Let’s Talk With Ciaran O’Neill

Interviewed By Shea Deighan

Welcome To Let’s Talk With Ciaran O’Neill

Every month, the PPANI blog will bring you a little bit closer to Northern Ireland’s best and brightest photographers. This month, it’s the turn of master photographer, Ciaran O’Neill.

What inspires you take amazing images?

I don’t really think about creating ‘amazing images’. I just try to take better photos today than I did yesterday. Sometimes that means trying something new, sometimes it means tweaking an idea I’ve already tried.

How does today’s PPANI compare with the PPANI that you joined?

I think today’s PPANI is very similar to when I joined. We are still a group of ambitious photographers who see the advantage of getting together for support and continued learning. PPANI’s annual competition still helps to showcase our talented members and encourages us all to work even harder. When I joined the association I heard lots of stories about great social events PPANI used to run. This is something I have always tried to encourage, be it running a non-photography event or simply staying on for a coffee or a drink after our meetings. I have a lot of good friends in the PPANI.

You’ve won numerous awards. What is the most important award you have ever won?

The answer to this probably should be the gold ‘Oscar’ style trophy that I won for UK Photographer of the Year, but actually its something much closer to home. Of all the trophies I’ve picked up the only one that I an emotional attachment to is one for 3rd place in the PPANI album of the year competition back in about 1999. It was my first ever award and it made me realise i could compete against the very best photographers in the country. I’ll never forget that feeling!


What do you prefer to shoot? Weddings or portraits?

I love shooting weddings. I love the mix of emotions, the nervousness, the joy, the romance, the love! Where else do you get that!

What is your favourite photograph that you have ever taken?

I took a great shot last week that I really liked but I think I might take a better one next week! I’m a bit of a kid that way, I take a shot and think its my best one ever – then take another and think that one is the best!!

Over the years, you’ve seen numerous styles of photography come and go. Which is the worst/cheesiest you’ve come across?

I don’t think any style is cheesy but the way some photographers execute it might leave a bit to be desired. New styles are usually created by one really talented photographer who does something no one else has thought of. Then other people get inspired by them, After a while people use this new ‘style’ because they aren’t creative enough to come up with their own ideas. That’s when things get cheesy!

How much fun is it to have Simon work with you? Does it bring an extra layer of competitiveness out in you, especially around award season?

Yes, I do get a laugh working with Simon. Its good support for both of us though and we can bounce ideas around. If one of us finds a new place to take a shot or get a pic we are particularly pleased with we are always showing each other. At awards time there is a little competition but not as much as you might think.


What’s your favourite time of the year to shoot weddings?

Christmas. The decorations, the atmosphere, the low winter sun, the candles, the open fires, the fur wraps.

And worst?

Christmas!! The cold, the wind, the rain, the short days, I guess you can’t have it all!!

What’s the funniest thing that’s happened to you at a wedding?

Ok its not a funny story but its my favourite wedding story. A couple got engaged but the girl’s parish priest asked her to move to Canada with him to be his housekeeper. She move to Canada. They both married other people but kept in touch by Christmas cards. After about 50 years she mentioned in her annual card that her husband had passed away. He asked her to come back to Ireland and marry him! She did and I had the great pleasure of photographing their wedding.

As a photographer who many other photographers look up to and aspire to become, who do you look up to or aspire to?

I’m going to cheat here and go for three answers for this one, Richard Alvedon, Richard Branson and Casey the Cocker Spaniel. I collect old fashion photography books and I absolutely love Richard Alvedon’s simple style. There is nothing in his images that doesn’t contribute to the image. You can see his influence in so much of today’s fashion photography. While Richard Branson is an outstanding businessman, he always puts two other things in front of making money, his family and having fun. He doesn’t seem to care if this annoys the establishment. You’ve got to love him for that! Lastly, Casey the Cocker Spaniel. Casey was our first dog and when you opened the back door to let him in, he would be so happy he would run around in circles for 5 minutes. Ten minutes later, if you opened the door to let him out he would get so excited he would run around in circles again. Casey lived in the moment and enjoyed life. I try to be like Casey.

As a photographer who learned how to shoot in film days, do you think todays photographers are better or worse for learning in digital?

I don’t think there’s any difference. Photographers are artists, it doesn’t matter what medium they use. Learning the basics on film was slow because you had to get the film processed and printed. This put a lot of people off. The basics are easier to pick up with digital which brings a lot more people into the industry. This is a good thing as out of those people talented, hard working individuals will emerge and produce outstanding work. The others will be glad to continue to produce the basics. This was the same when we shot film except now there might be more of them.


What advice would you give to the next generation of photographers?

Run while you still can! Its too late for the rest of us! Only joking. Photography has been very good to me. It has taken me across Europe to give seminars and to take wedding photos. It has introduced me to amazing people and given me experiences I would never had otherwise. My advice is ‘go for it’. Its not an easy profession to make a living at but the rewards outweigh the downsides.

What’s your favourite piece of equipment?

My favourite piece of kit at the moment is my little Lumix camera. Its not the highest resolution or the best in low light etc, but its small and I bring it everywhere. As the saying goes ‘the best camera is the one you have with you’.

Last but not least, which PPANI member is next to be interviewed?

David Coote.


To see more of Ciaran’s work, visit his website at: CiaranONeillPhotography.com or visit his PPANI profile page.


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