When I was a kid, the Dublin Docklands was a derelict and crumbling no-go area of the city. It was full of nefarious types and sinister back alleys. Today, the entire area has been regenerated as the tech and financial hub of the city. Thankfully there are no dodgy types to be found in banks or social media companies. Right?
The older streets of Dublin further upstream of the River Liffey may possess a more traditional charm but the sparkling new sleek modern buildings and bridges of the Docklands make for a superb photography location. In this series, I feature photographs of two of these relatively recent additions to the city: The Conference Centre Dublin and the elegant Samuel Beckett Bridge. The shots were all taken on a bitterly cold but dry and calm January morning as I ventured out with a brand new camera and lens for the first time.
Dawn Reflections at the Dublin Docklands
You know it’s going to be a productive morning’s photography when you arrive to your location and the sky looks like this. Not only was the light and sky promising but there wasn’t so much as a breath of wind resulting in perfect mirror like reflections in the River Liffey. More often than not in Dublin, I am greeted with a steely grey sky in the morning.
For the first photograph of the morning, I set up in the centre of the Sean O’Casey Bridge and took a wide angle shot towards the Docklands area that included plenty of the pale purple toned dawn sky. The sun hadn’t risen yet but the orange glow on the horizon meant sunrise and the golden light it would bring wasn’t far off. The Samuel Beckett Bridge and Conference Centre with its glowing blue lights are visible in the centre of the frame as is the silhouetted mast of the Jeanie Johnston famine ship that is permanently moored on the Liffey.
You can read more about using reflections to create horizontal symmetry in composition in my tutorial on how to arrange the elements in the frame.
Samuel Beckett Bridge and Conference Centre Dublin at Dawn
Now that I had my wide angle shot of the Docklands, I decided to zoom in closer to the Samuel Beckett Bridge and Conference Centre for the next photograph. This time the sky is dominated by the pre-sunrise amber and pink tones. Although the sun hadn’t risen yet, some light from the orange sky was reflecting off the water onto the buildings along the quayside. I liked how the angle of the Conference Centre mirrored the slope of the diagonal bridge support from this point of view.
My tutorial on finding subjects with strong visual impact and interest discusses the use of diagonals in composition in more detail.
2 Views of the Samuel Beckett Bridge from Sir John Rogerson’s Quay
My two favourite photographs from that morning’s shoot came as I headed back down Sir John Rogerson’s Quay towards the old centre of Dublin. As, I looked back, the Samuel Beckett Bridge was perfectly reflected in the still waters of the Liffey. Not only that but the sky contained a riot of gorgeous early morning colour as the warm light from the rising sun bounced off the underside of the scattered clouds. I took the first shot in portrait mode to capture the all of bridge and its reflection below.
The second photograph was taken a little further down the quay. By now, the warm early morning light had bathed the quayside buildings in a golden glow. Once again, I used a portrait orientation to include the street lamps that line the quayside.
It had been one of those mornings where everything came together. The light was superb and the sky was full of warm colours and interest – not bad for a first outing with a new camera. I should buy fancy new gear more often. I mean, does my son really need to go to college? They learn everything off the internet these days anyway.
About the Location: Dublin’s Finest Bridge and an Award Winning Conference Centre
Yes, I genuinely believe that the Samuel Beckett Bridge is Dublin’s finest and most visually striking. This 48m high cable-stayed structure was put in place in December 2009 and was designed by Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava. It is designed to resemble a celtic harp on its side, the harp being the national emblem of Ireland.
Having a melodious musical instrument as a national emblem all sounds very nice in theory but in Ireland receiving a letter in the post with a harp emblazoned on the envelope generally means that the government wants something from you.
On the north quay of the River Liffey beside the Samuel Beckett Bridge sits the Convention Centre Dublin. This highly unusual building contains a 2000 seat auditorium that has hosted Michelle Obama and Queen Elizabeth II. It was the first carbon neutral convention centre in the world and won World’s Leading Meetings & Conference Centre’ at the 26th annual World Travel Awards in 2020.
In 2020 and 2021, it temporarily became the location of the Dàil or Irish Parliament during the Covid-19 pandemic. It’s larger size allowed for greater social distancing of TDs or Teachtaí Dála (Members of Parliament). As of the the time of writing, we are still in lockdown in Dublin and the Convention Centre continues to house our politicians.
I do quite like the building and the night time lighting on the exterior is really striking and makes for beautiful low light photographs. It does kind of look a bit like a huge tin of peas wedged in a giant box though. In Dublin, we have a habit of giving our landmarks rhyming nicknames eg. the “Stiffy by the Liffey” for the Dublin Spire on O’Connell Street (yes, really). For some reason, the convention centre seems to have escaped this tradition. Might I suggest the “Box in the Docks” or maybe the “Peas by the Quays”. You heard them here first!
Improve your Photography Skills
The full collection of my photography tutorials covering exposure, camera settings, composition and light can be found in my Kindle e-book: Outdoor Photography Essentials. This e-book can be read on most Kindles or any tablet or smart phone with the Kindle app installed (€7.06 / $7.00 / £6.34).