Greig Houghton Photography
Landscape, Street and Travel Photography


Irish Landscape and Travel Photography Blog

Samuel Beckett Bridge Sunrise

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better." Samuel Beckett

For once, it was not me but my wife setting her alarm to enable her to climb out of bed at 04:30 in the morning. A one-off early morning task required her to be in work very early on sunday morning in Dublin. I had two choices - stay in bed or do the good husbandly thing and drive a tired wife into work. Not fooled for a second, my wife quickly saw through this offer of good-will as an opportunity to catch the sunrise in Dublin.

I had a few options to where to shoot and nearly went to the port to photograph the mouth of the Liffey and the iconic red and white striped chimney of the former Poolbeg Power Station. However, I decided to opt for what is fast becoming the modern icon of the Dublin skyline. The Samuel Beckett Bridge, which spans the River Liffey joining the north and south quays, was only opened to the public in 2009 and is generally considered by the public as an image of a harp on its side with the harp a secular icon for Ireland. As with all photographic icons, find an unique image can be hard work. I knew from previous visits that I intended to shoot from the south quays with the new architecture of the Conference Centre Dublin in the background. A quick check of the sunrise location confirmed at this time of year the sun would be rising behind the conference centre. Another check of the tide times confirmed that I would be on a falling tide, but would be near enough high tide to have a good depth of water in the channel. Finally, the weather forecast looked decent. Despite all this, I nearly changed my mind and was going to stay in bed. Had I not volunteered to drive my wife to work, I would stayed in bed and missed this photo. Small decisions, big outcomes.

The morning of shoot and I was in luck as there was hardly a breath of wind (apart from the stale alcohol wafting from a few weary souls making there way home from the Saturday night parties). The full tide and still conditions made for a perfect reflection of the cable stay in the Liffey below. I didn't start off shooting long exposures but as the light wasn't really working for me, I switched to shooting long exposures using the 10-Stop ND filter.

I liked how the clouds seemed to be radiating outing from behind the bridge, but was worried about the reflection. I thought it might blur a bit from the long exposure and the water movement, but the water was that still - you could see the current moving in the direction of the bridge, but it seemed to moving like a sheet rather than choppy, the reflection remained sharp. The long exposure also had the benefit of not registering the few bits of rubbish floating past! I made the mistake of not covering the eye piece, which i know now can cause trouble with light leakage. For my camera and lens combination this forms an uneven vignette which is essentially the centre of the frame receiving more light than the edges as a result of the light leakage . This does not form an even pattern so can be a bit of pain in post to fix. Other than that, a little bit of colour correction for the colour cast from the light filter and the usual Lightroom tweaks and it was done.

Two tips for long exposures, one which I used on this shoot and another one which I learned afterwards. The first one is on perfecting your exposures using 10-Stop ND filters. This is so simple I am annoyed that I haven't used it until now. Due to the manufacturing process, 10-stop filters are not always 10 stops. I have done some test on mine and think it is closure to 11+ stops. Calculating your exposure time can be manually calculated but often needs a bit of tweaking. If you are shooting four minute exposures, dialling in your exposure can take between 3 and 4 attempts which means potentially a lot of wasted time of frustration. The tip is heard from Martin Bailey Photography is to crank your ISO way up to 3200 or 6400 to decrease the exposure time down to a quicker exposure of a few seconds. Once you have an exposure you are happy with, you decrease the ISO back down to 100 or whatever you normally use or then back calculate what the long exposure time. If you are competent in manually calculating your stops of light in your head, then this is no trouble for you, but for me I would either use a print out of exposure tables or use an exposure calculator app for the iphone such as Photo Buddy. This tip has taken all the frustration out of under or over exposures using my 10-Stop filter. The second is a great tip from Irish landscape photographer John Dunne. Canon cameras come with a little rubber strip to cover your eye piece, which is fiddly to fit and is often lurking in a deep dark recess of your camera bag. Some high end cameras have a switch built in to the eye piece to allow you to close it, but John's tip is to use blue tack. A lump of it stuck to your camera which can be lightly placed over the eye piece and quick removed again as necessary - brilliant and cheap!

I am going to finish with one further Samuel Beckett quote which is perfect for photography:

To find a form that accommodates the mess, that is the task of the artist now." Samuel Beckett