time, and for me it’s a real humbling experience that truly makes me feel more connected to nature and appreciate life.
Having said that, some mad noises can be heard at both dusk and dawn; I’m never sure if its birds, foxes, or banshees, and given the isolated and exposed places landscape photographers like to throw themselves, when you’re alone, these noises can really pucker the auld sphincter! I find my heartrate usually sits a bit lower if I hear these noises at dawn because I can be satisfied in the knowledge that it’s getting brighter by the minute, so at least I’ll be able to see whatever’s coming to eat me.

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

I’m convinced that it’s impossible to have a favourite location in Ireland. Every county has so much unique scenery to offer a landscape photographer. However, if a gun was held to my head I’d have to say Donegal. As a child my family used to caravan in Rossnowlagh and my father now lives in the county. Plus, Gola Island is the ancestral home for one side of my family. So, Donegal very much feels like a second home to me.
Sentiment aside, Donegal has it all; wildlife, mountains, endless coastlines, sunsets, waterfalls instagrammers are yet to discover, and just that ruggedness that really personifies the Wild Atlantic Way which really makes it a photographers playground. Of course, Donegal doesn’t make it easy for a landscape photographer. In my experience, the weather either stays bad enough all day to keep you away, only to give way to the most beautiful sunsets. Or, the weather is majestic throughout the day, until the moment you set up your tripod, when the atlantic clouds roll in. The latter is especially true of the Derryveagh Mountains. There are some epic scenes here, but getting the weather is as rare as hens teeth
I think if anywhere were to rival Donegal it would be Mayo and Kerry. Based on my limited travels to both counties, they have just as much to offer, and are of course just as bespoke. Such places really make you feel as if God put all his effort into crafting them! Despite my love for Donegal and travelling in general, I’ve been having a lot of fun developing my skills by shooting locally recently. Whilst it’s satisfying to head to those well known landscape photo spots, there’s so much on our doorsteps that’s just begging to be shot.
I think that shooting locally is a great way to develop our skill as landscape photographers. By focusing locally, we’re best placed to go out and capture those little known scenes in all weather and lighting conditions, giving us a chance to show our pride and love for where we hail. Plus, by shooting the little known scenes, we don’t have Instagram or flickr to refer to for compositional idea. It all has to come from our own skill and intention; this is a great way to test yourself.

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

I know this is a landscape blog, but my absolute favourite photo I’ve taken is my image “Caretaker”. I shot this inside the Mosque at the Taj Mahal in India, not long after sunrise. I remember standing in the mosque just taking everything in; the detailed architecture, the golden beams of morning light, the echoes of the other tourists. As I stood there I started to notice more and more of my surroundings in detail. The early morning sun was casting a golden band of light into the middle of the building and nowhere else, framed my a great Mughal arch of red sandstone. “What a scene”, I thought to myself. But something was missing.
I then noticed a man, who I assumed to have been a caretaker, began sweeping in the shadows. I thought, “if I can somehow capture him sweeping in the exact centre of this room he’ll not only show off the scale of this place, but he’ll be framed by the arches, and illuminated by the morning light”. It was a real eureka moment, like I’d suddenly levelled up in my photographic ability as I just composed a picture in my head. So, I waited, anxiously.
As time passed it was getting busier and more people began to come and go. Then there was a few “OMG this is it!” moments, as the man swept all the way to the exact spot I wanted him in, then suddenly stopped and swept somewhere else, as if he was toying with me. Thankfully, in the end, he positioned himself right where I wanted him and I got the shot.
So, this is my favourite shot for that reason, it was a real memorable moment for me as I applied my understanding of composition, backed it with some patience and ultimately got the image I wanted. These are lessons which I still apply to my landscape photography today.

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I’ve only ever used Nikon. But my god do I love the Z6! I find it to be incredibly ergonomic, and there’s a lot of room for customising buttons on both the Z series cameras and lenses, which can really speed up your in-field work flow.
For example, I have two buttons on the front of my Z6, on has been assigned to control bracketing, and the other controls exposure delay. I use these quite frequently, so not having to delve deep into a menu via the rear screen is so handy. The camera also has a lot of handy features such as auto focus stacking and an in-built intervalometer, real handy for landscape photography.
What it doesn’t have however, is zebra stripes, which I find kind of mad. Although the fact its mirrorless and the fact I can see exactly how the image will come out before releasing the shutter negates this for me.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Assuming you’ve mastered both your camera, its settings, and composition, my top tip would be to go out and shoot in all weather conditions. We’ve all seen our favourite coastline, mountain, tree, field etc during golden hour, and there’s no questioning that golden hour images are the bread and butter of landscape photographers for a reason.
But how many of us have witnessed the same scenes draped in fog, being battered by a storm, dusted by snow, or even standing proud against lightning? Further to that, how many photographers would look at such conditions as an opportunity to capture something truly unique?
I think going out in these conditions can not only present us with opportunities to produce some truly captivating images, but the inherent challenge of shooting in such conditions provides a massive source from which to develop all our landscape photography skills. These might be “hard” skills such as actually taking and editing photos, to “soft” skills such as securely placing a tripod during gale force winds or how to deal with rain/spray collecting on our filters during long exposures. There’s nothing like having an image ruined by water spots!

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

The best advice I’ve personally been given was actually in regard to street photography, by a Birmingham photographer whose name I’ve unfortunately forgotten. The advice was: “Take a camera, sit in one place, and wait”.
In terms of street photography this would mean rather than hunting for photos, set yourself up and let the photos develop in front of you. However, this can be applied to landscape photography too. I’ve no doubt we’ve all been here; the perfect sunsets with the gorgeous light. Like a child on Christmas morning, we’re so excited to start shooting that we don’t take the time to look around and appreciate what is in front of us.
Instead we hastily set up one composition, and before we’ve even fired off the first shot, we’re looking at the watch and realising we might have enough time for another 2, 3, or 4 compositions from the same scene, “fuck, I could release book if I get all these shots”, we might think. Then what happens? We get home, open lightroom aaand…our camera wasn’t focused, tripod wasn’t level, highlights are blown, everything’s underexposed, theres some distracting elements we didn’t take the time to notice etc. …because we’d spent our time running about without putting as much thought into our images as we should have, we end up with a catalog of nothingness; a kick in the teeth would be more favourable!
So what would have happened if we had ‘taken a camera, sat in one place, and waited’? Well, we’d have; been fully conscious of the scene in front of us, considered the elements we wanted to capture, and decided how we wanted to capture them.
Additionally, sitting in one place to capture the one composition provides the best chances for getting multiple useable images. Rather than getting multiple compositions, we’re graced with capturing changing time and light over the one scene. By varying things like our shutter speeds, we can further increase the number of useable images we obtain.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment ?

It so hard to pick one, I genuinely enjoy seeing the work of every other Irish photographer I follow on Instagram, what’s more is I love seeing the joy photography brings those people.

Although, if you were to hold a gun to my head, I’d say it would be Thomas Richardson. He has a real knack for capturing scenes as they appear naturally, his skill is apparent from the moment you view his work.

I find his images bring me a real sense of calm, and I’m fully convinced he could point his camera at literally anything and come away with a beautiful image.
If I could take and edits photos like Thomas I’d be a very happy man.
© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Cathair Dixon
Scroll to Top

Get in Touch

Leave us a Message

If you would like to contribute to the site or see an issue within the site, then please contact us through the form below