From the homeland…

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4-15-14Dunmore Head

Niamh and Dan are another of my two angels. Both have been an incredible resource to Lori and I as we navigate our somewhat choppy current waters. Hailing directly from back home in Ireland, their accents haven’t waned one bit, and it does my heart good to hear them speak in their classic soft-singing Irish tone. Both doctors in the local community, they’ve shared compassion (and expertise) with our family, though as you might expect in a situation like this, that extra level of knowledge Lori and I have been able to attain has felt especially valuable.

Niamh and Dan have been there for us – in what felt like a life-saving operation, right before I had a PET Scan done it was Dan who somewhat spontaneously and thankfully drained a ton of excess fluid from my lung when I had pneumonia – and as is the case these days, we have a hard time truly expressing our thanks for their support. They’ve been there for us anytime and at all times, frequently asking how they can help, and also providing relevant insights and experience about the entire process/situation – much of which we’re just learning to gather for ourselves.

4-16-14 obrien

We wanted to give Niamh and Dan something of ours… that might mean something to them too… so we had a print of this scene from Dunmore Head on the Ring of Kerry printed biggish at 20×30 right onto metal. From Dunmore Head near Coumeenoole, you can see Great Blasket Island straightaway, Inishnabro and Inishvickillane to the left, and to the right is Beiginis and then Inishtooskert – just off the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland. There’s an almost 3-D look to the metal printing, and the scene literally pops right off the surface. Turns out Dan has actually spent time sailing in and around these very islands! To my angels from Ireland, Niamh and Dan – here’s a little glimpse from home – thank you.

A Window to the World

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12-8-13 Acadia11 BW(720px)

I’m celebrating the fact that I actually got off my you-know-what and made a new landscape photograph – one that I’m actually prepared to share! I hadn’t visited Acadia in several months, but all that changed this past weekend when local photographer Chad Tracy and I cruised down to MDI for a quick photo expedition. Despite the below freezing temperatures and the biting wind, standing on the rocky shoreline of my favorite national park never felt so good!

I’ll share a few more photographs from what was a beautiful sunrise over the next few days, so stay tuned. After exploring a part of the granite “ledges” along the Loop Road near Thunder Hole, our original plan was to meander back toward Sand Beach to maybe do some long exposures with the surf. We got sidetracked though when I realized how close we were to this unique location, and since the sun was already up, I was excited to visit at a time when I wouldn’t get the willies from it being too dark.

The ecosystem within this sea cave is extraordinarily delicate, so Chad and I were extremely cautious about making sure to walk only on the solid rock. Although not a huge secret, and relatively easy to find, to further protect this little gem I made Chad swear not to divulge the location to anyone else. The approach to the cave – and the floor inside – was quite slippery and tricky to navigate, and to add to the mystique, this location is only accessible at low tide. It was quite an experience to spend some time in here, and as we looked through the window out onto Frenchman Bay, we appreciated the shelter from the chilly winter air. I like this photograph, and I’m going to add it to my portfolio.

If you haven’t seen my full portfolio yet – if interested – you can click on over and check out a selection of my favorite images on Acadia and Beyond (in addition to Acadia, I’ve shared images of Maine, Ireland, Death Valley, Yosemite). If you do visit the site, drop me a line… I’d love to hear your thoughts. If interested in purchasing from the site between now and the New Year, to save some cash be sure to type in the discount code “Acadia” when checking out. A bargain… Happy holidays!

And yes… I’m trying out a new blog theme. Feedback appreciated on that too 🙂

A change of pace…

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dunmore head re-do

I had been searching for the original RAW file of this scene for a while. This is a blend of two exposures… one for the land in the foreground, and one for the much brighter and sun-reflected light on the ocean. I wasn’t thrilled with my first go at blending the two exposures, but for the life of me I couldn’t seem to find the original files to give it another try… until recently. Maybe this is one that would look good printed on metal?

