Bossington Beach, Exmoor
When it comes to photographing beaches, I usually find myself drawn to dramatic rocky coves found in abundance throughout Devon and Cornwall near my home. I guess this originates from a deep yearning for the wilder shores instilled in me from my upbringing near the rather sedate south coast in Hampshire. Beaches in that part of the world consist mostly of sand and shingle, separated by endless lines of wooden groynes defending the coast against the actions of long shore drift. The wooden posts always made excellent subjects for photographs but for me they were usually a compromise for the wilder scenes I really wanted to capture.
So bearing that in mind I find it very ironic that, after moving to the south west in 2008, the beach that I have photographed probably more than any other would be Bossington in Somerset; a location that is full of, yes you guessed it, wooden groynes! It's not only groynes that Bossington Beach offers, but they definitely are the major attraction for me.
I first ventured to Bossington Beach in 2008, while capturing photographs for my book A Year on Exmoor. It was to be the first of many visits to a location that I always enjoy returning to. The beach curves in a grand sweep between Hurlstone Point in the east and the village of Porlock Weir in the west. Strictly speaking the western section is Porlock Beach, while the eastern side is Bossington, but with no obvious boundary between the two I have always considered them to be one unbroken stretch of the same beach.
The wooden groynes are the obvious stars of the show and can be found running towards the sea throughout much of the beach. Some are more photogenic than others, usually the well weathered posts making the best subjects. But there is more to Bossington than simply wooden posts. The beach is covered in large rounded pebbles, coloured beautifully in pastel shades of pink, grey and blue. When photographed beneath colourful twilight skies, and especially when wet, the pebbles make gorgeous subjects.
Being close to the Bristol Channel with its massive tidal range, timing is of the essence when visiting this beach. The tide flies in at an alarming rate, and although there is no danger of being cut off, the huge range (around 10 metres) can have a big impact on what you intend to photograph. Over the years I have become rather obsessive with recording the tide levels at Bossington Beach. Despite sounding particularly nerdy, this has proved incredibly helpful in identifying which specific posts are ideal to photograph at any time. A quick check of the tide times and a cross reference with my records helps me to determine which part of the beach to stand upon and which posts to feature in my composition.
When I visited the beach one September to capture this shot, I timed my visit so that sunset would coincide with a fairly high tide as I wanted these posts to be surrounded by water in my photograph but not completely submerged. The window of opportunity is incredibly small. 20 minutes or so later, and the posts would be beneath the sea, while 20 minutes earlier and they would be surrounded by beach.
I fitted my 16-35mm wide angle lens to include both the posts on the left and the sweep of the shore on the right of the frame. It was important to me to feature the posts in this composition, as they act as a balancing object to the headland on the right. Without them the picture simply wouldn't work, the water would be too much and the composition unbalanced.
I attached a Lee 0.9 ND Graduated filter to balance the brighter sky with the foreground. Noticing that the crashing waves were bringing a wide channel of white water to the shore I decided to accentuate this by attaching a HiTech 1.2 ND filter to extend the shutter speed to 20 seconds.
After capturing this image, I opted for a longer lens and composed a more abstract picture comprising only the posts backed by water and sky. I had to work quickly as before long the posts were completely consumed by the incoming tide, indicating an end to my evenings photography. Fortunately my precise recording of the tides had enabled me to capture the exact picture I was after, and I returned home feeling very pleased.
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