The Mourne Mountains by Barrie Lathwell

The Mourne Mountains by Barrie Lathwell

I am a 64-year-old retired computer technician living in Lisburn, Northern Ireland. Four years ago I ventured into the Mourne Mountains, a small compact mountain range in Northern Ireland, hiking up Slieve Donard, the highest peak at 850 m (2,790 ft). I was amazed at the beautiful scenery, took a few shots with my point and shoot camera, and remember being disappointed that the photos didn't do justice to what I had seen.

In January 2017 I decided to take photography more seriously and purchased a Canon EOS M10 camera, deciding on mirrorless, as I didn't want anything too heavy. At that point in time I'd never heard of the 'exposure triangle' or 'f-stops'. There was so much to learn! I began by watching photography videos and reading tutorials, and even went through the camera manual, which I confess is probably the first technical manual that I've read from cover to cover. It was a lot to take in, but I had found a new hobby! I now practise my photography almost daily, forever learning, and go for regular hikes in these beautiful mountains, really enjoying being able to share the wonderful views with others through my photos.

Doan, The Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland.     Canon EOS M10, Canon EF-M 11-22 mm f/4-5.6 IS STM @ 22mm, f/11, 1/60 sec, ISO 100. Polarizing Filter.

Silent Valley View

Surprisingly this isn't sunrise or sunset but actually around 11am on a September morning. I've hiked uphill for well over an hour and I'm standing on Doan, a 592-metre high granite mountain in the Mourne Mountains, looking down over the Silent Valley reservoir, with Slieve Binnian at 747 metres to the left and Slievenaglogh, a 445-metre hill, to the right. The Horizon line is where the sun has left a pink reflection on the Irish Sea.

What I have done here, as I do with most of the shots that I take when shooting towards the sun, is to expose for the sky. The shadows then are quite dark, but one of the reasons that I shoot in RAW format is that I am able to retrieve the details in post-processing using the Camera Raw filter which is built into Photoshop. I like to have a strong foreground element in my photos if possible, as I feel that it adds interest.

Slieve Meelbeg, The Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland. Canon EOS M10, Canon EF-M 11-22 mm f/4-5.6 IS STM  @ 22mm, f/11, 1/125 sec,  ISO 100.

The Wall on Meelbeg

I'm standing on the Mourne Wall at the summit of the 708 metres high Slieve Meelbeg looking down on Doan, and beyond toward the Irish Sea in the distance. The word Slieve comes from the Irish word "Sliabh" meaning mountain. Some people use apps or charts to calculate the hyperfocal distance in order to get detail throughout a photo, but I prefer to keep things simple and find that focusing about a third of the way into the scene works too.

Using the wall as a strong leading line, in this case towards Doan, the low misty clouds add balance to the composition. In the autumn, some of the grasses here turn orange, adding a beautiful touch of colour which I find is a great compliment to the blue in the sky. Setting the camera profile to Landscape brings out the colours, which I then slightly accentuate by adding a little saturation in post-processing. I do, however, try to keep everything looking as natural as possible.

Slievenaglogh, The Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland. Canon EOS M10, Canon EF-M 11-22 mm f/4-5.6 IS STM  @ 22mm, f/11, 1/125 sec, ISO 100.

The Stile

Again using the Mourne Wall as a strong leading line into the scene, albeit this time from the corner of the image, towards Slieve Bearnagh (727 metres). Slieve Meelbeg is in the centre of the shot with Slieve Meelmore (704 metres) to its right. I am on the slopes of the higher Slievenaglogh (586 metres), there are confusingly two, on a wintery February day. I have used the stile not only to add interest but also to give the scene a sense of scale.

The Mourne Wall is a 35 km (22-mile) dry-stone wall that crosses fifteen summits, constructed to define the boundaries of the 36 km2 (8,900-acre) area of land purchased by the Belfast Water Commissioners in the late 19th century to enclose a reservoir and isolate the catchment area from cattle and sheep. Construction started in 1904 and was completed in 1922. I have toned down the highlights here to accentuate the blue in the sky.

