Slaughden Quay

The last time I came to Slaughden Quay it was to eat fish & chips from one of the two great chippies in Aldeburgh, fending off the seagulls as I devoured the fruits of the sea!

This visit was different.  The chippies were closed and the sun was fading in the sky at the end of the day.  The East Coast is normally associated with the start of the day as the sun rises over the sea.  But I was looking for a classic sunset reflected in the River Alde looking back towards Snape.  A little cloud in the sky and I was ready.  The sun fell below the distant horizon and the sky lit up.

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I got back to the car by the beach as the stars started to shine and I looked out to sea – The Plough, Orion and more started to appear as I sat and watched the waves rolling onto the beach below.

Why not, let’s have a go.  I picked a spot, set up and started to take pictures.  Each one needing a longer and longer exposure as  the light faded.  I thought that the sea would merge into a uniform colour after a while but no.  Even at 8 minutes there were patterns emerging in the deep blue of the ocean.  I could hardly see what was going on, I couldn’t see anything in my camera’s viewfinder but it could see for me.

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I’m rather glad I stopped to watch the stars.  I think I’ll do it again some time…

My time on Slaughden Quay is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring, recording what I find and then sharing.  You can follow me on my journey by adding my blog to your feed, liking my Facebook page, circling me on Google+ or following me on Twitter.

The River Alde in the moonlight

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Snape Maltings is known as a major concert venue in Suffolk but part of its appeal to me is what lays behind the old buildings heading along the river towards the sea.  The reed beds along the Alde wind away from the Maltings past Iken and on towards Aldeburgh.

The reeds change with the breeze, the time of day and the hue of the light.  Changing light morphs the reeds from almost grey under a cloudy sky to a golden orange in the low sun at the beginning and end of the day.  But in the hour after the sun has set, lit by the glow of the moon high in the sky, they look different again, taking on a ghostly appearance as they sway in the breeze.

I didn’t notice to start with.  I’d been further along the river capturing a more conventional sunset but on my way back to the Maltings I spotted a curved stand of reeds in the river standing above the river at high tide.  I stopped for a moment and watched.  Stars and planets coming out of the clear sky and the moon glowing brightly above me.  Time to unpack the camera once more.  Long exposures as night took hold once again.

I’m glad I stopped and looked…

My time amongst the reeds on the River Alde is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring, recording what I find and then sharing.  You can follow me on my journey by adding my blog to your feed, Liking my Facebook page, Circling me on Google+ or following me on Twitter.

Is it a painting?

Blog _Z4A1482I sometimes get asked if some of of the images that I create are either paintings or if they’ve been photoshopped.  The answer is an absolute no to the first question and a 99% chance of a no to the second.  I’d rather be out in the landscape than sat in front of a computer spending time in Photoshop.

Those who follow Hennell James Photography on Facebook will have seen that I often post an image taken on my phone when I’m on location.  It’s often a little later that I follow up a blog post and an image from my camera, taken at the same time, but with quite a different look.

Here is an image taken with my phone a moment after the one above that was taken with my DSLR camera.

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The image from my phone is just a snapshot of what is in front of me, just a quick edit, nothing complicated.  The image from my camera is much more how I see what is in front of me.  Again very little editing, just a few tweaks to contrast and saturation in Adobe Lightroom.

The images were made at Iken Cliffs on the River Alde between Snape and Aldeburgh.  Similar composition, similar colours but to me a subtle but different feeling to each.

The morning was quiet, no traffic, a few birds in the dawn chorus and only the slightest breeze.  Calm and tranquil and that’s the feeling I wanted to convey in my final image.  How did I do it?  Taking advantage of the darkness and with a neutral density filter (if you’re not sure what that is think of the effect of a pair of sunglasses) I used a longer shutter speed on my DSLR to give the clouds and the ripples on the river surface time to move and blur whilst everything else was still.

Small things can make a big difference…

My time at Iken Cliffs is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring, recording what I find and then sharing.  You can follow me on my journey by adding my blog to your feed, Liking my Facebook page, Circling me on Google+ or following me on Twitter.

Orford Lighthouse

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One of the prominent features on Orford Ness, for now at least, is the lighthouse that stands on the beach overlooking the North Sea.  The current lighthouse has stood there protecting shipping since 1792, but its days are numbered.  Decommissioned in 2013, the beach protecting it from the sea is disappearing with each winter storm that passes and soon it may fall, like the town of Dunwich, into the sea.

Viewed from further south the lighthouse stands tall between buildings with a more sinister past.  Further north along the River Ore, somewhere close to where it becomes the River Alde, the lighthouse is almost alone in the barren open space of Orford Ness.  From a distance across the river and the shingle landscape, even a long lens would not have brought the lighthouse close enough.  Being closer  would have shown it to be large and strong.  The wider view, setting it in open the landscape of brooding clouds shows a more fragile perspective, even a large building of rock and stone will succumb to the power of the sea!

