My five favourite pictures of 2013

For my previous post I had to go through all my pictures for the last couple of years and I thought it might be interesting to publish my favourite pictures from last year.

These are not my best pictures. I find it hard to decide which are objectively the best images I took. These are the images that most stand out to me from 2013. I think they are all good images and also they bring back special memories which I will try to describe below each picture.

So, in no particular order, here are my top 5 favourite images of 2013.

Sunrise over the Himalayas

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This image was taken above the village of Nagarkot in the east of the Kathmandu Valley in Nepal. I had stayed there overnight with Sara, a fellow traveller, to see my first sunrise over the Himalayas. We had decided not to rent a taxi to get up to the viewing point as they were asking what we considered was too much money (I think they wanted 5 euro or so for the return trip). Instead we decided to get one of the communal buses that were supposed to leave at 5 am from the centre of town.

The only problem was that we never found the bus. In desperation we started waving at any vehicle that we saw passing by and were lucky enough to be picked up by a group of Chinese tourists that had rented a minivan to go up to the top of the mountain to view the sights.  They had initially refused to let us on but they stopped 50 metres down the road and signalled for us to run to get in.

Once we got to the top, I realised I had forgotten my telephoto lens so I was unable to take any close up pictures of the mountains but it was a magical experience all the same. Seeing the sun clear the cloud over mountains that are over 8 kilometres tall is sure to take you breath away. I also got my first and only view of Everest.

When we were leaving, I spotted this line of Tibetan prayer flags that were perfectly framing the golden morning light and managed to capture this image.

Clouds over the river Liffey

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This is one of the first images I captured with my Fujifilm X-Pro 1. It has a special place in my heart because it was the first time I saw what I could do with the new camera and finally made me get over my buyer’s remorse due to switching from Nikon to Fuji.

The story behind it is nothing special, I was walking over to my acting class and saw what looked like an interesting cloud formation. Here in Ireland we get spectacular skies as the clouds mover very quickly and sometimes the sun peaks through in strange places.

This image also showed me the importance of having my camera on me at all times. I would not have been able to capture this if I had not been carrying around my camera bag. Since that day I always try to keep a camera on me as you never know when a beautiful scene will appear in front of you.

Torc Waterfall

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The reason I love this image is because it is also one of the last I took with my old Nikon camera. I took this during my trip to Kerry last august and it also reminds me of a great trip with my brother.

We were staying for a few days in Killarney in County Kerry and decided to go see Muckross estate. I had read that there was a beautiful waterfall that wasn’t too far from the house so we decided to walk over to try to take some pictures.

Even though I had already bought my X-Pro 1 at that time, I was still not sure I could do a whole trip with only 3 fixed focal lenses so I decided to take my full Nikon gear with me. After walking for 5 kilometres in search of the waterfall with my heavy DSLR and lenses on my back, I decided that this would be the last trip I was going to make with this much gear.

This picture was taken once we finally got there. I know 5 kilometres is not much but when you are lugging a bag with 8 kilos of equipment over your shoulder, they can feel very long indeed.

Looking out over Bhaktapur

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I love this image mainly for 2 reasons: it captures the spirit of this old city perfectly and it captures my attitude during this trip.

I had been travelling through Nepal for a week or so when I arrived at Bhaktapur. This amazing Medieval city is a must see for anyone staying in Nepal. It is only a few hours away from the craziness of Kathmandu but has a peace to it that is unrivalled anywhere else in the Valley.

I had taken a local bus to get there and was rather tired so I headed straight for the hostel I had found online, hoping to check in and have a shower. On my way there I ran into a french couple I had met in Kathmandu and we agreed to meet in front of my hostel in a few hours to go grab a bite to eat.

As things turned out, my hostel room wasn’t ready so I had to wait around and didn’t have time for a proper shower before I was due to meet my friends so instead I decided to go for a quick walk around town to get a feel for the city.

The sun was blazing in the sky and I quickly decided that a walk was probably not the best idea so I went in search of a good place to rest. I saw that at the top of the temples there were these nice ledges that were in the shade and gave a great view over the square. I climbed up all the way to the top and sat down besides this man who was also hiding away from the midday sun.

