Detailed planning and preparation are widely accepted as essential ingredients to capturing successful landscape photographs. But sometimes with a bit of luck plans can go horribly wrong, yet turn out very right!
My trip to Combesgate Beach in Devon turned out to be one of those unexpected surprises. I had originally planned for a sunset trip to a bay in nearby Exmoor. I researched my location, timed my arrival and checked the tide tables. All seemed well as I drove northwards towards Exmoor. But upon my arrival I realised I had made a fundamental error of judgement – the tide was so high up the beach that I had little opportunity to take any photographs.
It’s at times like this that it’s good to be flexible. Quickly deciding to change location I span the car around and headed west along the coast, hoping to find a suitable alternative for my sunset shoot. As I drove doubt crept into my mind; I hadn’t even explored this new coastline before let alone planned for it, I had just driven off the edge of my Exmoor map, and to make matters worse the clock was now ticking down towards sunset at an alarming rate!! I had to find somewhere fast or this whole trip would be wasted.
After several unsuccessful stops I arrived and parked beside WoolacombeBay. I walked north of the beach in search of a rocky cove. After only a couple of minutes searching I came upon a beach that I had never heard of; Combesgate. From the clifftops I could see a tiny cove bursting with jagged rocky ledges and interesting geological shapes. To make things even better the tide was now retreating fast, revealing virgin sand and wonderful little rock pools. I found myself grinning widely; after a frantic and desperate drive, I had not only encountered the perfect beach but I had arrived at the perfect time!
I rushed down the steps to the beach and, paying attention to the rapidly sinking sun, quickly looked for compositions. The challenge at this beach was to find a simple composition amongst the mass of dark rocks. After wandering over some rocky outcrops I eventually settled on a location close to some fresh clean sand. Sand, like water provides the perfect subject matter to simplify coastal landscape compositions. Being the first person on the beach this evening, the sand was free of dreaded footprints and so looked as pure as fresh snow.
I set up my tripod low to the ground, and attached my Canon 17-40L wide angle lens to my camera. The wideangle composition allowed me to make a feature of the foreground rockpools, while the low viewpoint enabled them to shine brightly with reflections from the sky.
By now the sun was partially obscured in broken cloud near the horizon, soon to disappear for the evening. I was grateful for this cloud, as without it the contrast range in the scene would have been far too much to capture without creating an ugly and unnatural look. Even so, I needed to use a strong Neutral Density Graduated filter (Lee 0.9 hard edge) to stop the sky from overexposing. I positioned the filter as carefully as I could to prevent over-darkening of the already dark cliffs. However, as often is the case with the use of ND grad filters, some compromise had to be made which resulted in the darkening of the left edge rocks above the horizon.
After capturing this shot, I took several other compositions from this position before moving further down the beach to photograph the approaching twilight. By now several people were wandering around the beach, their footprint trails leaving me with an ever smaller area of pure sand to photograph.
As darkness crept in I headed back to my car, wondering which direction I would need to drive to take me home. But it didn’t matter if I got lost a few times; I was returning with a series of images that I was proud of and that was the most important thing.
Changing plans at the last minute doesn’t always work. But sometimes, when luck and a sense of adventure coincide you can be rewarded with a series of stunning images that you would otherwise never have captured.
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- New Zealand
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