Togs & Tales

Stephen Wallace

Stephen Wallace

Landscape Photographer

Well I’m 35 years old, married to Julie and father to a 6-year old girl, Erin. I live in Lisburn, just outside Belfast and during the week I’m a chartered accountant working for Belfast City Council managing large infrastructure programmes. My passions outside photography are Liverpool, playing football, cycling and I enjoy my good food and local craft beer.

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

I have always had a passion for the outdoors and particularly hiking the Mournes – and for a long time it was simply that – hiking and walking as far as I could over as many mountains as I could. I didn’t have a photographer’s eye whatsoever – I appreciated the views but that was as far as it went. Once I had a football injury and was fed up sitting in the house, especially as it was snowy outside. I took a notion and borrowed a DSLR my dad had and went for a walk to Divis mountain outside Belfast, specifically with the idea of getting ‘nice’ photos. It was the first time I’d consciously tried to ‘compose’ a photo and really enjoyed the process. Straight away I decided to buy a Panasonic Lumix bridge camera and started a ’52 weeks’ project – trying to get one good photo a week. I was quickly hooked and bought my first DSLR, a Canon EOS 550D around week 26 and I’ve not got bored yet.

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

I think my favourite landscape adventure was the Faroe Islands. I went with a few other landscape photographers including Ryan Simpson, Alistair Hamill and the legendary Chris Ibbotson

It was an amazing trip from start to finish – it was July with sunset around 1am and sunrise around 4am so we typically slept from around breakfast until lunchtime and then spent the rest of the time photographing. One particular night stands out though and that was the trip to one of the islands, Kalsoy. We got a late evening ferry across but there’s no accommodation there (or there wasn’t back then). So we drove up to the tip of the island and hiked to the famous Kallur Lighthouse for sunset. There’s quite a thin ridge over to the viewpoint and on either side there are massive, must be 500m drops into the ocean. We had all watched Mads Peter Iversen’s Faroe videos before we went and he says at this point ‘if you slip, you die’ – so we all had that in our heads as we walked across (or in Alistair’s case, bum shuffled). After sunset, surrounded by puffins, we just slept on the headland until sunrise when we had a Faroese beer and the whole experience was just amazing. It was real edge of the world type stuff and I’d go back in a heartbeat. It was also funny because Chris kept being attacked by small birds which he described as ‘birds of prey’, but that was overstating it somewhat…

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

Hmm, I’ve probably had a few – and most of them have been in Donegal! A good few years ago now I was exploring some of the back roads around Errigal for photos, which are about as narrow as it gets anywhere in Ireland. However, what makes them even worse is the fact there are proper 2-foot drops into bog either side. As I was exploring down one road, I soon realised it wasn’t a road but a long private lane as I was met with a gate. I took the closed gate as a sign I wasn’t overly welcome so decided to attempt the half-mile reversing job back to the ‘main road’. It was windy and it was hilly and my reversing maybe isn’t the best in the world. As I focused on one side of the car, I forgot about the other and the wheel dropped straight off the road into a bog and I was stuck. There was nothing that would get me moving. I was in the middle of nowhere – no-one was likely to pass me for hours – except for the fact there was that house nearby. So I decided to walk up to the house, open the gate and knock the door.
The woman who answered can be described, in the nicest way possible, as ‘witchy’ in appearance. There was no clear evidence of electricity being used, soup was being cooked in what really looked like a cauldron and there were lots of eccentric ‘collectables’ on the shelves. Having said that, she was lovely. She asked had I got stuck, and knew exactly where it had happened as it had happened to her postman a few times! She said she’d get her tractor to give me a tow as soon as she’d finished her soup! And that she did – it was a small, old tractor and my car may even have been heavier than her tractor – but she got it out – and I stood there, completely useless and embarrassed! But grateful! I brought her a big box of chocolates the next day.
The other ones include falling in a river in the Poisoned Glen with my car keys and house keys in my pocket so they fell out into and down the river forever – or at least that’s what I thought for around 15 minutes before I remembered they were in my camera bag! But it was a bad 15 minutes for someon ealready sleep deprived in the February Donegal rain! There’s also of course the times you arrive on location, like Cave Hill above Belfast with inversions and amazing sunrise colours only to realise there’s no battery in the camera – but everyone has done that…

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

I’d have always said sunrise, 100%. Quieter roads, less people, more chance of reflections with less wind, more chance of frost, ice and snow…just a nicer, more peaceful time to be out and about – and still with the whole day ahead of you. I’ve done most of my photography at sunrise as when Erin was younger it was easiest for me to get out and take photos whilst everyone else was asleep.

