Togs & Tales

Sean O'Riordan

Sean O'Riordan

Landscape Photographer

My name is Sean O’ Riordan, I am 26 years old and come from a small village called Ardpatrick in Co Limerick. I am a Woodwork and Graphics teacher in Limerick Educate Together Secondary School. Landscape photography is my first love and I’m very passionate about the outdoors, nature and everything wild and rugged about our little island.

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

I live at the foot of the Ballyhoura Mountains so Growing up I always spent time up there and loved exploring the outdoors which is probably where my love of hiking and walking came from. I always remember every Sunday after dinner at like 1 or 2 in the afternoon me and my family would go for walks and hikes up the mountains. Sometimes I would have no interest and other times I could not wait to get up the hills. Looking back now I wish I had appreciated that time more because I think as you get older times like that with family become more scarce. I always enjoyed taking photographs but never considered buying a camera, if that makes sense. It was only when I bought my first DSLR, a Nikon D5300 and 18-55mm kit lens back in 2014 that I decided to try learn photography. I lost interest for a couple of years but in 2018 I took a trip to Iceland and fell in love with the landscape. Not necessarily the landscape of Iceland (though it is spectacular) but more so this ability to capture images of places I have been and re-create memories through my photography. I have always been a creative person so any creative outlet I generally grab it and go full tilt.

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

It is very hard to pinpoint one exact moment or time but one particular image or goal I had was to photograph a cloud inversion from the summit of a mountain top. Seeing as I was on my own most of the time I decided on Mount Brandon in Co Kerry as it is very accessible via the Pilgrim Route and would be safe for me on my own. Hiking can be dangerous and you should never attempt a difficult or dangerous route on your own unless you have previously climbed it and know the risks. Anyway I set off one afternoon to capture this image. The idea was to hike up during the evening, camp and photograph the inversion at sunrise. On my first attempt it looked all set to go, the forecast was for nothing but low cloud and indeed I spent most of the hike in the clouds until I reached the top and voila I was above the cloud. A fantastic sight and I began setting up my tent. I was about to shoot sunset but the cloud rolled in and I became engulfed. I didn’t mind, I was here for sunrise not sunset. So I cooked some food and settled in for the night. About 2 hours later the tent was shaking, wind howling and clouds were rolling past the summit battering me and my tent. It continued like this for the whole night and next morning, so all I could do was cook the leftovers I had, pack up my sodden gear and trudge back down the mountain. This happened on two more occasions, albeit the third time I completely misread the forecast  and ended up getting soaked halfway up, I didn’t even make it to the summit. 

Finally in August of this year (2020) I decided to have one more go. The forecast looked promising, it was a new moon phase, the Perseid meteors were in the sky and sunrise looked like some low cloud would be rolling in. I got delayed on the way down to Kerry and ended up having to practically run up the side of Mount Brandon in order to make it there before dark (not fun trying to find flat ground and pitch a tent in complete darkness) but I got there, I shot sunset looking back towards the Faha Ridge. I got a few hours sleep and set my alarm for 1am. I was almost afraid to peep my head out from the tent, but I did, and I was in awe at the skies overhead. Not only the skies over head but the cloud! I was finally above the cloud! I lined up the Milky way which was beginning to rise above the cloud and fire off a few shots to stack. I made the most of this time and took another shot at around 55mm with the core roaring over my tiny little tent on the mountain top. My night was already made, the trip was worth it just for these images alone. Whatever happened after that would be a bonus. So I made a cup of tea to warm myself and slid back into my sleeping bag for another few hours. When I woke at sunrise I was a bit disappointed, the cloud was there below me but not in the quantity as I had thought, it was a strange colour before the sun rose and I didn’t think much was going to happen. It was only when the sun rose, peaked above the horizon and lit up the whole landscape that I knew I had captured some of my best work. The cloud rolled in below me and it was just an awe inspiring experience. Two other hikers had made the trek up for sunrise, we had some small talk before I happily went back to my tent, packed up my gear and made my way down the mountain. Yes I had experienced some of the most fantastic conditions in landscape photography but it was the numerous failed attempts beforehand that made it all the sweeter.

