Togs & Tales

Conor Finnegan

Conor Finnegan

Landscape Photographer

My name is Conor Finnegan and I’m the editor of Togs & Tales. I am a 31 year old Web Designer from the Farney County of Monaghan. I work as a Web Project Manager and Web Developer, while also taking on some Graphic Design projects. I have a beautiful wife and recently I have also been blessed with an amazing son.
In my free time, I like to see myself hobbyist landscape photographer. I don’t actively plan too many photos I’d like to get, but more I plan a day out every now and then and like to take photographs and bring back memories of my adventures.
I am a man of many, many other hobbies, to which its hard to keep up with myself, from being a huge football fan, to coaching football, to hiking, to playing guitar, to projects like Togs & Tales. My mind is always coming up with new and exiting things I would like to do, for 5 minutes until I jump onto the next thing.

Landscape photography for me is all about the adventure. Its about the peace and beauty of this country, wether it be the whistling winds at the top of a mountain, the crashing waves at a coastline, or birds chirping in a forest, theres something about that moment in nature thats magical, and being the only person there in that moment in time, to witness and capture it, just gives me the most amazing feeling. I have always been a fan of being out in the great outdoors. An escape from day to day life. Being a landscape photographer allows me to take them magical moments in time, and bring them home. Its not just about the end photo, its about memories. When I look back I know that each of my photos have their own story to tell.

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

I think a lot of my passion for the outdoors came from my Grandparents who have always been very active, (my Grannies 80 and still likes to get out to a mountain every now and again). I remember when I was young wed go out for long spins with my grandad around place like the Mourne’s, and he’d just see a road and decide to see where to road took us. We’d have climbed mountains deciding to go off route, jumping over dangerous cracks, and holding onto grass roots for dear life, while others looked on safely from the path (You don’t want to hear about how we got down from the summit of Lough Salt in Donegal). That sense of adventure has been passed down to my mum and then onto me.
I have always loved photos of the outdoors, especially photos of new places in Ireland I’ve never been too. But my decision to pick up a camera came simply out of jealousy. A girl in my university class, cant quite remember her name, always had a camera on her. And she produced some amazing images of wildlife and her photos of LadyGaga and Rhianna made the front pages of magazines. So simple, I wanted to do the same, well less Lady Gaga and more wildlife.
I came up with the name the Otter Spotter, but after a few years of trying to shoot wildlife with a 200mm lens in auto, it just wasn’t working. Plus I couldn’t spot any fecking otters so the username was no use.

Things changed when my work life took me to work for BoyleSports and I met the amazing landscape photographer Mr Duffman! Seeing his work convinced me that I wanted to shoot landscapes, it was like the urge was always there, but I never realised it. I have not been a photographer very long, my adventure started on November 2017 when I took my wife and my beagle Bella to the amazing Murder Hole beach in Co. Donegal, a place I had visited a few times as a child. I still remember the day, I had a wonky tripod, a Nikon D5100 and no clue how to use a camera in manual mode. Luckily for me and English photographer called Dean Allan was also there taking photos. I thought I’d introduce myself. He quickly realised I had no clue what I was doing, and gave me some much needed pointers. There was no light that day, but we made the most of it, and for a first ever shoot, I was happy with how things turned out.

So I went back to the Duffman. Mark taught me everything about landscape photography, from composition, to technique, to the exposure triangle to editing in Lightroom. Did we spend a lot of wasting BoyleSports time and money while Mark taught me everything, yes! But ask yourselves this, do you really want to go into work and actually work? Pfft screw that, Photography abú!

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

When it comes to my favourite landscape stories, there have been many, most have come when I have been out shooting with other people. But my favourite one has to be a day trip in Donegal. I drove up early in the morning to meet the amazing Sean O’Riordan. Not too soon later a bearded man by the name of Jack Downey strolled through the door. We quickly decided “Wesht is Besht” and hopped onto my car leaving Kilmacrennan in the process. We didn’t have a plan per-say, we just knew a few possible locations and that we were heading west.

