Birthday treat

Durdle Door

Durdle Door one cold and grey winter’s morning

I often venture out for sunrise on my birthday for pleasure, with no real “need” to work a scene or a feeling of pressure to make a series of images. It’s usually more about last minute decisions and non-researched gut feeling outings. A sunrise outing also means I have the rest of the day to spend with my family, eat cake, open presents, get spoilt rotten etc. It’s a hard life but…

My birthday is mid-January, and this means the sun rises in a fairly southerly direction. I have seen some images of the mid-winter sun rising through the arch of Durdle Door, and fancied following the lead of others for a change – time for a honey pot location!

I arrived at Durdle Door about two hours before sunrise. During the winter months, the caravan park at Durdle is usually closed with a big, locked metal gate, meaning a bit of a hike is required before you even start descending down to the beach.

Walking down to the Door in pitch black is quite an experience, although not one for the faint hearted when you think you’re heading towards a rather high cliff, with crumbling edges, that only has one steep and narrow path down to the beach. Thankfully, my head light and torch were lighting the way for me very nicely. It’s quite something though to stop and pause, switch off all lights and just listen to the tide sweeping in and out on the pebbles below you.

The sky to my left was starting to turn from its current obsidian black, so it was time to head down the steps to the beach. I really must count them one day, but I can safely use the word “lots” to describe them. Once on the beach, I wandered around a bit until I had a clear view through the arch in the general direction that the sun would rise from.

Being down below such high cliffs, my iPhone struggled for signal of any kind, but The Photographer’s Ephemeris app finally loaded and confirmed where the sun would rise and that I was in the right-ish place. Time to get set up!

For a change, I hadn’t studied the weather forecast to any great extent; just enough to know it wasn’t going to rain on me. I can only assume it had looked a fairly promising sunrise as a few other bleary-eyed photographers started to arrive with camera bags slung over their shoulders.

Two of them having arrived together, obviously didn’t like the prospect of “sharing” a location, and immediately headed back up off the beach without even saying hello or taking camera bags off their backs. Odd! So, sat waiting, all set up, all I needed was a lovely sunrise and a starburst around the edge of the arch. What I didn’t need was for the photographer who’d stayed to let his dog off the lead and fill my lovely clean foreground with doggy footprints! Doh!!

From my new footprint-free position a few yards down the beach, I didn’t have an ideal angle through the Door, so I was mentally going through options while trying to resist the urge to throw the dog’s stick 3 1/2 miles in the other direction to keep it off my foreground. But, we can’t blame the dogs and can only mutter under our breaths about the owners.

My new position gave me the more classic view of the Door that you often see, and I had contingency angles lined up should the sunrise be dramatic and doggy footprints suddenly less of a concern.

By this time, the sky to my left had started to colour up – all very blood red and brooding; I could feel my pulse quickening as I watched the light show develop. However, what slowed my pulse was a quick end to the light show before it had even got anywhere near the Door let alone be a starburst through the arch. I had some great stormy clouds, but they were monochrome and the sky was now completely devoid of any colour.

Ok, time for Mono then! I quickly switched my camera to Mono mode and tried a few of the digital B&W filters just to visualise the resulting image – I quite liked what I saw, so added a 0.6 ND Grad filter and liked what I saw even more. I always shoot in RAW to capture the maximum amount of image data, but using the camera functions to shoot a small jpg alongside the RAW allows me to experiment with B&W, even though I’m actually shooting in colour and will convert later in silver Efex Pro. The sun was hiding behind the clouds so I could have probably used a weaker 0.3 ND instead, but I wanted to use a stronger Grad filter so it would lift the detail on the Door, and darken the clouds a bit more.

I usually use Mirror Lock Up in conjunction with a 2 second shutter release delay to minimise camera shake during the exposure. Leaving Mirror Lock Up on, I disabled the timer delay so I could trip the shutter just when I wanted to – I was hoping to capture blurred waves running back out off the beach. f/11 didn’t give me quite long enough shutter speed to blur the water, so I dropped to f/16. This gave me 0.6 seconds, which seemed about right.

Now it was just a question of lining the clouds up. I knew I was going to have a bit expanse of grey cloud in the top right corner, and wanted to use this space a bit more without detracting from the Door and foreground surf. I spotted the brighter sliver you can see in the image, and thought it could be just the thing. It was above the Door when I first spotted it, and waiting for it to drift across the sky seemed to take an eternity. When it finally moved into place, it turned into a subtle lead-in line from the potentially boring corner back to the main point of interest, the Door. Perfect!

As the waves came in I pressed the shutter to lock up the mirror, then just as the wave started to recede I tripped the cable release again to start the exposure and capture the drawback. After a few attempts, I think I got the shot – nothing like I had intended to capture, but I rather like it.

Exposure info: 0.6 seconds @ f/16, ISO100 with 0.6 ND Grad filter.

Processing info: RAW imported into Lightroom and minor exposure tweaks made. B&W conversion using Silver Efex Pro.

Prints of my images are available from my website.

All images protected by copyright laws for Andrew Stevens Photography 2013.


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