PARKLIGHT: Killarney National Park in a New Light with Norman McCloskey
Killarney National Park in the south west of Ireland covers 26,000 acres of lakes, rivers, mountains (the highest in Ireland), valleys and the last remaining pockets of native forest. Surprisingly, there haven’t been any photo books on this jewel… until recently. Norman McCloskey took on the task of photographing Killarney National Park and the result is Parklight a rather unique view of one of Ireland’s most enigmatic places.
Like many of his colleagues, Norman isn’t a full time landscape photographer. Making a living with landscape photography only is very difficult in a small country, like Ireland. Norman studied photography in Dublin and subsequently worked as a freelance assistant and photographer before accepting a full time position in Inpho Sports Photography, the largest sports agency in Ireland.
He realized very soon that sports photography wasn’t for him but also saw the advantages of working in an agency with great equipment and resources, not to mention the security of a full time wage. He is now in his 17th year with Inpho in a mainly managing position, which leaves him more time to develop his true passion: landscape photography.
I had the pleasure to chat with Norman about Parklight and his future as a landscape photographer.
Where did the idea for Parklight originate and why do you think nobody else has taken on Killarney National Park so far, it sounds like an obvious topic for a photo book.
Norman: The idea came to me while I was out walking in the Park itself one day. I hadn’t been specifically looking for a subject for a major project, but I had made a conscious effort to explore my surroundings more thoroughly and more importantly on foot. The previous night I had stuck a pin in the map and it landed on a spot in the park I had never been to. On the trail the next day, I was taken aback at the stunning and accessible landscape in this valley that I had driven by for many years without thinking to photograph it. I began to wonder how much more of this place that I thought I knew was there to be explored ? And in an instant my next thought was, “Enough for a book!” I was amazed to find there had been no other books produced on Ireland’s finest National Park before.
At first, I thought there must be a reason and thought I would get bogged down in red tape or that there wasn’t a market for it, but it was the complete opposite. I decided that it was one of those rare and lucky events in a photographer’s life when you stumble across a good idea and get to be the first do it! I think the reason no one had done so before was perhaps because parts of the park are so iconic and have drawn photographers for over a hundred years, these iconic scenes dominate and the park as a whole seems to get overlooked at times.
Do you have any exciting or funny stories from the shoots?
Norman: The entire project was a fantastic adventure for me. To work on a landscape project, with a clear aim of producing a book, gave me a huge amount of focus and energy to head out there day after day. I always work alone and often had day long hikes without seeing another soul all day and, as I was deliberately heading off the beaten track, I had some close calls with the odd fall, complete soakings in rivers, and getting caught out on high ground in storms. It was exciting to be out hiking to a location in the dark before sunrise and also a little scary at times, especially when you came face to face with some Red Deer stags suddenly. Wild camping out on the summit of Purple Mountain on what started out to be a nice autumn evening, but which ending up with a storm raging right through the night was an experience I won’t forget in a hurry and I was never so glad to see a sunrise the next morning.
You completely self published Parklight and didn’t even use popular crowd funding options. Why and how did it go?
Norman: Initially, I had a very traditional approach to this and felt the only way to do this was with a publisher, not so much because of the finances, as I had no idea how much books costs to produce, but because I honestly felt back then I could only do it if the book stood on it’s own merits and wasn’t going to be a vanity project, etc. That was 2009 and things have changed a lot since then, with the idea of self publishing being turned on it’s head and has become a bona fide way of bringing out a photography book.
However, I did have a publishing deal in place very early on and felt I was very fortunate to do so. It was clear I wasn’t going to get rich as the royalties are very low, but I wasn’t in this to make money. All went well until the final stages of the project when my publisher suddenly decided he wanted to be guaranteed a commercial success and came up with an idea to include lots of images of people! In a landscape photography book! I was horrified and went through a difficult week, thinking I had perhaps wasted the previous three years. There was no way I was putting shots of people having picnics in my book and so was prepared to shelve the whole thing. We parted ways and tore up the contract and just as I was about to sink into a depression, a friend pointed out that if the publisher had said no three years ago I’d never have done this, now I had a book. I just had to figure out how to publish it.
I felt the book was good enough to succeed and I was sure there would be a demand for it, so I decided that I would publish it myself. The costs are daunting, but I spent a lot of time securing pledges of support from various people and fortunately, most of them came through. Although some didn’t, it still gave me the confidence to proceed as I’m naturally a fairly cautious person who avoids risks, especially financial ones! I thought about crowd funding, I had seen two books from friends being hugely successful on Kickstarter, but it wasn’t for me. Once you go down the crowd funding route, you need to commit totally to it. I believe it can be hugely time consuming and if it doesn’t work, soul destroying! I simply didn’t want to start something which had any element of doubt as to whether the book would be published or not, the only thing I wanted to rely on for that was myself.
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I was lucky to have a good designer on board who worked with my specific brief and I linked up with a printer in Spain that had an Irish rep and luckily they offered me trade credit for the print run which meant I could use the pre-sales and launch to put towards the cost and had no large fee up front.
When launched, it was a great success and surpassed all my expectations. I had great local support and in the space of only two weeks, I broke even, covering all my costs. I hadn’t factored in the power of the Christmas market, and the book caught the imagination of a lot of people and was very well received. It got some great national coverage, crucially online, which meant a purchase was just a mouse click away and this worked very well for me.
Did you use any special equipment and photographic techniques?
I avoided having an index of shots at the back of the book with technical details, because it was going to be very repetitive ! I shot most of the book with only a few lenses, kept the same ISO and white balance throughout, and nearly always shot at the optimum aperture for my lenses – which happened to be either f11, or f16. I used a Canon 24mm TS-E lens a lot, but not for tilt techniques, instead I used it to create the panoramic shots in the book. I try to process images as little as possible, never used composites or HDR etc, with the one exception of stitched panos using this lens. As the camera never actually moves, you still compose the shot and can ‘see’ it before you take it and I’m very comfortable with that.
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What’s next for you?
Norman: There’s a lot of life left yet in Parklight and I hope to exhibit the work later this year in Killarney. But during year three of the Parklight project, I began to wonder how I would fill all this time when I was finished. Again, without any deliberate thought, I began thinking about projects to take on and before I knew it, I had three! I was approached by a publisher to produce a landscape book on Kerry that’s less specific and that may turn into The Ring of Kerry Landscapes or Iveragh Landscapes. I’m half way through a personal project on a lovely, but very small, local park in Kenmare which I hope to exhibit in the spring. There’s also a quite larger project that I’m researching which would be a little different than my previous work. Again, no one I believe has done anything like it and so I’m quite excited by it, but I’m keeping it well under wraps for now.
Thank you Norman and good luck with any future projects!
Parklight can be purchased through Norman’s website.
CREDITS: All photographs shared by Norman McCloskey are copyrighted and have been used with permission for SLR Lounge. Do not copy, modify or re-post this article or images without express permission from SLR Lounge and the artist.