In no particular order, these are my favourite images from 2014:
1. Dunluce Castle, Antrim
Dunluce Castle is one of the most photographed locations on Antrim's superlative Causeway Coast. Conditions on this May day were not what I had hoped for - a bland sky and little wave action in the sea - but I had worked for a couple of hours on compositions that were technically solid but uninspiring. I'd pretty much given up on the scene when I spied the cave at the bottom of the cliff facing the castle. After two hours of leisurely camera work, I was suddenly wrestling myself and my tripod frantically into the back wall of the cave and trying to compose an image before the sun set. In the end there wasn't even room to get my head behind the camera, and I had to check compostion at an oblique angle using Live View. Another reminder that there's always a way to find inspiration from a scene if you look hard enough. Canon 5d Mk2, EF 17-40mm lens at 17mm.
2. Bluebell Woodland, Portglenone, Antrim
It's nice once in a while to throw the rules of photography out the window, and use the camera-shake we normally seek to avoid to our advantage. This is the photography equivalent of a painter throwing away his brush and getting stuck-in with their fingers. Woodlands are a great place to experiment like this. Simply select a long shutter speed (maybe one second or more), which is easily achieved with a polariser or ND filter, then hand-hold the exposure, moving the camera as you press the shutter. In this case I moved the camera vertically, blurring the foliage, bluebells and tree trunks into a pleasing abstract with a real feel of depth and texture. Canon 5d Mk2, EF 24-105mm lens at 105mm.
3. Poulnabrone Dolmen, Clare
Poulnabrone Dolmen in County Clare is most impressive when viewed from a low angle, allowing it to stand starkly against the horizon. Yet the problem with this composition is trying to balance the shadow details againt the the sky, and preventing the dolmen being reduced to a silhouette. On this July morning, a stormy sunrise provided all the natural drama I could ask for, but it was still a real challenge in post production to get this image right. Exposures for the sky and foreground had to be carefully blended using a mixture of luminosity blending and painstaking selections. Canon 5d MK2, EF 17-40mm lens at 29mm.
4. Storm, Ballyglass Lighthouse, Mayo
This image only just made the list for 2014. It was shot on 10th December as a severe North Atlantic storm pounded the northwest coast of Ireland, producing waves that exceeded 20m high. It's always a serious challenge to make good images in these conditions. The waves were accompanied by violent showers of hail and winds gusting to 120 kph, so for the most part the shooting had to be done from the shelter of a car interior, especially as shots like this require a telephoto lens, with all the associated issues of keeping the image sharp. Even though the gale-force winds were rocking the car, it was still worth setting the tripod up inside the vehicle to provide extra stability. Canon 5d MK2, EF 100-400mm lens at 400mm
5. Connemara Ponies, Mayo
This shot is a bit off-topic for me, but it was a scene I couldn't resist trying to make a good image from. The subject was a field full of buttercups, and about twenty grazing Connemara Bog Ponies. In all the other images I shot of this scene the horses were framed against the buttercups, yet this is my favourite; the one image where I zoomed in a bit closer with a telephoto lens. Canon 5D Mk2, EF 100-400mm lens at 320mm.
6. Camping on the Inniskea Islands, Mayo
I love this image because it was one I had visualised months beforehand. Pre-visualisation is an important part of creating good outdoor imagery, but it isn't always possible to pull the different elements together exactly as you had imagined. So when it does happen, I find it pretty satisfying. A lot of preparation and effort went into achieving this image. The first task was to complete a sea-kayak trip - in the right weather conditions - to reach the uninhabited Iniskea Islands off the west coast of Mayo. Once there, it took a while to position the camp in the right location. Then, as dusk turned to night, there was a surprisingly narrow window in which to get the exposure right, as the ambient surrounds balanced with the firelight and torch-lit tent. Canon 5D Mk2, EF 24-105mm lens at 24mm
7. Surfer, Donegal Bay
This was a very fortuitous image, the result of getting out with the camera in conditions that didn't seem to be offering anything spectacular. I was shooting some close-ups of waves breaking on the limestone reefs of Donegal Bay, just south of Bundoran, when I noticed a group of surfers riding waves just a bit further down the coast. Even using a 100-400mm telephoto zoom I was still a bit under-gunned, but the light was good enough to carry the image, keeping the surfer in the barrel prominent enough to make it work. Canon 5D Mk2, EF 100-400mm lens at 400mm
8. Fanad Head Lighthouse, Donegal
The lighthouse at the tip of Fanad Head must be one of the most photographed locations in Ireland - and one that never seems to let me down. On this autumn morning a beautiful sunrise provided the perfect backdrop, while a northwesterly swell carried enough wave action to bring the foreground to life. Canon 5D Mk2, EF 17-40mm lens at 21mm.
9. Crohy Head, Donegal
This image was taken during my first trip to this increasingly well-known location. It's pretty hard to take a bad image here, so good are the natural elements. I didn't get any vivid or dramatic light on this occasion, but I still find that the variety of rock textures makes a very pleasing composition. Canon 5D Mk 2, EF 17-40mm at 17mm
10. Clew Bay and Croagh Patrick, Mayo
This was another pre-visualised shot. I had visited this scene several times before, but knew that to make the most of it, I needed a few different elements to align at the same time. Nice evening light and a high tide in the bay were crucial. The cloud patterning in the sky and the flag irises in the foreground were a nice bonus. Canon 5D Mk2, EF 17-40mm lens at 38mm.