Earlier this autumn I made my first visit to East Anglia, a fascinating area on the east coast of England. My first days were spent in North Norfolk where I had a very enjoyable time photographing the beautiful coastline and rural scenery.
My base for these first days was The Maltings Hotel in the village of Weybourne, a location which turned out to give me good access to many of the places I was interested in. When visiting a totally unfamiliar area the selection a perfect place to stay requires at least a small degree of luck.
I arrived in the late afternoon and decided to head down the coast to nearby Sheringham to watch the sun go down.
After a good night's sleep I headed towards the town of Cromer, hoping for some kind of sunrise. The weather however had different ideas. Overall on this trip I had much kinder treatment from the weather gods but this morning was quite dreary.
The impressive pier at Cromer is 140m long and was opened to the public perhaps in either 1901 or 1902 (depending on whether one of the conflicting references in wikipedia is correct). A pier is always a promising subject for a photograph, the long straight design of most piers provides strong leading lines if you wish to make sue of them. At Cromer there was too much clutter and too much construction ongoing, slightly detracting from the possibilities for a good shot.
Along the coast from Cromer you can find the small village of Overstrand where a steep paved path leads you down to the sea front and a series of erosion defences. I have spent quite a lot of time on the coast in my 2019 trips and I have started to get a better feeling for how I like to capture different scenes. The whole east coast of the UK is affected by strong tides and in many places coastal erosion is a concern. The daily comings and goings of the tide create an ever-changing landscape, sometimes peaceful, sometimes violent, almost always interesting in one way or another.
On this occasion, in beautiful soft evening light, I decided that a dreamy looking long exposure would be the best approach to the scene, complementing the soft colours of the scene. This 404 second exposure would be one favourite from the trip.
To the north of East Anglia, and to the south of Lincolnshire, you can find The Wash - a huge, shallow, square-ish estuary which covers an area of about 620 square kilometres. The four corners of the square are roughly defined by the towns of Hunstanton and Kings Lynn (on the south side in East Anglia), Boston and Skegness (on the north side in Lincolnshire.
On a blustery, bright (and slightly wild) day I headed for the nature reserve at Snettisham where I planned to see what kind of birds I might be able to find resting in the huge tidal expanse of The Wash. with some luck I was able to find three species that I had not previously seen, taking my total number of photographed species to 208.
The extent of the change from low tide to high tide in The Wash was remarkable. I could see (from the wet mud, jetties and boats resting on the ground) that I was next to the shore, but the shallow mud flats extended beyond the horizon. The water would return in a few hours, but for the moment it was completely out of sight. A number of Little Egrets patrolled the muddy expanse, searching for delicious(?) morsels.
Perhaps the biggest prize of the day was the chance to see some Eurasian Spoonbills flying overhead - huge and impressive with their unusually shaped bills. It would have been nice to have had a long telephoto lens with me to try and get a better picture of these amazing birds but I did the best I could with the 100-400mm zoom.
I walked a considerable distance on this day, in high winds, ending up with a feeling like I had been in a bit of a battle, somewhat tired but in a good way. One of the best things about landscape or nature photography is the excuse it gives to spend extended periods wondering around in the outdoors.
After my enjoyable day in Snettisham I made for the seaside town of Hunstanton where I hoped to find some good compositions for the sunset session. At the north of the town you can find Old Hunstanton beach, a more natural and wild area with beautiful dunes and geologically interesting cliffs. On this day the wind was being put to good use for leisure activities.
The tide was rising at this point and the water prevented access to the foot of the cliffs, so I headed instead for the sea front promenade in the town and looked for a way to photograph the sea defences as the sun started to set. Having got myself into position I had some time to kill before the best light so I bravely decided to take my 2019 selfie to pass the time (I really don't like to have people in my pictures, least of all myself).
The coastal defences along the sea-front have an interesting zig-zag configuration and I thought that this made for a compelling subject. I do not normally want to have the sun in the frame when making landscape photographs but once in a while i think it is healthy to consider doing something a little differently.
I stayed in position and watched as the light gradually changed, shooting a series of very long exposures (5-10 minutes). I like the calming effect that this produces in the resulting images and there is something satisfying about the picture being created over an extended period of time instead of being all done in a fraction of a second.
As the gloom descended I decided to make my way back to the Old Hunstanton cliffs and see if I could manage to navigate my way along the beach in the dark in order to get a shot of the cliffs.
In such situations I have found it better to allow my eyes to get used to the darkness (instead of using a torch) and due to my sensible (cowardly) nature I don't proceed if I feel that anything is risky.
