Togs & Tales

Stephen Dunbar

Stephen Dunbar

Landscape & Wildlife Photographer

My name is Stephen Dunbar I’m 32 from Belfast. I am a sales rep for a large drink company however my passion lies in Wildlife / Landscape photography.

I’ve always had a interest in the outdoors from being in the scouts. I have had many opportunities to go on trips with them including to Canada and Switzerland. I have also been lucky to travel to many other places in the USA including Yellowstone, Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Tetons and Zion. A lot of these places I visited before I got into photography so I hope I get another chance to visit these incredible places again.

I’ve spent the last few years now exploring Ireland and in particular the west coast! I just love the rugged coastlines and the many small islands we have!

What was your path to becoming a Wildlife / Nature Photographer & What was your first camera?

My path to photography is probably a bit different to most. I’ve only, in last few years, got into photography.

I’ve always enjoyed the outdoors but it wasn’t until my late 20’s that I got more free time to get out and about more. Around 2017, I remember seeing someone post a image of otters in Belfast Lough and had no idea you could find them there.

I had recently purchased a pair of bincoulars to do more wildlife watching and so the next day I went down to the lough to try my luck. I ended up meeting the wildlife photographer Ronald Surgeron and I sat with him while waiting to see the otters. He had a 400mm 2.8 a huge lens with him and asked him a few questions about camera etc while we waited. We had no luck but his camera had got my attention.

The next day I ordered a Canon powershot bridge camera. I spent next while watching a lot of YouTube videos learning about shutter speeds and iso. I was now constantly out looking for wildlife to see and photograph. For me it was always about watching and enjoying the wildlife more than the photography. From this I was soon really enjoying learning and developing new skills within photography.

The powershot was a great way to learn the basics and also a great camera to spot wildlife. Though, it has a slow auto focus and frames per second which are important for wildlife photography.

It didn’t take me long before I upgraded to a Canon 7D markii and a sigma 150-600mm. This was the only lens I had for ages. This was a big step up on the powershot and I still remember when I hit the shutter button for the first time and couldn’t believe the frames per second!

The next big influence if not the most was a 2 part documentary that I watched on tv called Wild Ireland: Edge of the World by Colin Stafford-Johnson. If you have not watched this I could not recommend it enough! This was the reason I wanted to explore the west Coast of Ireland. I had no idea how much wildlife and amazing places we had on this island.

Since watching it I’ve been inspired to visit Irish islands. I’ve visited the Blaskets, Rathlin, Tory, Saltees, Cape Clear, Copelands, Inishtrahull, Achill, Dursey Island and went on boat trips to the Skelligs and Fastnet. I love these wild and remote places. There are a few places that I still really want to visit like Clare, Aramamore and Inishbofin island.
I soon found myself looking for wildlife in some stunning locations and therefore got a wide angle lens to try some landscape photography. I again quickly found myself loving this as well.

I ended up buying a Fuji film XT-3 and a 10-24mm for landscapes. A lot of of great landscape locations have amazing wildlife. If you ever see me out and about taking landscapes my long lens and binos will always be with me and I’ve become a bit of birder.

What was your favourite Wildlife / Nature Adventure Story since becoming a Photographer?

I’ve had some great wildlife encounters. Visiting many seabird colonies where there are thousands of birds is always a brilliant experience. Puffins are obviously hard to beat and I’ve seen them in a good few locations. I love visiting different islands like Tory, Rathlin, Saltess and the Blaskets to name a few! They all have amazing landscapes and incredible wildlife.
I love getting out on boat trips and this is where I had my most memorable wildlife encounter. Whilst on a boat trip off west Cork, we saw 100s of dolphins and close by we spotted a blow.
We had a Humpback whale feeding just off our boat. A truly incredible experience! I manged to photograph the tail fluke and found out it was the first time this Humpback was ever spotted in Irish waters. A moment I will never forget.
As I’m writing this I’m down spending a week in West Cork, one of my favourite places. Yesterday I saw a WALRUS!!!!!! Absolutely insane to see a walrus is Ireland!
I’ve also done a few recent boat trips out to Fastnet and the Skelligs. These are two magical places to visit. If you get a chance they are a must do!

What was your worst in-the-field experience as a Wildlife / Nature Photographer?

I’ve had a few as a wildlife photographer, there is a lot of sitting and waiting. I’ve sat in hides for easily 6 hours and not seen a thing!!

One of the worst experiences was doing a boat trip of West Ireland looking for birds. The weather changed and sea fog came in. We could hardly see a thing and the seas became rough. People were being sick on the boat but it’s all part of the adventure.

What is your favourite Animal / Bird / Insect / Plant to Photograph & Why?

Thats a very hard question! I’m honestly not sure I could pick one. I love otters, red squirrels and all sorts of birds.
Though photographing whales in Irish waters is truly special. When you go out on these boat trips you just don’t know what you will see and this always adds the the excitement !

When do you find is the best time to photograph wildlife?

It can be anytime and it really depends on the subject. However just like landscapes, sunrise and sunset when the light is great is important and you will find a lot of wildlife active at these times.

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

I’m honestly not sure what my answer to this is. Lol. My favourites tend to be images from days I’ve had great memories of more than the image itself. I recently printed a drone image of mine from the Blasket Islands. I just love the Blaskets and the wildlife that can be seen there. It’s the memories that I have of that day when I look at this image which make me like it soo much.

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Enjoy it! Try different things. I learnt all my photography from YouTube and trial and error. Still I have a lot to learn and always try to get better with my photography.
Buy second hand! Especially for lenses. All of mine are 2nd hand. It saves you a lot of money.
When it comes to wildlife photography learn your subject. Watch and learn their habits and most of all have a lot of patience.

Don’t always think that you have to be super close to get a good wildlife image. I find myself liking more and more wildlife images that show the wildlife in their natural environment rather than just portrait images. A perfect example of this is Ryan Simpsons recent image of the fox in the Mournes. Showing the fox with the mountains and cloud inversion in the background make that image truly amazing.

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

Again for wildlife it’s about patience. Put yourself in the right locations and wait and stay focused. I’ve missed a few shots when sitting in hides and then losing focus and something appears and I’m not ready.

Who is your biggest inspiration as a Wildlife / Nature Photographer

As mentioned Colin Stafford-Johnson documentary had a big impact on me. Photographers like Paul Nicklen are inspiring. He does a lot of conservation work as well and his photos are helping protect the wildlife which is so important.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment?

Thats a hard question! There’s a lot out there especially when it comes to landscape photography.

Paul Killeen, very different style to mine but is great and I’ve bought a print off him. I also recently bought a print of Richard Creagh who’s based in Dingle. Sean O’Riordan is great, love his astro work. Also Reuben Fields work is truly stunning and inspiring!

© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Stephen Dunbar
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