Ian Mitchinson

Ian Mitchinson, Adventure Photographer

South African Ian Mitchinson is a water and surf photographer, filmmaker and editor who lives in Bundoran, Co Donegal, right on the doorstep of some of Ireland’s best surf spots 

He has been a professional photographer since 2005, and before that worked as a photographer’s assistant for a number of years. Ian also produces films and video projects.

See Ian Mitchinson speak in our LookWest.ie Marquee at SeaFest on Saturday, 01 July at 5pm

Hi Ian, can you tell us a little about what do you do?

I am a photographer that specializses in ocean, adventure, event coverage and portrait/editorial shooting.

I share my experiences through images and films on social media, photographic and lifestyle workshops, public speaking and adventure guiding.

Where do you live? Why do you like it?

I live in Bundoran, Co Donegal. I love this area as besides having some of the best waves in the world it is a central point to explore the north west region and all kinds of adventures are easily accessible in the surrounding region.

Where have you previously lived?

I have lived along the West Coast between Sligo and Bundoran for the last 4 years. Previous to my living along the West coast I was living in Cape Town.

What were your main reasons for moving to the West?

My main reasons to move here was to live outside a big city, in a place where we could have an ocean side lifestyle and where I could ensure my children had equal opportunity and access to a first class education. I moved here as I saw would be business and social opportunities that have not been tapped into. I saw the waves first, and investigated all the other aspects mentioned. Then I found the mountains, and the waterfalls, the trails and the caves, and I cant stop looking as there is always more to see.

Photo Credit: Ian Mitchinson

What is your employment status?


When did you start your business and what inspired you to do this?

As I am self employed and have lived all over the world I have been self employed for the last 15 years. However I feel that I have a new vision and focus with how I do my work and what my work is. I would say I have been doing this now for the last 3 years.

What were your start-up costs? How did you get the money, and what did you use it for?

I would say my start up costs were in the range of 20,000 euros and I would have invested in that prior to starting as what I do is all around equipment I would need and the costs of running websites. However the key factor in what I do is networking and due diligence and thousands of hours creating content.

Where is your market? How have you targeted international markets?

I am still discovering my core market however it all spawns through social media and making contacts with photographic buyers. I am still in a building phase and adapting to new markets. I’ve had my biggest success from American tourists and I attracted that business by doing blogposts on international websites, and having images published by ad agencies, magazines and newspapers.

How long did it take you to get everything your business off the ground?

I got everything going really quickly as I paid for advertising prior to moving to Ireland. I started by shooting weddings to get cash-flow and then ventured into more desired markets to do with adventuring, the ocean and personal development.

How do you recruit and retain a talented team?

I try collaborate with like minded people through social media, networking and word of mouth.  Depending on the assignment, I have a talented crew of local free lance photographers that I have gotten to know over the years and regularly work with on larger assignments.

What positive differences have you noticed for yourself and/or your family since relocating / living in the West?

We get to spend more time together and rely a lot more on each other than we did with more friends and family around.

Photo credit: Ian Mitchinson

How did you learn and acquire the skills you use to make your business successful?

From a lifetime of trying different businesses and using multiple platforms. Understanding how they work and how to leverage them.

How do you promote your business?

I make films, I work with athletes and brands I raise awareness through images, articles and networking with local organisations that I can benefit and add value to.

If you had it to do over again, what, if anything, would you do differently?

It is a hard question as I have to evolve constantly with the moving trends. Id say I would have tried to find a business partner/investment/funding rather than doing everything alone. But saying that – sometimes you cant find someone to work with so the only option is to go it alone.

What do you love most about being your own boss? What are the drawbacks?

What I love most about being my own boss is that I feel that all my efforts go into promoting my self and my business rather than someone else. The drawbacks can be constant cash flow and surviving during the downtime / dealing with the unexpected costs that spring up all the time.

What should happen in the West of Ireland to support self employment / entrepreneurship?

I think there should be a clearer path to funding and training for people who are already based here and don’t have access to funds/investors. Many of the grants and training I have learnt about are only available to people on social services for a prolonged time and it is hard to identify the incentives for setting up a new business in an untested (in some cases) and seasonal region.

Also a program around internship for single people artisans would be a great help as with a little bit of help someone like myself could do 10 fold more and grow quickly, making it possible to grow the workforce of small businesses. There are already a few businesses who have monopolized the lifestyle industries and that can be deterring for someone to try set up a similar business in an area.

If you previously lived outside the West, how does the cost of living compare with where you previously lived?

I would say the cost of living can be dramatically cheaper depending on your daily habits and lifestyle and how you socialise. Depending on where exactly you live and how much you need to travel for social and business the costs can be similar and you may have to spend more time to get things done. If you can run an internet business and have automated systems in place and prefer to go hiking than shopping then I think it is quite a bit cheaper….there is less to spend your money on here and more free things to do. Surfing, hiking, fishing..etc

What are the main advantages and disadvantages of relocating / living in the West in terms of working and living?

Advantages : be more in touch with the natural world, can work your own hours. Have access to fast interent, not far from a city, schools are great. You can achieve great things…bigger than you though possible.

Disadvantages : can be isolated from business and social opportunities and lose touch with clients and business networking that come with living around a big city with lots of transactions. Very seasonal, weather based. Can be very quiet and boring at times if you are not pro-active.

How do you find accessibility to where you live and access to public transport / road networks / airports?

Roads are great. Airports are very far away. The best thing is the airport bus to Dublin is cheap and convenient. Buses run on time….you really need a car here to survive and be at all competitive.

Why do you love where you live? What are your top tips for any visitors to where you live?

Because every day I get to look outside and see the most beautiful landscape, the ocean, a safe community and I know that my children get to grow up having access to the natural wonders and also can tap into traditional education and business opportunities. Also its not far from major cities.

What are your top tips for any visitors to where you live? Point it out on the map and just go, dont worry if its not mentioned much in tourists guide books. Just go explore the side roads, see where you get to and try learn something about the area by speaking to the local people. Have a pint in a small pub, always take the scenic route and learn something about each place…it will fascinate.

What advice would you give to anybody thinking about a life in the West?

I would say come here first and spend some time here. Learn how the positive and the negative aspects of living in an area.  Renting houses can be a problem and it can be hard to find long term rentals in an ideal spot, so if you were to come here I’d say it would be best to make some kind of investment in property and build your own little paradise….and that is a big decision so lots of homework is required.

Thanks Ian!

See Ian’s portfolio and buy online at ianmitchinson.com