I was recently asked what my favourite time of the day for taking photographs was. This was an easy one. Early morning is by far my preferred time for getting out and about with the camera. I love being out in a city before it comes to life. The streets are quiet and calm. The throngs of workers, shoppers and tourists have yet to arrive and you seem to have the entire city to yourself.
Photographically speaking, early morning is a fantastic time to shoot. When the conditions are right, the pre-dawn light tends to be paler and more subtle than in the evening. Once the sun is up, the buildings are bathed in the warm light of the golden hour. With this in mind, I dragged myself out of the cosy warmth of my bed and headed into Dublin City on a freezing January morning. My wife, who is far more sensible than me, snuggled in for an extra few hours of sleep.
My aim was to photograph some of the bridges that span the River Liffey. The idea was to shoot the bridges in the period before sunrise when the first light from the yet to rise sun would add some colour to the sky. The weather forecast was promising. The predicted windless conditions meant a decent chance of some interesting reflections in the water of the River Liffey.
Another advantage of shooting at this time is avoiding hassle from some of the more colourful characters who populate the banks of the Liffey later in the day! Sadly, it’s become nearly impossible to photograph this area in the evening or at night. I’ve been threatened several times and had one attempt to steal my camera! It’s a real shame as it’s right in the heart of the city but the powers that be don’t seem to have the will to do anything about the growing problem of anti-social behaviour along the Liffey Boardwalk and quays.
Anyway, all of this is far from my mind as I step, still bleary eyed and half asleep from a taxi at 6am onto the quays and head to my first location, O’Connell Bridge. The shock of the ice cold but air soon wakes me up and it’s time to set up the first shot of the day.
Aperture: f10 | Shutter Speed: 30 sec | ISO: 100 | Focal Length: 20 mm | Lens: Sigma 10-20 mm
O’Connell Bridge is one of the most recognisable landmarks in Dublin. The current bridge was finished in 1882 and links O’Connell Street to the South Side of the city. O’Connell Bridge is unusual in that is the only traffic bridge in Europe that is wider than it is long. The famous Dublin photographer, Arthur Fields, took over 182,000 photographs of pedestrians on the bridge between the 1930s and 1980s.
I’ve wanted to get this shot of O’Connell Bridge for a while but the conditions have never been quite right. I’ve tried to take this same composition at night but it just didn’t seem to come together. I knew that there was a good chance of some colour in the sky if I tried a morning shot seeing as the sun rises behind the bridge as we look at it in this photograph. As ever though, there is no way of knowing if it will really work until we actually take the shot.
Thankfully, on this particular morning, the conditions were perfect. The light from the sun, although still below the horizon, was bouncing off the clouds and giving them a beautiful pink tint. Most importantly, the River Liffey was completely still and acted as a mirror, providing perfect reflections of the bridge and its surroundings. I used my wide angle 10-20 mm lens to frame the shot with O’Connell Bridge in the foreground and O’Connell Street and Eden Quay in the background.
Aperture: f14 | Shutter Speed: 4 secs | ISO: 100 | Focal Length: 28 mm | Lens: Sigma 24-70 mm
The photograph of O’Connell Bridge was planned but the above shot of the Rosie Hackett Bridge was a more spur of the moment idea. I was crossing O’Connell Bridge after checking out a possible shot of O’Connell Street and was struck by the striking colours in the pre-dawn sky looking towards the Dublin Docklands. The brightly lit Rosie Hackett Bridge in the foreground is Dublin’s newest bridge and is the first to be named after a woman, the trade unionist, Rosie Hackett.
This was actually quite a tricky photograph to take due to the extremely bright white lights on the bridge itself. I framed a simple composition with the bridge in the foreground and Liberty Hall in the background. You can also see the dome of the Customs House almost in the dead centre of the frame. I was really pleased with the colours in this shot. The sky was really beautiful that morning. I actually sold a print of this photograph to one of the engineers who worked on the Bridge shortly after I published it!
Aperture: f14 | Shutter Speed: 2 secs | ISO: 100 | Focal Length: 12 mm | Lens: Sigma 10-20 mm
The Ha’penny Bridge is without a doubt the most recognisable landmark in Dublin. As with O’Connell Bridge, I’d struggled for some time to get the shot I wanted of this famous footbridge. The water of the River Liffey had never been still enough to get reflections like the ones I witnessed in the scene above. The bridge itself was built in 1816 and gets its name from the half-penny toll Dubliners had to pay to cross. It’s official name is actually the rather unimaginative “Liffey Bridge”.
The bridge was completely renovated in 2001 and very little of the original structure remains. I remember coming home from France for Christmas in 1999 and going into Dublin City Centre only to find that somebody had ‘stolen’ the Ha’penny Bridge! It wasn’t where I’d left it a few months previously! Thankfully, it’s now back in its rightful place and is once again sporting its original white colour.
To get this shot, I had to risk life and limb as I set up the tripod on the quay wall and leaned the camera out over the river. This wasn’t a problem in itself but leaning out to adjust the camera settings was more risky than usual. One slip and I would have gotten a very close up view of the River Liffey! Not being a great swimmer, this really would have ruined my morning.
Thankfully, the wide angle lens allowed me to include the whole bridge in the frame. As with the previous photograph, I was delighted with the sky in this shot. You can see on the far right of the frame that the sun is just about to rise and its light has painted the clouds with a variety of pinks and yellows. I was also pleased that I’d finally managed to capture the reflections in the Liffey that had eluded me for so long.
Aperture: f14 | Shutter Speed: 4 secs | ISO: 100 | Focal Length: 48 mm | Lens: Sigma 24-70 mm
This photograph was another unplanned capture and was taken towards the end of the shoot. I’d walked down towards the Millennium Bridge to see if there were any good photographic opportunities. The Millennium Bridge is not the most interesting structure but provides a fantastic view back up towards the Ha’penny Bridge. I did get some good shots of that bridge from here and I’ll include them in another post. It was when I looked back towards Grattan Bridge however, that I was struck once again by the near perfect reflections in the water.
The current bridge was completed in 1874 and is lit by a series of beautifully ornate lampposts. There was a plan in the mid 2000s to create an open air book market on Grattan Bridge. Sadly, this project was never quite got going and the book kiosks were eventually removed. I think this is a real pity. I love the book stands along the Seine in Paris and I think we missed our chance to create our own version in Dublin. I think the city of James Joyce and Jonathon Swift deserves a decent book market!
As for the shot itself, I switched to my 24-70 mm lens in order to zoom in closer on Grattan Bridge and to compress the perspective a little. You can see the chimneys of the Guinness factory in the distance and the Dome of the Four Courts to the right. This was taken just before sunrise so the city lights were still illuminated but there was plenty of ambient light to capture all the details in the bridge and buildings along the quays.
All in all, I was very pleased my morning’s work. It was one of those mornings when, the conditions were really perfect for photography. Often, getting a really good shot requires a major element of luck as well as a great location combined with technical knowledge. I took plenty more photographs that morning along the quays and on the Liffey Boardwalk. I’ll make sure to include these in a future blog post. You can see some of these shots in the River Liffey and Ha’penny Bridge galleries. With a memory card full of photos, it was time to reward myself with big Irish fry up in Bewleys!
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