When things don't go according to plan... by Ian Clark

Another Time…something I wish I’d said to myself when I had the idea to head to Margate that morning.

Another Time…something I wish I’d said to myself when I had the idea to head to Margate that morning.

Ever have one of those mornings where you look around you and think “why didn’t I stay in bed rather than come out in these conditions and try to take photos”? Well, I certainly had one of those occasions walking past the Turner Contemporary in Margate last weekend. Not that I really looked around much. I was too busy trying to walk into the blustery winds to get back to the car. But, you know, the thought crossed my mind.

Like pretty much all other amateur photographers (I’m sure there are exceptions), the weekends are my one opportunity to get out with the camera and shoot some scenes. Normally this means spending all week checking the weather apps, hoping that there is an opportunity at some point. Maybe more than one. Let’s not get carried away though…

Sometimes this means buckling down and just going out no matter what to no matter where. It just so happens that last weekend that no matter where was Margate. Car packed, layers on, off I went on a 45 minute drive to the North Kent coast hoping that there might be a decent sunrise. Hmm…yes.

Margate is another one of those East Kent towns with a strong-ish connection to my past. Back in the day I worked in Cliftonville, just outside the town. There are a lot of things I could say about Cliftonville back then. Deprived and forgotten about would be two such things. I have a weird mixture of feelings when I go to Margate now. Great it’s been redeveloped, sad that (as per usual with such redevelopments) the locals find themselves priced out of the town as the middle class move in, buying up their second homes and turning the town into a “creative hub”, or whatever. But anyway, there is no denying that Margate has some amazing skylines. As I recall, some painter dude was quite keen on it too.

Sadly there was no glorious sunrise. There was cloud. There was wind. There was sleet. There was ice cold air. This is not what I came to Margate for. So I wandered around. Headed back to the car. Moved to another car park and waited. Then the rain stopped. Sort of. I mean, it was less of a sting on the face than it had been about 45mins earlier. Seemed like that meant it was a sign that maybe I should leave the increasingly misted up car, and head back to the coastline.

It was still cold and still windy, but I perservered. I also nearly lost my tripod and camera on two occasions as the wind lashed across the beach. So that was fun. Needless to say, I also fancied my chances of getting some nice long exposure shots with my 10 stop. Spoiler alert: 30 second exposures in strong winds are not wholly successful. That’s definitely being written in all caps in my photo notebook…

I snapped a few shots, none of which I was particularly happy about. I found I struggled for inspiration, as I often seem to do in Margate. I find the obvious shots, the obvious scenes, but I always feel I am missing something a bit special. Perhaps I need to spend more time there on a day where I don’t feel like I’ve been thrown into a washing maching on a real cold wash. I mean, that can’t hurt, right?

And lo…some two hours after sunrise, the sun…appeared. Too late for some good low light fun, but at least there was some interest in the sky. You cling to what you can get.

I’ve not quite figured out Margate, despite those connections. I guess I’ll get there in time. Definitely when it’s not as cold and miserable.

And so, with feelings of disappointment, I headed back home. Mind filled with what might have been had the conditions been right. Well, that and the dude who walked up next to me on Fulsom Rock wearing jeans and a hoodie, gave me a cheery “morning”!, produced their smartphone, took a snap and walked off. I looked at my tripod, my multiple layers and thought… ”yeah, I should have stayed in bed”.

St Margaret's Bay by Ian Clark

Winter sunrise down in the Bay

Winter sunrise down in the Bay

Last weekend I took a trip down to St Margaret’s Bay, just outside Dover. It’s a place that I’ve long had some sort of connection with. Of course it’s nextdoor to the town I grew up in, but I also have happy memories of spending time there in my twenties (ok, more in the way of hazy pub memories than scenics, but still…). It’s a place I keep finding myself going back to, taking in the views and enjoying the sea air.

There’s only a short promenade running along the Bay with either side cut off at high tide (checking tide times is essential if you are planning a visit). But it doesn’t really matter. With views of the White Cliffs either side of the Bay and the vast expanse of the Channel in front of you, the scenary is pretty spectacular. And when the light is right, it really is on another level altogether.

At this time of year, the sunrises are stunning when the clouds allow it (and fortunately, the car park behind the Bay is free in the winter!). The photo at the top of this post was taken just after sunrise on a cold January morning. The conditions were spot on. The tide was coming in, there was interest in the sky, and the light on the cliffs themselves was perfect and ever-changing - from pink to yellow to white.