This is from the last trip I made home to Ireland (with Sam), and shows The Great Blasket Islands from Dunmore Head in County Kerry. Here’s the original post… taking the Slea Head Road west out of Dingle, we spotted a little harbor tucked into the rocks with a pretty beach. From a distance it was beautiful, and up close… even nicer. Looking over our shoulder though, we saw what looked like a path winding its way up the hillside toward the ocean. Eager for an adventure and the possibility of a nice view, we started hiking.

I thought I was going to have a heart attack… too many Irish breakfasts and too much Guinness lately had me struggling to keep up with Sam. When I finally did get to a flat spot, I dropped my backpack and told him to go on ahead… I needed a rest.

So… in the photograph above you can enjoy the view I had from the spot I decided to rest. The headland we were on was called Dunmore Head, and you can see Great Blasket Island straightaway, Inishnabro and Inishvickillane off to the left, and to the right is Beiginis and then Inishtooskert. This was classic windblown and rugged Irish coastline, and as has been the case most everywhere we went on that trip… it was totally deserted and ours alone.

Here are a couple more photographs to help give a sense of where we were. The first shows our first look at the scene (the arrow shows where we were when I made the photograph at the top of this post), the second is a more intimate view of the harbor and beach, and the third is the view from the other side of the headland in the late afternoon sun. After out hike we headed back into the town of Dingle for dinner, and you can just imagine how good Guinness Stew for Sam and Shepherd’s Pie for me tasted in a local pub… all washed down with a nice pint of course. Beautiful.

St. Patrick’s Day

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March 17 holds significance for me in two ways. First of all, and most obviously, it is Saint Patrick’s Day. Growing up in Ireland I can remember many a day spent very unproductively celebrating whatever it was we were celebrating… usually from an early hour too! Last year Sam and I were lucky enough to be in Dublin to join in with the locals as they did what they do best… great experience. If you want a quick fix from the Emerald Isle, check out my gallery of Ireland photographs, including the one below from Dunmore Head looking out toward Great Blasket Island.

Secondly, as I check the weather forecast for the coming week, I am pleased to notice that we are expecting a brief spell of almost 70 degree temperatures here in Maine. While definitely abnormal for this time of year, March 17 and St. Paddy’s Day always spell the end of winter for me. The clocks have just sprung forward, we are in the throes of March Madness, and in a couple of weeks we get to enjoy the dogwoods of Augusta during The Masters golf tournament. For me… this is a good time of the year, so cheers!

Shiny and silver…

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Every now and then I get the urge to print something, and I figure if it’s worth printing then it’s worth printing BIG! I just sent this one off to be printed on metallic paper at 24 x 36, and I have a feeling that when it comes back I will like it. I love how landscape photographs appear almost 3D when printed on metallic paper, and the black and white processing should make this one really pop.

If I ever got serious about this whole photography thing I would love to spend some time learning about what goes into making a really good print… but in the meantime, I will trust (and pay) those with the ability and resources to take care of such a task. I am definitely developing an attraction to large prints, and I can’t wait to see this one up close 🙂

From Dunmore Head near Coumeenoole, you can see Great Blasket Island straightaway, Inishnabro and Inishvickillane to the left, and to the right is Beiginis and then Inishtooskert – just off the Dingle peninsula in County Kerry, Ireland.

Toward the highest mountain in Ireland

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Another from the Ireland stash… this is from our last evening in Killarney before we headed north toward Galway. There is a path just to the right of where I planted my tripod that leads toward the highest mountain in Ireland… Carrauntoohil (3406 ft). Carrauntoohil itself isn’t actually visible in this photograph, and I’m not entirely sure what the correct name for this path is, though I think it is either Lisleibane or Cronin Yard Loop. It was a spectacularly beautiful way to spend time as the early evening shadows stretched across a landscape that is known locally as Hags Glen. Can you imagine what this looks like when everything has greened up?

