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December 2014




Durdle Door at dawn 

I spent just under a week in Dorset in December.  I'd love to make it an annual pilgrimage.  Who could get fed up with the sight of Durdle Door or the other landscape icons along this extraordinary jurassic coast?

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I've been developing my landscape photography skills and have been back to Dorset several times to work with the ever-patient and energetic Guy Edwardes.  Guy knows Dorset like the back of his hand and has the enviable ability to assess the sky in the hour or so before dawn and sunrise, and know which location will offer the best opportunities.  Durdle Door for dawn is a beautiful sight ... and almost in any weather/light conditions.  The moon provided a beautiful focal point in the scene, after a long walk down a seemingly never ending path to the various vantage points.   Next stop was a quick visit to Portland Bill lighthouse where I tried to capture the small clouds scudding across the sky and the waves crashing into the rocks.  I have photographed the little ruined church before but it was great fun to spend time watching and waiting for the sky to darken so that a bit of light painting could begin to reveal the contours in scene.
In order to photograph dawn breaking over Durdle Door, we left at silly o'clock and made the long walk and scramble down to the beach in the dark, lighting the path with head torches.  Was it worth it?  Oh yes....!  Here's a series of images of that extraordinary dawn as the light changed from dark blue to pinks, purples and orange and then tback to a lighter blue.  It was quite simply magical.  Oh, and I even manged an attempt at the winter sun beaming through the famous arch.  Not the best but a reasonable start.
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When I first started learning with Guy, his words of wisdom seemed to disappear somewhere in the general mush between my ears and my memory.  I'm pleased to say that I no longer feel like a complete numpty and instead, feel as if I have developed greater independence and a better eye.  A long way to go though but I will enjoy the journey.
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Guy has all the energy, stamina and athleticism of a young mountain goat.  I, on the other hand, do not.  I have been struggling with Achilles tendon damage for several months however, I hobbled my way up and down cliff faces, tottered over rocks and teetered on hillsides... and enjoyed every minute (well, almost!).  I walked 15.66km one day, carrying my camera bag and tripod.  Down and then up cliffs for sunrise through Durdle Door and then down and up more cliffs for sunset overlooking Lulworth Cove!  If I'd been a mountain goat, I might have enjoyed the view of the Cove from higher up above it but what with standing on an extreme slope overlooking a sheer drop and trying to stand up straight in a mighty wind, I retreated to a lower position ... and all but missed the colour in the sky.
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And when Ian sends messages and Guy then says, 'there's talk of a 'weather bomb' with potential for huge swell that will make the waves crash over Longships lighthouse ... but it's at Lands End'... what do you do?  You happily get up at ridiculous-o'clock and sit in the car all day being driven to the furthest point of Cornwall by Guy... and learn a bit more about landscape photographers in the process.  I also learnt a bit more about passers-by.  Faced with a small group of photographers hunched over their cameras with their long-lenses trained on a lighthouse some mile out to sea, one chap came up behind me and stared over my shoulder and asked "What are you photographing?"  I looked round in disbelief especially when he answered his own question... "Whales?"  I didn't answer.  
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If he couldn't see the huge waves crashing on the lighthouse, he certainly wouldn't have seen the gannets that were soaring around in the high winds.  They looked as if they were having real roller coaster flying fun!
We ended that day visiting Lyme Regis and the famous Cobb... and spent time on Lyme Beach watching the sun go down, turning the sea pink.  Again, not the best images, but I liked the movement of the sea with its pink reflections from the sky. Visiting Lyme Harbour to photograph the pub and lights finished an exhausting day with a really lovely cheesy shot.
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I almost missed the shot of Chesil Beach from Portland Heights... after another silly o'clock start, I was exhausted and fingers and brain wouldn't coordinate at all.  A shot to be improved upon... can't resist a traffic trail!  The rest of that day was spent at Swanage photographing the old pier which I vaguely remember from my scuba diving days and rescue diver training.  I pottered to the end of the new pier and found a 'Fishing from the end of the pier' scene that appealed to me... I think it was the symmetry of it all.    
Portland Bill provided the setting for the last night of the trip... with 3 different scenes that I like. The first was taken before it was too dark but with a faint glow from the famous lighthouse.  I particularly like the sea in this image.  The second was taken from virtually the same spot but after it was much darker.  The lighthouse was sending out massive beams of light into the stormy evening and a little 'light painting' with a massive torch just lifted the rocks out of darkness.  Then finally, a picture of Portland Bill lighthouse from right underneath it... taken in pitch dark but carefully timed to show the beams of light.
On my final morning in Dorset, I spent a very frosty dawn on the Cobb at Lyme Regis again and watched as the light finally made the Cobb glow.  I can't say that it was the sky that I saw in my mind's eye but .... next time!
I also spent the greater part of 2 days watching and photographing Short-Eared Owls ... I won't claim that these are award winning images but the whole experience was exceptional.  It was wonderful to watch the owls hunting over the rough ground which the kindly farmer has been leaving for them year after year.  It was bitterly cold and the winter sun was a real challenge to work with but I am pleased with my efforts.  As ever, more to do next time... more ideas, more practice needed!
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