The first time I tried to take this picture, the man saw me and kept on staring at the camera. I persisted and he eventually forgot I was there. I feel like I managed to catch the spirit of peace and relaxation I felt at that moment as well as the peaceful activity of the town below.

Waiting to start the show

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Dublin is a city that is full of music. You have live music in most pubs and buskers on every corner of the city centre. I love taking pictures of musicians and this is one of my favourite pictures of bands I took last year.

Normally band are playing and surrounded by crowds so it’s hard to get a good feel of the personalities of the people in the band. I love this picture because each member of the band is doing his own thing before the show.

I captured this scene in one of my many walks through Temple Bar. It is the most expensive part of Dublin by far but it’s unrivalled in its capacity to provide a street photographer with scenes of everyday life happening before your eyes.

That’s the end of my compilation, I hope you enjoyed it. You can see many more of my pictures in the “Portfolio” section of my website or in my Flickr account here. Also please remember to subscribe to get an email when I post a new entry to my blog. You can do so by entering your email in the subscribe box on the left hand side (if on PC/MAC) or below (if on a mobile device).

Being happy and how it affects my work

The other day as I was walking home I found myself stopping to enjoy the wind on my face and found myself smiling for no reason. This led me to the realisation that I was feeling content with myself for the first time in quite a while.

For many years, I have not been a very happy person on the inside. I’ve always tried to be cheerful and not let my problems bring other people down but when I came back home I didn’t feel particularly good about myself or what I was doing with my life. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t depressed, just not really happy. I felt like I was getting by but without any satisfaction.

Over the last year or so, this has turned around. I feel good about what I am doing. I am in a good place, surrounded with great friends and looking forward to the possibilities that are just over the horizon.

This realisation made me wonder if this change of mood has affected my photography. I have been using Lightroom to catalogue my work since 2010 so I have an extensive body of work to go through. Not surprisingly I have found that my mood affected my output in several ways.

Time spent taking pictures

 

In looking back through my work I see there was a huge gap of almost a year in which I barely took any pictures. This coincides with my most gloomy time and I remember not having the strength to go out and take any pictures.

It’s not always easy to get the strength together to take  photographs. I know many people that have spent long stretches of time without taking pictures at all. It’s strange to realise that the few pictures I have during that time, coincide with my happier times. They still convey a melancholy mood that I hadn’t realised was there before.

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Just to give you an idea of how my mood affected my production. I have 1278 accepted pictures for 2012, 3723 for 2013 and over 3800 this year so far. These are not all good images but do give you an idea of how much my productivity changes depending on my mood.

Seeing the world in a different light

 

On looking back through my catalogue I see that there are very few human scenes in my archives before 2013. At that time my confidence was not at its best and the idea of approaching people and taking their picture was hard to imagine. I did spend a lot of time walking the streets but the few pictures I have from back then are taken form the hip and are rather gloomy.

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The few times I did have the heart to take proper street pictures, I still see that I would create a rather melancholic framing.

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While I can also find sombre pictures in my current images, I also find myself capturing many happy moments on the street, which are totally lacking two years ago.

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I often hear that photography reflects reality. I do not believe that at all. When you take a picture you are choosing which reality to capture and what spin you want to give it. I have discovered that my mood affects the tone of my images much more than I thought it did.

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 Satisfaction with my work

Being sad is a vicious cycle that tends to reinforce itself. The sadder you are, the harder it is to make the effort to do things that make you happy. This leads to you being sadder, which makes it even harder to get out of the cycle. I was lucky to find something I loved and a strong group of people that helped me get out.

What I also remember is that when I did go out to take pictures, I never felt like I had captured a truly great picture. I felt like some of it was kind of ok but none was great.

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On looking through my catalogue, now that I am in a better place and have some emotional detachment from the pictures I took, I find that there are a lot more keepers than I thought at the time.

