Paul O’Donohoe, Systems Engineer and Sports Photographer

I remember getting a 110 disposable film camera on the back of a cereal packet, and that is where my interest in photography first started. I loved experimenting with it and sending off the 12 or 24 images – these were mostly out of focus shots and not much else, but that is how you learn.

My name is Paul O’Donohoe and I work in IT as a Systems Engineer. I chose my job because I always loved tinkering with Electronics and breaking and fixing things. I subsequently studied Electronics and building things, but the industry changed a lot over the years – instead of fixing a Circuit board at the component level, they became disposable and cheaper to simply replace. As a result, I started embedded programming, which got you into the nuts and bolts of hardware at a software level. This eventually moved to what I do now, which is building and maintaining Computer systems for the company I work with.

Outside of my job, I love sports photography – I enjoy it because it is a real challenge to get something unique. The workflow is intense; you not only have to manage a few cameras, but also a laptop and getting the images uploaded to the agency in real-time. All this is a real challenge, but I like the fact you are presented with an opportunity and it is up to you to make it work.

Neil Van Niekerk is the photographer who I admire the most. He does a lot of on/off camera flash work and offers advice on his blog for free, which is great. I spent a lot of time studying his techniques, especially with flash – you don’t need really expensive equipment to get great results.

I use Nikon equipment for my photography. I started off with a Fuji that had a Nikon lens mount, so it has been Nikon all the way. I really am comfortable with the NX software and their speedlights. In the future, I want to invest in a decent 600mm lens, which will open up more opportunities for me at sporting events. I am limited to a 300mm lens that I have at the moment.

In post-production, I only ever do some basic adjustments, like curves and cropping and maybe black & white conversions. When doing a sporting event, you don’t get time to do any adjustments and that is where the challenge is.

I have covered all the Ireland Football Internationals for the past number of years, as well as International Cricket Games. Cricket Ireland is particularly accommodating, which is great. However, I also enjoy been down at my local Cricket Club and bringing the camera. What I am trying to capture the most with my sports photography is that microsecond in time where the photo tells you exactly what has happened, be it a goal or stumps been bowled. The picture should explain itself.

My personal favourite photo I’ve taken was when I went on a fishing trip one day to capture what I hoped would be a fish tail-walking – I particularly like this image as it took so much effort to capture, but the reward was worth it.

My advice to anyone interested in photography is to find out what your passion is – be it sports, people or whatever, and focus on that. You need to enjoy what you do. Be comfortable with your equipment and know every detail. Learn the technical side to get the most from your equipment.

There is always more than tech. Photography and IT are two separate paths that allow me to switch off when going from one to the other. Also, photographers like Neil Van Niekerk always give back to the community they work in. There are many examples in the IT world that give back as well – that is the Open Source Community.

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