The moment was better than the photograph

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This is one of those instances when the moment of actually being there was better than I was able to represent with the camera. Sam and I had arrived at Ross Castle in Killarney with plenty of time to spare before the sun was scheduled to rise, and as we walked from the parking lot toward the castle, I couldn’t help but notice this scene.

The morning air was cool and damp, and I never get tired of that feeling of expectation and excitement you get when exploring somewhere new in the pre-dawn light. An almost eerie mist on the water off in the distance helped create a mood of tranquility and peacefulness like you wouldn’t believe, and there wasn’t a soul around as we stood on a little bridge admiring this scene and listening to the sounds of the wakening morning. The reflections on the still as glass water were remarkable, and as the sun slowly climbed in the sky, I was once again reminded of why it is important to get up at this time of day.

In the photograph below I broke out the longer lens (70-200mm f4) and  tried to bring everything good about this scene a little closer. The two-dimensional world of photography can be somewhat limiting when it comes to truly representing an experience, but at least I have these two images to serve as a reminder of a wonderful morning shared with Sam… in a place and at a time only he and I experienced… pretty neat.

Near misses

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On more than one occasion, I have seriously underestimated the power of the ocean. When near the shoreline, I usually watch the waves for a few minutes trying to establish a pattern as to when the bigger waves are going to hit, but every now and then I still get surprised. Imagine how wet my camera got right after making this photograph at Monument Cove in Acadia National Park.

Windy conditions can cause an unstable tripod, as can wet sand being shaped by the ebb and flow of the tide. The other more likely mistake though involves me leaving the camera in a far from balanced position on a tripod that is just crying out to be kicked accidentally. Several times I have tripped over an extended tripod leg, calling on my cat-like reflexes to dive and save the camera from a nasty spill. Despite several near misses, so far I had been quite lucky.

However, when Sam and I were in Ireland, I dropped my camera… hard. Maybe it was the anticipation of a cold Guinness that had clouded my thoughts as I grabbed my backpack from the rear of the car at the end of the day and swung it over my shoulder. Fully loaded, my camera backpack is fairly heavy, so it takes a pretty good swing to get it on my back properly… that didn’t help, only adding momentum to the fall. Normally before moving my camera bag, I do a 24-point check to make sure everything is in its proper place and that all zippers are zipped correctly… but not this time.

The sound of camera gear hitting concrete is not a sound any photographer wants to hear, so when I heard the crash, a knot immediately materialized in my stomach. I closed my eyes and literally paused for a moment, before turning to see the extent of the damage – and to curse my stupidity. When I finally did turn around, I looked down to see my flash lying in several pieces, a card reader and a cable release were spilled too, but worse still was the sight of my newly purchased 5D MKII with a 17-40mm lens still attached to it sprawled on the hotel sidewalk.

I blindly scooped everything up and didn’t even look at the camera. Along with everything else that fell out, I shoved it into the backpack and you know it… I zipped up correctly this time. All I could think about on the way up to the room was how careless I had been, where it took me a few minutes to pluck up the courage to open the bag and assess the damage. The card reader and the cable release were of course OK, and with some strategically placed duct tape the flash will be fine too.

Now for the camera and lens… I toggled the on/off button to see if there was any life… and there was, phew! I then started spinning the camera and lens in every direction, scouring them both to find the mark of what must have been a significant impact… nothing! I have no idea what part of this combination hit the ground first, but there wasn’t even a scratch. I of course breathed a huge sigh of relief, and feeling like I had just dodged a bullet, vowed to never make a mistake like that again. Just in case… I have been keeping an eye on the performance of both the camera and the lens since, and so far so good… no problems.

Sam’s photographs of Ireland

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Before we wrap up our visit to Ireland, I wanted to share a sampling of the photographs made by Sam on this trip. It was fun watching him adapt to using a DSLR (and tripod when necessary), and as I am sure you will agree, he did very well!

