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.

Eclipsed by the clouds…

Blog lr_Z4A1847We were lucky enough to have a partial eclipse of the sun here in the UK this morning, though because of the heavy cloud if you weren’t paying attention you’d have missed the slowly changing light levels.  No sight of the sun just a gentle darkening of the sky.

Nonetheless I took the opportunity to do a little low(er) light photography in the middle of the morning down at Languard Point, the southernmost tip of Felixstowe.  Moody skies, bit of a swell on the sea and a camera.  What more would I need?

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.

When is the best time to photograph a sunrise?

hr_Z4A0305A friend asked me a little while ago what time he should go out to photograph the sunrise?  My rather simplistic answer was ‘Well it depends!’, but I didn’t leave it there!

No doubt there are times that you’ve been busy working, driving or otherwise occupied when you see the sky light up like its on fire and you wish you could stop what you’re doing to capture it on your camera or phone!  But whenever you’re out and able to take a picture the sunrise or sunset is nothing to shout about.

So how can you stack the odds in your favour?  There are some things you can control and some you can’t.  All you can do is load the dice!

Having a camera with room on the card and batteries fully charged are the main things that are totally within your control.  A tripod, a remote release and some graduated filters are useful additions but not essential.

So how can you load the dice?  Knowing the time of sunrise is perhaps obvious and knowing the likely weather is important too.  If you’re going to the coast then the state of the tide will influence what you’ll find when you get there.

The time that the sun rises is easy to find.  Many weather websites will show the times that the sun rises and sets for a location as well as those for the moon.  You could always spend a few pounds on an app like The Photographer’s Ephemeris (for both Android and iOS) which will give you times as well as the direction in which the sun or moon will appear overlaid on a map.

Now you know when the sun will peak above the horizon, but if you get to your location at the exact time you’re likely to miss the best part of the show.  It’s not just having the time to get your camera ready but also knowing that the the sky can light up in colour around half an hour before the sun actually appears.  It’s best to arrive up to an hour before the actual sunrise to get in position and ready to shoot!  Similarly don’t pack up as soon as the sun disappears at sunset.  You might miss the main event in the following 30 minutes!

What about the weather?  The times of sunrise and sunset can be worked out years in advance but predicting the weather even the next day is not so easy!  Thin or broken cloud is likely to be best for a colourful sky as it’s likely to let the colours created by the sun and the earth’s atmosphere through where thick cloud won’t.  With a little trial and error you can learn to interpret the weather forecast from whichever site you check.  It may take a little time but it’s worth it in the end.  Even if the sun doesn’t appear you’re still likely to have a lovely soft light, it may appear dull but that doesn’t meant your images will be dull!

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If you are on the coast there are apps which will give you the times of high and low tides but you can get it for nothing on the BBC’s website buried in the weather pages.  I tend to look out for a falling tide which reveals new things at it ebbs away, whereas a rising tide can catch you out.  You might just end up with wet feet but far worse you could get cut off and stranded with no where to go and putting your life in danger.

So now that you’re armed with a little more information you’ll hopefully be able to plan for the best chance of a good sunrise shoot.  It’s not science but a case of improving your chances.  If you wait for the prefect combination on paper then you may miss some great opportunities so get out there when the odds look good, enjoy the great outdoors and hopefully get some fantastic images in to the bargain.  However, if all your planning doesn’t pay off?  Well you tried, hopefully enjoyed being in the great outdoors and maybe have a few ideas to improve your chances next time!

Jeremy Hennell James is a professional photographer based in East Anglia specialising in portrait and landscape photography.  He also runs workshops aimed at helping you get the best from your camera!

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.

Havergate Island Photography Days

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There are some places in Suffolk that are just a little hard to get to but once you’re there you realise the effort was worth it.

One such place is Havergate Island, an RSPB reserve  resting in the River Ore and only accessible by boat.  To say it’s resting is actually misleading as it’s teeming with life.  Cut off from disturbance by humans and many predators the flora and fauna on the island flourish.

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© Kevin Sawford 2014

Now I don’t pretend to be a wildlife photographer but I recognise the opportunities for those who are.  First there are the hares which are resident all year round.  Having the run of the island they are able to live and breed protected from natural predators.  They will quite happily bask in the sun allowing us to get close enough (though not too close) for some great images.  But it’s not just hares, there are avocets, barn owls and spoonbills in addition to the inevitable gulls on the island. They can be seen from the purpose built hides dotted over the island.  During the summer months sea lavender thrives decorating the island with its mauves and purples.

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But it’s not just wildlife.  Surrounded on all sides by the river you’ll see a landscape on one side that is what you may have come to expect of Suffolk.  But on the other side you have the earily silent Orford Ness.  A flat shingle landscape punctuated only by the remains of the testing facilities left by the Ministry of Defence now managed by the National Trust.

There aren’t many opportunities to visit this wonderful landscape and spend a day either photographing or just taking it all in but Wild Adventures under Suffolk’s Skies are running a limited number of trips to the island in 2015 where you’ll get the chance to do just that.  You’ll have the chance to roam the paths and take advantage of the photography tuition available if you want to.  I’ll be there to offer guidance on photographing the landscape as well as general photography advice and Kevin Sawford will be there to offer help on photographing the wildlife.

If you’d like to know more please get in touch, either with Monika of Wild Adventures under Suffolk’s SkiesKevin Sawford or myself and we’ll be happy to help.