Slieve Binnian, The Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland. Canon EOS M10, Canon EF-M 11-22 mm f/4-5.6 IS STM  @ 22mm, f/11, 1/125 sec, ISO 100.


This is the beautiful view of Slieve Bearnagh and the Ben Crom reservoir from the slopes of Slieve Binnian on a winter's afternoon with just a touch of snow left on the peaks. It was a long 10-mile hike in below-freezing temperatures, but well worth it. Too much cloud and the photos look dull, too sunny and they look flat, but I was rewarded with near-perfect light and just enough clouds to create streaks of light on the opposite mountainside.

In post-processing, I have added a little saturation and toned down the highlights. By selecting the foreground only I have used 'Tonal Contrast' in 'Color Efex Pro 4', part of the free Google Nik collection, to enhance the tonal contrast, mainly in the mid-tone range adding a sense of depth to the photo. This is something I do quite often in my landscapes.

The Silent Valley Mountain Park, Head Road, Newry, County Down, Northern Ireland. Canon EOS M10, Canon EF-M 55-200 mm f/4.5-6.3 @ 55mm, f/11, 1/125 sec, ISO 100.

Red Mist

On a trip to the Silent Valley Mountain Park to photograph the snow-capped mountains, I was almost back at the car when I noticed the late afternoon sunlight beginning to reflect a reddish glow on the misty peaks. The Silent Valley reservoir supplies most of the water for County Down, surrounding counties and most of Belfast and was built between 1923 and 1933 by a workforce of over one thousand men.

It was an awesome sight which thankfully I was able to capture by being in the right place at the right time. I find that some of my best shots were not the one that I had planned! I try never to spend more than 10 to 15 minutes on post-processing and in this instance there wasn't a lot I could do, apart from removing any digital noise in the shadows.

The Brandy Pad, The Mourne Mountains, County Down, Northern Ireland. Canon EOS M10, Canon EF-M 11-22 mm f/4-5.6 IS STM @ 11mm, f/11, 1/60 sec, ISO 100.

The Brandy Pad

This is one of a series of experimental shots that I took shooting directly towards the late afternoon hazy sunlight. I exposed for the bright sky making the shadows extremely dark. In fact I couldn't really see what I had until I got home and brightened the shadows in post-processing. I also toned down the highlights which gave it a surreal mystical look. The view is from the Brandy Pad, a track that transverses the mountains and is said to derive its name from being a smuggling route in the 1800s when illegal produce such as coffee, tea, silk, tobacco, wine and brandy were transported on horseback across the top of the two valleys.

C.S Lewis, the author of `The Chronicles of Narnia' that began with `The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe', was inspired by the Mourne landscape. He wrote of the scenery, "it made me feel that at any moment a giant might raise its head over the next ridge".

Near Newcastle, The Glen River, County Down, Northern Ireland. Canon EOS M10, Canon EF-M 11-22 mm f/4-5.6 IS STM  @ 12mm, f/22, 1/2 sec, ISO 100, Tripod, Slightly Cropped.

Mountain Stream

Leaving the Car Park in Newcastle, County Down and following the Glen river up towards Slieve Donard, a popular hiking trail with tourists, there are some beautiful scenes. Aside from grasses, the most common plants found in the Mournes are heathers and gorse. Other plants which grow in the area are: Bog Cotton, Roseroot, Marsh St John's Wort, Wild Thyme, Wood Sorrel and Heath Spotted Orchids.

The river is crystal clear and the small narrow rapids flanked by heather just cries out to be photographed. Here I've used a wide-angle lens and slightly cropped the image, removing the sky and putting the main falls on the centre line. I didn't have a Neutral Density filter for this lens at the time but, as it was a dull day, I was able to use a 1/2 sec exposure by stopping down to f/22. Not ideal but it still worked.

'But for all that I've found there, I might as well be
Where the Mountains of Mourne sweep down to the sea'.

The lyrics to the song The Mountains of Mourne written by Irish musician Percy French.

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