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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.


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.

Gear – Filter system for 17mm TSE

For a long time now I have wanted to make better use of my fabulous 17mm TSE Lens. The only thing that has been holding me back is finding a filter system that would allow me to use the full range of movements. I have finally bitten the bullet and bought 165mm Firecrest filters and a Lucroit filter holder. These will largely, but not entirely, supersede my use of Lee filters with this lens.

During my research I noticed a lot of discussion on the Internet forums regarding suitable filters for the 17mm TSE lens so I decided to share what I have learned so far in comparing the two systems.

Gear – Arca Swiss style tripod quick release

A long time ago, when I set out to buy my first tripod, I put a bit of effort into researching tripod heads and quick release systems. This resulted in me buying a set of legs by Manfrotto, but without one of their heads. Like many manufacturers, Manfrotto have a proprietary quick release system which is not compatible with other manufacturers’ equipment. I matched my new Manfrotto legs with a ball head by Really Right Stuff of California, who use the Arca Swiss standard for quick release clamps and plates. Every piece of support equipment I have bought since also complies with the Arca Swiss standard and, so, everything I have is completely interchangeable. This enormously simplifies my life when out in the field making photographs.

Gear – Tenba Reload Pouches

Unfortunately I am not the neatest of photographers and I often end up stuffing small bits of kit into random pockets or parts of my camera bag. This sometimes makes it difficult for me to stay organised out in the field. These small and apparently insignificant pouches from Tenba Tools have really helped me out.

The Tenba Tools Reload pouches for batteries and memory cards have vastly simplified my life when out in the field trying to capture the light and not worry about equipment and accessories.
Tenba Reload Battery 2 – around £10-£12
Tenba Reload Universal – around £15-£16

Location – Pin Mill, Suffolk

Image "Two's Company" (Doug King)

I have finally gotten around to sorting and processing the photos from my recent weekend in Suffolk and here’s my favourite image of the entire trip.

I made this shot at Pin Mill on the the River Orwell south east of Ipswich. Pin Mill is a small hamlet just outside the village of Chelmondiston. I had seen a number of shots of rotting hulks and knew that I had to visit, but I really wasn’t prepared for the beautiful anarchy of a wooded riverbank lined with a huge variety of lived in boats and barges. The whole area is National Trust land so there is plenty of opportunity to explore and take it all in. Parking in the Parish Council carpark on the final approach to Pin Mill is convenient and cheap. There is also a pub, The Butt & Oyster, which sounds appealing, but I didn’t get to try it as I finished my shoot at 10am on Monday morning!

This is another location where my new Grubs Boots Stalkers made the difference between getting the shot that I wanted and settling for second best – the mud was really sucky!

Location – Mouthmill, Devon

 (Doug King)Another quick trip to North Devon again prompted me to review sunset and tides. This suggested I would have an opportunity to catch the sun setting into the sea touching Hartland Point if I could find the right location. That location turned out to be Mouthmill, the issuance of a small stream from a deep coombe.

Mouthmill is well known for the spectacular Blackchurch Rock, a double arched, inclined sea stack, that used to be a favourite rock climbing venue in my youth. However, on this occasion the spring tide was far too high to get any good shots of Blackchurch which lies a little way off the cliffs.

After a few minutes of quiet contemplation, immersed in the rumble and suck of the waves on the pebbles, I settled on a collection of driftwood lying in the stream as my foreground. As the sunset developed the colours reflected off both the water and the polished pebbles. Unfortunately the cloud on the horizon was just a little too dense to catch the perfect moment of the sun disk touching both the horizon and the cliff.

Access to Mouthmill involves a good half hour walk from the National Trust Carpark at Brownsham. However, Brownsham Woods offer plenty of photographic opportunities. Even though the return leg of the walk was obviously in the dark, I think it was well worth it. Let me know if you agree.

Location – Orford Ness, Suffolk

Derelict buildings of the former Atomic Weapons Research Establishment on the shingle spit of Orford Ness on the Suffolk coast. (Doug King)

I treated myself to a trip to the East Coast of England last weekend. My specific objective was an overnight stay on Orford Ness to experience all the weird shingle bound dereliction of the Atomic Weapons Research Establishment both at sunset and sunrise. The trip was courtesy of the National Trust, which organises one or two special events for photographers each year. Our hosts: John, Simon and Rob were extremely knowledgeable about both the history of the site and the wildlife.

I have created a new gallery for my shots of Orford Ness and over the next week or so will add the other locations I visited.

Location – Northam Burrows, Devon

 (Doug King)

After my soaking at Hartland the previous evening I decided to try a slightly more sheltered location for Sunday Sunrise, the area known as The Skern on the Appledore end of Northam Burrows. At this time of year sunsets and sunrises obligingly occur 12 hours apart, the same as high tides, so I knew that there would be a good opportunity to catch the water just topping the gullies in the mudflats.

Location – Hartland Quay, Devon

 (Doug King)

A quick trip to visit family in North Devon last weekend had me checking sunset angles and tide times and I quickly realised that there was going to be a sunset over high tide. I thought that this might provide an opportunity to get some shots of the incredible rock formations at Hartland.

Hartland Point forms the western end of Bideford Bay and tops the Culm Coast, one of the most dramatic coastlines in the UK. The directly west facing cliffs and shoreline are formed of fantastically folded and buckled sandstones some 270 million years old. This is a perfect location for straight out to sea sunsets with extraordinary foreground rocks.

In the end the spring tide was much higher than I anticipated and it turned out to be quite stormy, denying me any of the images that I had imagined. I did, however, manage to get a long exposure to smooth out the very rough sea but, in doing so, soaked both myself and the camera when a wave broke over the 4m high sea wall I was atop of.

Hartland Quay makes a great access point for this part of the coast with parking right on the cliffs, although you may need to pay during holiday season. The bar of the Hartland Quay Hotel also allows a welcome dry-off after a stormy night such as I experienced.