How to Photograph the Causeway Coast, Ireland

Elephant Rock Causeway Coast Ireland

Northern Ireland’s Causeway Coast is best known for its namesake, the Giant’s Causeway – an iconic UNESCO World Heritage site featuring thousands of interlocking basalt columns formed by ancient volcanic activity.

causeway coast Ireland

It is without doubt one of the most fascinating landscape photography locations in Ireland, featuring a bewildering variety of compositions.

But the 30-kilometre stretch of coastline for which it is the centrepiece is also packed with an amazing variety of different coastal and heritage landscape subjects, from sea arches and storm beaches to the mouldering ruins of medieval clifftop castles.

Planning your trip

Belfast International Airport and Belfast City Airport have good daily connections to Europe and the UK and are around an hour’s drive from the Causeway Coast.

Dublin Airport, which has good direct connections to North America, is approximately a three-hour drive.

Although you can reach the Causeway Coast by public transport, it is very difficult to get around without your own car – at least at times which are conducive to landscape photography. So you will need to factor in car rental, or you could consider joining a photography tour.

There is plenty of accommodation on the Causeway Coast, from boutique 4-star hotels and guesthouses to cheap hostels and campsites. Airbnbs are also a great option, and there are plenty of charming little cottages available to rent.

Read more: Travel Checklist for Taking Your Camera Abroad

When to visit

Many of the locations on the Causeway Coast have a distinctly northern attitude, and so the best light tends to be from spring through till the end of autumn.

Having said that, you can get really great images here in the depths of winter as the wild seas will provide extra drama.

causeway coast photography

Although the midsummer period can reward you with incredibly long and drawn-out sunsets and sunrises, the timings mean you won’t get much sleep if you chase both. In midsummer, sunset can be as late as 10:30 pm with sunrise before 5:00 am.

The Atlantic tends to go to sleep for long periods during the summer, so getting those dramatic images of giant waves crashing onto the shoreline will be quite difficult.

Also, the Giant’s Causeway tends to be a write-off on a summer’s evening as it is just too crowded with regular visitors.

Read more: How to Create Drama and Mood in Landscape Photography

Best photography locations on the Wild Atlantic Way?

Now that you know when to go and how to get to the Causeway Coast, here are some top locations to aim for.

1. The Giant’s Causeway

This is the iconic location on the Causeway Coast and probably the most popular single location on the island of Ireland. It is now unusual to get it to yourself, and if you do, it probably means that it’s raining!

The hexagonal basalt columns are not unique to the Causeway, but nowhere else in the world are they arranged in a way that is so conducive to landscape photography. They can be isolated in semi-abstract studies or finessed into dynamic wide-angle foregrounds for a more classic shot.

causeway coast Ireland photography

It is not hard to see why it is so popular – and it should readily sustain multiple visits without exhausting your creative possibilities.

There is plenty of terrain to explore, and the potential angles run to almost a full 360 degrees, so no matter the time of year, you can work to great effect with whatever angle of light you are getting.

You’ll need to be mindful of safety here as the rocks can be extremely slippery when they are wet, and if a swell is running, there is a serious risk of being swept off the rocks if you stray too close.

Also, factor in a one-kilometre walk to and from the Causeway from the visitors centre if you are arriving outside the 9-5 opening times.

Read more: How to Find Balance in Photography Compositions

2. The Secret Beach

This beautiful sandy cove backed by dramatically dark basalt cliffs is not really a secret anymore, if it ever was. But it is not at all visible from the road and not the kind of location you would easily stumble across.

To reach it, walk east along the shore from the parking area at Ballintoy Harbour. Classic lighting setup here is sunrise anytime outside the winter months.

causeway coast ireland

Aside from the beach itself, there are some beautiful rock formations, colours, and textures to explore, as well as some good telephoto compositions of the distant headland and cliffs.

Read more: How to Take Landscapes with a Telephoto Lens

3. Dunluce Castle

Dunluce Castle was famous for its photogenic qualities long before Game of Thrones used it. You can get some pleasant enough shots from the grassy banks close to the parking area, and also from along the roadside just a short walk to the north.