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

I was at the base of the Cliffs of Moher in Co Clare. You can access the base via a small goats trail at the doolin side, near where the famous Aileens wave forms. Anyway I was there with a friend of mine (not a photographer) and was setting up to shoot sunset. The rocks down there are treacherous. Large round slippery boulders which are difficult to both maneuver and set a tripod up on. At the time I had my first drone, a dji spark. It was in my bag along with other accessories and lenses which I had set down about 10 feet behind me. Just as I had my composition lined up, a freak wave came. Now when I say freak wave, I genuinely mean freak wave! It came out of nowhere, this was a pleasant summers evening during the very hot summer of 2018, wind was minimal and for me to see this wave coming towards me, well lets just say I got a hop! The wave hit, about waist high for me and continued in along the rocks and swept my camera bag. Luckily the bag didn’t get pulled out to sea, but it was only a cheap bag which certainly was not waterproof. My drone was soaked, lenses were soaked, batteries, everything! In hindsight and more importantly I was lucky not to get knocked over by the wave, god knows what could have happened so I am thankful for that. But I was gutted over the loss of my drone, multiple camera batteries and also a lens which got completely water damaged! It was a lesson that day, to respect mother nature and always respect the power of water.

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

Sunrise, without question and for a couple of reasons. Not only do we get a lot of low pressure in Ireland which leads to gorgeous light and colour (given the right conditions) but at sunrise you generally have the place to yourself. There is no traffic on the roads (try driving to dingle on a summers evening for sunset, it will take you a hell of a lot longer!) The peace you feel at sunrise is special. There is also the challenge of finding a composition in the dark and trusting your judgement that this will be the right choice when the sun comes up. Sunrise, no doubt.

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

Very hard question. I’m going to say Connemara. It is wild, rugged and gives an insight into what Ireland could have been like 100 years ago. Parts of Connemara are so remote and untouched and this is something of a rarity in today’s world. Sunrise in Connemara often features beautiful reflections, mist, fog, not to mention the sun kissed peaks of the Maam Turks and 12 Bens. I use to fish with my father in Connemara growing up so perhaps this is another reason why it is my preference. But I have seen lots of Ireland and it is tough to pick just one place. Kerry is phenomenal, Donegal breathtaking and recently I have really begun to appreciate my local area including the Ballyhouras and Galtee Mountains which offer so much for a landscape photographer and which have not been photographed that much.

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I only recently acquired the drone so I am looking forward to seeing what compositions I can find from the sky. The Z6 is a brilliant piece of kit with a large bright EVF and crisp detail from its 24mp sensor. That’s all I want to say about gear really, its not about the camera or gear its about the person holding it. I shot on micro four thirds for two years and it didn’t hold me back one bit even though its sensor was tiny. Learn your gear inside out, don’t worry about the sensor size, worry about your photography skill, planning and knowledge.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Take lots of photos. Don’t worry about the technicalities. Enjoy being out with the camera, find your niche and go with it. Appreciate the work of others, allow it to inspire you but don’t become fixated. Develop your own style, give yourself credit and be inspired by you! Read, watch , listen, whatever medium takes your preferred fancy. I like to read photography articles, others prefer to watch videos. Either way immerse yourself in the world of photography but don’t get overwhelmed. If you enjoy what you are doing then you are already winning

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

Mark O’ Brien, landscape photographer from Killarney in Co Kerry showed me how to use in camera crop to preview various different crops while out shooting such as 1:1, 4:3, 16:9 etc. This blew my mind! Even though the camera will still shoot the image in its full aspect ratio, cropping in camera while out in the field is a great way to hone your eye for composition and remove any distracting elements in the frame rather than doing it in post. Ronan Harding Downes, Wedding and Landscape photographer from Co Wicklow was the first person to introduce me to exposure blending and luminosity masks which for me was the point where my photography took on another level and I began to take post processing seriously. Ronan is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to lightroom and photoshop and started me on my path to using exposure blending in 99% of my workflow, I’ll be forever grateful to Ronan for that.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment?

Another tough one to answer, I don’t really have one favourite. I take inspiration from a lot of people and its more so admiration for those in the community who are constantly pushing and striving to do better in their photography. Mark Mcguire comes to mind straight away, his work has been sublime lately and he really takes every piece of information, advice and knowledge on board in order to better himself. Paul O’Brien, another photographer who is improving rapidly. Mark Fletcher, a man who’s passion for photography shows in his constant pursuit to capture better and better images and who also is very willing to step back, take advice, constructive criticism and use it for the better. I could keep going on and on. What inspires me a lot is the recent rise in strong female talent among Irish photographers which is fantastic to see. Photographers such as Orlaghdhz (instageam username, sorry Orla I don’t know your second name!), Elizabeth Keaney, Emma McArdle, Julie (bubblesjulie IG), Kerry Kissane, Shana Fagan. Again I could go on and mention names all day but it really is fantastic to see such a talented female contingent among the community. So rather than have one inspiration, I prefer to admire and be inspired by numerous people who are genuine and make the effort to better their photography every day.

© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Sean O’Riordan
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