I was first introduced to Urris in County Donegal almost 10 years ago by fellow Northern Ireland landscape photographer Andy McInroy. A strikingly beautiful and unique location, I'm not quite sure why I have been back so little to this pebble beach. I have certainly averaged much less than one trip a year there, but really you could take landscape photographs there once per month and never get bored. The remoteness of the location probably plays a role - it is a 4 hour round trip by car. I live within a 20 minute drive of some of the other finest landscape photography locations that the north of Ireland has to offer. It has always been easier to spend much less money on diesel and have the added advantage of being able to scope out weather conditions much closer to sunset, reducing the chance of a wasted trip.
The uniqueness of the location comes from all sorts of things; the fact that from the roadside a few metres away you would never know it was there, that the pebbles are virtually all perfectly smooth, that you can find pebbles of almost any colour, the massive variation in the height of the tides and just the sense of being there surrounded by massive rocks which are so unique in their form.
I arrived at Urris about an hour and fifteen minutes before sunset with my mate Ken. We had driven through Buncrana and approached Urris via Mamore Gap (for those not familiar, this is an impossibly steep road cutting through some very tall and imposing mountains) . The amazing view when driving down the western side of the mountains revealed brilliant conditions for photography - partly cloudy and lots of lovely warm light. Almost as soon as we were out of the car we were 'intercepted' by a very friendly local man walking his dog. I'm happy to chat to anyone, just not so close to sunset in perfect conditions! Eventually, after discussing our cameras with him for a while, he decided to continue his walk and we climbed over the fence and made our way down one of the steep pebble gullies which merges with 2 others in the little cove where I took all of my photographs from this trip. I passed a layer of fresh seaweed halfway down the gully, indicating just how high the tide comes in here.
I got my camera out and tried to get my bearings. Sometimes when you have so much beauty all around you it is difficult to settle on one thing and start taking good landscape photographs. My friend Andy took a wonderful series of intimate shots of the pebbles in situ, but I felt that capturing such details was better saved for a day when the light was a little more dull and diffused.
Instead, I decided to try and capture the colours of the pebbles as they bathed in the golden light of sunset. The landscape photograph at the top of the page and the one below were some of the first shots I took on the evening. The first is probably one of my favourite seascape photographs that I have ever taken. There is something nice about the contrast between the jagged background rocks, and the smooth pebbles and soft golden light in the foreground. The feeling I had when taking the photographs also has a part to play in the way I view this photograph. It has been such a long time since I have looked through the viewfinder of my camera and truly thought "WOW."
The photograph also raises an interesting discussion point. The general consensus amongst landscape photographers is that 'burnt out' areas of light should not appear in the image. The brightest part of the sky in this image could be described as burnt out, although it should be noted that this was not an error on my part, but rather a creative judgement relating to exposure. The sun was just about to descend below the cloud line and was extremely bright. A camera can't capture all of the detail in the brightest parts of the sky and the detail in the shadows. My judgement was that as I looked at the bright area of sky, I could see nothing but strong warm light. When I looked at the shadows I could see detail rather than large areas of black. Therefore, the landscape photograph below represents what I saw. Rather than the bright error being a fault, I see it as something which adds life to the image, giving the viewer a real sense of what it was like to be there on that evening.
I also captured a portrait format version of the same scene, although I feel the landscape version is much more interesting as it shows more of the jagged rock structure which surrounds the small pebble beach.
Once the sun dropped a little further, things became even more dramatic in the sky. I love having sun stars in my landscape photographs, a look achieved by using a very small aperture, in this case f22. The front of my ultra-wide angle lens was very close to the pebbles in this shot, perhaps 30 cm away. This makes the foreground pebbles appear much more significant than they actually are, pulling the eye into the landscape photograph/ This photograph has received lots of attention on social media, but I much prefer the image at the start of the article.
I look forward to returning to Urris soon!