Togs & Tales

Norman McCloskey

Norman McCloskey

Landscape Photographer

Originally from Limerick city I excelled at mediocrity and was pretty useless at sport, lazy at school and left with few prospects but somehow managed to find myself studying computer programming for 2 years, graduating first in my class with unconditional offers to two universities in the UK to continue studying in 1992. Thankfully I had a feeling that I didn’t want to be a programmer and decided to head to Kerry instead without any plan whatsoever. My only passion at this point in my life was music, but being a poor guitar player and an awful singer this never progressed to anything beyond being an avid fan of what my mates called ‘weird bands’.. this continues to this day! Next year I’m 50 and I’m
only getting going. I live near the sea outside Kenmare with my wife, two kids and a dog, I have an on off relationship with my road bike and am a long suffering but now hopeful Leeds United supporter!

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

I headed for Kenmare for a weekend in 1992 and never went home! The impact of the incredible landscape was profound and soon after I picked up my first proper camera and began photographing this amazing place I now lived in.

My first camera was a beautiful Canon FTB 35mm film camera, with a 50mm 1.8 Lens, with an instruction manual in Dutch! There was no YouTube, no internet, not even a single photography book in the library so I self taught myself and was completely free of influences in my early years which I count myself very luck for!

I went on to study photography at IADT and subsequently worked as an assistant to a commercial photographer for a bit and then for a sports photography agency for 18 years, during which time I continued to develop my landscape photography through small gallery sales etc. By 2004 I had relocated back to Kenmare from Dublin, working from home and back in the landscape again.

In 2013 I published my first book PARKLIGHT – Images of Killarney National Park which was reprinted twice but is now sold out. This led to some exhibitions, print sales, my first commercial show in Dublin and eventually the opening of my gallery in Kenmare. The gallery has been a huge success, more than I could have imagined and I now have my work hanging in homes and offices all over the world.

My second book BEARA was published in 2018 and is one I’m incredibly proud of which has been featured in press worldwide and is already due for it’s third reprint.
I’m currently working on my next book KINGDOM.

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

I’ve been very fortunate to spend a huge amount of my life working in the landscape and at times it does get a bit hairy but I’m pretty risk averse. I have a wife and two kids at home now, so I try not to put myself in situations that may become dangerous too often anymore . That said, I have come down off mountains many times and breathed a big sigh of relief to make it back to the car in one piece!

But undoubtedly the biggest adventure I have had so far in my photographic journey was the trip of a lifetime to Antarctica in 2008. I’ve had a lifelong fascination with the Antarctic since I was a child and in 1998 I began reading about Ernest Shackleton and by extension Tom Crean and this interest quickly turned into a bit of an obsession. In 2008 I joined an Irish expedition led by explorer Pat Falvey on a chartered trip south, taking in South Georgia, Elephant Island and the Antarctic peninsula.

It takes three days sailing on the roughest seas in the world to reach South Georgia from our departure point in Ushuaia and this gave me time to get accustomed to the first digital SLR I would use for landscape photography, a Canon 1Ds MKIII. Up to that point I had been shooting medium format film for the previous 15 years and while I had used the cameras for work with the agency I was employed by at the time, I had never used digital for my own work.

Photographing in such an extreme environment was challenging but the gear was up to it and I quickly got into my stride. It was also my first time in a long time working in colour, although at time there was no colour to witness! Highlights include wandering around a King Penguin colony of hundreds of thousands of birds that took no notice of you at all. On South Georgia I got to hike ahead on my own on the final part of Shackleton’s famous traverse of the island and this was very special to experience by myself. Some of us got to camp out on the ice on the continent itself and even braved a swim.

Photography wise it was almost too much at times. I was conscious that I needed to experience it for myself and take it in without looking through a lens all the time. But there were endless photography ops either on excursions or just from the ship itself .

I did come away with some great images which up to now I haven’t really pushed out to wider audience with a select few appearing on my social media etc. One image was featured online by National Geographic and subsequently appeared in print in one of their publications which at the time was a very proud moment.
The trip was not a photo tour or workshop, I was part of a group of explorers and was one of only two serious photographers in the group. As such I experienced some frustration in knowing that we were leaving locations during great light etc.. but I wasn’t calling the shots. So if I ever got the chance to go back again I have a long list of images in my head that I would like to make.

