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)

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.