The Cliffs of Moher

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When we woke on Wednesday morning, we resigned ourselves to the fact that it was actually time to start our journey back. With flights scheduled for the following day, and to get us in a good position to make the drive back to Dublin an easy one, we decided to spend our last night in Galway. The road from Killarney to Limerick to Galway is a pretty one, and there was plenty to occupy us along the way.

Visiting the Cliffs of Moher when in Ireland is sort of like visiting the popular valley of California’s Yosemite National Park in the summertime. You know it is going to be an impressive sight… especially if you haven’t seen it before with your own eyes… but you also know that you will be sharing your visit with others… many others!

The last time I saw the Cliffs of Moher, I can remember the surrounding area being very simple. We parked the car, hopped the wall and explored the beaten path along the cliffs. Not any more… there is a parking lot about a quarter of a mile away from the cliffs, a visitor center literally built into the hillside, and plenty of places to spend your euros on Irish souvenirs. Much of what we have seen so far on our trip was quaint and seemingly natural, so forgive my cynical attitude toward how this place had changed.

But then there were the cliffs themselves… and boy were they impressive! They tower 656ft above the crashing waves of the Atlantic Ocean, and they seem to stretch for miles along the coast of County Clare. Our wonderful streak of weather continued on this day, allowing unobstructed views of the Aran Islands, some 9 miles off in the distance. At the highest part of the cliffs, O’Brien’s Tower stands tall and can be seen from miles away. Built in 1835 by local landlord Sir Cornellius O’Brien, it was designed to be used as an observation tower by Victorian tourists who visited the cliffs at the time.

Sam and I explored the high path along the coast (where you see the people standing in the first photograph in this post), and despite my fear of heights – and falling – we even hopped the fence and followed the trail higher. I hugged the side of the path furthest from the ocean, but we were never really in any danger – even though we encountered a memoriam to those who had lost their lives on the cliff path – which was placed strategically right where you climb the fence and take your life into your own hands. When you see pictures of places like this it’s easy to nod and remark about how impressive it looks… but when you see it for yourself, it can literally take your breath away. Quite stunning!

Lisleibane, County Kerry

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If there was one complaint I had from this trip it would be that we spent more time in the car than we should have. Don’t get me wrong, we saw a ton of pretty places and enjoyed absolutely spectacular vistas, but in our attempt to see as much as we could, we didn’t get out to walk as often as we would have liked.

After wandering down through the Gap of Dunloe, Sam and I set off to look for the famously beautiful Bridia Valley. Looking at our map, there appeared to be a road that might take us deep into the valley, and from there we were hoping to be able to jump out and stretch our legs. Needless to say our navigation skills let us down again, and we ended up making a long drive that dead-ended with no obvious way to explore much further on foot.

As it was now getting late in the afternoon, we decided to back-track downhill toward Killarney. Despite our latest detour, we were actually quite content with our day’s activities and eagerly anticipating some food and our nightly ritual of a good pint (or two).

On the way down toward Killarney, we saw a sign pointing toward Lisleibane, and an apparent path toward the highest mountain in Ireland, Carrauntoohil. We figured since we were scheduled to leave the Killarney area in the morning, we should grab this chance to explore some more… after all, who knows what we might find.

We obviously didn’t have the time to tackle the big mountain, but we did enjoy a leisurely walk along the early part of the path from Lisleibane toward Carrauntouhil (3,408ft), king of the McGillycuddy’s Reeks. As we started exploring, the sun was already low in the sky but it was still warm on our faces as we walked, talked and marveled at the remarkable view of the Hags Glen and mountains beyond. Though our stay was brief, this pretty walk was just what we needed at the end of our day, and as with many of our wonderful discoveries on this trip, we have stashed them away in the memory bank for the next time we visit.

Someone mentioned a pint… then it was off to Courtney’s, one of the oldest pubs in Killarney. Check out the gallery of photographs they have online… needless to say, after getting settled in beside the fire, we didn’t want to leave!