It is also well worth the small entry fee to look around the castle interior as there are some interesting angles that suit black-and-white work especially.

causeway coast photograph locations

However, the best and most creative compositions are to be found on the shoreline just northeast of the castle. You can access it by using the obvious steps that run partway down to the shore on the castle’s northern flank and then carefully descending steep grassy slopes.

The National Trust does not like people going down here, although there are no explicit prohibitions. Also, the gate at the top of the steps is closed and locked after hours, which makes the ideal midsummer sunset shoot tricky to access.

4. Elephant Rock

Probably my own favourite location on the Causeway Coast, this area of dramatic pinnacles and arches can be found by parking at Ballintoy Harbour and following the coastal path west for approximately one kilometre.

Elephant Rock Causeway Coast Ireland

It’s definitely best at sunset with a big sea running, but making the best of the foreground can be a compositional challenge.

This is an excellent location to experiment with ND filters. If you decide to explore further west onto the beach at Whitepark Bay, be aware that you can easily be cut off by the tide, which will leave you with a very long walk back on the road to Ballintoy.

Read more: What are the Best Filters for Landscape Photography?

5. Kinbane Castle

Kinbane is nowhere near as well known as Dunluce Castle but is no less interesting for that.

causeway coast photography locations Ireland

There are several interesting angles here, but the most effective is from the west, looking along the rocky shoreline.

The castle is somewhat de-emphasised from here, but this also has the advantage of hiding some less attractive wire fencing on the chalk cliffs. The best time is summer sunrise.

6. Murlough Bay

Accessed by a narrow single-track road, this beautiful National Trust property features basalt cliffs and native woodlands overlooking the North Channel and the Scottish coast.

Causeway Coast Ireland photography

There are plenty of different compositions for landscape photographers to explore here, but one of the biggest draws is a beautiful lone tree perched on a grassy terrace with a sweeping backdrop.

Parking is limited here, so best to avoid it during the summer except at sunrise or sunset. The coast here is angled to the northeast, so sunrise is most favoured for good light.

Read more: How to Photograph Lone Tree Landscapes

7. The Dark Hedges

Not strictly speaking on the Causeway Coast, the Dark Hedges is an especially photogenic avenue of beech trees made famous by Game of Thrones and Instagram.

causeway coast Ireland

The only time to shoot it is at sunrise, as it is normally too busy at other times of the day. This is very much a telephoto shot, compressing the interlinking boughs.

The trees are reaching the end of their natural lives here, and many have been lost recently due to storm damage. The image you can get is still very strong, but it is only a matter of time before this shot becomes much weaker – so get it while you can!

Photography gear – what to bring

You’ll want a full range of lenses for a trip to the Causeway Coast. A wide-angle zoom is really useful for lower-angle seascapes with good foregrounds, while a telephoto is indispensable for capturing images of big waves crashing onto the shoreline.

The ocean is an ever-present feature of images here, so along with freezing the explosion of larger waves, you’ll also want to experiment with slower shutter speeds. A polariser, some ND filters, and a good tripod and ballhead will give you great creative options.

causeway coast Ireland photography

Don’t forget protective covering for your equipment and a good cloth for wiping filters and lens elements.

Many of the best locations are very exposed, so even if you go in summer, don’t underestimate the need for warm and windproof clothing. Even a hat and gloves are not overkill and are highly recommended at any other time of the year.

Your shoes or boots should also be waterproof.

Read more: 8 Best Lenses for Landscape Photography

In conclusion

The Causeway Coast is a must-visit coastline, even if just for the Giant’s Causeway itself. But for anyone who loves to shoot seascapes and castles, it is arguably one of the most location-rich stretches of coastline in Ireland or even Europe.

You’ll find enough here to fill several days of shooting, and if you have any luck with light, you’ll undoubtedly be left wanting more.

Visit Gareth's website

Gareth McCormack is an Irish landscape photographer based on the Atlantic coast of Ireland. His images have been used in leading publications including National Geographic, Time Magazine and the New York Times, as well as major corporations like Salesforce, Microsoft and Warner Bros. Alongside his professional work, he leads several photo workshops and tours every year.

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