The Grand Canal Dock area of the Dublin Docklands has recently become one of my favourite locations for photography in my home city. It’s an area I hadn’t really paid much attention before to be honest. When I was a kid, it was a dilapidated and derelict area of the city that may only have been of interest of photographers of urban decay.

My dad would park the car there when we would go to see Ireland play football at the nearby (similarly dilapidated) Lansdowne Road Stadium. Back then he would lift me over the turnstiles to get into the game. Since then, I’ve gained a few pounds and he’s had a hip replaced so a similar feat might not be so likely these days. Not to mention the possibility that the stewards might have something to say about a 41 year old man being lifted over the turnstiles by his 72 year old father. Today that ramshackle if atmospheric old football ground has been replaced by the gleamingly modern Aviva Stadium.

I knew that the Grand Canal Dock area had been rejuvenated in recent years and I decided to head down to the area early on a freezing January morning to put my newly purchased camera (Canon 6d MkII) through its paces. To say I was a little taken aback by just how much the area had changed is something of an understatement. The once crumbling and forgotten district had been transformed into the trendy tech hub of the city known as the “Silicone Docks”. Companies such as Google and Facebook now had their offices here and fancy (and seriously pricey) new apartments lined the Grand Canal Dock Basin.

Her is a selection of the photographs I took that morning along with a few I took on return visit during the evening blue hour a few weeks later.

Grand Canal Basin and Hanover Quay

Grand Canal Dock Morning - Dublin
f/8 1/500sec ISO-400 70mm

The golden light of the early morning sun illuminates the smart new apartment blocks along Hanover Quay. To the right is one of the many boats that occupy the canal basin. Getting up early certainly has its rewards in terms of photography particularly when you are rewarded with beautiful golden hour light like this. This being the depths of an Irish winter I had to act fast as the so called “golden hour” light actually only lasted about fifteen minutes or so before the cooler light of the daytime took over.

Grand Canal Dock at Dawn - Dublin
f/8 1/3200sec ISO-1600 58mm

The area jutting out into the canal basin is known as the “red carpet” and consists of red paving with a series of red poles which light up at night as you will see in some of the blue hour photos later. This very modern and quirky design by Martha Schwartz may not be to everyone’s taste but it certainly makes for an interesting urban photography subject. In this photograph, the poles are silhouetted against the pale orange of the morning sky. the seagulls seem to like them at least.

Morning at Grand Canal Dock - Dublin
f/8 1/400sec ISO-400 45mm

This next photograph comprises a view out across the Grand Canal Dock Basin with the iconic chimneys by the  now-decommissioned Pigeon House generating station in the distance. Although the chimneys are longer in use, they are such a symbol of Dublin that they were listed as protected structures in 2014.

Hanover Quay at Grand Canal Dock - Dublin
f/8 1/160sec ISO-400 35mm

Again, the golden light of the early morning bathes the buildings along Hanover quay in a warm glow. This area was made famous for being the location of legendary Irish band U2’s recording studios. There are plans for a museum dedicated to Bono and the boys to built here. The apartments along here command some of the highest purchase prices and rents in the city. Prices between from half a million euros upwards are not uncommon. Renting a property here will set you back almost €4000 per month! Unless, my photos start selling really well, I’m unlikely to become a resident of Dublin’s trendiest quarter.

Bord Gáis Energy Theatre

Grand Canal Square and Bord Gais Energy Theatre - Dublin
f/13 8sec ISO-100 32mm

By the time I turned my attention to the visually striking Bord Gáis Energy Theatre that morning, the best of the light had gone and I resolved to return a few weeks later, this time during the evening blue hour when the red poles that dot the square in front of the theatre would be illuminated. This shot was taken from along Hanover Quay. Tripods are not allowed here as the land is actually privately owned so I placed my camera on my bag and steadied it with my woolly had to keep it steady during the eight second exposure. I think getting cold ears was worth it.

Bord Gais Energy Theatre at Grand Canal Dock - Dublin
f/8 3.2sec ISO-100 32mm

I moved a little closer for this next photograph of the facade of the unusually shaped theatre. I find that including some human interest in a scene likes this adds some life and a sense of scale to the scene. Thankfully a lone figure obliged by standing helpfully between two poles to the left of the building as I was looking at it.

Grand Canal Dock at Night - Dublin
f/8 2.5sec ISO-100 82mm

For my final shot that evening, I raced around to the far side of the canal basin (me running is not a pretty sight). I really liked how the red of the illuminated poles contrasted with the deep blue of the evening sky. The blue hour really is the best time for “night” photography in a city. As with the morning golden “hour” however, blue “hour” during a Dublin winter lasts maybe twenty minutes at most hence the need to race into position to get the shot above.

With a trio of keepers on my SD card, I rewarded myself with rather expensive snack at one of the trendy sushi restaurants nearby and wondered if those funky red poles could be used as chopsticks by a giant Bono. At that point I knew it was time to put down the sake and head home.


Outdoor Photography Essentials - Kindle E-book by Barry O'CarrollImprove 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).

Purchase from Amazon UK | Purchase from Amazon US