seascape

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 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!