My time opposite the lighthouse on Orford Ness is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring, recording what I find and then sharing.  You can follow me on my journey by adding my blog to your feed, Liking my Facebook page, Circling me on Google+ or following me on Twitter.

Orford Ness

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Orford Ness is a place like few others.  From a distance it appears to be a barren landscape, the largest shingle spit in Europe.  Shifted and moulded by the sea as the seasons and the years pass by.  Access is difficult: you either need to swim or take a boat across the river.  The ness is part of a National Nature Reserve and access is restricted.  You could of course walk down the shingle beach from Aldeburgh, it’s a few miles and hard work on the shingle beach.  Never mind the risk of stepping on something nasty left from the past!

From a distance you can see the the remains of buildings left to decay.  There’s an old listening post, a lighthouse which may soon be swallowed by the sea, a black watch tower and some other old buildings.  Then finally some strange structures standing as a testament to the past.

Orford Ness was use in the last century as a testing ground for British ordinance.  It was used for live firing tests as well as vibration tests of triggers for early atomic bombs.  The strange buildings, appearing as a mix between a pagoda and a Greek temple, were used to put the triggers through the rigours that they’d face in flight.  If one exploded the roofs would fall in and smother the blast.

Now the buildings are left to decay and the flora and fauna are left to their own devices.

I arrived well before the sunrise, the moon and stars shining bright against the black sky.  Bitterly cold I settled down in the one spot on the river Alde close to the northern end of Havergate Island and watched the scene develop.  The moon was just a quarter full and not bright enough to use as a light, maybe next time.  Broken cloud started to drift across the sky and as the sky got lighter there was no sign of the sun behind the bank of cloud out to sea.  Normally I love to move around but today the sky did the work for me.  Finally, the sun showed itself streaming thorough the cloud.  Every time I thought of heading off to a warm cafe the sky would change and persuade me to stay for just one more shot.  After 3 hours I finally headed back along the river bank to the warm, a hot coffee and breakfast!

My time opposite Orford Ness is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring and recording what I find and then sharing.

Shingle Street

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Shingle Street is hard to describe.  It rests at the end of a narrow lane, the only buildings are a line of cottages and a Martello Tower.  Looking inland are fields and out to sea mostly empty space.  Banks of shingle come and go with the tide and change shape with the storms that rage in the North Sea.

With all this nothing what could there be to photograph?  We’re so used to being fed information and stimulus we sometimes forget that we can sit, watch and discover for ourselves.  Often it takes too long and we have other things to get on with rather than invest the time in ourselves.

On a cold dreary winter morning before the sun had risen I stood on the beach and watched the waves breaking on the shingle.  I listened to the sound of the pebbles being dragged back into the sea as the waves retreated.  A grating sound that’s hard to describe.  The tide was falling and in its wake the shingle banks emerged, all the time changing the pattern of the waves.  Gulls settled on the banks before lifting once more into the air.

While all this happened the sky lightened as the sun continued its journey to meet the horizon.  Textures started to form in the cloud and colours morphed in the sky, changing all the time.

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The sun finally rose above the horizon and Shingle Street greeted another day.  The waves, the shingle and the gulls carried on as before but somehow the ambiance changed from soft and gentle to bright and glaring.  Another day had begun, Shingle Street returned to the isolated beach you’d expect.

Shingle Streets haunting beauty under wraps for another day.

My time on the pebbles at Shingle Street is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring and recording what I find and then sharing.

Mud, glorious mud!

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Mud and cameras are not really good bedfellows.  All the tiny gritty dirt can get everywhere inside and out so it’s best to keep them apart!

Knowing all of that I recently returned to Bawdsey to photograph mud.  He’s gone mad you’re thinking, well not quite.

I spotted them about a year ago – big patches of clay emerging from under the eroding cliffs.  I also saw it in the surf as the waves broke on the shingle beach and thought it was rock.  They looked like the limestone pavements in Yorkshire and had the appearance of being carved by the action of the waves and shingle.  When I stood on one my boot left a shallow footprint.  The Suffolk Coast is not the classic rugged coastline with towering cliffs and boulders but more gentle, in appearance at least!  These ‘rocks’ are in fact London Clay left under the sandstone cliffs millennia in the past, re emerging as the cliffs are pulled into the sea.  A good hunting ground for fossils apparently!

The day I returned work had started to shore up the sea defences before winter storms started in earnest.  Heavy machinery had churned up the fields on the land side of the sea wall so I waded through a pool of slurry nearly a foot deep, glad I was wearing Wellington boots so I could walk in the surf without worrying!

