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First personOpinion

“I was putting my sense of self worth in other people’s hands”

Madeline Mulqueen’s appearance in the Rubberbandits viral video Horse Outside led to a successful modelling career. She writes about making her way behind the camera, and finding confidence and comfort in herself. 

Growing up in Limerick, I considered myself a city person. I loved being close to the shopping centre to hang out with my friends, and of course the cinema to go on dates with my boyfriend at the time. 

So when my parents decided to move to the countryside, albeit only twenty minutes from the city, you might as well have moved me to the Antarctic. I felt so far away from the bubble that my identity was connected to. Safe to say the minute I turned 18 I was straight back to where I felt I belonged. 


Academically I never really knew what I wanted to pursue. One month I’d want to be a chef, and the next month an actor, then the next a teacher. 

Nothing truly gripped my interest enough. 

I did end up going to college to study Early Childhood Education, in the hopes that I would grow to enjoy it, but to my parents dismay, I dropped out not too long after the term fees were paid (sorry mam and dad).

At the time I had an opportunity to do some modelling and that led to me getting a part in a music video that went pretty viral. This was at a time when viral videos were rare, so much so that it was recently shown on Reeling In The Years for their decade special.  I’m now more proud of being on Reeling In The Years than the actual video. 

With the success of that video came a flood of work opportunities in Dublin and with that I was 21 and loving life up in the Big Smoke; the city girl was in the heart of it.

For the first few years of my modelling career I really enjoyed it, and I suppose that was because I was getting good work, and it was all new and exciting to me. However as time went on, and when I look back on it now, my value was based on what jobs I got, and if I was invited to a certain event or not. I was putting my sense of self worth in other people’s hands, and also trying to hold onto the identity that I thought I wanted to be. 

This was also around the time when the blogging world was taking off, and the pressures of having to build a brand out of yourself to get jobs was playing havoc with me. I began losing sight of myself, getting lost in the blurred lines of work and life. 

It wasn’t until I had an accident that left me with whiplash and chronic pain for months that I was forced to put my life on pause. In that time I struggled not only physically, but mentally more so. I began to think deeply about my life choices and whether the lifestyle I had chosen was serving me. The hard truth was that it wasn’t. 

Where do you go from there, when you have to accept that the path you were on has come to an end? The only option was to start a new path. 

As simple as that sounds, when you’re at a point in life where you don’t even know what you like anymore, it is so terrifying taking any steps forward to make that happen. But my mental health was declining, and a big factor in that was that I wasn’t doing something that made me happy. I had no choice but to try and find it. 

I made the decision to go to CBT – Cognitive Behavioural Therapy – which can feel so daunting, but was one of the best decisions of my life. I would encourage anyone who has the means to try it. It creates a space and an opportunity for you to lay out all of your thoughts and fears, and build a strong foundation in yourself to deal with all of life’s experiences. It gave me a sense of support in taking the next steps forward, while acknowledging past experiences to guide and learn from. 

Once that big decision was made, it made me realise that with anything that feels too big to handle, you just need to start small. My form of starting small began with me deleting social media from my phone, to stop myself hopelessly scrolling for ‘inspiration’ or the content created recipe for the “perfect life”. 

I also had to let go of the platform I had created for myself on social media, which would fill the validation void, and further the false narrative that I was happy and had my shit together. 

Feeling free from the shackles of social media, I noticed myself gravitating towards nature. I would go for walks in the beautiful Wicklow hills, and find some comfort in being by myself amongst the trees or sitting with the silence of a still lake.

Not being used to spending time alone in nature though, I almost felt like I was on a timer; once an hour was up my instinct was to go home. Longing to feel more comfortable in myself, I felt a way into that might be by figuring out how to be more comfortable in nature. 

With that I borrowed my partner’s DSLR camera, and brought it with me on my daily nature walks. I didn’t have a clue how to use a camera, so for me it took my mind off of my negative thoughts and drew me into a state of mindfulness, where all I was thinking about was looking for interesting photos to take, and then trying to figure out how to take them. 

The feeling I got from this new sense of discovery and new experience was like falling in love for the first time. And it made me realise that I had never felt that feeling before with modelling or any other job or hobby I had. I had to do more of this and see where it took me. 

My long nature walks turned into even longer hikes, and the more I explored, the more nature presented me with the opportunity to feel both exhilarated and grounded, curious and self assured. I found like minded people along the way, who have encouraged me so much on this journey. I couldn’t have found Galz Gone Wild (@galzgonewild_), an all female hiking group whose goal is to build your confidence on the mountains and off, at a more perfect time. It’s not just a hiking group, it’s a community of like-minded women from all backgrounds and hiking levels, who simply want to spend time connecting to nature and each other. Through GGW I’ve gone on to complete my mountain skills training, and have had the honour and pleasure of leading hikes with GGW. 

The confidence that I’ve gained from pushing myself out of my comfort zone, trying to face the future with more curiosity than fear, and surrounding myself with people who only want me to succeed, has ultimately created a new path for me. 

A path where I can now say I work for myself as a professional photographer and hiker. Where my days are filled with things that set my soul on fire. I still check in with my cognitive behavioural therapist, to keep my mindful ship sailing smoothly. 

Tips for shooting nature photography

Slow down 

Most people walk through nature as opposed to being in nature. Find places to sit and simply observe your surroundings. 

Find the light

In photography you’re always looking for where the light is hitting your subject. Try taking photos at different times of the day to see how the light affects your photo.  And as they say in the photography world, ‘if the light is shite shoot black and white’.

Don’t forget to look up… and down. 

Nature has so much to offer and so much for you to discover. One of my fascinations in nature is finding mushrooms and photographing them. There are so many species to find and even though I’m not a mushroom expert I feel like I’ve found treasure when I spot them. 

Depth of Field

Play around with your aperture to give your images depth of field. A lower aperture gives your photos a dreamy look, where the background or foreground is blurry while your subject is in focus.

Give yourself a project

It can be anything from shooting sunrises/sunsets to photographing mushrooms. Having a project in mind gives you a sense of purpose that helps ensure you get out with your camera. It’s also a great way to see how your photography is improving as you go. 

I’m currently hosting photography walks in Wicklow, if you’d like to join me you can follow me on Instagram @madelinemulqueen & @madelinemulqueenphotography , and leave me a message