With the waves crashing down ever nearer, and growing louder with each crash onto the shore, I set up my tripod and went for a long exposure shot with my 10 step ND filter (a Christmas gift). I was pretty pleased with the results. Needless to say, with the busiest shipping lane in the world in the scene, it was difficult to avoid getting blurry shapes on the horizon as the various ferries and cargo ships slid from left to right, or from right to left. But the timing was just right and I managed to get a good clean shot. Even looking at it now, I can feel the cold wind brushing my face and the sound of the waves getting more frantic, more aggressive.

A few more shots later, and I packed my things, munched on a flapjack and made my way back up the narrow, windy road away from the Bay and back into the village, through the streets that I hazily recall stumbling through in my youth, before heading back up the A2 to Canterbury. My trips to St Margaret’s may not be as frequent as I would like, but unlike the hazy memories of my youth, they are certainly memorable.

How I take seascape photos by Ian Clark

Sunny Sands in Folkestone, Kent.

Sunny Sands in Folkestone, Kent.

One of the benefits living in my part of the country (and god knows there are a lot of negatives…) is that I have got easy access to the coast. From my house it’s relatively easy to head to coastland to the north, the east and the south, giving me plenty of options for some seascape photography. Given we are not blessed with many spectacular land features, the coast provides a wealth of options for interesting photography. Given the coastline is ever changing, subject to the flows of nature, it also has the benefit of never being dull. No matter how many times you go to the same location, the seasons and the currents always seem to offer up something new.

Having spent this morning on the east Kent coast (in Folkestone), I thought maybe the first blog as part of my renewed commitment to blogging, should be something on how I do seascape photos. What follows shouldn’t be considered the advice of an expert, just a rundown of the things I do. If you have any tips, please chuck them in the comments at the end! Right, let’s go…

Tide Times - This is crucial. Checking tides is fundamental to your safety and cannot be underestimated. As I can’t swim, this is doubly important for me. I don’t want to find myself stranded due to the tides. When planning a trip to the coast I always ensure I do a quick check on It’s a pretty basic website, but at a glance you can see the tides for up to seven days, which is all I need really.

Scouting The Scene - By and large it takes me several trips to get shots I am happy with. On my initial trip I like to get an idea of what the scene would look like at high and low tides. I then plan future trips according to what I think will work. Sometimes a low tide will give me the best composition, sometimes a high tide. Scouting the area is crucial to determining what will work.

Items Of Interest - I always try to look for foreground and background interest in a seascape to try to ensure the image holds the viewer’s gaze. It could be a pier or some distance building for the background, ideally finding some curve in the coastline to lead the eye. For the foreground it could be rocks or sea defences. I think seascapes work well if there are a couple of items of interest in the image leading the eye around the scene.

Sunsets And Sunrises - I use PhotoPills to check sunsets and sunrises and see how they will suit the compositions I’ve identified. In Kent, some locations are great at sunrise (Dover, Folkestone for example) and some are great for both (Herne Bay, Reculver and Whitstable spring to mind). Given the geography of Kent, I’m not sure there is somewhere great for sunsets only in the county and not sunrises, but I may be missing something. Also, I try to match the tides with the sunrise/sunset. For example, sometimes a low-tide at sunrise can help with a composition to the east with an item of interest on the horizon (see the photo of Reculver below for example).

Sunrise in Reculver at low tide. Only at low tide is it possible to get a clear shot of the towers looking east.

Sunrise in Reculver at low tide. Only at low tide is it possible to get a clear shot of the towers looking east.

Going Long But Not Too Long - Long exposures are always an obvious thing to go for when water comes into the composition, but I find it works best not to go too long. The photo at the top of this post, for example, was shot at 0.6 or 1/6. For me this seems to work best in capturing the sea without smoothing it out too much that it loses that sense of motion and interaction between land and sea.

Timing The Shot - I really like to capture the moment when the wave loses momentum and starts to retreat back out to sea. That movement really captures the shape of items on the beach and, for me, makes an image really work (especially with an interesting foreground subject). I tend to fire the shutter at this precise moment and I find the lines of the water as it recedes really helps add interest to the image.

Tripod Maintenance - Ok, not really related to composition etc, but I always make sure I clean my tripod after a trip to the beach. What with the salt water and sand, there’s a lot of damage that can be done. So I always make sure I wash my tripod down afterwards to get rid of any unwanted stuff doing damage to it.

What about you? Do you take seascapes? What are your top tips? I’d love to hear them in the comments!

Dungeness and Rye by Ian Clark

A couple of weeks back I took myself off to Dungeness and Rye with my camera gear for a birthday meander around the “only desert in the UK” (spoiler: this is disputed!) and then onto one of my favourite summer destinations. Well, the family were working or at school/nursery so I figured a little jaunt with my camera gear was in order.

