By the Sea
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,
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