We are extremely fortunate in Great Britain when it comes to coastal wonders. From Land’s End to Cape Wrath, from John O’Groats to Beachy Head, there are thousands of miles (11,000-plus, in fact) of spectacular vistas, sprinkled with villages, churches, castles, stately homes and, of course, seaside resorts. And let’s not forget the many easily accessible islands. The coast offers ever-changing settings, with unique light, geology, tides and skies.
What more could any budding seascape photographer, inspired by the New Zealand Leica specialist Paul C Smith, wish for? Here’s a link to his channel. I hope if he looks in on this article in the future he gives my take on his inspirational work a thumbs up.
The images for this article come from my two current favourite cameras, the Leica X and the Nikon Df. I have also included a few impressions of the Df on the first anniversary of its arrival in my care.
For some of the images, I also employed a tripod and a series of neutral density (ND) filters. My best-buy Billingham Hadley Small (in Grey), was used for lugging all the equipment around. Oh, and a sprinkling of dark room magic in Lightroom, Luminar or Gimp just to polish the worthy ones.
Everyone needs a favourite
My favourite bit of coast — we all need a favourite — is the stretch between Sandsend and Ravenscar in North Yorkshire. It’s a fair chunk of rocky Jurassic coastline to watch, wait and capture. I recently walked from Ravenscar all the way to Whitby, just to follow the weather, the light and tides, seeking out those unique inspirational moments (See the Whitby beach sunset shots at the end of the day).
The light is magical around Whitby, from epic sunsets and sunrises (if you can be bothered to get up and take a peek) to deep and moody cloud
A Whitby fact: The harbour entrance is north-facing, so you can get the opportunity to shoot both sunrises and sunsets using the same harbour entrance from different angles, as the light falls across it all day long. The entire section between Sandsend and Whitby has a more or less east-west axis, which means it is always covered in
Depending on where you stay along West Cliff, and on which side of the building, will depend on whether you get mostly morning light, or evening light to play with. I tend to pick places with evening light, loving those long lingering sunsets on the best of evenings.
A word of caution to anyone planning to walk through this beautiful scenery: You must pay attention to your surroundings, and not just for photography purposes. Some sections of the coastline around Whitby are less forgiving than others, so learn where you are, know your tides. I use tide times and check and note before I leave. I also glance at the weather forecasts or weather apps. They can be wrong, of course, but at least you have a rough idea of what to expect.
The other thing is to be constantly aware of your surroundings. Learn the area if you can. The cliffs can be treacherous, and, sadly, rock falls are commonplace. I have witnessed numerous drops through the years, most thankfully small and uneventful. However a few years back my wife and I observed a fairly sizeable fall near Saltwick Nab and, fortunately, we were far enough away from the cliffs to see it and nothing more. Others have not been so lucky.
To get the best shots you have to be out and about in all weathers — even the rain. When the rain breaks around Whitby, it can change quickly. Some of the images here were shot on a day that started with fog pressing in on our apartment windows on West Cliff. It soon turned into a heavy downpour, so I took to the North Yorkshire Moors Railway. After tea in the early evening, the sun broke through the cloud. A quick check of the tides and the weather, and I took to my favourite walk which is outlined further on.
The easiest and safest walk to make from Whitby is down the ramp at West Pier onto the beach and then to walk up the coastline to Sandsend —provided the tide is out. This is a popular dog-walking spot, as there are around three miles of sand and rock pools, plus the sea which can be calm and gentle, or heavy with rolling waves and surfers.
There are rock pools beyond Sandsend, and also lines of rotting groynes that provide some nice imaginative photo opportunities. There is a cafe for those who need to refuel before walking back to Whitby.
This is often one of the better places for those wide seascapes with Whitby in the background, and the sky acting as your canvas. When the tide is in the last hour of its retreat, and just before it turns, you will find wonderful reflections in the damp sand; often they mirror the sky above. I often use Sandsend as a backdrop for sunsets while standing in Whitby since the sun drops over the back of the village on clear summer nights.
My favourite walk out of Whitby is over the East Pier and then along the scar towards Saltwick Nab, a cluster of rocks that guards the entrance to Saltwick Bay. The series of bays up to Saltwick Nab is not the safest place to be. I tend to head out about an hour or so before low tide, and walk through, keeping away from the cliffs. The
On the right day you see amazing reflections, and access to two wrecks: The concrete ship, and a small section of the SS Rohilla, which is a well-documentary tragedy from World War I. Visit the RNLI museum in Whitby to read more about this tragedy. The rest of the wreck lies off the scar in about six metres of water and is often visited by local divers.
