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”.

How do I decide where to go? by Ian Clark

Now there’s a big philosophical question to headline a blog. Tempting though it is to launch into a bout of critical self-reflection about my life choices, this is less about the paths I have taken in life and much more about how I make decisions about what location I am going to on any given day. How do I organise the locations I go to? What things do I consider before deciding where to head? How do I organise all the information to help me make those decisions? Well, that’s what this post is about. So, not quite mid-life crisis levels yet…

I haven’t got a huge selection of locations that I regularly visit, but there are a few recurring places that I head to that I am slowly getting to know. Each time I head to one of these locations I notice something new. Whether it’s the positioning of the sun, the different opportunities the tide brings or individual trees in woodland, there is always something different to remember for future trips. There are two main methods for recording these details, one a bit old school and one a bit more…21st century.

Something I have found incredibly useful is a Google Map i’ve put together highlighting some key scenes around Kent where i have found good compositions. The map features good sunrise and sunset locations, particularly good views and good spots for trees and woodland photography and also indicates the options for high and low tides. I find this really useful as at a glance it can really help me choose where to go on any given day (particularly if I can’t be bothered to explore new locations). This helps to make going out with the camera as painless as possible as I don’t have to waste huge time and energy trying to think of places to go to.

Photo location Google Map

Photo location Google Map

The old school method is a notebook that I have scrawled similar details into. The notebook itself is divided up into a number of sections: seasons, sunrise, sunset and locations. Within each section there are several blank pages of spaces to enable me to note down good locations for each of the seasons, good sunrise/sunset spots and good locations in general. For each I note a load of details (again, compositions with tides, specific elements) so that it makes it quick and easy for me to find locations and I identify potential compositions quickly and easily.

My notebook with handy tabs!

My notebook with handy tabs!

Of course, the problem with these things is actually updating them (full disclosure: I soon realised upon writing this post that I hadn’t updated either in a while…d’oh). But when up-to-date, they provide a valuable resources that saves me time and frustration.

There are a number of other things I use as well to help me make decisions as to where I should go:

  • BBC Weather app - for the obvious information on the…er…weather, as well as sunrise/sunset times.

  • Photopills - a great app for sunrise and sunset, could not do without this app, it’s invaluable in plotting compositions.

  • MeteoEarth - this one is great for cloud cover (it also has a website as well as an app). It gives me a good indication as to what the cloud wil be like in any given location (if it indicates heavy low cloud, then I know sunrise/sunset shots are probably a write-off).

I suppose I could split these things into two groups: the recorded information to choose locations I know about, the apps etc help with new locations (as well as the familiar ones).

What about you? How do you decide where you are going to go? Do you keep notes on locations? Share your tips below!