Following the Signs In Ireland. Capturing the Story Behind the Destination with Canon + Godox Gear!

Visual storyteller and Photojournalist, Leonardo Carrizo, covers event photography tips while capturing the friendly and inviting essence of Ireland and its people with Canon and Godox gear in this piece for Mpex-Experience.

Sometimes the universe and the photography muses have a surprise for you, as long as you just follow the signs. Let me tell you an anecdote from my trip to Ireland and why you should stay true to yourself when it comes to photography.

After five weeks of traveling leading National Geographic Student Expeditions trips to Iceland and Ireland, I was able to stay behind in Ireland to do some personal travel and photography. I rented a car and traveled south to Waterford. From there, I was going to drive west to drive around the Ring of Kerry, a beautiful 100 plus mile tour around the County Kerry. This is one of the most iconic and beautiful routes you can take in Ireland with amazing landscapes, picturesque towns and many historical sites. It can take three to four hours to complete the Ring of Kerry and it was going to take me three and a half hours to get there from Waterford. Then, after completing the tour, I needed to drive north three more hours to arrive at Ennis where I was going to stay with a friend. In other words, I had a destination, I had a schedule to keep and I had no time to waste so I hit the road bright and early.

About an hour into my drive to the Ring of Kerry I passed a small sign with an arrow pointing forward that said “Dungarvan Agricultural Show.” I passed it very fast and I wasn’t able to read any of the details, so I didn’t make much of it. A couple more miles and I saw it again, this time I was able to read the day, it was happening that same day, and the arrow was still pointing forward. This caught my attention because regardless of where you are in the world, an agricultural show will have people showing equipment or livestock. This is my type of photography event. The problem was that I was already on a tight schedule, I didn’t actually know the location or what I was really going to encounter. I kept driving to the Ring of Kerry trying to ignore my desire to search for the Dungarvan Agricultural Show. Let’s be honest, most people would not even consider this option, it was like not going to Yellow Stone National Park to go to an agricultural show. Yet for me the possibility to meet local farmers was greater than my interest in the Ring of Kerry. All the signs were pointing to the Dungarvan Agricultural Show, it was happening that day only and the Ring of Kerry will be there when I want to go back. Therefore, I followed the next sign toward the agricultural show and it was the right decision because I had a great time, I met very friendly people and made a few nice frames.

The first thing I do when I go to an unfamiliar fair or festival is to find the organizer to introduce myself and to ask for information about the event, I don’t want to miss the “good stuff”. If I can’t get a hold of the organizer, I’ll reach out to a worker like the staff personnel guiding cars at the entrance, security personnel or any other people who look “official.” In addition, you can always tell if there is an official photographer or the local newspaper photographer at the event. In my case, I was lucky to find a local reporter and photographer for intel about the best photo opportunities. Once I had a general idea of the activities I might want to photograph, I walked around the fairgrounds to get a feel for it.

Just like most county fairs in Ohio, there were multiple things happening at once at the agricultural show. It is very easy to get visually overwhelmed with all the activities, action and people running around. You might want to photograph everything and everybody but that’s not the best approach. Below is my approach to covering an event and photo tips to help you focus. 

Goals – This is the most important thing to consider and it is a personal reflection. Is your goal to document the entire event or do you want to concentrate on a particular event? You’ll notice that most of the photos I am showing you are from the equestrian events.

Investing Time – Even though you will miss other activities, you have to be willing to sacrifice those photos to get better images at one event. In my case, I had to choose not making it to the Ring of Kerry to stay all day at the Dungarvan Agricultural Show. It was a gamble, but I knew that I could not rush it.

Repetition – Try to find an activity where the same or similar action repeats over and over again for a while. The reason for this is to make sure you become familiar with the action. It will also give your several opportunities to capture the best moments and to perhaps move around to capture the action from a different point of view. This was the case when I was photographing the equestrian show jumping events.

It’s amazing to see how riders and horses jump over obstacles. I quickly realized that the images look better if I was able to capture the rider’s face while in the air. After watching a couple riders complete the course, I was able to change my location and choose the best obstacle for the photo. Another important tip to share is to pre-focus on where the jump is going to happen.