After a few dodgy roads, led by Google Maps, and Sean shouting in my ear to overtake drivers, we soon arrived in Killybegs. So we decided for our first stop to be the Secret Waterfall in Largy which the location we dont know. You could tell that people werent sure of where the exact location of the waterfall is, as the car park was full which people sitting in their cars. We checked the tide times and set on our way. Course, when the people in the carpark seen three stooges heading down the road with camera bags on their backs, the cars soon become empty, and the pathway behind us filled up. After climbing over some cool fossilised rocks we found the waterfall. In fairness to the waterfall, it was beautiful, but not exactly the best landscape in the world to photograph, more just to capture its uniqueness. We walked over the slippery small boulders underneath out feat, and got into position to shoot the waterfall, with its falling violently from the field above into the cave as if it was coming from the sky. With the blue skies above, it was tough to shoot, a dark, dark cave with a bright, bright sky, the only way to shoot was to exposure blend with a polariser to remove the glare from the rocks (my €20 polariser from Amazon done its best but ended up…….well site). Sean got his shots quickly done quickly, big experienced head on him, and Jack went outside and took some drone footage. Me on the other hand decided, to mess about with my settings and filters, and then had to wait for over half an hour while a german family and some clowns in gutties, slid about on the rocks and took turns to jump into the waterfall and get their insta selfie in the process. an overrated location, but another one ticked off the box.
We quickly grabbed a great coffee at “The Pod” popup coffee shop in the Largy Carpark location unknown, and headed on our way.
After what felt like a drive around Ireland, we arrived at our second location, Glengesh pass. The light was a tad too harsh, but with clouds rolling in, the sky started to become dramatic. Without a word, Jack went off to fly his drone, and Sean hopped the fence, and wondered into the long bushes as if he was setting off to Mordor to destroy the one ring. That left me, standing on the wall in front of the car, wondering what to do. I’d never been here before and the composition from the carpark wasn’t great. OK, lets call a spade a spade, it was shite! I attempted to follow Frodo, but the long ferns in the grass were basically impassible. So, I decided to hop in the car and drive round the corner. I pulled the car in at the first way by, and their stood Frodo, or Sean as hes known in these parts, on the edge or a small cliff, shooting the pass into the distance. He shouted to come up so up I went. Out of nowhere, Jack was standing behind me. The valley lined up perfectly (credit to Sean for the composition) with the road meandering through the steap valleys on either side. The clouds dramatised with dark and white colours, with enough holes to let patches of golden light fall into place the hills in front of us. It created the exact contrasty environment I was looking for, not bad for a day which had clear blue skies an hour previous. It was like a painting. We shot and shot as the clouds got moodier. Sean then started telling me what settings he thought would be best for me, I smiled and nodded as to pretend I had a clue what he was talking about, and took my shots. The guys never posted their images, I think Sean was embarrassed of his shot compared to mine, but I was happy with how mine turned out. Onto location 3!

Location 3 was Glencolumbkille, way out in the South West of Donegal. A very remote village, we were looking for something to eat, but weren’t sure if anyone was even in the village it was that empty. If Paul Rudd and Peter Dinkledge went on a stag here, surely theres somewhere for a sandwich. We found a small place on the outskirts of town before getting a serious feed of chicken goujons, chips and dip, Irelands national dish since 2010. We decided on our final location and went to pull out of the carpark only for a van to fly past with a young driver, who would be described at the very most, aged 10. We met up with Donegal native and head the baller Rory O’Donnell who took us to our final location. The breathtaking Sturrall Ridge. After a good hike, our eyes suddenly caught a glimpse of the ridge and woah!! Just woah! On the way up the hike, I had been telling Jack that Im not very good at heights, so wont be going too close to the edge, he laughed at me and we went on. But when the drop of the cliff came into view, Jack suddenly went blue and sat down. I could’ve laughed and repaid the favour, but instead I took the moral high ground and burst out laughing, pointed my finger of him and of course, videoed him doing so.

But all things aside, Sturrall is not a location to be messed with or taken lightly, its sheer cliffs mammoth and they steeply fall into the sea. But boy is the view worth it. Cliffs and sea stacks all around with many vantage points to create a composition. But the headline act is the Sturrall Ridge itself. A large unique cliff tail pointing out into the ocean separating itself from the rest of the cliff edges. Its thin spiky headland is not for the faint hearted, infact you cant get to the end of it without proper climbing equipment. Being afraid of heights, I decided not even to go to the start of it! I would recommend caution at all times for anyone looking to shoot the cliffs, safety has to come first, and even being safe, there are plenty of spots to take an amazing vista of the ridge. I am yet to see a shot of Sturrall yet, that wouldn’t be up there with a photographers best work. I had seen a few photographers shoot this location before, but at this point, the cliffs were still vastly unknown to most people. I got as close as I possibly could without going too mad, and setup my composition. Here I am thinking, Im being brave, until I look up to the left, see Rory on a higher vantage point, standing on the edge on his tippy toes, taking a selfie!!
We stayed their for a few hours, taking a picture every few minutes while we sat and chatted photography stories, before heading off on a hike back to the car. We chatted to Rory for a while, before we headed on our way. After a few more shouts from Sean to overtake every car in the dark, we finally arrived at his cottage in Kilmacrennan, grabbed a quit cuppa and hit the hay. All-in-all, It was a fantastic days craic!

