Pub Photography

College projects are beckoning again. Among them a brief where we need to portray a business. And what really interests me is my local, Dublin landmark pub Toner’s in Baggot Street. Ha, yeah, you’ve got my priorities… It is a beautiful old pub, with a wonderful mix of clientele, friendly proprietors and many photoworthy corners. I have never taken pictures in a pub properly, so here is an opportunity to finally get the shots of the old geezers snoozing over their pints of Guinness.

This all came to me as I was walking past Toner’s back home the other day. And then I thought – why don’t I do it now? I have time, I have the camera on me. And I need to start projects asap if I want to avoid a similar end-of-semester panic as last semester. “What’s keeping you, Sonja?” “Um, I have to ask permission, that’s what’s keeping me!” “All that can happen is rejection!”

So around I turned and down I went again, into the pub. It was quiet and empty, only a few people in there, a slow Saturday mid-afternoon. And of course there was no rejection. I didn’t even have to launch into the whole spiel about “my favourite pub… local… drink here often… photography student… project…”. I got as far as “This is my local, would you mind if I took some pictures…”, and the barman said “Ah sure, go ahead!” I suspect he thought “the tourist is gonna pull out her little compact and snap a couple of shots.” Little did he know – he had me in there for half an hour, climbing chairs and crouching in corners, shooting from all angles.

Anyway, I set ISO at 6400 and shot away. And of course, noone objected, everybody looked unconcerned, largely ignoring the silly camera-wielding eejit who was crawling around on the floor and standing on benches to shoot across the room.

Quiet afternoon in Toner’s

I am quite happy with this first try: The ambient light images catch the muted light and atmosphere in the pub. The fact that it was empty in there may not be good if using these shots for commercial purposes – a pub needs to be shown busy and full of happy drinkers. On the other hand, I want to show that the pub is an old original – too many people in there obscure the view of the original panelling, mirrors and tiles.

Well, I have certainly learned one thing from last semester’s project: You don’t expect to shoot a project on one afternoon. You acquaint yourself with your object/subject and return several times, shooting again and again to get all the various facets of the business on film sensor. So I will be back a few more times. And I can say that this has again given me a bit more confidence to rise to the challenge and ask people for cooperation. It’s not that hard.

2 thoughts on “Pub Photography

  1. Graham

    Nice shot Sonja! I do like taking photo's in pubs myself. Maybe it's the timeless solid wood decor, interesting framed vintage posters, embossed metal wall hangings, etched mirrors advertising whiskey's and reflecting punters in abstract angles bisected by cascading shafts of light- these scenes realised from a heightened sense of awareness brought on by the couple of pints you have already imbibed. Nothing wrong with shooting slightly under the influence to see things through slightly rosé tinted glasses, if it weren't for the copious amounts of Absinthe and Opium consumed in turn of the century Paris and Belgium we might not have the great impressionist works that influence us today.

    Here's a tip I picked up while having to shoot a couple of pubs, café's and restaurants under revue each week in The Dubliner. To keep clientele in shots and portray the hustle and bustle without fear of people being recogniseable in shots later and possibly complaining etc. Set up tripod if it's not too awkward and shoot on your standard ISO instead of 6400. you get the clarity of a noiseless shot, but you also get slower or extended shutter speeds which blurs the motion of the crowed highlighting their movements but hiding there identity in a drunk like haze. Happy drinking! (I mean shooting) 🙂


  2. Sonja

    Nice suggestion, Graham, thanks for that. I'll organise a proper tripod and do that at some stage. I was already thinking of that effect for the barmen working behind the bar.
    Oh, and as regards “heightened sense of awareness” – a pint is absolutely essential. The photographer MUST immerse herself in the situation. Literally.



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