Castle Hopping Off the Beaten Path

by Robyn Porteen
( October 16th, 2014 )

Minard CastleIreland is my favorite spot to visit and I have been there several times. I have many stories to share about this beautiful country. Fascinated by history, the first thing planned was to explore the old castles and homesteads and imagine what life was like a few centuries ago. We take pride in history in the US, but we are hard pressed to find many structures or sites that are more than 300 years old.

Many of the Castles have been turned into tourist traps and there are long queues just to get inside. So I made the decision to explore the abandoned castles off the beaten path. Research was done online and I found an older book published by The Daily Telegraph called Castles & Ancient Monuments of Ireland. It was published in 2001, but I figured that some of these castles have been standing since the 1200’s so a 12 year old book would still be valid.

Castles and Ancient Monuments of Ireland

What’s great about this book is that it sections off parts of Ireland, has decent maps and takes the time to really tell the history of the entire area and each individual site. In some cases it will let you know that the castle is on private property and how to contact the property owner and their suggested hours for visiting the site.

Climbing over walls and dodging sheep were all part of the excitement of discovering some of these hidden gems. I always made sure to knock on the door of the owners house and humbly ask permission before wandering through the ruins. Always show respect for the property owner.

Fireplaces from each floor of a crumbling castle


Be cautious in these buildings, they are old and crumbling, Many of them have stairs that go to second floors or higher and there are no safety rails or even people to come to your aid at these remote locations if you get injured.

Leave them as you found them, don’t litter or try to take a piece of the building home with you, these should still be enjoyed by generations to come and it would be easy for the property owners to restrict access.

Photographers: Figure out which direction these are facing in the sun and try to capture them  in the right light. Pick the best ones for sunset or sunrise by which direction the main structure is facing.  I visited a few that I could not photograph well because the only exposed side for taking the photo had the sun behind it. There is nothing worse than being excited to see a beautiful, historical castle and not being able to get that perfect shot!

Keep your camera on the ready as you approach, crows will gather in these structures and when startled, they will fly out and circle above the castle or perch where you can photograph them.

Birds Circling Castle


Since I purchased this book, I did some research this week and found a few more that have good reviews published in the last five years. I still plan on taking my current book with me each time I visit this beautiful country, it is a proven guide for my explorations.

Old doorways inside an old castle

All photography by Robyn Porteen

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Irish Fog Creates a Mood

by Robyn Porteen
( September 28th, 2014 )

Irelands Sleeping Giant

I have the pleasure of traveling to the Dingle Peninsula in Ireland every 1-2 years. It’s the most beautiful place in the world to me. Time is slower there, people are in no hurry, they still run herds of sheep down main street and there are no trains and very few buses that go there. It’s my own peaceful retreat.

I have photographed this area many times and captured the beautiful sun drenched western coast line with its magnificent waves crashing on the shore. I was thinking that I had photographed every nook and cranny of this area except for many areas inland without roads, so I made a plan to set out on one of the hiking trails called the Saints Path north of Dingle on my last day there. In fact, I had saved a whole day just for this photo trip. The weather had been beautiful and sunny the whole week, but on the last morning it was foggy with drizzle! My first thought was that I had planned my days wrong and I should have done this sooner, I was stuck inside for the day.

Then I had an inspiring thought…...maybe the fog would be a great capture! After all, fog is a regular weather event here and it would allow me to bring home the mood of the land with all of the ancient architecture encased in fog. So I went to the local clothing store and bought an inexpensive rain cover, put on my hiking boots and off I went.

Dingle Peninsula Ireland

It turned out to be one of the most spiritual days I ever had in Ireland. As I started to climb the Saint’s Path, I could see the fog all around me hovering in the distance. One minute, I could see yards ahead, then the fog would creep in around the rocks and I could not see more 10 feet in front of me. It was a beautiful experience all alone on the Dingle Peninsula, far up on a hillside, just the fog and I. It was a difficult thing to capture with my camera, but below is an attempt at before and after photographs.

Fog Pulling Away

Fog Creeping In

It was well worth the trip out in the drizzle and fog. I did remember my plastic camera rain cover to protect my camera.  I have many more trips to take to this peninsula and I think I will be spending more time in the fog!

Foggy Hillside in Ireland

All photography by Robyn Porteen


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How Travel Photography Launched a Camera Bag Company

by Robyn Porteen
( September 17th, 2014 )

How the passion of travel photography turned into a full time business.

Jerusalem Dome of the Rock

It all started with a hired trip to Israel to capture the essence of the country and the old city of Jerusalem. I carried the typical black nylon camera bag that announced the fact that I had a valuable camera on my person. There were some areas of the city and countryside where I felt I should be a little more discreet with my camera gear. So I packed a plain duffle bag with a hotel towel wrapped around my expensive camera and lenses. I was worried about dropping the bag or knocking it up against a wall and damaging my gear, but I would rather have the plain duffle that have a typical looking, labeled camera bag.

Jerusalem Old City

When I returned home from that trip, I turned in my photography and was laid off by the company that I worked for due to bad economic times. With plenty of time on my hands, I decided to create a stylish camera bag for myself that looked more like a purse or everyday bag that a typical woman might carry. I was on unemployment, so I could not afford the beautiful leathers and tapestries that I had imagined in my head. That led me to the thrift store where I knew that I could find leather apparel to cut apart and use for the outside of my envisioned bag. I found a long black leather skirt! I also found a denim dress that was a beautiful olive green and with a trip to the local fabric store to get a zipper, some webbing and foam padding, the total cost of my first bag was around $20.00.

Leather camera bag by Porteen Gear

One of the first camera bags made with a leather skirt from the thrift store.

I had some sewing experience in the past and had a sewing machine that had spent more years in various closets than in use, so I blew the dust off of it and started stitching my project together. When it was done, it looked like a vintage, timeworn bag! Friends were amazed when I said that it was made from thrift store materials. Someone suggested Etsy, an online marketplace for handmade items. I photographed my bag and listed it on Etsy as a “pre-order” so I could make another one if someone was interested. It sold within 2 days. I sold 5 more within a week and started to research materials to make more bags. That was in June 2010, and by the end of December, I had sold over 700 camera bags! I realized the people like personalized bags that showcased their style, so I created the Design Your Own feature enabling a customer to create their own work of art.

Fast track to 2014 and 7600 orders later, Porteen gear has been showcased in Shutterbug Magazine, United Airlines Hemispheres, Professional Photography Magazine, British Vogue and Conde Nast Travellers Magazine. We have sold camera bags to over 60 countries with a wide global presence.

Porteen Gear Handmade Camera Bags

So that one trip with an ugly black bag turned into a full time business and gave me the ability to hire friends that needed a place to work filled with creativity and comradery when times were tough in the US .

I love what I do and love that I can inspire others to just follow your dreams to see where it takes you!

The Porteen Gear bag builder

All photography by Robyn Porteen 

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