Murder Hole, Ireland

Landscape Photography - The Murder Hole in Ireland
The Murder Hole, County Donegal, Ireland – Irish Landscape Photography by Stephen Dickey.

A brilliant location for landscape photography and so named because of its dangerous currents, the Murder Hole in County Donegal is easily the most ruggedly beautiful beach that I know of.  County Donegal, in which it lies, is a largely overdeveloped area which seemingly has a holiday home built on every hillside.  However, the beauty of this beach is future-proofed by the nature of the surrounding terrain.

This beach is not found on the well trodden path.  It is not visible from any road and unless you specifically know what you are looking for you would never find it.  The approach is across a field often filled with livestock and you have to climb several gates or fences, depending on which part of the beach you actually want to visit for your landscape photography.  Whilst not physically challenging to reach, it is definitely not a place for anyone with mobility difficulties to visit.  On a previous visit I had gone down onto the beach itself.  There are undoubtedly some lovely compositions to be found down there, but on this occasion I wanted to capture the entire majesty of the beach, something which can only be achieved from a higher vantage point.

As I was going to be capturing my landscape photographs at sunset, the northern cliffs offered the best opportunity to capture the type of light I wanted.  The sun would be setting to the north-west, in this case over my right shoulder.  This particular photograph was captured around 1 hour before sunset.  I had noticed that a thick bank of cloud had formed along the horizon, with several other layers filling up the sky at different altitudes.  My first thought was disappointment as, after a 2 hour drive to get there, I had hoped to be shooting in nice light until the sun dipped below the horizon.  The change in colour of the light as sunset changes into dusk is extremely tangible and quite the spectacle to witness, especially in a location like this.  The change in colour is represented throughout the entire scene – the water, the cliffs and the sand all change in colour as the sun sets and the personality of the location changes.

When I arrived the first thing that became apparent was that it was very windy and that the Atlantic Ocean was very turbulent.  Those waves were absolutely huge and as they crashed into the cliff face 20-30 metres below me, a constant spray rose up and around me.  No sooner had I set-up my camera on the tripod than my polariser had been coated in a layer of fine droplets of water.  As soon as they were wiped off, they would appear again.  An exercise in frustration followed as the only cleaning cloth I had with me became saturated and greasy and totally unable to clean the filter.  Shot after shot was ruined and I was on the verge of heading home.  (Landscape photography is almost as frustrating as golf!)

In order for a landscape photograph to work it requires all of the elements within the scene to come together at the same time.  As I stood there considering packing up my equipment, the wind suddenly dropped and the sun burst through a gap in the clouds, illuminating the beach and surrounding cliffs in this beautiful warm side-lighting.  I used the sleeve of my jacket to give the filter one last clean and quickly captured this composition.  I managed to take 2 or 3 shots in the space of 30s before the filter started getting covered in spray again.

I am really happy with the result.  The deep shadows in the cliff help show the shape and form of the landscape.  The the different colours in the water and the fact that you can see the sand being churned up by the turbulence of the ocean.  This beach will change on a daily basis and will never look the same twice.  So, despite its recent popularity amongst photographers, this special moment was mine to capture and it will never look quite this way to anyone else.  It is easily my favourite landscape photograph that I have taken this year and one I am very proud of.  I hope you enjoy viewing it as much as I enjoyed taking it!

Equipment: Canon 6D, Canon 16-35mm f2.8 L mkii @ 16mm, 1/8s @ f16, ISO 100, Lee landscape polariser and Lee 1.2 soft-edge ND graduated filter.

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