I’ve been to Dungeness a couple of times over the years. The first time as part of a small trip that myself and a couple of friends had to organise for ourselves as part of our BTEC course (a fun trip that involved riding on the back of a stranger’s pickup truck on the way to Dungeness power station…). The second time was more recently, following a trip to the local nature reserve with the family. On the second occasion, I had packed my camera gear and intended to take a few shots of the scenery on the beach. I managed to fire a few off, but I was conscious my wife and kids were in the car patiently waiting for me to finish so we could head home. As a result, I wasn’t overly happy with the results so resolved to head back at some point and do a “proper photography trip”.

I’m sure by now you’ve heard or read many stories about Dungeness being a weird place with a strange and unique feel. It’s become almost a cliché about the landscape. However, no matter how cynical you are (trust me, I am very cynical), this sense of strangeness really does ring true when you visit. There is no denying it has a weird feel about it. Perhaps this was helped by my visit being during school term so I was virtually the only person on the beach. The lack of people and the eerie apocalyptic landscape came together to form a strange, other-worldly feel to the place. Well, it was either that or the nuclear power station…

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

A familiar sight at Dungeness...

I’d packed a few lenses with me, but mainly resolved to mainly rely on my recently purchased Sigma 10-20mm ultra wide angle lens. I’ve been quite happy with the results of this lens over the past few months, although I have found the auto-focus a little bit iffy at times – to the extent that I have almost permanently switched to manual focus. With Dungeness’ wide-open expanse filled with interesting objects, wide-angle seemed to be the best option to capture that sense of space punctured by decay and abandonment.

dungeness boat.jpg

I think many of the photos I took on the trip are pretty standard Dungeness scenes. There weren’t any new or alternative takes on the landscape, however my main aim on this occasion was simply to compose some good shots and capture the scene as it is. Yes, this has been done many times before by many enthusiastic photographers across Kent, but I was really unhappy with the shots from my last trip so I wanted to “do it properly” this time around.

dungeness boat 2.jpg

I was fortunate in that, as I mentioned above, there were few people around and I managed to get some shots of scenery without people in shot so it really helped to emphasise that apocalyptic landscape. I was also lucky in that although it was a hot and sunny day, the sky was broken up with cloud which really helped add texture and interest to the images. Clear blue skies, or flat grey skies really wouldn’t have helped. The sky needed some drama too to help with the composition.

Dungeness boat 3.jpg

I did have one minor annoyance on the trip to Dungeness. Whilst wandering around between scenes, I heard some movement in the shingle off in the distance. I looked, and a ridiculously large hare suddenly appeared and sat up, surveying the landscape. I had my wide-angle lens attached so reached to get the zoom lens from my bag. No sooner had I put my hands on it, than the hare decided it was time to explore. The moment had passed. I can see now why people take a “spare” camera (although I don’t see any sign of me adding a second camera any time soon).

After a couple of hours in Dungeness, I made my way to picturesque Rye. I’ve been going to Rye for some time now for short day trips. I’m not a collector of antiques (or tat to be honest) but Rye has so many little shops selling all kinds of interesting items, you easily get sucked into checking your wallet and seeing if you could maybe buy that weird item sitting on the glass cabinet. Then there are the cobbled streets lined with Tudor-framed buildings, Rye is the very definition of a charming little town.

rye castle.jpg

And so off I pottered, wandering the streets, taking a few shots. Typically, as it’s Rye, there were plenty of people meandering around the little art and craft shops around the main centre. Unfortunately, one of the main streets of interest (Mermaid Street) was also spoilt by scaffolding around one of the beautiful old buildings that line the street. It’s hard to be too grumpy, the buildings aren’t merely there to look nice in photos after all, but it was a little bit disappointing that I wasn’t quite able to get the shots I wanted. Nonetheless, I got a few shots I was quite happy with before pottering off home.

Rye town gate.jpg

I really enjoyed and valued the time alone to wander around with my camera and think a bit more about the shots I was taking. I still feel like I crammed in a bit too much (Dungeness alone would have been fine), but I felt that the time alone was valuable in terms of thinking about composition a bit more. One thing I am increasingly conscious of is that now I have a wide-angle lens, there is a tendency to shoot all landscapes using it to capture the full scene. What I need to think more about is capturing specific parts of the scenery to make for more unique takes on the landscape. After all, anyone can capture a whole scene, picking particular elements of interest is far more subjective and, potentially, far more unique.