Twilight Cruise Leaves The Harbour at Whitby

Photographing Water in the Landscape – At The Coast

Water so often pays a vital part in my landscape photography, but there is always something special about photographing the sea. Maybe it’s just the bracing sea air, or perhaps the fact that I live in the middle of the country with the Yorkshire Dales on my doorstep, which is where I photograph most, so a trip to the seaside is always a treat. But I think it’s more than that; the sea itself can yield some stark yet striking images and most recently I’ve been trying to make some pure seascape photographs rather than just coastal landscapes. That’s not to say that dramatic coastal landscape should be overlooked – far from it! There is a wealth of beautiful coastline around Britain to entice the landscape photographer, and the summer months can be a good time to explore it, away from the rather drab summer greens of inland landscapes. Last summer I was returning from visiting friends in Suffolk, so took a detour to Hunstanton in Norfolk to have a look at the colourful cliffs which I had been meaning to do for some time. It was a lovely sunny summer afternoon when I arrived so I went straight to the beach. The cliffs looked glorious in the afternoon sunshine, but the light was still a little harsh, so I wandered back into the town to get something to eat. After my fish and chip supper, I returned to the beach to catch the setting sun on the cliffs. The colours in the layered rocks were wonderful, but the cliffs alone can be a bit linear as a subject, so I found it best to shoot vertically making use of glistening pools of water in the foreground, or simply the ripples left in the wet sand to add interest to my images, with the best light coming from the last rays well after 9pm. More recently, at Saltwick Bay on the Yorkshire Coast it was the fading twilight after the sun had set that produced the best results, with cool blue light on the water left by the receding tide and a slight tinge of pink in the sky – it just shows that it’s worth waiting around until after everyone else has gone home! Although sunrise and sunset may give the best light for the big vista images of rocky shorelines and cliffs, there are things that can be done during the day. In overcast light, or in the open shade at the top of a beach on a sunny day rock pools or simply wet rocks can provide great subjects for little detail images. It’s easy to get engrossed in these close-up shots and lose track of time, so I always take a local tide table or check the tide times online before I set off so I’m sure I won’t get cut off by the tide if I go wandering down the beach! Should you turn up during the day and at high tide then options for coastal photography may be a bit limited. It was on one such occasion at Ravenscar in Yorkshire that I opted to make some seascape images just looking out toward the horizon. It was a blustery day with interesting clouds and constantly changing light, so I made some very simple compositions just using sea, sky and clouds, and maybe the odd rock jutting out of the water. These worked out surprisingly well, and reminded me a little of contemporary seascape painting, where very simple images just made up of layers of blue are nonetheless very evocative of the sea. I wondered if I could do something similar photographically, so on my next trip to the coast at Whitby, having done enough of the traditional sunset shots from the West Pier, I experimented using my 5D handheld with a multi-second exposure, moving the camera gently from side to side along the horizon, combining the movement of the sea with the movement of the camera to produce an abstract effect. This technique is a bit hit and miss, but I managed to produce one or two images with the painterly quality that I was looking for.

Abstract Sunset at  Whitby

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