Going North

For the past few months I have been shooting for an upcoming book on Ulster. I always had a soft spot for the northern part of Ireland, especially the counties Donegal, Antrim and Down. There is however more to Ulster than these three counties and I was especially looking forward to exploring a bit of Tyrone and Armagh.

Armagh Countryside
Countryside, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland

Armagh is known as the orchard county and produces about 35.000 tonnes of Bramley apples every year. The Armagh apple culture is said to have started with St. Patrick who is credited with planting an apple tree at the ancient settlement of Ceangoba. The Bramley apple was introduced by Mr. C J Nicholson of Cranagill House, Loughgall in 1884 and soon became the principal variety.

Loughgall
Loughgall, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland
St. Patrick's Cathedral
St. Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland

Apart from the apples Armagh’s main attractions are the city with its impressive cathedrals and planetarium and the Navan Fort. The latter is located on a low hill west of Armagh City and was once one of the great royal sites and capital of the people of Ulaidh. It is thought that in its heyday the Ulaidh’s territory ranged from the river Drowes in Donegal to the river Boyne in Co. Louth covering all of modern Ulster and Co. Louth. Today the only visible remains of the settlement at Navan Fort are a circular enclosure 250 meters in diameter surrounding the hill and a mound which was dated 95BC crowning the top of the hill. It is what you could call a magic place and the views from the top are stunning but unfortunately my visions of a sunrise or sunset shot didn’t come to fruition and I had to settle for some short lived morning sunshine.

Navan Fort
The Mound at Navan Fort, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland

Armagh’s landscape might be perfect for growing cooking apples but for the photographer I found it rather challenging. Once the main attractions are done the photographer is left with a very beautiful but on first impression anything but dramatic drumlin landscape of rolling hills surrounded by the Sperrin Mountains to the west, the Ring of Gullion to the east and Lough Neagh, Ireland’s biggest inland lake, to the north. It’s a landscape that needs some time to get explored and appreciated. The height of summer when everything is just green isn’t really the best time for that and I am looking forward to returning in autumn or winter.

Enagh Lough
Enagh Lough, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland
Killeavy Old Churches
Killeavy Old Churches, Slieve Gullion, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland

My main target in Co. Tyrone, the largest county in Norhern Ireland, were the Sperrin Mountains. The Sperrins are the largest upland area in Ireland stretching from Co. Tyrone well into Co. Derry. The rocks that make up the Sperrins have been deposited some 700 million years ago and since then the Sperrins have been well worn down by wind, rain and massive glaciation. The highest peak today is Sawel Mountain reaching 678 meters.

Sperrin Mountains
Between the showers, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Oak Lough, Gortin
Oak Lough, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

The Sperrins are a landscape of gently rolling hills, valleys, forests, lakes and rivers. It is the kind of landscape where Frodo and Bilbo Baggins would feel right at home. I am not sure about the spring weather in the Shire but when I was visiting the Sperrins conditions were rather damp. It turned out that I only had only half a decent day to shoot and was hiding the rest of my trip in the valleys and forest parks and had to ditch my plans for some proper hiking along the many Sperrin trails.

Gortin, Sperrin Mountains
Gortin, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland
Gortin Glen Forest Park
Gortin Glen in the rain, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

This wasn’t however a bad thing. Especially the Gortin Glen Forest Park can keep a photographer busy even in the rain. The Sperrins are also known for their heritage: Stone circles, standing stones and other monuments are in plentiful supply and pointing to a long and eventful history.

The Sperrins are one of those places that grow on you and much of its beauty is in the detail. There isn’t that big and immediate ‘wow’ effect that places like Donegal or the Antrim coast give you but once you look closely you fall in love with the place.

Gortin Glen Forest Park
Bluebells and rain, Gortin Glen, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

 

The Humble 50mm

Killmurry Quay
Killmurry Quay, County Clare, Ireland

Back in the day when I got my first camera a standard photography kit was made of the camera body and a fast 50mm lens. In my case it was a Revue ML SLR (which was a rebranded Praktica MTL5) and a 50mm/1.8, all film and all fully manual. This was the camera and lens combination I was shooting landscape and nature images with for some 5 years and never got tired of it. When I was 16 I added a used 100mm macro lens, paid for with the money I made from my first holiday job, washing dishes at a coffee shop. When photography became more serious in my mid twenties I switched to Canon and entered the world of autofocus and zoom lenses.
Today the humble 50mm lens is hardly being used by landscape and nature photographers. Today wide angle is king, the wider, the better. I am as guilty of that as the next photographer. For the past years my main landscape lens has been a 24mm, supplemented on occasion by a 70-300mm if I wanted to capture some interesting detail in the landscape. I very rarely used any other focal length and if you judge by the immense number of images available on the internet, almost nobody else does either.

