Ireland is famous (ok, notorious) for its ever-changing skies. Clouds can darken in a flash, rain pours down and before you’ve even had a chance to put up your umbrella, the sun is shining again.
It’s the type of carry-on that would frustrate many landscape photographers – except Derek Smyth. His images embrace the cloudy but sunny, sunset-and-raincloud scenes that the Irish skies are famous for.
We asked him to share his secrets.
Photographers love the quality of light in the first hour after sunrise and the last hour of light before sunset. We often refer to it as the ‘golden hour’. At these times the sun is low in the sky, producing a soft, diffused light which is much more flattering than the harsh midday sun. This sunset captured at Dunree Head in County Donegal is a good example – notice how the clouds are highlighted with a warm orange glow from the setting sun against the soft blue evening sky.
There was a clear cloudless sky that morning as I walked in the Mourne Mountains, just above Cloughmore. It was a beautiful scene looking across the Lough towards Carlingford village. All of a sudden this large cloud formed and floated across the scene to complete the picture. The light is not as soft in this picture, and has much more contrast. This harder light helped to bring out more detail in the large cloud that dominates the picture, making it much more dramatic.
Bloody Foreland Sunset
I had spent most of the afternoon on the rocks at Bloody Foreland in County Donegal, photographing the rough sea smashing on the rocks on a cloudy overcast day. Luckily just before sunset there was a break in the clouds giving me the opportunity to capture this picture. The setting sun is capped by the dark threatening clouds which gives a sense of drama to the sky, while the reflection of the sun over the sea draws your eye from the sky to the sea arch in the foreground to more drama in the choppy surf.
Bright afternoon sun highlights a tree on the bank of the Glendasan River close to the Glendalough Monastic Site and Round Tower in County Wicklow. The sky was cloudless which made the afternoon sun very strong and direct. This was ideal light for highlighting the tree against the dark mountain in the background which was in shade. Even though the light was hard, the picture is given warmth by the orange glow of the trees and the grass on the river bank all of which reflected in the river.
Misty Glendalough Morning
The sun had still not risen above the horizon and there was no wind to disturb the surface of the water on a misty morning at the Upper Lake in the Glendalough valley. This combined to give me lovely soft morning light on the colourful trees and mountains surrounding the lake. All of which are reflected on the calm water. When there is no direct sunlight in the scene, the light is soft and diffused which seems to make colours glow as in this photograph. Shortly after this photograph was taken the sun rose, the wind picked up and the moment was gone.
This photograph of Fanad Lighthouse in County Donegal was taken approximately an hour after the sun had set and the moon had just started to rise. The bright moonlight is quite strong giving a high contrast scene of shadow and light. Taking a photograph in moonlight requires a longer exposure compared to taking a daylight shot. I increased my ISO to 400 which gave me a 10 second shutter speed. These settings helped to reduce blur in the slow moving moon without introducing any additional “noise” by using a higher ISO setting.
See more of Derek Smyth’s photography.