Lulworth Cove, Dorset
Dorset is a county well known for its spectacular coastal scenery. The South West Coast Path begins here and links this stretch of coast to the infinitely rugged Devon and Cornish coastlines. Also, jointly shared with Devon, Dorset lays claim to possessing Britain’s first natural World Heritage Site, the Jurassic Coast. After boasting such proud credentials you would expect some special bays to present themselves all along this coast, and you wouldn’t be disappointed.
Lulworth Cove is perhaps the best known of any natural wonder along the Dorset Coast. For those of you who didn’t pay attention to your geography lessons in school, Lulworth Cove is a horseshoe shaped cove, formed by both sea and river erosion to the soft clay beds. It’s almost perfect circle provides possibly the best example anywhere in the world of this geological process.
As beautiful as it can be to gaze upon, the cove can be very challenging to photograph. The main problem is that when standing on the shore, you are basically surrounded on all sides by cliff, with a narrow gap out to sea directly south. If you are looking to capture a sunrise or sunset over the sea, the cliffs present a big challenge.
For this reason I passed up on photographing Lulworth Cove for many years, until one cold December day just after Christmas. I had just purchased a shiny new Canon 5D and was itching to give it a try. My wife and I had decided to go for a walk at Lulworth, so I decided to take the camera along for a play.
Almost as soon as we arrived on the beach I was struck by how beautiful the scene looked, with the huge white cliffs bathed in golden late evening light. Thoughts of our walk immediately disappeared from my mind as I began setting up my 5D onto the tripod. Quality light such as this appears much less frequently than photographers would wish and fades all too quickly, so you need to work fast to capture it. My thoughts turned to foreground interest; luckily this is where Lulworth comes into its own. All around me the eroded chalk ledges disappeared into the sea, providing an unusual white layer sprinkled with shiny wet pebbles. Once beneath the sea the submerged white rock shows off the turquoise colour of the water. This gives the whole scene a Mediterranean appearance, a world apart from the chill of an English December evening.
I set my tripod at waist height and pointed the camera slightly downwards to maximise the lovely white rock. Using a 17-40mm wideangle ensured that I could keep the sky and cliffs in my composition, as well as a healthy portion of foreground to pull the eye into the scene. Finally I attached a 0.6 ND Grad filter to keep the brooding sky from blowing out.
After taking several exposures the light on the cliffs began to fade. Thoughts turned to my wife waiting patiently besides a nearby rock. I nearly packed up, but after a few moments of deliberation I decided to keep shooting. After all, these moments are all too rare, and my 5D was still keen to be experimented with!
I turned to look south, facing the narrow opening where the cove meets the sea. Five minutes beforehand this shot would have been impossible, the difference in exposure between bright sky and foreground would have been too great to record. But now that the sun had dipped behind the cliffs to the right and disappeared behind clouds, the difference in exposure had dropped significantly. Even so, I still needed to use a 0.9 ND Grad filter to keep the colours in the sky, which had the side effect of darkening the cliffs. Not ideal, but the turquoise water and pink skies more than made up for it. Soon after, the skies faded and darkness descended on us. Not much of a walk, but some very pleasing shots to make up for it.
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