Togs & Tales

Paul O’Brien

Paul O’Brien

Landscape Photographer

I am a Dublin based family man in my late 40s, with a wife and 2 daughters (all of who have little or no interest in photography) who tends to get bursts of photographic inspiration every so often, but most of the time just continues with work and family life. I spend most of my time working as an eye surgeon doing cataract and laser eye surgery in the Blackrock Clinic. Whenever I meet patients with an interest in photography, I realise that surgery will need to produce tack sharp vision for them to be happy with the results. As most photographers know, we can be perfectionists, and as such can often make the most demanding patients!
I also enjoy playing golf (albeit badly) and watching rugby, especially Leinster. My regular holidays in Ireland involve trips to Kerry.

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

I bought my first DSLR camera when my first daughter was born 20 years ago. I generally shot in Auto mode for years before buying a book by Scott Kelby called Digital Photography. It explained in a single page how to shoot a certain type of photograph. I quickly learned what all the buttons meant and began putting it into practice. I upgraded to a Nikon D90 and used this for years until switching to a mirrorless Sony A7III about 3 years ago. I really began to get serious about landscape photography at that stage and invested in some good lenses to accompany my Sony camera.

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

I am not sure that I have a really exciting story here but one that comes to mind is as follows;

I was asked by a couple of friends if I would bring them out to try some astrophotography for the first time. It was in March and I had recently met up with Ian Carruthers  and Anthony Lynch  whilst out shooting sunrise in Phoenix Park. These guys are 2 of Irelands best astro-photographers so I was inspired to get out soon under the night sky. I arranged to car pool with my 2 friends and we headed up towards Glendalough for Glendasan mines at 3am to get the milky way core. We decided that we would head for home if we met anyone up the Wicklow hills at that time of night and got spooked. As soon as we parked the car and got out, 2 flashlights came on nearby and nearly scared me half to death. I was incredibly relieved to hear one the them say “is that you Paul?”. It was Ian and Anthony out trying to shoot the Milky Way, days after first meeting them in Phoenix Park. It was some coincidence that we were in the same place and meeting again so soon that night. My friends were mightily relieved too that they were friendly faces in the hills in the pitch black!

Ian and Anthony have been seriously helpful with advice about night shooting ever since meeting them, and it’s always great to see them out.

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

The night I was out shooting the stars in Ballinskelligs involved a walk along a beach and crossing a tiny bridge over a stream in the dark. Suddenly 2 geese or swans shot up from the water beside me. To say that I nearly fell into the stream is not an exaggeration of the shock I got that night. The noise those birds made flying by my ear was unreal. Thankfully I didn’t drop my tripod or camera gear and managed to get a really nice image soon after that night.

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

Sunrise for sure. I always like feeling that I have the place to myself and am experiencing sunrise while everyone else is in bed. Living on the east coast also means that sunrise is out at sea and lends itself to more attractive compositions. Also, if out meeting other photographers, it is always nice to have a chance to grab a coffee or breakfast after the day brightens up.

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

I was especially lucky to marry a beautiful woman from Killarney, so all holidays there allowed me to get a bit better at landscape photography in one of the nicest parts of the country. Discovering Instagram helped me see how real photographers managed to get incredible shots in areas that I knew well. This really inspired me to improve as a landscape photographer. I guess the Killarney National Park is my go to favourite location.

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

I think a shot of Ballinskelligs McCarthy’s Castle under the Milky Way. It may not be my best shot, but I had the shot planned and arranged a trip to Killarney that weekend in May after checking PhotoPills. Unfortunately my aunt passed away suddenly earlier that week and was buried on the Saturday. After the funeral on Saturday morning, I decided to still drive to Kerry as the forecast was for clear skies and I may not get another chance that year to get down with the core of the Milky Way lining up with the castle. I went to Valentia Island for sunset and got a few shots of the lighthouse by drone before driving over to Ballinskelligs. I was early so took a nap in the car for 2 hours before heading onto the beach under the darkest clearest sky I have ever seen. The stars were popping out of the sky. I set up and spent an hour or so taking photos. Before leaving I realised there was another photographer on the beach as well and got chatting to him at 3am. He was over from Maine on holidays (@wanderlandphoto) with his wife and couldn’t believe how many great photos he had shot during his trip. It was my first real astroshoot and still makes me think about my aunt when I see the photo. RTE also featured the shot on its weather forecast background after the news at 1pm, 6pm and 9pm marking the 50th anniversary of the moon landing!

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I use a mirrorless Sony a7III. It is a fantastic camera for all types of photography. I don’t plan on upgrading it any time soon as it meets all my needs for now. Sony have just released an updated a7IV but I will try to keep the G.A.S. under control.

My favourite lenses are my wide-angle Sony16-35mm GM f2.8 and I also get good use out of my moon bazooka Sony 200-600mm G. I also have Sony 24-105mm G f4 and Sony 70-200mm G f4.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Main tip is to go out and practice and be open to constructive criticism. Sites like Instagram and Youtube are invaluable sources of inspiration and advice. Try meet up with photographers that are much better than you and hope some of their creativity rubs off on you. I have been lucky enough to benefit from a few shoots with guys like Mark O’Brien  and Robert Ziegenfuss down in the Kingdom of Kerry.

Get to know the settings on your camera well. This is especially important when you try astro-photography and know how to change settings in the pitch black.

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

Bring a midge net and spray when visiting the Killarney National Park in summer. I have been eaten alive there on several occasions.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment ?

There are so many talented photographers in Ireland that is hard to only mention one. My favourites tend to be landscape photographers like Mark O’Brien, who must now have one of the finest portfolios of amazing Kerry shots of any photographer. He also happens to be one of the most generous and helpful photographers that I have met. He seems to reach out to anyone that asks him for advice. Some of my other favourites include Sean O’Riordan  who took one of my favourite images in the last few years ( a tree in fog in a forest), Orla Fleming is another top class landscape photographer with an enviable portfolio of images  and Noel Campion also with a sensational collection of Dingle images.

Where can we find you?

I only joined Instagram a few years ago so I could be up to speed with what my kids were doing. I used the username it offered me based on the start of my email address and have never changed it! My name was unfortunately too popular to just get paulobrien.
© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Paul O’Brien
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