Another creative advantage of this approach is the fact that you can play with different lenses and also be more creative with your composition. I had two cameras, one with the Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L IS II lens and the Canon 24mm f/1.4 L II lens. For example, I noticed riders taking the same path back to their starting point when they were setting up for a single jump event.  I sat as close as I could to the course’s boundary and I noticed that I could frame one rider with the legs of the other horses as they strolled by me. Therefore, I placed the camera on the ground with the Canon 24mm f/1.4 L II lens and I shot blindly up. It took many tries but eventually I was able to capture a nicely framed subject.

Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)

Peak action and crop tight – If you are a sports photographer you already know this tip. If you are photographing your kids at any sporting event you need to implement this approach because it will dramatically change the quality of your photos. Peak action is when the action or subject reaches its maximum and then begins to slow down. In my case, it was when the horse is in the air four legs off the ground. This requires good timing if you leave your camera on single shot, but you can improve your odds by changing the setting to shooting in continuous shot mode.

Once you have your peak action photos don’t be afraid to crop into the action in post-production. Cropping helps you if don’t have a long lens or if you were a bit too far away from the action. When you are shooting a high-resolution camera like I was with the Canon 5D Mark IV, you are not going to encounter any issues by cropping into the action.

Tell a story– To me there is nothing better than telling stories with my images. You can do a lot of storytelling in one frame, but you can say even more if you create a three-photo package. I teach this approach to my students when they have to create visual narratives. It’s very easy to capture a detail shot, a mid-range interaction shot, and an action shot.  Notice the sequence of the images below; it starts with an image that represents the preparation, followed by a detail image that shows something unexpected (I didn’t know horse jumping shoes had studs). Finally, you see the action (conclusion) image of horse and rider jumping.

Getting behind the scenes – This is another great way to get storytelling images that most event goers will not be able to see. Try to get access to where the general public is not allowed to go.

Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)
Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)
Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)

Use fill flash – Even in situations where there is bright daylight you might still benefit from adding a bit of fill flash to your images. Adding fill flash can help create more contrast with the background and it can help you eliminate shadows. In the image below, I wanted to create a more dramatic image and using the Godox AD400 Pro Witstro All-in-One Outdoor Flash was the way to go, the exposure was 1/160 sec at f/9 ISO 200. I like to control the flash power manually and the Godox remote units make it very easy and fast but you can also set it at TTL.

Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)

Look for people involved on their own task – This was the case when I was photographing the sheep judging event (image above and below). There are a lot of movements and activity when the farmers had to transfer their sheep from small corrals to the judging pen. This was my opportunity to capture that particular action, especially when the sheep didn’t want to cooperate. One thing to keep in mind is that I didn’t rush the farmers or got in their way, I had been there for a while photographing the judging and talking to them before, so they didn’t mind me when I was photographing them; they were more concentrated on the sheep.

Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)

Talk to people and make a portrait – I’m a people photographer and I love to meet new people.  I decided to go to this event instead of the Ring of Kerry because I knew I had better chances to interact with rural Irish people and learn about their culture. It doesn’t take much to start a conversation and I have found that people are happy to share their stories. I think each portrait is unique and reflects the character of the people photographed.

I captured all the portraits with the Canon 24mm f/1.4 which is an amazing lens. I’ll have a post just on the Canon 24mm f/1.4 lens in the short future since it is now my favorite lens. I preferred the 24mm for the portraits because I like to move close to people. Even though sometimes you have to use a long lens it also takes away from the opportunity to engage with people.

Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)
Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)


Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)

This last portrait of Avril and her bulls is very meaningful to me. She and her husband, Billy, invited me to visit their farm before I left Ireland (which of course I did). They were happy to show me their land and cattle and I was happy to able to spend a wonderful afternoon with them. This connection happened because I showed interest in them and I made a portrait. Photography can be a very positive experience and help us to connect with people.

Dungarvan Agricultural Show, Ireland 2018. (photos by Leonardo Carrizo)

I do not regret at all not going to the Ring of Kerry. My photographic spirit was delighted with all the wonderful photo opportunities and my soul full of magnificent experiences I had with all the Irish people at the Dungarvan Agricultural Show. And all it took was for me to follow a small sign on the side of the road and my heart.

 If you want to learn more about my approach to visual storytelling, travel and people photography checkout Midwest Photo’s 2019 class calendar for my upcoming class Travel Photography and Visual Composition: The Story Behind the Destination on Saturday Feb 16th!

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