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This goes to show that you should never delete any pictures you thought were “maybes”, Going back to look at images you took 2 or 3 years before is a great exercise and you might be surprised at what you find and what conclusions you come to!

Rules to making good images and when to break them

In photography, as in life, there are a series of unwritten rules. These rules can help you create a more pleasing, balanced picture and are a great place to start with when framing your images. However, once you know the rules, you need to remember that they are rules and not laws. Any rule can be broken as long as you are doing it consciously and with a purpose.

In today’s post I’ll talk about three of the rules of composition and give examples of when they should be ignored. Hopefully this will help beginners out there to create more solid images. Mostly it should help you remember things to keep in mind when framing and composing.

Rule of Thirds

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In order to understand this rule you need to imagine that you have your image divided into 3 equal sections, both horizontally and vertically like so:

Thirds

The theory behind this image is that images are more appealing when the focus of the image is at the intersections of these imaginary lines or runs along them.

Most beginners will place the most appealing element of an image in the dead centre. The problem with this approach is that it generally create a more boring image and doesn’t make the viewer take in all the elements of the picture. When you draw the eyes away from the centre of the image, it allows the viewer to travel across the image and appreciate the whole photograph, not just the centre.

When to break it?

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For some images, you do not want to have the viewer wander around the image because you focus point is all you want them to look at. Portraits are a good example of this type of photography. Also, if your image has a strong symmetry, you may want to have it centred to enhance the effect.

 Sharp images

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This may not be so much a rule of composition but rather a rule of photography in general. Photographers will always strive to get an image as in-focus as they possibly can and with as little motion blur as possible.

In order to do this there are many things you can adjust but in general you need to balance your shutter speed (a shorter shutter speed will make sure the image is not blurry) with your aperture (a bigger aperture will let in more light but will have less of the image in focus). As everything in photography you will need to find the right balance for you,

When to break it?

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In my street pictures, I have found many times that capturing the moment is more important than getting it perfectly sharp. There is a magic to certain moments in time (What Henri Cartier Bresson called the decisive moment) and it is more important to capture that moment than to try to get it perfectly sharp and risk missing it.

 Less is More

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Photographs should not be cluttered. An image with a clear element to focus on, with no distractions, makes a much stronger impact. It’s important to keep the viewer’s eye focused on what you want them to see and extraneous elements only serve to pull the eye away from where it should be.

Sometimes it is almost impossible to achieve this when taking the picture, especially if you are not using a zoom lens. In those cases, do not be afraid to crop away any unnecessary elements.

When to break it?

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Sometimes the beauty of an image is precisely its chaos. There’s nothing wrong with an image with many elements as long as they are all meant to be there. Even in those cases, try different cropping options to see if you can make the image stand out more.

Bonus: Leading lines and Diagonals

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As you may have noticed, a lot of these tips have to do with taking the viewer on journey through your image. The strongest way of doing this is by using leading lines to help guide the eye where you want it to go. Always keep an eye out for any structure than can help you pull the eye from one element to another.

Choosing my path

I find that my life tends to be torn between 2 leanings. On the one hand there is the logical side. This is the one that tells me to stay in my well-paid but perhaps not so satisfying job, to go to bed early and make sure I save for retirement. On the other hand there’s the impulsive side. This is the one that tells me to quit my job, to follow my passion and spend my money now rather than keeping it for later.

For most of my youth I have followed the risky path, letting my impulses lead me and not using my head too much. This has lead me to lead a rather unorthodox life and has allowed me to experience so many different aspects of life. I switched degrees more times than I like to admit and dabbled in interpreting, music, photography, travel and now acting. It also lead me to some very dark places and I have been lucky to have good friends and family that have helped me resurface when I was starting to sink into the depths.

For the last 5 years or so I have been following the other path. I was emerging from a serious depression and decided that I needed stability and to start thinking about the future. I got a good job, worked my way up the ladder and now find myself in a secure position, poised on the brink of becoming what society would call a responsible adult. This terrifies me.

You may be wondering why this is a scary proposition. Why would having security and certainty be terrifying? Surely it is what we all aspire to? I’m not sure I have a good answer.

