Photography in the elements
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
One week in early December, whilst Storm Barra was making its presence felt, I took two trips to the coast. On the first day, I went to Southsea, Portsmouth, and the following day I visited Portland Bill. My aim for both days was to get some more images for the Out of Season project that I am currently working on. However, my aims for each day were quite different.
On the first day, a quiet Monday, my aim was to do some street style photography and to explore a new location to see if it could be included in the work. It was the first time that I had visited Southsea, so I was not sure what to expect from the location. I treated the trip as a chance to see what potential the area might have for fitting into my project, given that it was not too far to travel to. Judging by the outcome of this visit, it is a place that I will return to again.
My initial impressions of this part of the coast was that there were several areas that held some interest for me, the two piers (one of which had an amusement park) and the promenade linking the two piers. This also had some interesting coastal details with ferries and warships floating out on the water and Portsmouth in the distance. Then, beyond the confines of the coast there was the town sitting behind. Whilst this is not part of my current work (as I am focusing on the immediate coastal environment), I can certainly see potential for exploring the side streets beyond the main draw of the coastal track.
When I arrived, it was damp and grey, but not particularly wet. I especially wanted ’grey weather‘ shots for the project to mark out the contrast between this time of year on the coast and that of the summer season (as well as the photographs typically associated with it). It was probably only after 30 minutes of exploring that the rain arrived, and then didn’t stop.
I didn’t come best prepared, I had brought my waterproof coat, but not the leggings or even a waterproof camera. Still, I was there, I wanted to get shots of the poor weather, so I just carried on - hiding the camera next to me when I could to both protect the lens from getting covered in raindrops but also to protect the camera.
As would be expected in such conditions, it was never going to be busy with people, but there were more hardy souls out by the water than I expected. Many were dog walkers, who are usually out in all conditions, but a few just seemed to be out on the coast enjoying the simple pleasures that even such seemingly poor weather can bring. Personally, when the sea is rough and the rain is being pushed in a virtually horizontal fashion by a feral storm, it’s pretty much my favourite time to be out on the coast. Of course, you need to be very careful in such conditions, but they are amongst the most exciting times to me.
On the next day, my initial focus was to get images of the stormy sea using a telephoto lens. Portland Bill is usually good for creating rough sea images, which is what I wanted to capture to illustrate the changeable weather that punctuates the winter season.
By the time I went to Portland Bill, knowing that the weather was going to be poor, I took a full set of waterproofs and - this time - a very well weather sealed camera system. I was out in atrocious weather for several hours, but it was great fun.
Getting out of the car, I was impressed welcomed by the storm which was already attempting to shove the door back in my face and push me back inside. I was under no pretences that it didn’t want me to be there. Still I pushed the door back, grabbed my gear and headed the short distance from the lighthouse car park to the cliffs.
Portland Bill has a strange quality, much like Trebarwith Stand in Cornwall. In both places, during stormy weather, there is a sense that the sea is almost higher than the land, giving the disconcerting impression that it could overrun you at any moment. Like an optical illusion, even though you know it can’t be real, you still can’t stop seeing it anyway.
Storm Barra was prowling in the area, but the main thrust of the storm was further up the coast, we were just getting a gentle reminder of what a storm can do. Rachel Talibart is an acknowledged master of storm photography, her work shows the unrelenting power that the sea has at times.
Being pulled around by an unwelcoming storm and trying to get photos had both its demands and its benefits. Demands, in that after a period of time it became tiring dealing with the constant buffeting from the wind, but benefits due to how the constant presence of high winds added a natural and not altogether intentional camera movement (ICM) to the images when I was shooting at a slow shutter speed.
I played with different ideas to record the stormy seas. Some images I took with a high shutter speed, whilst others I took at a much slower shutter speed to create more impressionistic images illustrating the movement that was in constant play. The persistent onrush of water towards me meant that the lens from element was often soaked, which sometimes I cleared off, but during other times I left on as to me, this added both another dimension to the images, but also a direct illustration of how the weather was affecting the shooting. Some of my favourite images from this shoot were shot in this way as they have an almost abstract and painterly quality to them.
Some of the images might end up in the Out of Season project, but I’ve been taking images of the sea for a little while now, which is for another, as yet unnamed, seascape project. This is one to develop in the future, once a larger body of work starts to form and I can see a clearer direction for it.
Photography on the coast
Technically, whilst much of my work could be seen as street photography, I also like to create images that provide a sense of context and atmosphere to the work. I am not quite sure what label (not that I like that idea much) I should apply to my work, but usually I go with the term art documentary as my work documents what I experience, but I am not trying to create images that represent some notion of truth. I am more interested in creating images that are about suggestion rather than representation. I like to put an idea into the audience’s mind for them to then explore. This might be through a single image, but more commonly I try to do this through a series of images.