Togs & Tales

Brid O'Neill

Brid O'Neill

Landscape Photographer

I am originally from Wexford – The Sunny South East! Born & raised. While I’m still a yellow belly at heart – and always will be – I am now living on the east coast in Laytown, Co Meath since 2003.
After graduating college (many moons ago) I travelled to Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia & Singapore for a year before returning to Ireland to “do the adult thing and start working”. If only I had a ‘proper camera’ & and some skills back then to capture that trip!!!
I worked in finance up to 3 years ago when I decided it was time to change careers and take a chance on what I was passionate about – photography. So my 9-5 desk job has now turned into crazy-o-clock sunrises and very late evenings out in the landscape. And while the bank balance may not be as healthy as it was, I haven’t looked back and love every minute of it. I also enjoy portrait work too and family and event photography.
I recently released my first photography book – RECONNECT. A photography book of several images taken during 12 months of lockdown in East Meath. Something I really enjoyed putting together and meeting several locals who were delighted to feature in the book. Many local businesses too participated and opened up their premises for me to photograph.

What was your path to becoming a Landscape Photographer & What was your first camera?

Since I was a child I always loved photos. Old family photos, travel books, wildlife…. I was just amazed by them. The colours, the light, people’s expressions. So over the years I had always enjoyed it but only really dabbled in it.
When I travelled to Australia I always remember purchasing an Olympus camera in Kuala Lumpur on the trip over and thinking I was the bees knees. This was going to help me capture wonderful photos. No stopping me now. Remember this was 1998 so it wasn’t until the photos were processed you got to see the ‘amazing results’. Well wasn’t I gutted. Nothing like portraying the beautiful Ayers Rock as dirty and dull brown !!
So forward on a few years and I had a digital point & shoot camera which I used on holidays and started getting better results. And it was cheaper in the digital era to make mistakes. Mobile phones had advanced and made practice easier.

On honeymoon, in South Africa I fell in love with the golden light at sunrise and sunset. I was training myself to look for compositions and different lighting. I am self taught and like many others YouTube was becoming the cheapest education. Social Media opened up another avenue. There were photographers to follow and learn from. Groups to join.

In work I became the go-to photographer for events. Family and friends were asking me to photograph at parties & gatherings. So it was really about 2016 that I started to delve more seriously into photography. The Sony point & shoot I had was ditched for another Sony but a DSLR (think it was a65). It was then that I started to become interested in landscapes & seascapes too. This was a different perspective for me and changed my life big time. I still enjoy the portrait work but it’s the landscapes & seascapes that give me the most joy. I was spending all day in work with people and at meetings and on calls so the idea of escaping on my own outside work was a game changer. I could unwind and de-stress. So 3 years ago I was lucky to have the opportunity to leave my job and take up photography full time. In that time I also upgraded my equipment.
Covid has obviously had an impact but I still had my prints that were selling and thankfully things are starting to come back now too. I think the pandemic has changed people’s perspective and values. I am getting lots of requests for family photos.

What was your favourite Landscape Adventure Story since becoming a Photographer?

Less of an adventure and more of an experience was stumbling over a baby seal called Magnolia at Laytown beach back in March 2020, just before Covid hit us. It was a Sunday afternoon and I went for a walk for on the beach and took my camera. I don’t usually take my camera with me during the day time but I was glad I did this time! She was only about 8 mths old and was baking in the sunshine. We had only had a storm a few days beforehand and this was the first good day since. After checking with Seal Rescue Ireland it was discovered from her tag she was named Magnolia and they had previously released her in December 2019, north of Dundalk. I think she must have thought I’m hopping the county border and heading to sunnier climates in Meath!! Seal Rescue checked her over and were delighted to see she was very healthy and probably came ashore to soak up a few rays at high tide. She was in the ‘banana pose’ which they said was a sign she was relaxed and happy. I sat with her for about an hour and got some beautiful shots of her. One of which The Irish Times featured for me. Now it is important to say if you do discover wildlife to stay a safe distance – for both your safety and the animals too. Believe me young Magnolia bared very sharp teeth when she yawned. She was extremely relaxed though and happy to share some space on the sand with me. Moments of nature like that are rare and have a profound affect on you. It’s these moments that imprint memories.

What was your worst in-the-field experience as a landscape Photographer?

