Picture the scene: you have a photo in mind, you do all the neccesary homework about the location, the sunrise / sunset times, you get up early, put on all the proper outdoor gear with all the right kit, you get there in plenty of time and just when you’re about to put it all together things somehow don’t work out! Either the weather forecast is wrong or you somehow forget an essential piece of kit like your favourite lens or your wooly hat or the water level in the loch is much lower or higher than you expected. What do you do?
Something like this happened to me the other day at Belhaven Beach, just east of Edinburgh. Belhaven Beach is known for it’s bridge – commonly known as ‘The Bridge to Nowhere’. There’s a classic view of the bridge isolated in water but when the tide is low you can see that it, in fact, spans a small waterway on the beach. I was hoping to get this classic view in early light with a high tide. One catch, however, was that I was down in Edinburgh for a family getaway and could only go to the location on one of 2 mornings. I read somewhere that it’s ideal to have a tide of over 5m to get the classic shot bridge in the water but at the time of the sunrise on this particular day was some way short of that. Well, I thought, I’m in the area and it’s only half an hour drive so I’ll take my chances and give it a go anyway. I got there at just the right time, slightly before sunrise, and conditions were just about perfect. That’s when things started to go wrong…
On the way I realised I’d forgotten my trusty welly boots. Being able to let a wave wash over your feet can be the difference between getting a shot and not – you don’t want to have to scurry away from an incoming wave just as your about to press the button. My wellies are one of thecheapest but most valuable pieces of kit I own. I’d also left home with out my heavy outdoor jacker which has my gloves and hat in the pockets! It wasn’t exactly a cold morning being the end of August but I really wasn’t protected form the elements. You park very close to the bridge and I could tell as I was pulling in that the tide was far too low for the classic shot I had in mind to be possible. With everything seemingly going against me I was this close to just turning the car around – I could be back to the AirBnB just in time for my little girl waking up.
My background as a commercial photographer has taught me that no matter where, when and who you’re photographing you have to come up with something and it has to be at least half decent and you have to do it at the time of the client’s choosing – that means even when conditions are less than perfect. I think it was the problem solving challenge that made me get out of the car. A voice in my head told me to break down the scene, see what I’ve got and to work with it.
The elements I had were as follows – a metalwork bridge, a promising looking sunrise, some shallow water flowing under the bridge. I had no wellies so I had to stay on dry land and I only had a thin jacket and no hat or gloves so I’d have to be quick.
First off I decided to completely forget the classic shot had in mind – that wasn’t happening and the shot from that angle without a high tide just isn’t a shot you’d take. I had to minimise the land in the shot – this told me to go for a low angle. The bridge itself isn’t an architectural masterpiece but its shape would work as a silhouette against that sunrise – this old me I had to be on the other side of the bridge. My first instinct was to have the bridge large in the frame but the waterway wouldn’t allow me to get in position without stepping into the water so that was out. I had to shoot a wider frame with the lonely bridge being a smaller element in the overall image. There was also a large building on the horizon which, if not placed carefully, would be a distraction in the image. Stepping back from the bridge allowed me control the position of that building as well as to take in more water in the foreground. The water was moving but in a long exposure I knew it would come up pretty smooth and reflect the bridge and the colour in the sky. Putting all those things together I came up with the shot in the header which was taken at ISO125, f/11 and 72 seconds.
Is it perfect? No. It’s not what I had in mind when I set out but but working with what was available I was able to make the best of a tricky situation. Unfortunately while I was taking photos the water lever rose and I ended up slightly marooned on the wrong side of the bridge and had to take a couple of steps through about a foot or so of water. As I said out loud at the time, “not cool, not cool!”.
I’d encourage you to plan and prepare as much as you can for landscape shoots, especially when you’re sacrificing a few hours in bed to get to the location. But when the scene seems to be conspiring against you work with it! For example, you can’t make the sun shine when it doesn’t want to but you can embrace the mood of a dark sky. Let’s take an open minded approach to our photography and embrace the new possibilities that come our way when nature throws our ‘Plan A’ out the window!
Please let me know if you have any questions or comments!