Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy, and wise.

Benjamin Franklin

Perhaps it was a yearning for the healthy element in a week where I’m facing two separate medical appointments that drove me to rise at 5.00am, but it didn’t seem particularly wise and I don’t see anyone rushing to make me rich with my outputs from the day.  Nevertheless I achieved some pleasing results as you’ll see.

The BBC are currently scheduling a series called The Big Painting Challenge; a variant of The Great British Bake Off  for oils and water-colours rather than creme pat and biscuit dough. This week the contestants were in Hastings to take on the challenge of the constantly changing light of a seascape, my favourite subject though I don’t shoot them as often as I did in the early days of my photography.

The artist that judge Lachlan Goudie chose to highlight as master of the seascape was JMW Turner, precisely for his ability to work with light.  Appropriate then that the location that necessitated my early start was also one that Turner painted; Dunstanburgh Castle.  In sketches, watercolour and oils he approached it from a number of angles, but his Sunrise over Lilburn Tower is unmistakably Dunstanburgh, and the tower is also the feature of the castle that I chose to incorporate into my sunrise shots.

The challenges for a photographer working with seascapes are very different.  Instead of responding to the multiple changes that occur during the time a painter must capture a scene, the photographer can freeze an instant up to 1/8000 of a second, but with the subdued light of dawn I was shooting longer exposures, and stretching them out further by adding filters as another barrier to illumination.  Where I was disadvantaged  compared to Turner was in his ability to recreate things from memory or return another day.  For me if I missed the moment it was gone; I will be working again the following day, and memory has no place in photography other than in the card that records my digital files.

I was also very much restricted to one spot, for having clambered over the slippery black basalt boulders I couldn’t afford the time to make many adjustments for the sunrise is such an ephemeral phenomenon.  As the tide crept in I was also aware of the gaps between those boulders filling with water.

I’d thought I’d have just the sea-snails for company but this is another of those shots that are almost a cliché for photographers… which is why there were four other tripods dotted about the rocks before the sun had reached the horizon.  Well cliché or not I was committed after a journey of 90 minutes to get here.

The place has a bit of history too of course, a 14th century castle built on the site of an iron-age hill fort, but the toings and froings of the War of the Roses, when Yorkists and Lancastrians constantly besieged the castle meant it was already a ruin by the end of the 16th century.  A pretty dramatic ruin for all that.



9 thoughts on “If you can’t beat them…

  1. 5AM and possibly turning an ankle, shows real dedication, I’m sure you feel it was well worth it, terrific set of shots, all of these are very striking.
    I like the circling birds in the second shot – perhaps they have an ancestral memory of picking over bones, after all the fighting at the castle. The colors and clouds change so quickly, just in the last two shots.
    I saw a very comprehensive Turner show a couple of years ago, at the Peabody Essex in Salem, and was sorry not to have an entire day to spend. Some of the reds in his skys always looked a bit over-the-top, but apparently he was reproducing the results of worldwide dust clouds from a huge volcanic explosion in Indonesia. So if those Icelandic volcanoes start fussing again, you’ll have to race back to this beach!

    1. Absolutely right, the light is so ephemeral at that time of day; the whole display can be over in a few minutes as the angle of sun on clouds changes and the clouds themselves drift on the prevailing winds. Underexposing shots is helpful to bring out the colour, and normally would also cut down the time required for each image, but here I was shooting through filters to blur out the movement of the sea so I knew I’d get relatively few pictures making it more of a gamble. As you say, I felt it paid off. Turner did certainly have the advantage of more particles in the sky to add colour to his scenery, but he certainly wasn’t averse to painting what he wanted rather than what he saw. His Grand Canal presents an impossible scene as he combined different viewpoints in a single painting. I can’t remember now, but I suspect your favoured birds may have been such a liberty on my part!

  2. Incredible photography Paul. The detail of the basalt boulders is striking…it’s as if I am standing on the edge looking at the shoreline…I can smell the seasalt on the wind…

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