Bristol Channel Shipping

Over a number of recent visits to the coast I have become increasingly interested in shipping movements. Vessels on the sea add tremendous interest to the scenes I have shot. I have had ships appear at fortuitous moments in my image making in the past, but had never planned to make specific photos of ships.

Black Nore Point, Portishead, at high tide with the old lighthouse in the background. (Doug King)
While shooting the images for this large stitched panorama, a vessel steamed into the perfect position on the horizon. I was so busy aligning the shots that I didn’t even notice at the time

Recently, through various internet searches I have found a source of real time shipping movements in the Bristol Channel and have started to incorporate these into my shoot planning. Getting out and watching the shipping in the Channel and River Severn has given me a real appreciation for the skills of the Masters and Pilots that manoeuvre these vessels through one of the most challenging waterways in the world.

 (Doug King)
Saga Welco receiving assistance from tugs on the approach to Avonmouth
The cement freighter Arklow Raider arrives on a dawn high tide at Sharpness Docks on the River Severn (Doug King)
Arklow Raider manoeuvring to enter Sharpness Docks

I have always been interested in photographing the man-made structures of our coastline. Now being able to include shipping makes much more sense of their purpose. The combination of weather, water and now shipping will, I hope, make for even more dynamic and unrepeatable images.

Sharpness Dawn

I know that I have not been getting out enough when I arrive at a location more than an hour earlier than I planned for my shot. This morning I decided to watch a ship arriving at Sharpness Docks on the River Severn. I hoped that its navigation plan would have it arrive at high tide, which was at 8:05, coinciding with sunrise. To give myself a little leeway, not knowing much about shipping, I planned to be set up to start shooting at 7:30. I actually arrived at Sharpness at 6:40, which gave me plenty of time to wander around the docks themselves and catch this shot of the light rising in the sky behind the dock buildings and cranes.

Sharpness Docks Before Dawn (Doug King)

Located in Industrial Landscape

Gower Peninsula

Sunday’s forecast for light clouds or clear skies encouraged me to venture just a little further in search of some sunrise interest and I settled on the Gower in South Wales. I did my calculations and reckoned that, with sunrise so far south at this time of year, I should be able to catch the rising sun side-illuminating the Mumbles Lighthouse. Whats more this would occur over a more or less high tide in the adjacent Bracelet Bay.

In the end things turned out just as I hoped, or maybe a little better with the colour palette of rock, water and sunrise light all working together beautifully.

Bracelet Bay at sunrise. Mumbles, South Wales (Doug King)

After fortification with strong coffee and a picnic breakfast I travelled a little further along the peninsula’s coast to the rightly popular Three Cliffs Bay. I find myself less and less interested in shooting during normal daytime hours, but in this case the low altitude sunshine provided really dramatic relief to this rugged landscape. I found myself a viewpoint and simply watched the changing shapes in the water as the waves interacted with the now falling tide. When pleasure boaters showed up to make shapes in the water, my day was complete.

Three Cliffs Bay, Gower, South Wales (Doug King)

Photos located in Sea and Coast Gallery

Osmington Mills

Yesterday, to mark the end of lockdown, I arranged for some work to take me to the south coast. I left in very good time for my late morning meeting (just before 5am) and headed down through Wiltshire and Dorset

The weather in Bath had been perfect when I left, with wisps of stratus and some convective cloud, but the moon shining through. However the cloud became thicker the further south I got, contrary to the previous evening’s forecast. That blew out my idea of a skycape over minimalist sea, and instead I decided to head to Osmington Mills, somewhere I hadn’t visited before. 

Cruise liners at night

Arriving in total darkness at 6:30 I was amazed to find that the sea was flooded with light from half a dozen cruise liners anchored in Weymouth Bay, extending the line of lights from Weymouth and Portland across the horizon. By the time I had a coffee and got kitted out, a sliver of red light at the horizon suggested that there might just be a minuscule chance of sunrise.

In the end the sunrise was really quite special. The thick cloud cover gave a light that was even bluer than usual pre-dawn. Then for about four minutes the sun rose, filled the clear gap at the horizon and then disappeared again for the rest of the day. During those brief moments a blade of intense golden light sliced across the scenery, creating a range of hues from deep blue through purple and red. 


Osmington Mills Dorset (Doug King)