Loop Head Sunset
Loop Head, County Clare, Ireland

A few weeks ago however the Zeiss Milvus 50mm/2 brought me back to my roots. Apart from the modern looks and better optics this lens is the same as my 50mm from the days of old: A “normal” angle of view, manual focus and traditional aperture ring. What sounds tedious to the modern photographer was a revelation for me. Working with that particular lens is simply very enjoyable and I found myself using it more and more. It’s back to basics, focussing (pun intended) on the actual process of photography which was the main reason I fell in love with photography all those years ago. There is not much fun in just point and shoot and letting the camera do most of the work.

Gortin Glen Forest Park
Gortin Glen, Sperrin Mountains, County Tyrone, Northern Ireland

The 50mm angle of view is similar to what we see with our eyes, our central angle of view, which we use most of the time, is around 40°, a 50mm lens covers 39.6°. Because this is what we see all the time anyway this view might seem rather boring to many.
A 24mm or wider lens captures everything in front of the camera and instantly delivers the drama of the big landscape, the sheer amount of scenery in the image captures the attention of the viewer instantly. Add a decent composition, some leading lines and a foreground interest, and you’re there. The 50mm lens offers a more intimate view which demands a bit more thought and work from the photographer. The dynamic that brings a landscape image to life is a bit harder to achieve with a normal focal length. This forces the photographer to slow down a bit and think about which elements are important for the image to work, what to include and what to exclude.

For me the 50mm lens is slowly but surely becoming the master lens. If I can bring only one lens it’s the 50mm. With a 50mm you can capture intimate close ups of the landscape, then take a few steps back and you can capture the wider view. It’s the jack of all trades of lenses.

Labasheeda
Labasheeda, County Clare, Ireland

Rivers of Dublin

Mayne River Estuary
Mayne River Estuary, Dublin

Late last year I was approached by a Dublin based publisher about shooting some images for the reissue of a book on Dublin’s rivers. After some consideration on my side; I didn’t know Dublin that well and running around in the city with professional looking equipment makes me always feel a bit uneasy; I accepted and we agreed a fee and a deadline.

The Poddle, Kimmage Manor
The Poddle at Kimmage Manor, Dublin
Whitechurch Stream
Whitechurch Stream, Dublin

For me this assignment was a challenge. For starters I am not very keen shooting in big cities. Also the information from the original book I had to base my planning on was some 20 years old and modern maps don’t give much information on Dublin’s inner city waterways. Finally, to make the whole undertaking a completely new experience, I decided to shoot the project entirely with a mirrorless system, the Fuji XT-1, and leave the trusted but heavy DSLR at home.

The Dodder and Owendoher River
The Dodder and Owendoher River, Bushy Park, Dublin
The Dodder, Herbert Park
The Dodder, Herbert Park, Dublin

Overall I spent some 10 days in Dublin, spread out over 4 trips and it turned out to be the tricky assignment I had expected. As unbelievable as it sounds but Dublin hosts more than 40 streams and rivers. Some of them run through the city, most of them however run under it. Over the centuries most Dublin rivers have disappeared under streets and houses and are now more or less inaccessible; others have been tamed and flow in concrete beds through housing estates and back alleys and are also difficult to get to. Tracking down those watercourses made the job so difficult and the ones I was able to find and get to turned out to be anything but photogenic and for some reason people get rather suspicious when you set up a camera in a housing estate. Fortunately some rivers make a proper appearance in the numerous parks of Ireland’s capital which added some visual candy to the project.

Naniken River
Naniken River, St. Anne’s Park, Dublin
Santry River
Santry River and Sewer Pipe, Dublin
The Poddle under Dame Street
The Poddle under Dame Street, Dublin

As challenging as the whole thing was it was also very interesting. I learned quite a bit about Dublin’s history, the Dublin City Council allowed me a glimpse into the Dublin underworld (which was utterly fascinating until the fumes got to me), I was offered to buy drugs (after 2 hours stuck in city traffic I was actually tempted), I more or less know my way around Dublin now and I can understand why the Dubliners are proud of their city. Apart from the traffic it’s an amazing place.

I also came to really like the Fuji X system. The XT-1 and the Fuji X lenses performed as good as the so called professional DSLR systems with the added benefit of no back-ache after a day’s work.

