May 9, 2023 | Features

Behind The Image — Daragh Muldowney – Landscape Photographer of the Year 2023

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The IPPVA asked landscape photographer, Daragh Muldowney, to talk about his Gold Award-winning and highest scoring image from the IPPVA’s 2022 Awards.

Daragh Muldowney — Gold Award Winning and Highest Scoring Image of the Year 2022, Landscape Category

Congratulations on your Gold Award, this image is truly remarkable! We’d love to hear learn about your process and challenges creating it.

I guess the taking of this image has a bit of a lead in… This is a photo of a sculpture by an incredible artist, Huang Yong Ping, who sadly passed away in 2019. It is titled “Serpent d’Océan” and is 130m long with the head at the high tide limit and its tail at the low tide limit.

I had never heard of the sculpture until Spring 2022 when it came across my feed on Facebook. I was immediately intrigued and I tried to find more information about it. After a little research, I discovered it was at the mouth of the Loire Estuary at St Brevin les Pins. I was delighted to see this as I run a photo tour in that area every year to photograph the small fishing huts called Carrelets. 

After further research, I learnt that it is in a tidal area and the timing of the tide was critical when shooting it. I like long exposures of water around strong shapes creating a minimal style of image. I had one shot at shooting this as I was running a tour in that area in September 2022. High tide was approximately at 5pm and I had my fingers crossed for an overcast evening. Normally I would never take a group to a location I had not been to before but on this occasion, I thought it was worth the risk. I got the overcast evening so we went there at about 4:30pm and went to the viewing platform.  I tried a couple of shots here but I didn’t like that I was shooting towards the other side of the Loire Estuary and to me this was a distraction and not the shot I wanted. The tide was a little too high so I tried a detail of the tail from this location as I waited for the tide to drop slightly.

When I was happy with the tide I went lower to the shoreline and got the perspective that won the gold award. This perspective had no shore in the background further helping the minimal nature of the shot.

How did you feel right after taking this image? Did you know instantly it would be an “award-winning image”?

I knew instantly it was a great image but I also had some work in post to enhance it further. I did not know it was gold standard.

Would you be able to share some technical information and a bit about post-processing this image?

Canon R5 24-70mm R lense

120secs f11 50 ISO

Kase filter system with a 10-stop ND filter

I did most of my post-processing in Adobe Camera Raw, I used a combination of Radial masks and linear masks to help darken the edges while brightening the area of the sculpture. I desaturated the image but not to a full b/w as I wanted to retain some hint of colour. I cooled the temperature to give a hint of blue tones. I took clarity and contrast away from the horizon to help it disappear into the background.

From your point of view, what are the key elements that make this image successful? Is there anything that you would change in the image if you were shooting it again?

I mentioned it earlier but the key elements for me are:

  • Overcast conditions, no strong sunlight, and cloudy sky help the sea and sky connect better.
  • Near high-tide giving the sculpture a sense of mystery. If it was a lower tide I believe you would see too much of the sculpture.
  • Perspective… I like the serpent’s head located in the right bottom corner. The spacing feels right to me.
  • Post-processing… it’s all about directing the viewer’s eye in a subtle way. 

Would I change anything? I’d like to try shooting it on a misty/foggy day. Maybe this year when I go back…


Find out more about Daragh Muldowney

Daragh’s interest in photography originally developed, when he completed a Scuba Diving course in 1992, where he was awestruck by the experience of being underwater. Life under the sea seemed like another world, where he made an instant connection ...

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