Dorset magazine look at coastal photography with expert photographer Adam Burton
PUBLISHED: 12:51 25 September 2012 | UPDATED: 21:56 20 February 2013
Capturing the coast - from shooting cliff-top landscapes to lenses for overcast days, award-winning photographer Adam Burton gives his tips on capturing Dorset's spectacular coast
Capturing the Coast
From shooting cliff-top landscapes to lenses for overcast days, award-winning photographer Adam Burton gives his tips on capturing Dorsets spectacular coast
Visit at sunrise or sunset when the sky is painted with heavenly colours to increase your chances of capturing a special image. As a general rule of thumb, if you are on the east coast, visit at sunrise when the sun is rising over the sea, while in the west make a sunset trip. At these times of day, a retreating tide will leave a sandy beach wet and fantastically reflective. Likewise the stones of a shingle or pebble beach will glisten beneath the colourful sky.
There are many miles of open cliff-tops with plentiful access provided by the South West Coast Path, the UKs longest national trail with continuous access to the coast from Minehead to Poole. When shooting from cliff-top vantage points, carry both wide-angle and telephoto lenses. Wide-angle lenses are especially useful when you can position yourself above vertical drops, tilting the camera downwards to capture both the crashing waves on the rocks below and distant headlands disappearing off into the horizon. Alternatively by compressing perspective, telephotos can literally bring the far coastline into the frame. This allows you to shoot up the coast, capturing a rugged and dramatic series of cliffs almost stacked on top of one another.
On the Rocks
Rocky scenery can easily appear busy and cluttered without careful consideration of the composition. When shooting from rocky shores, choose mid to high tides. Low tide can reveal barnacle and seaweed covered rocks which provide unwelcome clutter. A higher tide covers much of the rocks, simplifying the busy landscape. To further simplify your composition, consider staying late into the evening and shooting a long exposure. An exposure of around a minute will turn a choppy sea into a ghostly mist. Any jagged rocks will protrude upwards like daggers through the water, their solid and glistening wet surfaces contrasting strongly against the soft misty veil. Moody weather compliments rugged coves very well, enabling you to capture dramatic photographs that appropriately convey the location.
Take the right gear
When shooting by the coast, the following equipment is recommended.Lenses: A wide-angle lens (16-35mm) is ideal for the majority of coastal landscape subjects. A telephoto (70-200mm) will allow you to make the most of cliff-top vantage points and detail shots.
A tripod is essential for long exposures, and beneficial for shooting images over water, thus leaving you with two hands to change filters etc without worrying about dropping anything!Filters: A set of neutral density graduated filters (ND Grads) is essential for capturing the full dynamic range from bright skies to dark foregrounds. One or more NDs will help to achieve long exposures. A polarising filter helps reduce reflections, boost saturation and can also be used as a ND filter.Spirit Level: A cheap but essential piece of kit, a hot shoe spirit level helps to achieve straight horizons, which are particularly evident when shooting over water.
Look for beaches of smooth circular pebbles and photograph them with a standard zoom at close range; dry pebbles can offer a subtle pastel coloured image while wet pebbles will glisten and gleam, their colours saturated and punchy. Layered strata in the cliffs can work well as part of an abstract composition. The cliffs along the South West Coast Path all boast rich colours with multiple layers, often contorted at impossible angles. Layered cliffs are surprisingly easy to photograph well, either photographed on their own or juxtaposed against a beach of circular pebbles. Dont limit yourself to close-up details. Using a short telephoto lens, isolate some rocks against a background of nothing but sea. By using an extreme ND filter to lengthen the exposure such that the sea turns to glass, you will create a minimalist image that will look good in any modern art gallery.
Know your location
Familiarise yourself with a location. Decide whether sunrise or sunset, high or low tide would work best. Consult the appropriate tide tables and determine the tide levels for your trip. Ensure you are familiar with the directions to your chosen cove or beach so that you reach the location at the optimum time. Look for locations which provide a safe passage away from the beach, even at high tide. Dont stray too close to the top of unstable cliff edges, and dont stand too near to the bottom.
Visit the location beforehand and keep a record of how long the journey takes to the car park, and then how long to walk to the beach. Internet or sat nav directions are no substitute for prior knowledge!
For the most accurate prediction, use at least two forecasts try metcheck.co.uk and bbc.co.uk. Dont be put off by overcast skies often these can offer the most ideal conditions for atmospheric seascapes, A partly cloudy sky is ideal. Record the sunrise and sunset times for your chosen area; use a sun compass to predict the direction of sunrise and sunset at your chosen location before going to photograph it.
Check the wind
If the wind direction is coming directly in off the sea, and the strength is 10mph plus, it is often difficult to avoid your camera gear becoming coated with sea-spray, and splashes from waves. Cleaning filters and lens glass is difficult at the coast, as salty spray smears. For this reason look for forecasts where the wind is coming from any other direction than directly in off the sea.
South West Coast Path Photographic Competition
If these tops tips have inspired you to walk the Coast Path with your camera, dont forget to enter your pictures into the annual South West Coast Path Photographic Competition. Each year theres an overall winners prize and 12 pictures selected for the South West Coast Path calendar. Adam will be one of the judges in this years competition. Full details about how to enter your images can be found at southwestcoastpath.com
Adam Burtons landscapes have appeared on over 200 magazine and book covers and Adams clients include National Geographic, the AA and the John Muir Trust.The South West Coast Path by Adam Burton is available from all good bookshops in the South West and via the South West Coast Path website priced 16.99. A proportion of the sale price is put towards Coast Path improvements and a further contribution made by Amazon if buyers are referred directly from the Coast Path website southwestcoastpath.comTo find out about Adams photography workshops visit adamburtonphotography.com