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

The day I met TJ Allan
But in all seriousness, I haven’t had any major bad experiences compared to what other photographers have mentioned in their episodes. Midges here and there as Im sure we all have, its Ireland after all.
I guess a day that stands out the most as an annoyance was when I was in Downing’s, I got up at 3am to see there was snow on Muckish Mountain. My auntie has a house in Downing’s so its a place I visit quite often. I got in the car and raced around different locations like Lough Salt, Tra More beach. But I just couldn’t get a composition that I could take home and be happy with. After a few hours of panicking, I called it quits as the sun came out. As I walked along Downing’s beach with my beagle in one hand and hot chocolate in the other, I could slowly see the mountains snow melting in front of me, and I’ve rarely seen it covered again since.

I had another day out in the Mourne’s with himself TJ Allan. We’d been planning to meet up again for quite a while and we decided the Mourne’s was a good place to do so. The day was perfect, nice light good dramatic skies, everything was lining into place perfectly for a hike and some photography. But mountains being mountains, they make their own weather. We got to Little Binnian Car Park and could see about 20% of the mountain. We decided to head on up the mountains and see what we could salvage, we got some nice photos including a lone tree with the clouds behind, but on that day, my body was aching to get to the top of the mountain and shoot Buzzards Roost at sunset. The conditions didn’t line up, but luckily the craic did as me and TJ shared some amazing funny stories and spent half the day getting Bella back from chasing hares. No day is a bad day, when your out shooting with friends!

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

Fine I’ll be the awkward one as usual, for this I’m going to choose sunset, but only by a minor margin.

Shooting sunrise is amazing! When the elements line up theres nothing quite like standing there, witnessing this stunning landscape in front of our eyes light up and being the only the world at that moment in time to do so. The quietness of it all, and at the end, you get to go home and have some grub and still have a full day in front of you.

But for me theres something about sunsets, not the actual photography itself, but when you’ve been sitting around all day with a plan in your head wondering, will it light, wont it. Then suddenly, you bite the bullet and make a decision to go. The whole way up the road, you can physically see everything falling perfectly into place as you head towards your location. For me theres very little things in this world can give me that rush of adrenaline and excitement like a child coming downstairs for Christmas.

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

My favourite place in this world is Killarney! I have been to some spectacular locations like my honeymoon in the Maldives, but its always been Killarney. I love everything about it, the fact its a small town, its always buzzing. I love the music, the pubs, Murphys ice cream, the Irish feel around the town and its people like Mark O’Brien, Michael McGillycuddy and Terence Rumley. But its the National Park that stands out for me. For me its got everything a Landscape photographer could ever dream of, and the fact a lot of it still hasn’t been photographed really gives me that inspiration to go back.

In terms of photography, being from Monaghan, I cant just hope in the car and got to Killarney, so my favourite place to photograph is County Donegal. Luckily, I have my aunties house, of which is often my starting source for photography trips, but also my sister in law has recently bought a house in Letterkenny, so I will 100% be using and abusing that privilege for some trips. Donegal offers everything, iconic mountains, sandy beaches, rugged sea cliffs, sea arches, viaducts, national parks, forests, secret and not so secret waterfalls. I know the county better than I know Monaghan, and luckily I get up often to visit these amazing landscapes. For me, Donegal is always first on my mind when I get the urge to go out shooting.

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

I’ve found that doing this episode has been quite a good reflection on my own work, it’s helped me to look at my own work and regenerate some brilliant days I have had as landscape photographer, something I dont always do. Its hard to pin point our own favourite images as the person who took the image, we have an emotional attachment to the image as well as just seeing the technical aspects of it. My images from Ryan Simpsons workshop of Slieve Binnian, and my Malin Head shot will always be high up my list.

But for some reason I just love this image of Downing’s beach over looking Muckish. It wasn’t an image I had planned for that weekend, I wanted a photograph up the hill. Ive been planning a photo for years, but I’d just arrived the night before and had a wee sneaky drink so decided to take the dog for a walk along the beach instead. Maybe its because Downing’s is one of my favourite places, and it was good to photograph of a view I’d loved for so many years, reminding me of my happy place. But I loved the light on Muckish and how the boat lined up in the middle of the mountain. I printed the image and it now hangs on my aunties wall.

