Tony McLean's East Yorkshire Wildlife Diary

Wildlife photography in East Yorkshire

St Swithin’s day

Flamborough Head-sunrise

I left my house at 3:30 am last Sunday morning, St Swithin’s day, for the short drive to Flamborough Head. When I arrived, the car park was empty, just the sweeping light from the lighthouse enabled me to negotiate the steep path to the beach. The tide was ebbing as I set up my tripod with my Nikon D800 and my 14-24 lens. No need for filters just yet; not until the sun had risen. Setting my camera on aperture priority at f22 at ISO 100 gave me a thirty-second exposure. I set my focus manually, ignoring any hyper-focal distance. I just made sure that the foreground shingle was in focus, knowing that the immense d.o.f. of this lens would cover the remainder of the cliff features in the frame. I left my white balance as default as I knew that I could adjust it later in Adobe Camera Raw (A.C.R.) Now, I’m not a huge fan of ‘cotton wool’ surf, but the beautiful tones of the pale blue, pre-dawn light was irresistible and I made several exposures with camera set on mirror-up and using a hand-held cable release. Here’s the best of the ten or so exposures I made…

21 minutes before dawn

I like the quarter moon peeking out in the top of the picture. Just wish there had been less movement of the clouds. Still, I love the ethereal, translucent tones of the sea and the rosy glow on the horizon.

A few minutes later, I had settled on a promising location for the actual sunrise. Two clumps of kelp would provide foreground interest and a 3 stop neutral density filter would give me longer exposure and a 3 stop hard graduated filter would give balance, taming the bright sky and allowing me to capture the shadow detail of the white chalk headland. I checked the placement of the horizon line of the graduated filter by using the preview button on my camera to stop down to the actual taking aperture, in this case f22. I poured myself a cup of black tea and waited for the actual sunrise. I learnt from my previous mistake with stray reflections from the Lee SW150 filter holder and used my hand to shield the rear of the filters from any direct light. I also remembered to close the shutter blind on my camera’s viewfinder. The picture at the top of this post was the best of six exposures. (1.6 seconds at f22 at ISO 100 at 16mm on my 14-24 Nikon lens on my D800)

A few minutes later, the dawn light had disappeared to be replaced by a beautiful golden glow. I spun around and looked up at the light-house perched precariously on the cliff edge. The sky was a deep blue and I liked the composition I had achieved with my 14-24 lens. Unfortunately, this lens won’t take a polarising filter (and if it did, it would probably only lead to an uneven sky) so I left my 24-70 with its warm polarising filter in my bag and settled on a 3 stop soft grad to cover the sky and the top of the cliff. Some unusual rock shapes in the foreground and a pleasant cloud pattern provided the remainder of interest. (1/20 second at f22 ISO 100 using a 16mm focal length)

Flamborough Head---Lighthouse

So, all three photographs were taken in just over an hour. I climbed back into my car at 6:00 am and spotted another photographer walking towards the beach. I just waved a cheery ‘good morning’ and secretly congratulated myself for getting up so early.

To really appreciate these images you’ve got to see them on a large scale. So please feel free to click on any of these three images to see them open in their true splendour. I’ve already made two large test-prints of the first two photographs in this post and they look stunning, especially together—they are sort of twins, one cool & one warm.

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2 thoughts on “St Swithin’s day

  1. Alan on said:

    Absolutely stunning Tony!You know your stuff,but you still seem to move on and “experiment” to make even better photos,well done mate.

  2. Thanks Alan. Yes, I don’t like to stay still and although I feel that I will always return to wildlife photography, I am enjoying the break and the frredom to be a little more creative.

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