Never before have I witnessed such a dramatic scene – fortunately I was in the right place at the right time.
At the end of last month I visited East Head at West Wittering, a place I have photographed and written about many times before on this site. But this time the conditions were very different and they couldn’t have been more atmospheric, moody or in one word spectacular. It was early evening as the drama unfolded before my eyes.
As I walked on the sand I noticed a line of fence posts which roped off a section of the dunes. After all East Head is owned by the National Trust and they are keen to protect this important habitat for wildlife and in particular nesting birds. This was a minimalist image (above) but as I turned round to look in the opposite direction I saw dark clouds gathering fast.
Much has been written in recent times about how the combination of photography and mindfulness can be beneficial to your mental wellbeing. Simply being out in the open, experiencing nature and witnessing the marvel of the created world has to be good for the soul. Most people worry and are anxious from time to time without actually suffering from a mental illness, myself included.
As well as taking regular exercise for your physical fitness, I recognise that doing things which specifically help your mental wellbeing are just as important, perhaps even more so given the world in which we live right now. So whilst stress and anxiety are not really a big issue for me, we can all benefit from being creative in a beautiful location and in so doing capturing a few special moments with a camera.
A few weeks ago I returned to one of my favourite places. East Head at West Wittering on the West Sussex coast. Probably one of the finest stretches of sand along the south coast and often listed in ‘Britain’s Best Beaches’. More often than not I am there with my wife and our dog early in the morning. On this occasion I went there on my own for a couple of hours not to walk but to photograph. I chose one particular spot, and then observed the tide receding and captured the setting sun. Because of the fading light and a desire to smooth the water all of the images you see here were long exposures which of course required the use of a tripod. This in itself forced me to slow down.
With no pressure on my time I could relax and concentrate on what I was doing. Whilst waiting for the light to change I simply stopped and watched the sun work its magic in the sky. Any worrying thoughts I had were lifted; as there was no space in my mind for anything other than photography and the scenery around me. Just ‘being in the moment’ to coin a phrase. Photographing sunsets is something of a cliche, but does that matter? Not in my opinion when the benefits are so tangible.
It has been a while since I last updated this blog and I am pleased to have another three or four entries to compose and publish soon. All of which will feature colour photographs as this seems to be the path I am following for now. I am also aware that I need to spend some time updating this website generally to reflect this change of direction. There are also a number of camera and processing techniques which I have yet to try – for example, focus stacking and exposure blending. Nothing new or original, just something I have never done before, so when I do I will endeavour to write about my experiences and share some images.
For now though I will simply leave you with this summary. If you are a creative (it doesn’t have to be photography), then put aside some time in your diary, head out to a favourite location and turn off your phone. Try and relax and take a few deep breaths, whilst you experience and appreciate the beauty that surrounds you, And perhaps for the time you are there some of your worries will ease, as a feeling of calm and stillness prevails.
In this day and age when instant gratification is the order of the day there is a tendency to share our images on social media without a moments hesitation, particularly if you think you have a ‘keeper’ on the memory card. I can be as guilty of this trait as anyone but I am trying to be more patient before uploading to Instagram or indeed this blog.
I have a quiet admiration of photographers who return from a shoot, download their images but then wait several weeks or even months before processing the files. Their reasoning is that as each day passes they become more detached from the actual event of taking the photograph and their memory of what they saw changes with the passage of time. As a consequence when the moment comes to process the images their approach is different to how it might have been if they had processed the photograph almost immediately after the picture had been captured. The final result can be an image which is more likely to reflect what they think they saw and how they feel, not what they actually saw. This is an important difference in the art of picture making.
I believe there are benefits to be had by proceeding more slowly even if waiting weeks or months is outside the realms of possibility for me at the moment. I don’t possess that degree of will power.
Take the image which accompanies this post. A dramatic depiction of Racton Tower, a subject which I have photographed on previous occasions. As I start down this road of making colour images I am already becoming increasingly aware of how subtle and not so subtle changes in colour can influence the look and feel of an image, not to forget of course all the other tools we have at our disposal.
I therefore decided to spend more time than usual on this image. I processed a number of different versions over several days followed by a review a day or two later, I compared one with another believing I would benefit from this approach. What did I like and what did I think worth changing to improve the picture. It hasn’t take weeks but it has been a much slower and more considered process.
I am pleased with the final result. As it happens it’s not so very different to the first version I made but it does include some enhancements which only became evident by giving myself the time to stand back, observe and be more critical. I like to think my patience has been rewarded and not just because I have made an image which pleases me, but because the process itself has been a more enjoyable and enhanced learning experience.
At the end of July I posted ‘Winter is coming’, and here we are now at the end of August. Whilst it’s definitely not winter it is certainly feeling distinctly more autumnal. Everything in nature seems so much earlier this year. Some trees are beginning to turn colour, the wheat and barley have been harvested, blackberries are ready to be picked and this weekend the weather forecasters are predicting a chill in the wind as it turns round to the north.
After a long dry summer rain clouds and heavy showers have returned and these conditions for photography are right up my street. I am inspired to reach for the camera bag and head out. I did just that yesterday and my efforts were rewarded with the above picture.
Long walks weighed down with gear is not my idea of fun. But if I have spotted a location I like to return, park up nearby and wait for the light and a composition to come together. It can of course mean staring at rain drops on the windscreen until conditions improve!
This particular spot is a favourite of mine. Near the village of West Marden in the South Downs National Park. I first came across it back in February when I made this image. The same tree but taken from another position and of course in very different light.
I shall doubtless return when the weather looks promising. I can already picture the scene in a harsh frost or when fresh snow is lying on the ground. We see less and less snow in the south of England but I shall keep my fingers crossed.
As I have already said ‘winter is coming’ and photographically speaking I can’t wait.
For sometime now I have wanted to indulge my creative curiosity in the world of pinhole photography. I like the impressionistic, ethereal appearance which is often enhanced by the long exposure times necessary. Photography without a lens; just the smallest of apertures in front of a film or digital sensor in a light sealed box.