On this occasion I was able to make my way along the beach easily enough and was confident that it would be safe to make my way back when it was even darker, the route was mostly sand or pebbles and the rocky areas were not slippery. Importantly the tide was on it's way out (and would not be back until morning) so there was no possibility of being surprised by an incoming tide.
The unusual red stripe on the cliffs is caused by iron deposits staining the limestone, this rock was formed in layers of sediment over a prolonged period, on top of a layer of Carrstone (sandstone bound together by iron oxide). The end result is quite striking.
My pictures and thoughts from East Anglia will continue next week. Thanks for reading!
As this year has progressed I started to get the urge to spend more time by the sea with my camera. My happy childhood days were spent almost exclusively on seaside golf courses so maybe that partly explains why I often feel magnetically drawn back to coastal areas, I also find the seaside to be a most interesting environment for photography.
In order to scratch this growing itch I headed for the Northumberland coast in the north-east of England which has beautiful and varied beaches and various other points of interest.
When photographing scenes containing motion I think that the choice of shutter speed is the most important creative decision when it comes to selecting your camera settings for the shot. With a very short exposure you can freeze things in place, with an intermediate exposure you can blur the motion while retaining some detail of the path which things have followed through the frame, while with a very long exposure such as the picture above you can give a very soft and relaxing feeling to the whole image.
The area of Northumberland is full of historical interest, many castles and grand houses decorate the countryside - visual reminders of some very different times. Many of these fortifications are coastal and can be used as background interest in photographs on the nearby beaches.
While impressive structures can be of great interest, there is also a fascinating world in miniature on many of these beaches. Ancient geology, shaped by countless millions of tidal cycles, provides an infinite variety of shapes, textures and colours for the small scenes that play out at your feet..
At the start of the 1940's, as Britain stood alone (western europe being under the under control of the nazis) preparations were made on beaches and landing grounds along the whole of the eastern coast in case it was necessary to repel an invasion. In many places some remnant of these defences can still be seen today.
Compared to some of Northumberland's attractions, even the oldest castle seems like a newfangled creation. A drive to the middle of nowhere followed by a walk through the fields brought me to an ancient stone circle dating from the early bronze age some 4000 years ago.
The monuments we erect have certainly evolved over the last four millenia. Sean Henry's bronze sculture "the couple" at Newbiggin-by-the-sea features a pair of 5 metre tall figures staring somewhat impassively out to sea from their perch on top of a breakwater about 100 metres offshore.
The coast is an ever changing environment, often the day to day differences are imperceptable but as time marches on the cumulative change can be remarkable. In the town of Seaton Sluice there is a small sea stack, about 50m away from the beach, which is called Charlie's Garden. It is so named for the simple reason that it used to be a part of the mainland and at that time the plants on this piece of land were maintained by a chap called Charlie. If Charlie were around today he would find that the logistics of tending his plot had become somewhat more complicated.
The tides on the Northumberland coast are pronounced with a difference of over 4 metres between low tide and high tide. This makes a remarkable difference to many locations, especially where the sea is shallow close to the coast. St. Mary's Island, near to Whitley Bay, demonstrates this phenomenon quite clearly - at low tide you can walk along a narrow road to the island and it's lighthouse while at high tide it is a true island, about 100 metres offshore.
The remains of an old jetty can be seen near to the road which leads to St. Mary's Island, they seemed to make a perfect subject for a very long exposure (6 minutes in this case) image as the sun rose above the horizon, leading to a very minimalist composition. I have started to do an increasing number of very long exposures during this year, they require some small calculations as the camera does not take care of the settings automatically for exposures over 30 seconds, but when you want to get truly smooth seas then 30 seconds often isn't long enough. There is no other way to get this effect in camera, although it can be done absolutely convincingly in the computer by someone who knows what they are doing (and quite horribly by someone who doesn't).
Along the coast, near to Howick, it is possible to find another peice of history. In the 19th century Earl Grey (yes, that Earl Grey), who was the prime minister in the 1830's, built a bathing house on the rocks where he might spend time with his sixteen children. Earl Grey's bathing house still stands to this day and can even be rented as a holiday home.
There are many attractive little towns along this coast, but Alnmouth (at the mouth of the river Aln) was the highlight for me. I watched an unusually nice sunset from a vantage point on the other side of the River Aln, with a number of boats resting on the surface of the estuary waiting for the incoming tide to lift them up once again.
This was my first visit to Northumberland but I hope it will not be my last.
Until next time,
Enter your email address to receive notifications of new blog posts