Blackhall Beach, Sunday Morning

Setting out this morning into the nature reserve at Blackhall, the promise of a maritime view and the unique flora of Durham’s coastline prompted me briefly to think of this:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
Sail away, kill off the hours
You belong somewhere you feel free

Run away, find you a lover
Go away somewhere all bright and new
I have seen no other
Who compares with you

Tom Petty, Wildflowers

It wasn’t to be that way.  I got twisted, broken, crashing, hole filled stuff instead.

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Love on the Rocks

Is that the second time I’ve resorted to  a Neil Diamond song title?  Better have a word with myself.

Anyway my search for inspiration today took me back to the North Sea, and a stretch of Durham’s Heritage Coastline a little further south from Seaham’s industrial remnants.  I parked at Crimdon, which was a first for me, though from the numbers in the car park it’s a popular spot.  The caravan park nearby also suggested that I’d find the beach thronging with people, but yet again the long stretches of beach were largely empty.

Whilst getting my haircut this morning I saw a video of waves crashing on a beach (clearly shot in the tropics) but it had persuaded me that this should be my shot today; some dramatic spray hurled skywards as geology stood its ground against marine might.  Or perhaps some long exposure shots of dark islands emerging from a mist of milky water?  That was the goal.

And the reality?  Somewhat different.

APW_9815As I arrived down the duckboards that provide access over the dunes I could see that the tide was out but I knew it was due to turn.  Plenty of time to head northwards to Blackhall Rocks.  With a name like that how could I go wrong?  As I set out I began to understand why the beaches might be less popular; the gritty sand was streaked with black as are many of the beaches along this coastline, but also liberally dotted with shingle and stones so that great swathes were ruled out for the bucket and spade brigade.  The shingle was soft underfoot too, filling my shoes with tiny irritants.

To my right was the advancing sea, but to my left I could see regular escape routes so no fear of being cut off or so it seemed.  One of the last sets of steps rising from the beach was clearly marked as “not in use” presumably due to some erosion that had taken place.  Personally I’d rather take my chance than be marooned on the beach but it didn’t come to that.  Soon the dunes gave way to cliffs, cliffs with tell-tale caves that told the story of the undermining sea at work.  This was where the beach became decidedly rockier, the evidence of landslip everywhere.  A good reason to keep away from the foot of those cliffs.

The tide was coming in now, so I began to look around for suitable opportunities only to be disappointed.  The waters were so calm that they barely rippled their way around the shattered stones that barred their  route ashore.  What splashes there were, were tiny.  Ok then, let’s go for the second option; long exposures.  I reached for my filters and tripod to begin setting up for a suitable shot and found I had all my filters… but not the holder.  The rocks were in my head as well as at my feet it seemed as life’s distractions seemed to have take their toll on me.  The whole journey wasted.

Well not quite, I got some OK images that are in this gallery.

But then I saw my opportunity.  A couple of rocks so coated in black bladderwrack that it was like a thick mane of hair.  I shot away from a few angles, but ultimately ended up cropping down to just this detail shot which with it’s limited depth of field allows the eye to rest upon a single black pustule amongst those salty tresses.  Don’t ask me why, but I love it.

Wonder where I put the filter holder?

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The Seventh Wave

Sting – Love Is The Seventh Wave

Hearing the weather forecast predicting high winds this morning my intention was to head for the coast in the hope of giant waves breaking over the pier, and more impressively, the lighthouse.  The tide was almost at its high point when I arrived, but there was no sign of monster waves, just more of the bright sunshine that challenged me yesterday.

Still the sun at least provided some backlighting for the spray that the wind was whipping off the wave tops.  This was one of those occasions, in contrast to yesterday, where I think it’s acceptable to have the highlights burn out to pure white as you can see on the left of these images.

Deciding not to go for a portrait in this harsh light I returned later in the afternoon as the sun was starting to set.  It was now at me back as I faced out to sea, giving perfect lighting for the white wave crests and breaking foam.

The sun’s position in the sky had another benefit; casting shadows that revealed the patterns on the sand created by other waves.

Yet it was something else caught by the light that please me most.  A large “cloud” of sea birds, too distant to identify but probably dippers like these, was wheeling about the sky.  Initially impressive for the black shapes they were throwing against the sky’s blue backdrop, as I raised the camera they turned again and the sun caught their pale underbellies in a flash of white.  Sadly their shape disintegrated at the same moment, but they still make a striking sight, like a multitude of stars (though I can’t spot any constellations).

Still no portrait, but as I walked up the shore I spotted a body-boarder retrieving a child’s football from the water, to the delight of his mother.  This was Thomas, still wet from his activity, and with that low sun I had no problem getting that detail into the shot.  (Click on it to enlarge and you’ll see what I mean!)

Thereby hangs a tale…

On my way home from Darlington today I had nearly reached my destination when I spotted a flash of green in the skies to my right.  A quick glance confirmed it was a power kite, and there were others hovering over the shoreline.

My leather shoes were never made for coastal photography so I continued on my way and soon my thoughts turned to lunch, and shortly after that I began to wade through the day’s emails.

About an hour later I noticed that the sky was darkening, so thought I’d better get out and find a portraiture subject before the rain came.  As I approached the sea front I saw the huge billowing sails of the power kiters once again, which was a stroke of luck as it had already begun to rain and more sensible folk were seeking shelter.

Jogging down the beach, the otherwise deserted sands were littered with the debris of water sports; a lonely kite, presumably staked down, rattled its trailing edges against the wind, a number of small surf boards dotted the waterline, and languishing amidst them all was a complete windsurfing board.  Their owners were presumably the five brave souls at sea, heaving against the reins of their airborne steeds.

One soon came ashore, which is how I met Rusty who explained that he would like to see any decent shots that I got, so we exchanged details.  Foolishly I didn’t shoot a head and shoulders of him at the time, but here’s a more candid shot.

The combination of fading light, the need for fast shutter speeds to capture action, and an extended zoom lens meant that I was shooting at a high ISO, never great for detail but in these conditions the compromise was essential.  The resulting images have a lot of “noise”, but I’d rather that than not have them at all.  Moments like this don’t come along too often (sorry Rusty, it isn’t you!).Rusty told me that he and his fellow surfers (who included his father) had been there for three and half hours!  I could understand the enthusiasm given the adrenalin boosting conditions, but I noticed that he and the others weren’t wearing gloves.  I’d been there only ten or fifteen minutes and could feel my hands chilling against the focus ring of my telephoto lens so this seemed like madness!

As if to make a point the rain stepped up a gear, bordering on sleet, so I ran back to terra firma to shelter both me and my equipment, pausing only to grab another, wider shot before I left.  Looks like the guys had decided enough was enough too  I really like this one (though the noisiness may have encouraged me to over work it) – it looks like some alien scouting party coming ashore as a prelude to a greater invasion.

Shame I didn’t get a better one of Rusty in action.  Wonder if he knows the guy who was in my last favourite surfer shot?