How to Photograph the Wild Atlantic Way

Ireland's wild Atlantic way

The Wild Atlantic Way has become so successful and ingrained in the popular imagination that it’s hard to believe it is only ten years old.

Launched in 2014, this juggernaut of marketing genius simply put a clever label on the world-class coastal scenery of Ireland’s storm-battered west coast.

Ireland's wild Atlantic way

In essence, Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way is a signposted driving route almost 1,600 miles long, from the Inishowen Peninsula in the north to the town of Kinsale in the south – or vice versa; the route can be followed in either direction.

The true length of Ireland’s heavily fractured and indented west coast is far greater than the length of the driving route, with an incredible variety of epic photography locations. You could easily spend months exploring the many beaches, cliffs, and lighthouses.

And it isn’t just coastal scenery – the mountains, castles, and patchwork fields of these coastal counties are just as photogenic – while you have the bonus of Ireland’s famous pub culture and live traditional music to entertain you on rainy evenings.

In this article, we’ll look at how you can make the most of a photography trip along the Wild Atlantic Way, covering some of the best photo spots to stop at, equipment to bring along, and more.

Planning your trip

Most international flights to Ireland arrive into Dublin on the east coast, which is a three to five-hour drive from most parts of the Wild Atlantic Way.

If you’d like to skip Dublin, consider flying into some of the regional airports. Cork and Kerry airports in the south, and Ireland West Airport in the north, have flights from UK and European destinations.

wild Atlantic way

Getting around is very difficult without your own car, so you’ll need to factor in car rental, or you could consider joining a dedicated photography tour, as some of these will include transport.

There is plenty of accommodation along the Wild Atlantic Way, from luxury 5-star hotels to cheap hostels and campsites. Airbnbs are also a great option, especially if you want to concentrate on one area for a few days.

Read more: How to Fly with Cameras and Batteries

When to visit the Wild Atlantic Way

The summer months are undoubtedly the most popular time to visit the Wild Atlantic Way, but it is not necessarily the best time for photographers.

Certainly, the landscape is especially lush and green and you have long hours of daylight. On the flip side, the long days mean that if you want to shoot at sunset and sunrise, you might not get much sleep.

In midsummer, sunset can be as late as 10:30 pm, with sunrise before 5 am.

Also, 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.

Ireland's wild Atlantic way

The winter months offer the chance of the most memorable images, and many of my best images from the Wild Atlantic Way were shot in the depths of winter during giant storms.

However, predicting these conditions is difficult and you’ll need to deal with plenty of wind, rain, and cloud along with short days.

So, the sweet spot for a photography trip is probably spring or fall. Sunrise and sunset times are very civilised, the weather is still relatively kind, and the Atlantic should still be quite restless.

Read more: Golden Hour Photography – A Landscape Photographer’s Guide

Best photography locations on the Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way is long, with over 1,600 miles worth of road to cover, so to help you narrow down where to go, here are my top recommendations.

1. Fanad Head Lighthouse

Fanad in County Donegal is one of the world’s most naturally photogenic lighthouses. Built on a narrow finger of rock above the surging Atlantic waves, it can be shot in a wide variety of conditions.

wild Atlantic way

Sunrise works particularly well here, and also blue hour, when the beam of the lighthouse contrasts with the cool ambient tones.

If it isn’t too windy, you’ll find this a great location to experiment with an ND filter and long exposures.

Read more: The Essential Filters for Landscape Photographers

2. Crohy Head

Again in County Donegal, this sea arch and collection of pinnacles is a beautiful location, affording lots of different compositions.

Ireland's wild Atlantic way

It’s most easily shot from the clifftop but depending on the state of the tide, more adventurous photographers can scramble down to sea level and use the sandstone boulders as a foreground.

Read more: Landscape Composition – Using Foreground to Create Depth

3. Downpatrick Head and Dun Briste

Jutting out from the north coast of County Mayo, Downpatrick Head and its satellite sea stack known as Dun Briste is one of the standout destinations on the Wild Atlantic Way, and is super easy to photograph.

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

The only caveat here is that the headland is very exposed so windy conditions will make life very difficult, especially for long-exposure work.

In calm seas and a low tide, there is a route along the tidal platform at the base of the cliffs to a sea cave framing Dun Briste.

Read more: Handheld Landscape Photography – Shooting Landscapes Without a Tripod

4. Achill Island

Ireland’s largest island is actually connected to the mainland by a road bridge, but it has retained its atmosphere of rugged isolation.

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

The locations here are superb and could easily occupy you for a few days. The highlights are the exposed headlands and clifftops of the south coast, and the stunning end-of-the-road beach at Keem.

Read more: How to Photograph Minimalist Landscapes

5. The Cliffs of Moher and Doolin

The Cliffs of Moher are the centerpiece of the Wild Atlantic Way and attract thousands of visitors every day.

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

All of those people can be off-putting for landscape photographers seeking solitude but don’t worry, you can easily escape the crowds by walking twenty or thirty minutes north, from where you can shoot back along the length of the cliffs.

The nearby village of Doolin is a great base and happens to have some of the best traditional music in Ireland. If you are blessed with big seas, the shot along the cliffs just south of the village is a classic.

Read more: How to Photograph Spring Coastal Flowers

6. Dingle

The colourful and vibrant fishing town of Dingle is a highlight of any trip to Ireland and serves as a gateway to several fantastic photo locations on the Dingle Peninsula, in particular, the area around Slea Head.

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

There’s a fantastic shot to be had of the jagged rocks of Dunmore Head dropping into the ocean with the Blasket Islands in the background. Another stunner is the switchback road leading down to Dunquin Pier.

Read more: An Introduction to the Power of Colour Photography

Essential equipment for photographing the Wild Atlantic Way

You’ll want a full range of lenses for a trip on the Wild Atlantic Way. 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.

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

The Wild Atlantic Way is all about the energy of the ocean, so along with freezing the explosion of larger waves, you’ll also want to experiment with slower shutter speeds, so a polariser, some ND filters, and a good tripod and ballhead will give you great creative options.

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

Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way

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: The Best Equipment for Landscape Photography

In conclusion

Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way should be a bucket list destination for any landscape photographer and is right up there with anywhere in the world for the quality and variety of coastal photography.

With a little luck in terms of weather conditions and light, you are sure to come back with some memorable images, whatever time of year you choose to visit.

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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