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

I’ve noticed a narrative of ‘failure’ and ‘disaster’ in popular YouTube videos which I think is a purely cynical effort to make more appealing content. If you’re having such an awful time in the landscape so often, then you’re doing something seriously wrong!! I’ve had days which have been physically tough and long where I drew a complete blank. I’ve driven hours to a location having left my bag in my driveway and have been caught out with either no battery or card in my camera. I’ve broken gear and dropped cameras but I’ve always regarded these days as part of my process in getting to where I want to be. My dues that need to be paid and mistakes are for learning from. I honestly couldn’t look back at a single day no matter how cold, wet, tired or frustrated I was and think of it negatively. Any day you are out in the landscape is a gift.. the days you make a good image you’ve earned it.

Sunrise or Sunset & Why?

Sunrise every time.. but not in a way that many would think.  My first and most memorable early memory from the start of my photographic journey was getting up at 4am to head down to Kenmare sound to photograph the most amazing sunrise I had ever seen.  It was incredible and for many years I chased these epic scenes with dramatic skies full or pinks and reds.  Nowadays I find that I have quite literally turned my back on sunrises as I am more interested in photographing how the light falls on the landscape rather than capturing its source.   I’ll never tire of the buzz I get being out very early in the landscape, especially up high , before anyone else is about and experiencing the beginning of a new day.  There is something incredibly uplifting about it and it really encourages me to keep making the effort.   It also affords the best variety of atmospheric conditions, with the possibility of fog, frost, clear skies, still air and beautiful clean light.   I work almost exclusively on the West Coast so sunsets are very different but that’s not to say I don’t spend a lot of time out late in the day also.

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

The Beara Peninsula is where I feel my connection to the landscape is at its strongest. Part of that is nostalgia as it’s where I made my first landscape photographs but since then its somewhere I have gotten to know intimately and I love that. I love that although I know a place well, and have been to almost every part of it, I keep finding something new and that tells me I’m growing and changing as a photographer which is so important.

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

I get asked this all the time in the gallery and struggle to answer it properly! I’m very proud of my work and some of my favourite images are from my very early days, while newer work really excites me as I feel I’m in a great creative period of my career. But it would unfair to name any other image than my Skellig Moon image which has been a hugely influential and important image for me and also one that has had an incredible response from viewers. It was a hard won image that in the end came down to persistence and luck but it’s now hanging on walls all over the world and is the by far the most popular image in the gallery. It’s easy to forget the raw beauty of that morning in amongst all the business that it generates but I still look at it and recognise the essence of why I do what I do.. and that is to witness moments of incredible natural beauty and be blessed to possible capture them in a photograph.

What equipment / Setup are you currently using?

I’m not a very tech or gear orientated photographer, I have consistently under used the amazing cameras and software that are part of my workflow and I have a very basic approach to how I work. But I do like quality, and as such I almost exclusively shoot on prime lenses with three tilt and shift lenses a 24mm, 50mm, 135mm constantly in my bag. I use Canon gear and got the new R5 back in July and I have to say it’s an amazing camera to use.

Top Tip for anyone starting out?

Starting out now in photography is almost completely alien to when I started.   Most people will take their first images on their phone now, completely unaware of a multitude of adjustments  made on the image before it even appears on screen, with so many more enhancements at the press of a button available.   So I think the technical bar you need to get over has been lowered dramatically, with more of a focus on originality and content.   So if you can be original, which is getting harder and harder, then work hard towards that.. it’s what will make you stand out rather than bagging a long exposure of some waterfall that thousands have done before.  Learn to see with your eyes ! It sounds obvious but we really need to look up from our screens to take a scene in properly and see where a successful image may be.

Best Advise you’ve personally been given?

Be your own toughest critic and only every show your best work.

Who is your biggest inspiration as a Landscape Photographer

I think in the very early days it would have been Ansel Adams of whom I’m still a huge fan, I guess I was in inspired by his work but most of the time I was just in awe of it. However I set out on my photographic journey with my biggest inspiration being the landscape itself and how it draws me out into it all the time. I’m hugely passionate about landscape photography and would be big fans of people like Joel Meyerowitz, Bruce Percy, Jeffrey Conley, Edward Burtynsky and Richard Misrach.

Who is your favourite Irish photographer at the moment?

I’ve never thought about this before but if I were to pick a favourite it would be the same answer I would have given 25 years ago and that would be Liam Blake. Liam has been there and done it all, long before any of us ever dreamt of doing it. For me he is Ireland’s most accomplished landscape photographer with a career spanning forty years I’d guess. Although his bread and butter work for the postcard company Real Ireland may not set the photography world alight now, his early work captured Ireland in a way that will surely sit alongside the Hinde Collection in time to come. But it’s his personal work, in particular his black and white work that I think is exceptional. I’ve only met him a couple of times briefly, and he’s comes across as a pure gent and a really decent, nice guy!

© All images are copyrighted to Photographer Norman McCloskey

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