We drove for hours, got covered in sand, our clothes were soaked wet and didn't get home until midnight. And it was one of my favourite shoots ever.
The location? The Maghera Caves, Co.Donegal.
After chatting for a while back and forth, myself and Padraig (model signed by Assets Models) finally sorted a date to shoot. I had an idea for an edgy, masculine shoot around rough, broken and jagged rocks, which led me on a Google search adventure until I found the magical Maghera caves, in Co.Donegal. I wanted a fashion editorial style, ripped jeans, wet white t shirt look, that kind of vibe. Thankfully, this is something Padraig had wanted to try aswell. Although there were other cool caves I found during my search, these caves had the perfect blend of caveyness but in addition had really cool coastal beach surrounding also. So it was the clear choice, with much more options and variety to change it up.
Since we were doing multiple clothing looks, being stuck in a single cave would have been a big disadvantage. Although I brought my speedlight (SB 5000) and softbox for lighting, I always prefer a bit of fresh natural light coming in aswell. Butttttttt, the Maghera caves were a 3hr 30 min drive away (We're in Dublin). And I don't drive...."Dadddddd?!?" Luckily my dad is super supportive of all my photography shenanigans, and agreed to drive us.
Between our deciding on a shoot day, and the actual shoot, we had about a week of prep. Since Padraig is a lad, no mua was needed, and he was going to wet his hair so a hairstylist wasn't really either. I had a look around for a stylist, but none were up for going to Donegal on such short notice, unsurprisingly. So I gave Padraig some ideas for outfits, and told him to pack as much stuff in a suitcase as he could. Then on the day we could see which looks would match the locations, how many looks would we have time for etc. In preparation for the shoot, I researched on Pinterest to see other shoots themed around caves/rocks, there was some quality stuff. I usually prepare for each look, but never for poses. The poses entirely depend on the model, how passionate (or not) they are, and the shoot theme. Also I feel that if you give a model a really specific pose it comes off really unauthentic, but if you give them your general idea and let them play with it, you'll come out with a much better result.
So the big day came, my dad Eddie and myself met Padraig in town, and we began our adventure. Our 3hr 30 min adventure. That turned out to be over 4hrs with my dads 'safe' driving. Padraig and myself began chatting about the fashion industry, photoshoots and all the good stuff , then we just talked about classic lad stuff like tv shows, movies and went on our phones to pass the time. Arguably the long journey was an advantage as I had a good opportunity to build up a rapport with Padraig before we started shooting, which is essential to make sure your photos look genuine and authentic, which I like to think we achieved.
After arriving in Donegal slightly late, we had to break for food and to stretch our legs. We headed straight for the Nesbitt Arms Hotel as it looked pretty legit and everywhere else seemed to be closed because it was a Sunday. We went in, they said there was a 40 minute delay on orders due to a communion, we hadn't eaten in 4hrs so left to find another place. We found a place called Nancys, they only did seafood, we left and went crawling back to Nesbitt Arms Hotel and sat patiently waiting for our food.
According to Google, we were super close to our destination so I asked the receptionist hotel for specific directions. She wrote down some stuff but that ended up confusing us even more, we got lost and just before my dad was about to knock on someones door to ask where we need to go we said fuck it and went back to using Google Maps. After a 10 minute drive, we had finally reached our location. Except there was no parking. It seemed like these caves were quite the popular attraction. We drove around for a couple mins before a car left so we could sneak into a parking space.
Arriving on Location
Padraig and myself grabbed our stuff from the boot, and got moving. My dad enjoys lone strolls and taking in the scenery so he went off himself. Unexpectedly, we weren't greeted by grand, jet black caves, but a small trail leading to the beach. The journey was not quite over yet.
Although, wadding through the sanddunes, I began visualising ideas for shots in my head, but Padraig quickly reminded me that we should find the caves first and do the sand shots after, which made sense. After filling our shoes to the brim with sand, we encountered the coastline. We had literally just travelled from one side of Ireland to the other. As we stood on top of the dune, we took a moment to embrace the the views, but really just wanted to rest cause we were tired.
To our right the beach line stretched for miles, but on our left, alas, we spotted several caves. We made our way over, and indeed found a cave, but it was not the one we had saw on Google Maps. A nearby family told us it was just around the corner, but warned us that the tide was coming in fast. So we had two options, wade through shallow water, or climb over the the rockface. We opted for climbing since it wasn't that inclined and was a pretty easy climb.
As soon as we landed on the other side, everything was worth it. The early start, +4hr car ride, the wrong turns, and the sandy shoes. We looked upon a truly beautiful piece of geography. My brain exploded with ideas, it was perfect, so many cool shapes, colours, textures and composition opportunities. We went through the clothes and Padraig stuck on the ripped jeans, and white t shirt. He also dipped his head in the ocean to add to the fun.
Time to Start Shootin'
I got my Nikon d810 ready with a 50mm 1.4g to take in as much of the environment as possible. We started with some walking shots, which I often do on shoots. Walking shots are the least intrusive style of fashion/portraits, arguably the funnest and allow some breathing room for the model to get comfortable. I put my camera on to continous focusing mode, with 3d tracking, and the continous high shooting mode. Padraig really killed it, and got straight into character.
The whole shoot came together in that moment, his look, confidence outfit and location and played together perfectly. I also got him interacting with all the surroundings, so standing and sitting on various rockfaces. I was so focused and in that kind of flow state that I didn't even notice when I was on land and when I was wadding through seawater. After that, we ventured into the cave opening. I got Padraig to sit on top of a rock piece where the light and surroundings were legit beautiful.
I framed a story in my head, and got Padraig to take off his t shirt and wring off the water. For the shot I used my 70-200mm and shot it at f/2.8 (First image on this post).
Look and Location Two: The Boulders
I looked back out and the water had started to come in really fast, so we grabbed our stuff and climbed back over the rock face to location two: More rocks but different ones. I got Padraig in position beside a really huge and pretty slab of rock and began shooting. I like moving a lot to experiment with different angles during shoots, which meant I was close to breaking my angle every 6 seconds.
Final Look and Location: The Sanddunes
As the time was rapidly passing, and we had another 4hr journey home to look forward to, we quickly moved to our third and final location, the sanddunes. Padraig got into the final outfit, denim shorts, a white tee and denim jacket.
I got him to walk from behind the sanddunes, and uphill for some variations in the photos. As we continued back to my dad's car, I spotted a really great compositional opportunity. I saw a sweet spot for Padraig to be photographed walking through a section of two sanddunes, and got him to repeat the same walk 3-4 times before I got it (Displayed below.)
The very last part of our sanddune shenanigans, and whole shoot, was a lovely little section of wooden walkway. I used the walkway to frame Padraig from underneath. We had successfully got what we came for, and called it a day. We attempted to decontaminate ourselves from sand before jumping back in the car, and heading home.
Despite not having a stylist or other team members, we managed well with what we had. We only had about 2hrs of shooting at the caves before we had to leave (We met up at 10am and it was 11pm when we got back in Dublin), and despite all these challenges, I'm super happy with the pictures and day as a whole. Padraig was a great model, and I really enjoyed working with him. Go show some love on his Instagram here
Some Spontaneous Motivation
If you have an idea, pursue it with everything you have. Don't wait for the "perfect" time, there is never one. Perfect is the enemy of done. Use the resources you have now to make the best of what you have, good luck, see ya in the next blog post.