The big showdown however came at the end of the project. After I had delivered the images and the invoice the publisher seemingly disappeared from the face of the earth. No communication and no payment. Without wanting to go into too much detail I have spent some four months now trying to get the agreed fee for the assignment. But as I found out I am not the only one. That particular publisher seems to have a reputation for not paying authors and other contributors. Unfortunately I found that out a little too late. What I have learned from that is to do some background checks on new clients (which is rather sad), charge an advance payment and have a little money stacked away for solicitor’s fees.
I have now retracted from the project and if there will be a Rivers of Dublin book it will be without my images. But before the images end up in my archive, probably never to be seen again, I thought I share some of them.

Little Dargle River
Little Dargle River, Marley Park, Dublin
The Dodder, Docklands
The Dodder, Docklands, Dublin
Camac River / Cammock River
Camac River, Dublin
Tallaght Stream
Tallaght Stream, Dublin

Kilkenny

Towns and cities are not necessarily my first choice when it comes to photography but since my first proper visit last summer I grew rather fond of Kilkenny.

Kilkenny Countryside
Countryside just outside Kilkenny City; Nikon D810 & 45mm PC @ f13, 1 sec., ISO64

Once upon a time Kilkenny has been the most important city in Ireland. Kilkenny’s story begins sometime in the 6th century when St. Canice or one of his followers established a monastery at an important fording point on the River Nore. The small settlement that had sprung up around the church soon grew into a town that became known as Cill Chainnigh, the Church of Canice.
After the Anglo Norman invasion of the late 12th century the town was separated into what was known as Irishtown, the area around the original foundation, and Englishtown or Hightown, the area around the Kilkenny Castle.

In 1208 Kilkenny was granted a town charter and in 1266 the Charter of Murage which allowed Kilkenny to build fortified walls, a sign of status and importance. The walls of Kilkenny were finished in 1400 and Kilkenny had become one of the most important trading centers and military strongholds.
In 1366 one of the most notorious pieces of legislation ever written was put into law by the Irish Parliament which was sitting in Kilkenny at the time. The goal was to prevent the occupying Anglo Normans to become ‘more Irish than the Irish themselves’.

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Kilkenny Castle & River Nore; Nikon D810 & 24mm PC @ f16, 1.5 sec., ISO 64

… ore plusors Engleis de la dit terre guepissant la lang gis monture leys & usages Engleis vivent et se governement as maniers guise et lang des Irrois enemies et auxiant ount fait divers mariages & aliaunces enter eux et les Irrois enemyes avauntditz dont le dit terre et le lieg people de icelle la lang Engloies ligeance a nostre seignour le Roy Duc et lez leis Engleis illoeques sont mis en subjection et retrets… (Original Anglo Norman text)

Kings River, Kells
Kings River, Kells; Nikon D810 & 14-24mm @ 15mm, f14, 0.3 sec., ISO 64

… now many English of the said land, forsaking the English language, manners, mode of riding, laws and usages, live and govern themselves according to the manners, fashion, and language of the Irish enemies; and also have made divers marriages and alliances between themselves and the Irish enemies aforesaid; whereby the said land, and the liege people thereof, the English language, the allegiance due to our lord the king, and the English laws there, are put in subjection and decayed… (English translation)

The Statute of Kilkenny, as the legislation became known, forbid, among other things, to cut the hair in Irish style, speak the Irish language, play hurling or other games of Irish origin and form alliances with the Irish which included marriage and fostering.
In 1609 King James I granted Kilkenny the status of city. This marked the beginning of a century of extreme prosperity. During this time Kilkenny was ruled by rich merchant families who controlled not only the trade but also every office of church and state in the city.
In 1642 Kilkenny became the provisional capital of Ireland. The Catholic uprising in Ulster and civil war in England inspired a gathering of Irish nobility and gentry which led to the formation of a supreme council that would effectively rule Ireland for the following seven years.
In 1649 however the English civil war ended with the execution of King Charles I and one year later the victorious Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland. After a week long siege Kilkenny surrendered. The following years witnessed the decline of Kilkenny. The former powerful merchant families were expelled from the city and their properties confiscated.
Some ten years later King Charles II allowed the families to return and try to rebuilt Kilkenny’s glory days but things would never be the same. Dublin had taken over the role of political and economic center and would eventually become the capital city.

The Black Abbey
Black Abbey; Nikon D810 & 14-24mm @ 16mm, f16, 1/4 sec., ISO 64

Visiting Kilkenny is a real historic tour de force and offers countless photographic opportunities. The best time to shoot is spring and early summer before and around dawn when everybody is still asleep and the streets are deserted.