As I get older though, sunset becomes more appealing….!

But no. It’s still sunrise. Final answer.

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

I think I’ll say Donegal. I love being out west full stop, and Donegal in particular. I’ve a big family connection to Donegal, but even without that, it’s I think the best county for photography. The wild conditions and the huge number of potential locations. On the other side, it’s an incredibly cruel place for photography and I’ve gone for many 2 day trips and barely taken a single photograph – but it’s worth it when the conditions come together.
I’ll also give a shout out to Dunmore Head in Dingle – I just loved sitting there at sunset looking towards the Blasket Islands.

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

There’s two I like I think. One is taken in the Mournes during a winter sunset after a day of blizzards and no visibility – the cloud cleared and the Mournes and Ben Crom reservoir became visible for the first time – at just the right time. Looking back, it was a bit mad to stay in the Mournes just sitting for hours and waiting during blizzards – with no real signs the weather would ever break, but it did and I’m glad I stayed.
The other one I like is probably not one that is very ‘popular’ in terms of other people liking it. I took it on a snowy day in a field in a nearby working-class housing estate (because I had flu and didn’t have the energy for the Mournes – but had to photograph the snow) and I just like the idea of it! It was actually highly commended in the Outdoor Photographer of the Year competition and I often laugh knowing where it was actually taken.

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I recently upgraded to full-frame for the first time. It’s not one of the brand new full-frames but it’s been a big upgrade for me – so I’m currently using a Canon 5DSR, with the Canon 16-35mm lens which is so popular with landscape photographers. Also have a Canon 24-105 and a Tamron 70-300 which I find useful in the Mournes.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Really try and be precise and deliberate and think about your composition. I always tell people on my workshops not to set up their tripod too quickly. Once it’s set up, people don’t tend to move too far. And don’t just automatically set it up with the legs full length and a comfy height either.
Move around with the camera handheld and find the right height and angle for your scene – with a wide angle camera, small differences make massive differences to your composition. Then set up your tripod – even if means an uncomfortable position – good compositions and comfy sitting positions are a rare combination I find!
When I started out – the scene and the colour in the sky was often enough for me – composition was less important to colour and drama – but as you progress you realise composition is the most important thing – there’s nothing you can do in post-processing about a poor composition.

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

I think it’s probably ‘take less photos’ – it’s linked to the past answer – but it’s all about being more deliberate and considered, rather than scatter-gun and rushed. There’s sometimes a place for the latter – but if you can avoid it, do. The other one is ‘always revisit locations and get to know them’ – it does make a difference – you can see it in people’s photographs and compositions – if it’s somewhere they know and really understand, it comes across.

Who is your biggest inspiration as a Landscape Photographer?

I don’t think there’s one in particular – but there’s maybe a certain style I like. I’m all for epic vistas and locations so the likes of your Mads Peter Iversen’s etc are great to look at – but actually the ones I enjoy most are the photographs which you can ‘apply’ to our local landscape for inspiration – maybe more accessible types of location. There’s no point looking at a 3,500m high pointy mountain and thinking ‘how could I apply that to Ireland’, but there are some photographers, like Bruce Percy, where their style can be applied to our local landscapes. I saw him talk at a presentation in Bangor, County Down and he really inspired me to have compositions which went really low to the ground – there was one stood out from the Bolivian Altiplano, a detailed foreground with sand patterns and then distant mountains. The closest thing I could think of was Murlough Beach with the Mournes behind – so a few days later I was down lying amongst the sand ripples at sunset trying to apply that style to our local landscape.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment?

Maybe this could be seen as a cop-out because he’s not as active as he once was – but it genuinely is, and always has been, Stephen Emerson. Outside groups on Flickr, Stephen was the first ‘proper’ local photographer I discovered – he seems to have a class shot of every class location in Ireland, and in class locations to boot. It looks like a completed bucket list of photos to me!

The standard of landscape photographers in Ireland is massively improved from when I started out around 10 years ago though – it’s almost unrecognisable.
© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Stephen Wallace, Hibernia Landscapes
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