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Into the Blue: Photographer Ian Mitchinson



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Get talking to nearly anyone about the Wild Atlantic Way and one of the first things you’ll hear is just how picturesque the place is. Really. Words like timeless, haunting and breathtaking routinely pass the lips of those who have been and those who have seen.

But the Wild Atlantic Way’s one-of-a-kind landscapes – its coastal crags, protective peaks and sultry shorelines – aren’t just sights for sore eyes. They’re also climbing walls and stomping grounds; turf you can surf and terrain for the rugged and refined alike. Simply put, the entire region is one big playground.

 
  • Self Portrait - Ian Mitchinson
 

And with everyone from surfers and cyclists to scuba enthusiasts, sea stack climbers and even cliff divers making it their Irish destination of choice, there’s no end to the amazing moments that can be captured for a canny explorer with a camera in hand.

That's where Canadian-South African adventure content creator Ian Mitchinson comes in. As an adventure content creator, snagging just the right stills of the daring doers doing their thing is what Mitchinson does best, and he’s set up permanent camp in Bundoran, Co Donegal with his family in order to seize every Wild Atlantic photo opportunity he can. 

 
 

If it sails, he shoots. If it races, you’d better believe he’s rolling.

 

An outdoor lover and traveller at heart (he’s been roaming the globe since he was just 18), Mitchinson’s passion for getting the perfect shot is born of a drive to offer new perspectives on capturing the things he thinks viewers of his work would enjoy themselves – whether it’s abseiling with friends to a hidden beach or simply drinking in a few precious moments of a golden sunset with no one but the birds for company. 

“I think it’s that almost every place along the Wild Atlantic Way has a ‘magic hour’,” he says. “At the right time, when the sun shines and the wind stops, the place just sparkles.”

Having recently completed a wildly successful takeover of our very own Wild Atlantic Way  Instagram account, Mitchinson’s next project, a short docu-series entitled An Introduction to Irish Surfing, will premiere at Shore Shots Irish Surf Film Festival in Sligo, April 21st and 22nd. Here, Ian will also be giving a talk on all things outdoors and photography.

Ahead of the excitement, we got in touch with Ian and asked him to weigh in on some of the biggest themes surrounding his work; namely, what draws him to the Wild Atlantic Way, how he gets those amazing shots, and what his kids think of the whole thing.

 
 

“At the right time, when the sun shines and the wind stops, the place just sparkles.”

 


Why Ireland?

Before Ireland, I was in Cape Town and other parts of South Africa for eight years. After working in India for a few years I decided to go there and start my first photography studio. I did a lot of high profile weddings and worked on a few successful ad campaigns.
 

When I was in Cape Town, and just about to have our second child, we were working on emigrating to Australia. One night I saw films and pictures of the waves of the Wild Atlantic Way. Although I never had taken surfing or wave pictures before, I was inspired to begin. I had spent much of my life swimming and diving and the films I had seen encouraged me to start seeking out waves to take pictures of them, and also to become a better waterman. And all of a sudden, I thought, rather than go to Australia, I could go to Ireland! And that is when I started researching online and learnt all about the amazing waves of Ireland’s west coast and all about raising kids in that society.

 
 


Describe your perfect weekend on the Wild Atlantic Way.

I love it when the days are long and the sun shines.


On summer days you can really cover a lot of ground in the day. Ideally, I would wake up and there would be amazing waves wherever I was (and I’d have a sleek campervan). Strandhill is a great town to start your day in, for accommodation, waves, amazing food options, and of course for exploring the region.

I’d then head out with my family, camera gear and surfboards in tow towards Donegal. 

I’d stop off in Mullaghmore village and take in one of the best views of the Dartry Mountains and then take a drive by Classiebawn Castle, with Benbulben in the background. It’s magic to see the castle with the powerful range in the distance. Once we made the mild-ish journey to Sliabh Liag (Slieve League) we would hike up One Man’s Pass and all the way across to Malin Beg Bay. At Malin Beg there is a secret cave I know and it’s a great place to go cliff jumping and free diving and you can stand under a waterfall there.

 
 


Once there, we would picnic on the beach and go swimming in the bay. We would stay over in Glencolmcille or Ardara in the evening. There is great accommodation and plenty of food and pub choices. 

