landscape photography

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 tidetimes.org.uk. 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!

Photography and mental health by Ian Clark

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

St Margaret's Bay near Dover. Growing up in Dover, the cliffs become an evocative reminder of home.

2018 has been a difficult year. Back in February, my mother passed away following years of decline. She was diagnosed with a rare condition known as Multiple System Atrophy (MSA). Once MSA sets in, the body rapidly declines. Within six years my mother went from relatively healthy to being unable to move virtually a single muscle in her body. She went from difficulties walking, to being incapable of getting out of bed unaided to being unable to feed herself to barely being able to speak. My sister and I saw her the weekend before she passed away and it was a very distressing sight. We knew that she didn't have long left.

Our mother passed on to both of us a love of photography. Both my sister and I have a long had an interest in it. I've had cameras for long as I can remember. Mainly point and click auto focus cameras, I have particular fond memories of an Olympus Mju II that I fell in love with many years ago. I was never a "serious" photographer, but I was always interested in experimenting with different composures, trying to get photos that are a little different than the usual. Eventually, after dipping my toes in the water with a couple of digital compact cameras (an Olympus digital followed by a Lumix with a Leica lens), I decided to get an entry level DSLR (which I still use now) - a Nikon D3200

It took me a little while to take full control, sticking rigidly to taking photos in automatic mode, always intending to learn, but never quite finding the time. Then, eventually, a free online course cropped up, a signed up and here I am, still learning, but also confidently taking images in full manual mode. I got there.

I used to play football on a regular basis until I was no longer able to due to change in jobs making it too difficult to get from work to home to football on a week night. Football was a great stress reliever for me. It helped to keep me balanced, to provide an outlet for my frustrations. Since putting the football shoes away, I've lacked that certain something. I threw myself into a lot of things, got involved in way too many things, and didn't have an outlet to release the building pressure. Photography has given me an excuse to go out and about, forcing me to put on a pair of shoes and go out into the countryside for some relaxation and quiet reflection. Never has this been more important than during the past seven months.

These last two weeks I've been signed off from work due to my mental health. And over those two weeks I honestly don't know what I would have done without my camera. There were days I stayed in bed all morning, unable to get up. But there were days where I resolved to get up earlier, go out and enjoy nature at sunrise. In a way the camera gave me the motivation to do something. To go out. To get fresh air. Even to talk to people. Funnily enough, as I was mulling over writing this post, I watched this video by Simon Baxter which really, for me, encapsulates the impact photography has on me (although I'm a long way off going professional - if that's ever even something I'd be interested in doing).

So yeah, photography has been a massive help in terms of my mental health. Regardless of the quality of the photos I take, I certainly feel that going out with my camera, getting out in nature and spending some time alone to reflect, has made a big difference in terms of my mental wellbeing. I just wish it hadn't taken me so long to realise how important that is.

 

A New Stuff Post by Ian Clark

I'm not habit of spending lots of money all the time on photography stuff (we have two children so disposable income is often nothing more than a pipe dream). But from time to time I manage to have a little splurge. This week was one of those (rare) weeks. And today was one of those even rarer days where two things arrive on the same day, one obviously photohgraphy related, one less so (yet something I've come to realise I really needed - you know, as much as you need 'stuff').

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Just before we went away to Spain (and I thought I'd blogged about this but it seems not!), I bought some Cokin gradual nd filters and a filter system. I had some money burning in my pocket from my birthday and, after chatting to the folks in my local camera shop, decided that that money was best invested in a filter system. Money burnt, I excitedly packed them for our trip to Spain, looking forward to trialling them out. One thing I recognised early on is that the packaging wasn't great for protecting the filters. Each filter was in a plastic sleeve, but the box it came in wasn't the most secure. So I decided to stump up for a proper carry case for them, which fortunately Cokin also make. At least now the filters should be kept in good shape and hopefully won't get damaged when out and about.

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The other thing I stumped up for was something I never thought I'd be getting with photography in mind: hiking boots. I've been spending most of my time concentrating on landscape photography this past year and it became clear last winter that I didn't really have the footwear for traipsing around the country in the snow and mud. So it seemed that, as summer makes its way out the door (can't believe I am writing that in August), it maybe might be a good idea to invest in some proper boots.

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I'm particularly pleased with the ones I got as they also seem to be perfect for the snow. Although down in the south east we don't tend to get too much snow, my little corner is pretty high up and can get hit fairly bad when the snow does hit (we've had several occasions where driving was out of the question). So these boots should be perfect. And better than trying to stomp through the snow with a trainers on.

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That's probably my lot for a while (although I have my eye on a big stopper for my Cokin system), right now I'm mainly looking forward to autumn colours and great sunsets. Not long to go now... (must stop wishing the summer away!)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.