Monthly Archives: August 2018

The Walk to Poolbeg Lighthouse

The Stena Line ferry “Superfast X” entering Dublin Port

On both mornings of a recent two-day visit to Dublin, I walked out to the pretty little Poolbeg Lighthouse.

The lighthouse, which was first built in 1786 and reconstructed in its current form in 1820, sits out in the middle of Dublin Bay, at the end of the Great South Wall.

The walk out to the lighthouse can be bracing when the wind comes sweeping in off the Irish Sea but it is always worthwhile because of the close-up view of the squat, bright red structure and of the ferries and ships that regularly pass into and out of Dublin Port.

Poolbeg Lighthouse and Winch

The lead image shows the Stena Line ferry “Stena Superfast X”, which makes three crossings a day from Holyhead, on Anglesey, North Wales to Dublin, taking 3 hours, 15 minutes to cover the 73-mile distance.

In the second image, one can see the old, rusted winch that was once used to hoist up provisions for the lighthouse keepers from boats moored below the sea wall.

Standing out in the middle of the bay, one enjoys a panoramic view toward the town of Dun Laoghaire and the Wicklow Mountains to the south of Dublin and Howth Head to the north.

The walk out to the lighthouse has also featured in music videos that accompany songs by some of Dublin’s most famous musicians, including Phil Lynott, in the video for “Old Town” and The Script for “Breakeven”. In both videos, at the end of a song about the pain of lost love, the singer turns and sets off on the long, lonely walk out along the sea wall towards the faraway lighthouse, a journey whose distance and isolated setting serves as an evocative visual metaphor for loneliness.


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Ballygawley House

This stately pile stands abandoned atop a hill overlooking the A5 Omagh to Ballygawley Road in western Country Tyrone, not far from where I was born and raised.

According to the official history of Ballygawley House, it was built by Captain Andrew Stewart, a native of Scotland, who settled in Ireland in 1627. His arrival in Ireland was obviously part of the Plantation of Ulster (1609-1690), when the English Crown decided that the only way to pacify Ireland was to “plant” it with Scottish and English settlers.

This followed the Battle of Kinsale (1601), the ultimate battle in England’s conquest of Gaelic Ireland, which resulted in The Flight of the Earls (4 September, 1607), when Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone, and Red Hugh O’Donnell, 1st Earl of Tyrconnell (Donegal) fled to France, following their defeat by the forces of the English Crown.

Having replaced Queen Elizabeth 1 on the throne in 1603, King James 1 ordered the forced colonization of Ulster, Ireland’s northernmost province, by handing over large swathes of land, taken from the exiled Earls and their clans, to Scottish and English planters. The plantation saw half a million acres of prime arable land, including this site outside Ballygawley, forcibly taken, without recompense, from the native Irish and handed over, free-of-charge, to Scottish and English settlers.

Facade of Ballygawley House

As for Captain Stewart, his official biography records that “he had been actively engaged against the rebels and fell in one of his encounters with them in about 1650.”

That’s something to be cheerful about, at least. Though quite how native people who have had their ancestral lands stolen from them and handed over to foreigners qualify to be called “rebels” is beyond me.

Something else to be cheerful about is that Ballygawley House is now a hollow shell, its innards used by a local farmer to store plastic-wrapped hay bales, the classical scrolls of its Ionic columns gazing dejectedly down on the hulk of an abandoned, rusting car.

(Click on an image to enlarge it and view it in a lightbox)

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Cheating at Bird Photography

Northern Cardinal (male)

Bird photography is my idea of going to hell holding a camera.

As a ponderous, molasses-slow landscape photographer, I am fully aware that photographing these tiny, unpredictable, fast-moving creatures is way beyond my technical limits as a photographer. The high-end skills of panning, locking on and tracking focus, all while shooting eight frames per second are not ones I have practised nor believe I could ever master.

Song Sparrow

However, I do appreciate the beauty of birds and certainly admire the many spectacular examples of bird photography that I see online, by photographers such as Maxis Gamez, Andy Nguyen and my friend Jeff Johnson, who is one of the finest bird photographers out there.

Inspired by a class I recently took with Jeff, I decided to try my hand at capturing some bird images but knew that I would have to find a way to do so within my technical limits. I found the answer in a YouTube video, in which a photographer located a spot that birds frequent, picked up a small branch that had fallen from a tree, sawed off one end, used a drill to hollow it out, creating a bowl, which he filled with bird seed; he then affixed the branch to a fence post, using some string, in a spot with some colourful vegetation in the background. He set up his camera on a tripod a few feet away, pre-focused on the end of the branch and waited for birds to land on it to eat the seed. And bingo! He produced sharp images with pleasing, colorful backgrounds without requiring any of the advanced shooting techniques normally employed when photographing birds.

Carolina Wren

I thought, “This is for me!”

I have the perfect spot in my back garden, where one of my bird feeders is just a few feet from a wooden fence where birds often land to check out the area before flying on to land on the feeder. So, I set up my branch-feeder on a fence post, opened a window that looks out on to the back garden and sat inside, invisible to the birds, shooting out through the window with a Nikon 200-500mm lens on my Nikon D810 camera. Even with that focal length lens, as the subjects were at a distance of about 30 feet, I still had to crop these images heavily to produce a useable image. However, I knew that the 36.3MP FX-format sensor on my D810 would allow heavy cropping while still delivering good image quality.

American Robin

My retreat from the world of real bird photography was completed by the fact that I focused all of these images manually using LiveView, as is my preferred way of shooting landscapes. Even then, using a shutter speed of 1/1250th sec at f5.6, I captured plenty of blurry images. These little critters sure are twitchy!

Finally, as if to prove that I am not a complete fraud as a bird photographer, I walked to my local park, where I managed to photograph this great blue heron as it perched high in a tree.

Great Blue Heron

No bird-seed trap was used with this beauty. But I did have my camera on a tripod and focused manually. But, then again, herons are such big, slow-moving birds that even I can photograph them.

(Click on an image to view it in a lightbox)



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More Infrared Cows

A friend of mine mentioned how much she enjoyed an image of a cow, photographed in infrared light, that I published in a recent blog post.

Her comment reminded me that I had a few more images from the same shoot that I had not yet processed, so I went back and prepared these three images to form the basis of this post.

I find that there is something otherworldly yet strangely beautiful about the look of these images, as if the cattle take on a different character.

It intrigues my eye to see these most familiar of domesticated animals in such an unfamiliar light: the invisible light of the infrared spectrum.


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