Next day, weather depending, we might catch the ferry over to Toraigh (Tory Island) for an island edge walk for the day. Or we might slowly make our way along the coast making sure to take in the views of places like Bloody Foreland and Portsalon and checking a few surfing beaches nearby before making sure to be back in Bundoran for the evening (and hoping for a final evening surf session at Tullan Strand to end off the perfect weekend). 
 

What special qualities do you think the region has that can’t be found elsewhere in the world?

 

There is amazing tourism and logistics infrastructure in Ireland so you can arrange to explore any part of the area that you like. 

If it’s organised tours, you have everything from private charters with registered guides to larger group travel. There are tours that explore the entire Wild Atlantic Way. Also, it really is a great place to just rent a vehicle and explore as you go. If you see a little beach on the map, it’s always worth veering off and checking it out. Often when you do, you encounter places all to yourself. 

There is so much historical and cultural significance to the areas that you are exploring it becomes even more special. The more you learn, the more there is to learn. It’s very exciting. I don’t think there are other places so steeped in history, so unique in geology, (where) elements of the past naturally, historically and culturally just casually exist everywhere. All that and the fact that you have unrestricted access to the coastline, and you are never far from a modern town or infrastructure.  

 
 


What is it like travelling/photographing with kids in tow?

Travelling with children has its challenges. It is very rewarding and over time you can see that all the adventures are starting to shape them into people who are excited to explore and have a sense of wonder. But it does prevent you from doing longer, more in-depth adventures, so Ireland is great because you can always quickly go off the beaten track and quickly get back to where you left from.
 

We are a family of photographers so a lot of our adventures start out with a goal of getting good shots of a place or of something specific. I think the kids love it, and it’s the best bonding experience. It teaches them to be confident and gives them a sense of adventure. 

I think social media (outlets) like Instagram and YouTube give people a new platform to share on and a reason to go out and explore and share something from their adventures. By sharing ours we partake in storytelling and networking that can be seen by a larger audience. If people like our content, the word can spread. It’s becoming evident that many families prefer a free-to-explore lifestyle and today that is more possible than ever before… but by no means easy or straightforward. 

 
 

One night I saw films and pictures of the waves of the Wild Atlantic Way. Although I never had taken surfing or wave pictures before, I was inspired to begin.

 


The response to your Instagram takeover was outstanding. What was it like doing it? 

It was an amazing experience. I was nervous, but I prepared a bunch of media beforehand and just figured I’d try to tell our story. The way I chose to present it was to introduce some of the people I know and why we love the Wild Atlantic Way and see how it worked out. I’m so happy people enjoyed it. 
 

Are you inspired by any other adventure photographers? 

Most definitely. I’m always finding new inspirations and learning new ways of taking photos and creating films from many artists along the Wild Atlantic Way. There are amazing photographers on Instagram: Chris Hill, Gareth Wray, George KarbusFrank Cosgrove, Iain Miller – there are so many great ones out there.
 

Favourite image of your own? 

My favourite image might be the one I have of my friend Shambles standing on top of the Keeloges Ridge in Co Leitrim. I like it as at the spur of the moment we decided to see if we could climb a local mountain… for the craic, as you do. I took my camera and the pictures we captured ended up being used on a billboard at Knock West Airport.

It just goes to show that if you set out for an adventure and take some nice pictures, you never know what may come from it.

 

 

 
 

It just goes to show that if you set out for an adventure and take some nice pictures, you never know what may come from it.

 


What advice would you give to budding adventure photographers? 

Practise as much as possible, and, if you can, link up with other photographers and try to assist them or help them out. You always learn the most by working with other people.
 

Finally, what draws you to pursue your passions for film and photography on the Wild Atlantic Way? 

I like to learn about places and figure out where is the right angle, and when is the right time to be there. Most importantly, I think people like a different perspective, and with photography or films I’m always trying to find a new way to present something. The Wild Atlantic Way is so steeped in beauty, history and adventure that it’s the perfect place to explore, document and share.


Whether capturing the heart-pounding action of a bodysurfer flying down the face of a perfect green tube or snapping the serenity of sunset on a mountain slope after the climbers have packed up and gone home, Mitchinson’s eye – and shutter finger – are helping tell the story of life out here on the edge. And, simply put, the results are stunning. 

Want to learn more about Ian and his unique visual storytelling? Visit his website, and be sure to check out the array of great shots from his Wild Atlantic Way Instagram #takeover

Eager to see if adventure photography on the Wild Atlantic Way is right for you? Find the region that calls your name and then plan your own trip.

 
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