Fingers crossed I have to say I haven’t had any very bad experiences. One I did have was gear related. Arriving late to a scene, I hopped out of the car, grabbed my camera bag only to discover I hadn’t zipped it up… out fell the camera & lens attached and smacked onto the concrete. I froze for few seconds afraid to look down and assess the damage. I had a family portrait session the next morning!!! Thankfully I had only invested in an L bracket the week before. It bore the main impact. Camera & lens had scuff marks but were fine. I have being singing the praises of L brackets ever since. Not only do they make shooting with a Tripod so much easier, they also are a major protection to your equipment. But also don’t be clown like me – make sure you zip up your camera bag!!!
But one thing I will address, and I know it’s something that has come up a lot recently in social media & podcasts, and that is safety out in the field. As a female photographer it is something that can be an issue. Being out on your own at crazy early or late hours of the day and night can be dangerous. I must say in my local area I do not feel any way unsafe. I do love the solitude of getting out on my own. But you can become complacent and think ‘sure I’ll be grand’. It is always safer to shoot with a fellow photographer. I often drag my poor husband with me and god bless his patience! This is where social media can play a positive role. Reach out to some of the fellow togs you interact with. Set up meet-ups for shoots. Always better to be safe than sorry.

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

While I love sunset for allowing you more time to get set up and get that shot, I have to say sunrise. I love being out when most people are still in bed and you have the place to yourself. There is nothing more beautiful than witnessing the sun rising. The peace and tranquility. The anticipation of another day. A few months ago I arranged a sunrise shoot locally with 4 ladies who swim each morning. It was February and a very cold morning. Frost lay on the grass on the way to the dunes, clear skies and bitter cold. But it was a joy to witness and photograph the elation and happiness of each of the 4 of them as they took to the water as the sun rose on the horizon in front of them. Just magic.

Where is your favourite Location in Ireland to Photograph & Why?

I’m not sure I have one favourite place. I like new adventures. Having said that I suppose in my short time as a photographer the one place that features the most is Laytown. I can safely say I have shot it to death at this stage but it is definitely my go to place. Maybe it’s the convenience of being able to walk to where I need to? But I think it’s more so the sound of the sea. Whether it is calm sunrise mornings or loud stormy seas I just love the energy of the sea. Some days I may walk the length of the beach. Others I might just sit on the rocks and shoot the many travellers on it. It’s probably my safe place and that must make it my favourite.

What is your favourite photograph, that you’ve taken to date, & Why?

I truly believe my favourite photograph is still to come. I am waiting for that one image that really says to be me -‘yep yellow belly, ya got a cracker this time!’ A few months ago I invested in a telephoto lens and it has opened up new opportunities. I just love the compression of that lens. I’m still chasing that perfect moon rise. And I’ve started some wildlife photography too. So it’s creating a new challenge for me to chase these shots and the motivation of still searching for that image keeps me on my toes. One photo I do like that came about at the start of the telephoto lens was a stormy high tide at Mornington, back in February this year. The waves crashing against Aleria lighthouse – so strong – and here’s this bird – a cormorant I think – just sat nonchalant on the side. He didn’t budge and inch and there’s me on the shoreline been blown all over the place. The power of nature.

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I started with point & shoot Sony camera many years ago and have stuck with the brand ever since. I have a Sony a99ii with some Zeiss lenses that I reserve for Black & White mainly as there’s nice rendering from it. My main bread and butter cameras are my Sony a7riii & Sony a7riv. Never leave the bag. Love the resolution of the a7riv for landscapes & seascapes. I’ve slowly built up lenses over the years to match & have some telephoto, wide angles and few primes.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Practice, Practice, Practice Practice makes perfect. And you only improve the more you try. Get out there and take plenty of photos. And don’t be afraid to fail. We all have – and still do. You only learn from those mistakes. With photography everyday is a school day.

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

While gear is not the most important thing it is really important to know your gear. This is something I was told and it has stayed with me. Know your camera inside out. Custom set it to your needs. You may not need every feature on it – modern day cameras are mini computers now – but know exactly where each feature you need is. And the more you use it the more it becomes second nature and that will improve both your experience in the field and your work. We all can use our phones blindfolded… aim to be as pro efficient with your camera

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment?

Ireland has a wealth of talent when it comes to photography. In all genres. How lucky we are to have an abundance of gifted individuals. It makes it very difficult to single out one. I am massive fan of Seán O’Riordan’s work. I just love his use of light and colour and he still maintains the most natural look to his images. That’s a balancing act that Seán has perfected.

There are many others I admire too but to highlight one in particular it has to be a local lady. And that’s Eimhear Collins. Not only do I admire her attitude and her positivity, despite having had health set-backs most of her life, her photography speaks for itself. I once heard someone say she is Ireland’s answer to Rachel Talibart – she is and more. Eimhear’s seascapes in particular for me are gold. The tones, the textures, the colours and that light that she always captures. She has been a big influence on my work and someone to look up to.

And it’s always great to see the ladies doing well. Watch out lads we’re coming to take over !
© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Brid O’Neill, BON Photography
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