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I’m not a photographer who likes to fixate on gear, I’m a hobbyist and I like to keep things simple. For my its all about the adventure rather than the technical aspects of things and owning the newest and biggest gear. For me right now, even though its not the best camera in the world, I wouldn’t swap my Fuji X-T4 for anything. I love how it operates.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Remember why you picked up the camera in the first place. Keep that feeling and shoot for that feeling. Shoot for yourself! Don’t be weighed down by the pressures of social media, don’t shoot what others shoot just because they are shooting it, don’t edit a certain way just because others do. Shoot what you love and post it, wether or not you’ll think it’ll get likes or not. If you liked a shot enough to setup, shoot it and edit it, then post it and be proud of it.
I remember in the early days I once screenshot a photo by another photographer, I spent ages lining up the photo to exactly what they had shot, good for practise, but now that photo means nothing to me and brings me no joy.
If 200 photographers are shooting Dunquin Pier for sunset, yes get that postcard shot beside them, but also be the one to turn away and see what other compositions can be found.
Engage with others, shoot with others, take on constructive criticism, but photography is an art, everyones ideas are different and you must trust your own judgement, its your photo in the end, and again be proud of it. Rules are made to be broken.

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

“Get up off your ass and get out shooting” – TJ Allan

Who is your biggest inspiration as a Landscape Photographer.

I have many! I’m a big lover of watching photography vlogs on Youtube. Being from Monaghan, we don’t have the best scenery in the world and its not always as easy to pop out to Donegal, the Mournes or further afield and get a great mountain or cliff shot. So I have to work a little bit harder to keep motivated. Love or hate their work, Ive watched every single video Tom Heaton, Henry Turner and Photography Online have produced. They give me inspiration and that want to be outdoors. I don’t like videos with people in front of the screen talking equipment, I like in the field videos. For more local vlogger’s we have Sean O’Riordan and Steven Hanna who have produced some great videos on our isles.

I buy as many books as I can, I try keep these more local to Ireland and the UK so its more relevant to what I like to shoot. You dont see an image properly until its printed and I feel books are the best way to get away from the screen and still get inspired.

The are many amazing books out there like Irish Light & Atlantic Light by Peter Cox, Mountains of Ireland by Gareth McCormack, Parklight by Norman McCloskey, The Causeway Coast by Steven Hanna, Louth Rediscovered by Mark Duffy, Capture Lakeland by James Bell, Northwest by Alex Nail (Incredible book) to name a few. https://www.togsandtales.ie/books/

Now I love a vista image, I am all about them vistas. In terms of photographers I follow, I do like to keep the accounts I follow to Ireland and UK photographers, just as its more along the lines of the type of photo I like to take. In terms of UK photographers, I am a big fan of Alex Nail, Simon Atkinson, Stuart McGlennon, Ben Eaton-Williams and Nick Hanson, the work they produce is insane and if you like them mountain vistas like I do, these are the accounts to follow!

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment ?

There are many photographers work here in Ireland I love. If I follow you I love your work, if I asked you to do a Togs & Tales episode, its because I love your work. But due to crappy algorithms I do like to keep the number of people I follow to a small amount so I cant see the peoples work of those I follow. There are many many others Irish togs out there who simple product incredible work I an only dream of.

If I had my arms twisted to limit it to a few (lets face it, Ive done some serious rambling in this episode and I cant name everyone), and the people who has affected my photography the most, my favourite Irish photographers are Sean O’Riordan, Mark Duffy, Mark O’Brien, Steven Wallace and Rory O’Donnell. Its simple, I just loved their work and have been heavily influenced by it.

In terms of being creative, I do have to give a special mention to Michael McGillycuddy and TJ Allan. Shooting with these lads, have taught me to look beyond the bigger picture and try find something new. The simple things you can learn from shooting with others, and bring it to your own game.

Final Notes

When I joined the Irish landscape photography community, I didn’t really know anybody. I just looked up Instagrams profiles and if I liked your work, I followed it. Over the next year I became more confident and I tried to talk and engage with as many local photographers as I could, and the welcoming I got from everyone cannot be understated! I have met some incredible people along my landscape photography path, some of whom I now call my closest friends and text on a daily basis. I have been in some amazing photography teams such as The Full Irish and Northern Exposure. I have met up with a lot of people and had some incredible days shooting.

I always wanted to give something back to these people, and help out others who were coming new into the scene. I had many ideas, some decent, some shocking, but I just wanted to give something back. And so Togs & Tales was born.
I am grateful to every single person who has followed the page, read some of the blogs or wrote an episode. Photography is a community aspect, not a competition and we should engage more and get to know more of these people who share the same hobbies and desires of yourselves. Get to know people more than just their username. “Happiness is only real, when shared.” – Chris McCandless
To everyone who shared in my Togs & Tales journey, I thank you all!
© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Conor Finnegan
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