The Gap of Dunloe

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Not really meant for driving a car on, the road to the Gap of Dunloe was a lot of fun to explore. The last post with Sam’s pics shows how remote and desolate the drive to this location was (at least using the route we followed), and hopefully these show how stunning the vista was. The weather was again magnificent, and I can’t think of a better place to eat a sandwich lunch and enjoy the view.

The Gap of Dunloe (from Irish: Dún Lóich, meaning “Lóich’s stronghold”, otherwise known asBearna an Choimín meaning “gap of the common-land“) is a narrow mountain pass betweenMacgillycuddy’s Reeks (west) and Purple Mountain (east) in County KerryIreland. It is about 11 km (7 miles) from north to south. Within it are five lakes: Coosaun Lough, Black Lake, Cushnavally Lake, Auger Lake, and Black Lough (north to south). These lakes are connected by the River Loe. (Wikipedia)

I can remember visiting the Gap of Dunloe some 20+ years ago with Lori and some friends, and on that occasion we traveled in style with Dolly… the farting horse. Locals provide horse-drawn traps for the ride up to the gap, and the day we went we had a wet and windy journey up the hill, pulled by our horse who tooted all the way.

My son the photographer!

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Sam goes about his business with the camera pretty quietly. When I ask if he got anything he liked, he always shrugs his shoulders and tells me maybe. I warned him that I would want to see some of what he had done, so when asked to hand over the goods, this was the first photograph he shared with me. He had already made the choice to convert it to black and white, and to be honest when I first saw it on his computer, my jaw literally dropped!

Since I recently upgraded my camera, I was able to let Sam have my old 20D for this trip. I borrowed a 28-135mm lens from a friend so that he could at least get sort of wide, and away he went. Getting the hang of the technical side of photography can be challenging, but as you can see, Sam already has a pretty good grasp of what to include (and exclude) within the frame. In many cases he and I wander off to do our own thing when in a particular place, and since he sees things differently from me, I am always eager to catch up and see the results of his time spent using the camera.

Here are a couple more of Sam’s photographs from the trek we made along what were narrow, narrow roads going up toward the Gap of Dunloe in County Kerry. I wouldn’t say that we got lost on our way there, but I would go so far as to describe our journey through this valley as an exploration in search of a destination. The scenery was spectacular, and methinks my son – the photographer – more than did it justice!

Killarney National Park

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This was actually our first early morning photo expedition, and despite the challenge that a 5:30am wake up call posed, we forged ahead knowing full well that the plan included a return to the hotel by about 9:00am for a full Irish breakfast.

Killarney National Park is a jewel of a place, with beauty and grandeur waiting around every corner. It reminded me somewhat of our home national park of Acadia, in that there is a similar picturesque road that offers many places to stop and enjoy the wonderful scenery.

Though the weather in mid-March was unseasonably warm and pleasant, as you can see from the photographs in this post, the greens that this part of Ireland is famous for hadn’t yet come into their own. Stunning scenery all the same on our early morning jaunt…  and did I mention that full Irish breakfast?

Ross Castle, Killarney

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We are now down in Killarney, near what would be considered the start of the Ring of Kerry. Killarney is a bustling and vibrant little town, and lucky for us it is right in the heart of a whole ton of beauty. The Killarney National Park is our next destination, but before we really get started exploring, here’s a quiet scene we experienced first thing one morning.

Built in the fifteenth century by the O’Donoghue chieftains, Ross Castle overlooks Lough Leane in Killarney, County Kerry. We spent a very still and peaceful morning here admiring the view and enjoying the early light. The story is that Brian Boru, High King of Ireland, was educated by monks in the ninth century on the island of Innisfallen, which you can access by boat from the shores of the lake here.

Soooooooo quiet…

Dingle

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With a population of about 2,000, the town of Dingle (Irish: An Daingean) is nestled into a local harbor and is an absolute gem of a place. Sam and I stopped of here as we toured the Dingle Peninsula, and after a great day of sightseeing and hiking, we enjoyed one of the best pints of Guinness I have ever had. Both of these photographs were made by Sam, and as you can see, Dingle is quite striking. And speaking of Sam’s photographs… just wait until you see one of the upcoming posts with a selection of his photographs!