It might be that knowing where life leads me scares me because I have never had that kind of stability before. I have lead a life where I was never certain where I would be living in a few year’s time. My father’s job had us changing country every three years and planning ahead was an exercise in futility. I have grown accustomed to the idea of rarely being able to make plans and not always knowing how a plan would work out when I made it.

It may be that what scares me is not stability but rather the stability I have built for myself. In spite of the life I have led I have a tendency to over-think things greatly. I think things to the point that I end up not making a lot of decisions or going for the safe options. It may be that the life I think I have built is not really my construction but rather the result of me riding the events surrounding me.

It may be that I am not good at delayed gratification, working hard now only to enjoy it at a later date. Hell, it may even just be that I’m not mature enough to realise how good I have it and I’m just being whiny.

Whatever the reason, I have discovered that taking the sensible path is not always the sensible thing for me to do.  I realised today that the safe option is rarely the right one. When you play it safe you end up following a set of rules that you did not write and that almost certainly do not match up with what is right for you.

Society has a whole set of unwritten conventions that we all take as unbreakable rules. Some of these rules are good, some are not but none of them should not be challenged if they do not feel right for you.

While I am not yet brave enough or impulsive enough to throw caution fully to the wind, I have decided to think less and do more. To not worry about if this is the most logical move but rather to worry about if this is the move that will make me happier tomorrow.

Planning for the future is something I have rarely done and I think I have done it wrong. This is me trying again. This is me planning for me.

Places to Visit in Ireland part 2 – Wicklow

County Wicklow is just south of Dublin and is a beautiful place to visit. When I had a car I used to love driving around the hills and getting lost in the bogs and moors.

I find it hard to recommend any specific places so I will just call out a few of the biggest attractions in the area but anywhere you go you are guaranteed to see beauty.

Old Military Road

View from GlenMacnass Waterfall
View from GlenMacnass Waterfall

This is one of the best ways of getting to see Wicklow by car. This road starts in south Dublin and crosses the Wicklow National Park all the way to Glendalough.

The road starts with some spectacular views over Southern Dublin and then takes you deep into the Wicklow Hills. You will get to see rolling hills, waterfalls and haunting moorlands.

The views are spectacular and if you’re lucky enough to get a sunny day it is a pleasure to drive. Even on a gloomy day the mood is haunting and alluring.

Glendalough

Glendalough is one of those places that has it all! It has beautiful ruins of a 12th Century Cathedral, a peaceful lake to sit by and even some great walking trails that take you all the way around the lake.

Glendalough Abbey was founded in the 7th Century by St Kevin and was one of the most influential in Ireland until the 12th Century or so. The site was destroyed by the English in 1398 but it remained an important place of pilgrimage

I would recommend renting a car to get down there as the buses don’t stop for long enough for you to enjoy the full experience. There’s nothing like taking a picnic and going to spend the day walking around the area.

This is one of my top spots in Ireland and a must see if you’re visiting Dublin as it can be seen in a day.

Powerscourt Gardens and Waterfall

Powerscourt Estate and Gardens
Powerscourt Estate and Gardens

Another place that is a must see is the Powerscourt estate with its French style gardens and grounds and the nearby waterfall.

The gardens were designed in the 19th Century and are absolutely Stunning. They have been voted the 3rd best in the world by National Geographic and are a must see. The estate is also nice and was actually used to film Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon. 

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The Garden has many different areas including a Japanese garden, a pet cemetery, a tower, flower gardens, a lake and so much more! You have to pay to get in but I would not hesitate to go there at least once!

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Nearby the Powerscourt estate is the waterfall. This waterfall is owned by the same family and the land used to be connected to the main estate though it isn’t any longer. There is a separate charge to visit them so make sure you get there early enough to get your money’s worth.

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This is the highest waterfall in Ireland and is very beautiful. There is however little else to be seen here. The entry price however is a bit dear.

That’s the end of my summary of top places to see in Wicklow. I know I have missed many places but I’d love to hear about where you think people should go in this beautiful County.