The weather forecast had suggested broken cloud, not the shady grey cloud above.  The sea was almost grey.  The mud was grey.

Time to watch for the patterns as the waves broke over the  mud.  There’s always a temptation to see something and hide behind the camera as you snap away but I find I see so much more by stopping, waiting and watching.  Waves have patterns, not just in the flow of water on the beach as they come and go but in the variation in size and direction as they interact with hidden objects under the surface.  It can take a few minutes to tune into these and work out when to press the shutter.  It’s usually well worth the wait.

My time on the beach at Bawdsey is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring and recording what I find and then sharing.

Waves on the beach at Bawdsey

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The last time I ventured out to Bawdsey the rain was pouring down, almost horizontally off the sea.  The wind whipped up patterns in the waves, shingle banks around the entrance to the River Deben forced them to break out to sea leaving patterns in their wake.  If the wind had been blowing from any other direction I’d have been busy but as it was it was coming straight at my lens and there are only so many time you can dry it.

Today the sky was clear and I had just the moon and the stars for company, as the sun rose the stars faded into the warming sky.  The tide was higher than I’d expected so the image I’d hoped to make would have to wait for another day, time to explore further along.

Bawdsey has a long history and it played a pivotal role in the development of radar that watches over us in so many invisible ways today.  Steel plates and girders have replaced many of the wooden sea defences protecting the sandy cliffs from crumbling into the sea.

As the sun rose its bright rays reflected from the waves, not the calm images I often look for so time to look for something different.  Looking away from the sun I stood and watched the waves break and rush up the beach before retreating back to the sea wrapping themselves around the stumps leftover from the old sea defences. Each wave leaving a different pattern.

Rather than freeze the motion I decided to let the pattern gently flow around the stump and back to the sea.  It was so bright I needed my neutral density filters to slow the shutter down for the effect I wanted.

My time on the beach at Bawdsey is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring and recording what I find and then sharing.

Waymarker at Felixstowe Ferry

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It can be frustrating when you know there is something to photograph in a place but you just can’t find it.  This is just what happened to me at Felixstowe Ferry.  I think the Ferry comes from the small boat that takes passengers (and sometimes their bikes) across the River Deben, a different kind of ferry to the ones that have taken passengers across the North Sea to Europe over the years.  The Coast here is constantly being shaped by the North Sea and the shingle banks both on and near the shore move with the tides and the storms that come and go.

I arrived before dawn and took a look along the river where the small yachts are moored, protected from the sea.  It was quiet but for the sea birds and the wind rattling the halyards on the yachts against their masts.

I wandered around for a while but didn’t find any inspiration until I came round the corner where the Deben heads into the sea between the shifting shingle banks.  Posts and buoys mark the safe channel toward the North Sea.

Curves started to emerge in the shingle, shaped by the tides.  I found symmetry in the shingle banks on the horizon, the single post standing tall and even the horizon splitting the frame equally the sea reflecting the sky.

It’s what I’d been seeking for a while. A combination of tide, weather and light all coming together at the right time.

My time on the shingle at Felixstowe Ferry is part of a journey north along the Suffolk coast from Languard Point at the southernmost tip to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring and recording what I find and then sharing.

Felixstowe breakwater

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Felixstowe breakwater
Felixstowe breakwater

Being a photographer is about many things.  Being able to control a camera is part of it but much more important is the ability to ‘see’ an image and then translate that into a photograph.  It’s something I spend a lot of energy on with my workshop participants: slowing down, looking and thinking about what they can see before pressing the shutter and then looking at what they have captured and thinking about what they could do differently.  Sometimes a participant realises they have a ‘good eye’ but they want to learn how to use the camera to capture what they have seen.  More often they want to work on their skill of seeing.

A couple of months ago I took a run on my own along the prom at Felixstowe.  As I turned at the halfway point I came across a breakwater that was different to the others shielding the beach.  Not the usual mound of rocks but more deliberate, placed.  I saw a very simple but graphic image and decided to return when the tide was right and there was cloud in the sky.

I went back just before sunrise on a cloudy morning.  Alone on the beach, I looked around at the sweeping lines I’d seen and worked how I wanted to place them.  Taking care I climbed over the rocks making sure neither I nor my camera disappeared into the gaps.  It’s happened before and I didn’t want it to happen again!  I’d settle on a spot for my tripod and while the shutter was open I’d look around for where to go next.

I spent over an hour looking at the lines, watching the patterns come and go in the waves and contemplating life.  Finally I succumbed to hunger and it was time to go and find some breakfast!

My time on the beach at Felixstowe is part of a journey north along the Suffolk Coast from the southernmost point to its border with Norfolk.  Along the way I’ll be exploring and recording what I find, then sharing.