Great Blasket Island

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Taking the Slea Head Road further west out of Dingle, we spotted a little harbor tucked into the rocks with a pretty beach. From a distance it was beautiful, and up close… even nicer. Looking over our shoulder though, we saw what looked like a path winding its way up the hillside toward the ocean. Eager for an adventure and the possibility of a nice view, we started hiking.

I thought I was going to have a heart attack… too many Irish breakfasts and too much Guinness lately had me struggling to keep up with Sam. When I finally did get to a flat spot, I dropped my backpack and told him to go on ahead… I needed a rest.

So… in the photograph above you can enjoy the view I had from the spot I decided to rest. The headland we were on was called Dunmore Head, and you can see Great Blasket Island straightaway, Inishnabro and Inishvickillane off to the left, and to the right is Beiginis and then Inishtooskert. This was classic windblown and rugged Irish coastline, and as has been the case most everywhere we have gone… it was totally deserted and ours alone.

Here are a couple more photographs to help give a sense of where we were. The first shows our first look at the scene (the arrow shows where we were when I made the photograph at the top of this post), the second is a more intimate view of the harbor and beach, and the third is the view from the other side of the headland in the late afternoon sun.

We headed back into the town of Dingle for dinner, and you can just imagine how good Guinness Stew for Sam and Shepherd’s Pie for me tasted in a local pub… all washed down with a nice pint of course. Beautiful.

Dunbeg Fort

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Dunbeg Fort is a promontory fort that dates from the iron age. It is preserved beautifully, and you can see why it was located here. The views are expansive, and on a clear day they are absolutely spectacular! Looking across Dingle Bay, in the far distance you can see the Ring of Kerry and the mountains of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks. For those of you unfamiliar what you are witnessing… let me confirm that yes, the sun was indeed shining!

The Connor Pass

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We had to cross some of the highest mountains in Ireland to get to Dingle, and the steep, narrow road that led us toward the Connor Pass was an adventure! As we climbed into the clouds, the wind and rain picked up considerably, but we still enjoyed the magnificent views along the way.

The Connor Pass is the highest mountain pass in Ireland. It is situated on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry, on the road that crosses the peninsula between Dingle Town and the coast the other side. The Mountains the Pass crosses are the Brandon Mountains and contain Ireland’s second highest peak Brandon Mountain at 3127 ft. From Dingle Town the road runs some 4½ miles rising to 1500 ft as it winds its way to the pass. (Irishtourism.com)

Based on the current – and likely normal – climate, the pretty waterfall found about half way up the Connor Pass probably isn’t just seasonal, and when we stopped here to enjoy a sandwich lunch, it was cranking.

Even on an overcast and soggy day, the views from the top of the Connor Pass toward the Atlantic Ocean were stunning. This imposing and impressive road only added to our excitement, and as we hurtled down the other side toward Dingle, we both agreed that there can’t be many stretches of road like this one!

Gowlane Strand

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We had been in the car for most of the morning as we made our way toward Dingle, so when we caught a glimpse of a beautiful beach off on our right, we decided to explore. Gowlane Strand stretched forever, and while we were there, the sun and clouds were doing a little dance for us. One minute it would be gently raining, and in the blink of an eye the sun would start shining. There were even times when the sun was doing its thing WHILE it was raining!

In the photograph above the sun was streaming over my shoulder and shining directly on the pretty dune grasses, and it contrasted sharply with the ominous sky in the distance. On another day this magnificent beach is home to the annual World Windsurfing Championships, but today we had it virtually all to ourselves. We saw a couple of people walking their dog, and one other solitary walker. Our time spent here was a welcome respite from the miles we had been logging in the car, and a preview of the spectacular landscapes we would encounter as we progressed.