Once you pass by Saltwick Nab, you are in Saltwick Bay and are a little safer as there is a natural exit up some steep steps in the centre of the bay. It will return you to the caravan park above and you can walk along the cliff top back to Whitby Abbey.
The bay is wide open and scoops round to Black Nab at the opposite end. I shot one of my pictures from this point with the Leica X a few summers back after a heavy rainstorm and with an angry looking sky. If you walk the entire bay to Black Nab, following the rock pools and beach, you will find a photographic treasure in the shape of the remains of
The Admiral Von Tromp (remember to use an O and not a U) at Saltwick Bay is a local trawler involved in a tragedy in 1977. It’s a testimony to the power of the North Sea, and the bravery of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute.
The ship became stuck initially in a pool beyond Black Nab and was unsalvageable. On the night of 30 October 1976, the members of the Royal National Lifeboat Institute courageously saved three of the five crew.
As a young man, I would stand beyond the Nab at the very low tides and touch the hull of the stricken trawler. Few images exist of those days. I found one shot on
However, the North Sea took less than a decade to reduce poor von Tromp to the remnants now adorning the internet in our images. If you get the right tide and the right sunset that dips just beyond Saltwick Nab — and you have the opportunity to be there — then I would suggest chancing it. You will see a scene like no other, and the images that naturally follow can be amazing. But remember the risks outlined above before going there at sunset The darkness, the tides and the nearby cliffs don’t mix well.
The two images here, using the wreck as a centrepiece, were shot on the same evening at sunset. The image showing the sunset with an oblique view of the wreck was taken with the Leica X, tripod mounted and using an ND10 filter. Aperture was set to f/16, and I used a manual shutter speed of two seconds with manual focus. I took a sequence and stayed in this spot until around low tide. I left another guy still shooting, but for me, the tide had turned, and I had no wish to try to avoid the incoming tides by getting under the cliff edge in the dark.
The second image (see top of article) was shot using the Df, and taken handheld across the wreck and using Black Nab as the centrepiece in the background. The wreck’s original resting place, mentioned above, was in a pool behind the Nab.
At really low tides you can still find rotting pieces of the keel in the pool. However, this is accessible only at certain times of the year when the tide drops lower than usual. I wouldn’t advise trying this. I love both images, one because it presents the whole bay of an area I love, and the other because of the unique light created by the setting sun that is off to the left of my camera.
On the Nikon Df
A year of using my Df has introduced me to the benefits of full-frame photography. It is my first. It can shoot handheld in ridiculously low light. Neither the Leica X nor my ageing DX beast, the D300s, can do that at will. In fact, the beautiful 16mp sensor housed in the Df shoots in serious low light situations as if it were daylight. This was something I had never experienced before in my photography and is now something I have grown genuinely to enjoy. It opens up a whole new world of ideas, exploration, and opportunity.
Although I value the amazing ISO capability of the Nikon Df, I still don’t fully understand why Nikon would marry their then top-of-the-range sensor with, potentially, the worst full-frame autofocus solution — the 39-point system taken from the D600/D610 which had hardly set the world alight. At the time Nikon had a 51-point autofocus module that is amazing in low light. Yet still, they chose to limit the camera with the D610 module.
I suspect this decision by Nikon was buried in the historic D700, which was so good that it cannibalised sales of the flagship professional D3. The D700 is still well-loved today, well over ten years after its release. Perhaps they didn’t want to take the risk with the Df versus the D4. As a result, to get the best out of the camera in some low
I genuinely enjoy some of those special ergonomic features of the Df: That ability to change settings from a dial without menu diving and the unusual ISO bracketing function combining the ISO dial for the lower part of the bracket, with the higher value being pre
For anyone hankering after the Df, it’s worth knowing that the battery is amazing in comparison with every other digital camera I have owned. In my recent trip to Yorkshire, I ran 1,352 images and the battery dropped off its top bar only while I was shooting the
Sadly, Nikon appears recently to have pensioned off the Df. It is being discounted all over Nikon’s online stores. Online retailers such as Amazon have stopped selling it new and, while Nikon hasn’t openly said it is discontinued, this is the first sign that something is changing.
After all, I suppose, this camera is now five years old and that’s a lifetime in the digital age. The camera still divides opinion. Those who own and use it, love it. Those who speculate on specifications and the negative aspects, hate it.
One YouTube camera reviewer, Mattias Birling, takes an excellent and balanced review of the Df. He recently did his favourite image quality video, and assessed results from various cameras. The Df came top. That is some feat when you look at the cameras he put it up against.
What next? I am looking for a new lens for the Df. I have a rough idea of what I want — potentially a toss
This will likely mean another visit to Grays of Westminster to see which one I prefer. With luck, this will bring something new to my images for 2020. I also stand by my decision to buy the much