I recently upgraded my wide-angle lens and started building up a new filter system. So when a promising sunrise forecast came up just before Christmas, I knew I had to get out for it. And after a bit of research I remembered just the place.
I had originally thought about visiting Roker Pier, but as I hadn’t been there before I wasn’t sure if I’d get what I was after. So I looked further up the coast on the map and spotted The Wherry, a cove between Whitburn and Souter Lighthouse. I’ve shot at The Wherry before many years ago but my kit and, more importantly, my technique are much better now. Besides which, the conditions and light are never the same twice and I find I notice different things in the same locations on repeat visits.
I checked the tide times the night before and in knew the tide would be low but coming in. Ideally I would catch it on the way out – simply because it’s safer – but I wasn’t about to pass up a decent sunrise. I arrived an hour before dawn, parked at the side of the main road and headed down to the cove.
I kept the whole shoot straightforward by limiting myself to a single lens, the Canon 17-40mm f4L, on my 5D mark II, Manfroto tripod, remote release and Lee ND graduate filters.
There are warnings at the top of the cliff about the risk of being cut off by the incoming tide, so I made sure I was keeping close watch on its progress. I scouted around the rocks towards the edge of the incoming waves, and found some interesting formations that I chose for a strong foreground. I started with a 2 stop soft graduate filter coming down over the sky and blending over the sea. A 2 stop hard graduate brought the sky back in balance with the foreground. An aperture of f11 gave me good lens sharpness with a large depth of field at 17mm.
With the low pre-dawn light levels, the exposure was 3.2s so with a suitably timed wave the rest of the rocks disappeared underneath the mist of the waves. I could have extended the exposure by either decreasing the aperture at the cost of a little sharpness, or adding a neutral density filter (except I don’t currently have one for my new system). As it was, I was very happy with the exposure time. I love the way the blurred waves isolate the two foreground rocks, while retaining some texture and reflecting the light and colour from the sky.
The shot above was actually the last shot I took in this first location; the incoming wave lapped up the legs of my tripod and I was starting to get spray on my filter. After a quick relocation up the beach and a careful removal of the spray droplets I looked for some different foregrounds. Each time my position came under threat from the tide I relocated to a safe distance and started again.
I experimented with different timings. With some, I released the shutter as the wave was coming in, so as to cover as much of the mid-ground with water. With others, I captured the wave receding or fully out to expose different textures and shapes. In the shot above, the strong foreground shapes lead the eye into the curve of the shingle before coming to rest at the solid mass that is the cliff. The movement is enhanced by the portrait format.
As I went along and the sky brightened, revealing a little more colour at the horizon. I stepped up the hard grad filter to 3 stops to retain the colour and detail.
For my last position, I retreated to the safety of a higher rock shelf and chose to move to a landscape format. I timed my shot to catch one of the larger waves crashing up the rocks in the midground.
By the time I took my last frame, the sun was up over the headland and my time was up. On the way back, I called in at Roker to have a look at the area. The gates on the north pier were closed so I couldn’t have got along towards the lighthouse where I had hoped to get to, so it looked like I made the right call by switching venue.
I came away with some great images from this shoot and I’ve added my favourites to the galleries. The lens and filters are well and truly christened (almost literally) and they’ll be a permanent fixture in my landscape kit.