A bit outside the city are places like Thomastown and the close by Jerpoint Abbey, Gowran, Inistioge and Kells with its fortified priory. All well worth a visit and I have a feeling I am just getting started with Kilkenny. There are many more images to be made.

 A big thank you to the staff at Rothe House and Kilkenny Castle as well as the OPW for their help and support.

36 Hours in Connemara

Last week I was traveling to Connemara for two food photo shoots, one at Renvyle House Hotel and one at Ballynahinch Castle Hotel. Everybody who has ever been to Connemara will agree that it is one of the most beautiful places in Ireland and photographers will understand that it is not possible to visit this place without shooting some landscapes.

The first view of Connemara after passing through Oughterad is always something special for me. I hadn’t been to Connemara for a while and seeing the Maumturks rise against the sky put a big and stupid grin on my face. This is what happened in the following 36 hours…

Maumturk Mountains
Maumturk Mountains; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm
Maumturk Mountains
Maumturk Mountains; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 50mm
Ultan Cooke, Ballynahinch Castle Hotel
Connemara Lamb; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm
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The 12 Bens; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm
Ballynakill Harbour
Ballynakill Harbour; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Distagon 28mm
Ultan Cooke, Ballynahinch Castle Hotel
Dessert; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm
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Ballynahinch Lough; Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 50mm
Ballynakill
Ballynakill, Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 50mm

The Zeiss Experience

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Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm/2; f8.0; 1/200 sec.

There are a few names that bring a certain gaze of longing to most photographer’s eyes: Hasselblad, Leica, … and Zeiss. The latter has a long standing reputation of producing impeccable lenses. The stories of the vibrant Zeiss colours and the 3D like rendering of the image are almost the stuff of legends.
I love legends and fairy-tales but usually don’t believe in them so I never really bothered trying out any Zeiss glass myself. And quite frankly the price tag of those lenses did a good job keeping me at a save distance (same goes for Leica and Hasselblad… although I have to admit I owned a Hasselblad Xpan once and have very fond memories of it).

Kevin Dundon, Dunbrody House Hotel
Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm/2; f4.0; 1/80 sec.

Recently I ordered the Nikon 85mm PC for a commissioned job. The lens would be the perfect tool for the job in questions and in addition I had my eyes on that lens for quite a while. Unfortunately there wasn’t a copy of this lens available anywhere and two days before the first photo shoot I had to find an alternative. After a sleepless night of research and a chat with my trusted camera dealer, Conns Cameras, I settled for the Zeiss Milvus 100mm/2 until my ordered lens arrived.
The Zeiss arrived a few hours before the photo shoot and I have to admit I was very curious but didn’t expect much more than a very good macro lens…. and for a retail price of almost 2000.00 Euro I think you shouldn’t expect anything less.

Martin Bealin, Global Village, Dingle
Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm/2; f2.5; 1/10 sec.

It is said that there is always some truth in every legend. And sometimes legends are completely true. The Zeiss Milvus 100mm/2 is one of the nicest lenses I have ever worked with. The built of the lens and how it handles alone almost makes it worth its price. There are no plastic parts, even the lens hood is made of metal, and manual focusing never felt that good. It simply is an absolute joy to work with.
As for the image quality I can’t complain either. The Zeiss is a very sharp lens but having said that most 100mm macro lenses are very sharp. However there is something that sets the Zeiss apart. It is very hard to put a finger on it but there is something different how the Zeiss renders an image. It immediately became apparent after the first shoot, food photography for a book with a collection of recipes from a number of well known Irish chefs. The images just leaped off the screen, the colours were vibrant yet realistic. It was just beautiful.

Darina Allen, Ballymaloe Cookery School
Nikon D810 & Zeiss Milvus 100mm/2; f5.0; 1/5 sec.

After the third food shoot I was almost sold on the 100mm Milvus. Shooting in studio conditions is one thing, shooting under harsh outdoor conditions however is something different and I was very keen taking the Zeiss outside. Some rough weather (storm force winds, sea spray and rain) provided the perfect conditions to push the lens to its limits. The built quality of the lens didn’t disappoint and the visual output again was stunning. Another minor advantage was that the smooth metal housing of the Zeiss is much easier to clean than that of other lenses.

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Nikon D810 & Zeiss 28mm/2 Distagon; f16; 1/6 sec.

