Halloween Moon

I love it when a plan comes together …

One of the pleasures for me of landscape photography is figuring out when natural events, such as tides and full moons, will occur in specific locations and being ready to photograph them.

For a while now I have been hoping to photograph a full moon rising against a well known landmark. I have in fact planned several possible locations for particular seasons when the moon will be in a particular location in the sky. Today, Halloween 2020 that place was to be Glastonbury Tor.

As usual I spent much of the day watching the weather forecast and agonising over weather the moon might or might not be visible at dusk. In the end I made the trip down to Glastonbury and boy was I glad that I did.

The moon rose veiled in light cloud which diffused its light and added some interest to the sky. The group of Halloween celebrators on the top of the Tor gave some added interest and the one person that stood still and looked directly at the moon for the duration of the exposure was a superb bonus.

The full moon rises on Halloween 2020 veiled by thin clouds. A group of people watch it rise from beside the tower of St Michaels Church on Glastonbury Tor. (Doug King)

This is a blend of two exposures, one for the surface of the moon and one for the tower of St Michaels Church. Shortly after this, the moon disappeared behind much thicker cloud, signalling the end of my evening.

Coate Water Dawn

Generally by the middle of the week I am starting to get an itchy shutter finger. So, Thursday morning saw me make a quick dash up to Swindon to check out the old concrete diving structure at Coate Water. This was followed by an equally quick dash back again in time for a 9am client meeting.

The old diving structure at Coate Water is now simply a home for roosting pigeons. (Doug King)
The old diving structure at Coate Water is now simply a home for roosting pigeons. (Doug King)

Not my finest accomplishment perhaps, but much needed light therapy. At this time of the year we need to take whenever opportunities arise as who knows when the weather will allow again.

Porlock – Salt Marsh Skeletons


Porlock Marsh is a SSSI allowing the study of the transition of habitats, as the salt poisoned the existing vegetation and salt tolerant species took over. (Doug King)

I have wanted to make this photograph since I first encountered this tree, nine years ago. Unfortunately many other things have gotten in the way in the meantime and, on the rare occasions that the conditions might have come together, I was unavailable to travel down to Exmoor. Anyway, this weekend looked like it was lining up to present me with the shot and I was free.

The salt marsh in Porlock Bay is a new and evolving piece of landscape. Originally farmland with freshwater marshes, this low lying area had been protected from the sea by an extensive, natural pebble bank. This bank was breached by a storm in 1996, inundating the land. The authorities decided to let nature takes its course and the site is now a SSSI allowing the study of the transition of habitats, as the salt poisoned the existing vegetation and salt tolerant species took over.

So, yesterday morning involved a very early start from Bath to get down to Porlock well before dawn. As I arrived on location I was surprised to find that, with nearly two hours to go until High Tide, the water was already rising over the ground. Well, I shouldn’t have been surprised, I had deliberately chosen one of the highest tides of the year in order to ensure an uncluttered foreground. 

I found a convenient mound to stand on, hoping to stay above the water for as long as possible. The composition presents itself, so even in near total darkness I was able to frame the silhouettes of the trees. The race was now on, would my perch hold out, or would I have to escape the rising tide before getting my shot? Such is the nail-biting excitement of landscape photography!

The light arrived at almost the same moment that the tide rose above the last grass stalks, presenting an unbroken surface to the horizon. Perfection. Unfortunately the tide was running fast enough to ripple the surface and my exposure times were initially in minutes, so it was not possible to get sharp reflections. As the light came up I could capture shorter exposures, down to half a minute at the end. A couple of test exposures and then I got my shot. 

All this time I had been carefully watching the water rise around my rapidly diminishing perch and, more importantly, behind me on my route back to dry land. By the time I got my shot the water was already over the toes of my boots. I quickly returned my camera to the safety of my bag, as I could see that I was going to want my tripod as a support for a tiptoe wade through deep water. Once again, I was so glad that I invested in a really good (and tall) pair of wellies. I was just in time to wade back to shore with dry feet, but literally on tiptoe with the water lapping at the top of my boots.

Storm Alex at Corfe Castle

I took a chance last night to try for a shot I had been planning for ages. All day yesterday I had been agonising over whether to make the four hour round trip to Corfe Castle. I was watching five kinds of weather forecast; from general forecasts and cloud radar to follow the advance of Storm Alex, to the aviation forecast for Gatwick Airport, trying to predict the height of cloud base above the horizon at sunset. In the end, I thought that there was a slight chance of a unique combination of conditions, and off I went.

I had left it quite late while still trying to determine the likely outcome and arrived with barely enough time to get to my planned shooting position. However, the moment I got out of the car I could smell the rain, and the race was on.

I didn’t get to my planned shot location. In fact I barely managed to get above the trees before realising I had but minutes. I hurriedly set up my tripod and snapped off seven shots in total. This was the fifth and the rain had just slammed into my back. By the seventh shot you could barely see the castle through the rain and I was getting thoroughly soaked. I spent all of three and a half minutes doing photography yesterday evening and I didn’t get even close to the shot I originally wanted. In the end though, I don’t think that I wasted my trip.

The ruins of Corfe Castle silhouetted against the last light at the moment storm clouds arrive overhead. Storm Alex, 1st October 2020. (Doug King/Doug King Photography)
The ruins of Corfe Castle silhouetted against the last light at the moment storm clouds arrive overhead. Storm Alex, 1st October 2020. (Doug King/Doug King Photography)

English Riviera

This week we had a short break in Torquay for my wife’s birthday, staying at the Cary Arms in Babbacombe. Photographically I was not expecting much, maybe a typical beach scene or two. Furthermore, the weather was splendid for a holiday, but far from my usually preference for stormy skies.