The next day I cancelled my order for the Nikon lens and because a 100mm lens isn’t that suitable for landscape photography I also got myself the Zeiss 28mm Distagon, one of the ‘classic’ Zeiss lenses. The built of that one is different to the new Milvus line but the handling experience and output is equally beautiful.

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Nikon D810 & Zeiss 28mm/2 Distagon; f14; 2.0 sec.

Although these lenses are on the pricey side (but not much more expensive than ‘pro’ lenses from other companies), are heavy and don’t have autofocus I am totally hooked. In the end a lens is just a tool but using a well built tool makes the job much more enjoyable and Zeiss lenses do just that. Add to that outstanding and unique optical quality and it’s a bit of a no brainer.

Images and text Copyright 2016 by Carsten Krieger.

Charleville Castle

Charleville Castle

Charleville Castle in Tullamore, County Offaly has somehow been flying below my radar. A few years ago I had to photograph the King Oak that stands near the entrance to the estate for a book on Heritage Trees but for some reason it had never occurred to me to venture any further onto the estate.

Charleville Castle
The Main Landing at Charleville Castle

The Castle

The King Oak with its gravity defying branches is tightly connected with the Hutton-Bury family, the owners of the Charleville Estate. It is said that whenever a branch falls from the tree a member of the family would die. In 1963 a bolt of lightning did strike the oak and indeed legend came true. Colonel Charles Hutton-Bury passed away a few weeks later.
Further up the road from the King Oak stands the home of the Hutton-Bury family, Charleville Castle, a Gothic dream made reality by Charles William Bury, Earl of Charleville, and architect Francis Johnston, who also designed the GPO in Dublin. The current building replaced an older mansion house and was finished in 1812. Due to the often lavish lifestyle and resulting lack of resources of the owners Charleville Castle remained unoccupied at times and was abandoned for good in 1912. Today the castle is in the hands of the Charleville Castle Heritage Trust, a group of volunteers who brought the building back from the brink of decay and restored much of its former glory and magic.

Charleville Castle
The Dining Room

One of the most captivating places inside the castle is the main staircase, today known as Harriet’s Stairs. Harriet, youngest daughter of the 3rd Earl of Charleville, died tragically falling down the staircase aged only 8 in April 1861. Her singing, laughing and screaming can still be heard in the middle of the night and has been reported many times by different people. Some belief to have seen the image of a blonde girl in a blue and white dress.

The building is a photographer’s dream. I have visited a number of restored buildings over the past year or so, most of them managed by the OPW (Office of Public Works) and while the OPW does a fine job preserving their sites they all lack soul. They are clean, almost sterile places that give you some idea of the heritage but that is all. Charleville Castle on the other hand takes you in, it has a lived in, homely feel; dust, cobwebs, ghosts and all.

I had planned to spent about an hour, get the shots I needed and then head on to the next site on my list. I ended up spending almost three hours at Charleville and could have stayed much longer. It’s not only the atmosphere of the place it’s also the immense detail in the rooms, there is so much to see and discover (and photograph) a week wouldn’t probably be long enough to see it all.

Charleville Castle
The Library

On Photography

I like interior photography. In many ways it’s easier than outdoor shooting. You are not at the mercy of the weather and the scene in front of you is usually more organized which makes finding a good composition less challenging. The main problem however very often is space. In the outdoors it is possible to take a few steps back to get a wider view, indoors this move is often hindered by a wall or furniture (like the image of ‘The Library’ where I was up against the wall and squeezed between other furniture) and you are dependent on the lens. In the past Canon’s 17mm tilt & shift lens has been my main lens for interior shoots. It was wide enough for most rooms, incredibly sharp and obviously it did shift. Now that I am a Nikon user this lens unfortunately isn’t available for me anymore. If anybody from Nikon should read this: A super wide angle perspective control lens would be greatly appreciated. But for now the Nikon 24mm PC (‘Perspective Control’) will do. The 24mm lens has actually one advantage over wider lenses: It has less distortion than extreme wide angles which is an advantage when shooting interiors and architecture in general. Most of the images here have been made with a 24mm PC from three shifted exposures. Depending on the camera used this can produce big files. My main camera at the moment is the 36MP Nikon D810 which means the stitched files resemble roughly what a 80MP camera would produce. This takes up a lot of storage (not to mention computer power to process the files) but the detail in the final shots is simply beautiful.

Charleville Castle
The Lounge

A big Thank You to Dudley Stewart of the Charleville Heritage Trust for letting me loose to explore the place.

Images & text © Carsten Krieger 2016