However I was fortunate and on a walk along the coast path found this little cove. Returning just before sunset, I was hoping for some great colour in the clouds. Unfortunately they all drifted away before sunset, but this shot from earlier in the sequence turned out all right.

These steps lead down to a tiny cove on the coast path between Babbacombe and Oddicombe Beaches in Torbay. I was hoping that sunset would intensify the colours, but the clouds disappeared about 15 minutes before and denied me. (Doug King)

Shot on the coast path between Babbacombe and Oddicombe beaches, Torquay.

Black Nore Lighthouse

Black Nore Point, Portishead, at high tide with the old lighthouse in the background. (Doug King)
As lockdown was easing, I started thinking about getting out to the coast again and decided to re-visit Black Nore Lighthouse in Portishead. This listed structure was constructed in 1894 to guide shipping approaching Bristol Docks. The light was decommissioned in 2010, but the structure remains as a prominent beacon on Black Nore Point.

I have been back half a dozen times in the last couple of weeks and I have been amazed at the variety of photographic interest provided by just a few hundred metres of coast with sandstone beds, a pebble beach and Dolomitic Conglomerate, all with an old lighthouse as a backdrop.

Black Nore Point is on the coast path about 1 mile from Portishead Beach.

S.S. Nornen

What a Night!

There is a famous old wreck on Berrow Beach, just up the coast from Burnham on Sea. I have seen many photographs of the rotten timbers sticking up from the sand, but I have never photographed it myself. Now that we are out of lockdown I thought that I might have a go for myself.

I went down to Burnham on two consecutive nights. The first was good, but the wreck was surrounded by thick mud and I couldn’t get too close without losing my wellies. I got some good shots, but nothing that I was over the moon with. The following afternoon a big storm cloud blew through Bath and I thought that this might be my opportunity. I was right, as I headed south west I was travelling along the trailing edge of the storm all the way to the coast. The tide was just beginning to fall and amazingly all the mud had been washed away on this one tide leaving rippled sand.

I couldn’t drag myself away until well after darkness!

For a few nights I travelled down to Berrow Beach near Burnham on Sea to photograph the wreck of the SS Nornen. I previously had not realised how mobile the mud in the Bristol Channel is. On previous occasions I was unable to get this close to the timbers as the mud was too deep and sucky. On this night I had the perfect combination of clean sand, falling tide and sunset. (Doug King)The S. S. Nornen was a Norwegian barque wrecked on Berrow beach, Burnham on Sea in 1897. The remains of the wreck are at about the half tide level, North East from St Mary’s Church Berrow.

Bridgwater Bay

Photo for Sale: The rising tide encroaches onto the Jurassic limestone beds at Lilstock beach on the North Somerset Coast. (Doug King)

Fired up after returning from Madeira, I have been doing a bit of exploring more locally. I have (not exactly) stumbled upon a new stretch of coastline to explore in Bridgwater Bay, following extensive virtual travelling using Google Earth.

This stretch of the coast features Jurassic limestone beds, very similar to the Jurassic Coast in Dorset. In places the rock has been distorted, giving rise to a series of platforms exposed at the right state of tide. On my second exploratory visit the weather gods rained on me for ages, but then were kind and gave me perfect skies to complement the turbid waters of the Bristol Channel.

This stretch of coastline can be accessed with free car parking at either Kilve or Lilstock. The limestone beds are exposed at low tide.

Severn Structures

Severn Bridge © Doug King

Winter is a great time for low light photography as you don’t have to get up at 3am to catch the pre-dawn. The days are also as often grey as they are clear, giving me some great opportunities to explore low contrast lighting. I have begun to really explore the coastline of the River Severn (and parts of the Bristol Chanel) for man-made objects that will render interesting graphical images in these low light conditions.

A Close Encounter in Croyde Bay

I was down in North Devon again in Mid October and took some time out to take photographs in Croyde Bay. My aim for the day was to try and capture the turbulent chaos where the break met the rocks at the edge of the bay. However, the outcome was something completely unexpected.

I had pinpointed a likely rock, set up my tripod, lens, filters, cable release and all the paraphernalia of landscape photography, to wait for the perfect wave. When it came, the wave was enormous and had me grabbing my tripod and scrambling for safety before my camera could be washed away! Whilst thus distracted, I was astonished to see a seal surfing in on the wave, right up into the rocky gully beside me. These gullies are deep between high rocks, and if I hadn’t been where I was, or if I had still been focussed on getting the shot, I would never have seen the seal. In fact, over the course of the half hour I spent getting to know this youngster, many people passed by, further up the beach, and remained blissfully unaware.

Fortunately I had a short telephoto zoom in my kit bag. Packing away the filters, tripod, etc was a scramble as I was afraid that I would miss a once in a lifetime opportunity. I dropped things, fell off a rock and made a fool of myself in my haste. Fortunately, only the seal was there to see. I needn’t have worried, the pup was far too interested in her surroundings, and eventually in me, to hurry off again. By remaining low, quiet and un-threatening I was able to observe her at relatively close quarters for about half an hour. She appeared almost as curious about me as I was about her.

Newly independent Grey Seal pup exploring the North Devon coast (Doug King)

Thanks to the lovely people at the Cornwall Seal Group Research Trust, I now know a lot more about this seal’s likely story.

She is a moulted female pup, probably only 4-5 weeks old, a month at most, and therefore has recently weaned. Given that we met on the North Devon coast, she is likely to have been born to the Grey Seal colony on Lundy Island during August. Apparently, after weaning, seal mothers abandon their pups to fend for themselves. The moulted pups disperse in search of food and have to figure life out for themselves. For me, that explains both the pup’s curiosity about her surroundings, but also her tolerance and naivety to the presence of a human.