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  • Writer's pictureAndy Brown

Getting out of Lockdown at last!

Clevedon Pier a Victorian Pier of Wrought Iron Construction
Clevedon Pier, 120s @f9.0. 10 stop ND, 3 stop soft ND Grad & Circular Polariser

It has been a long time since I went to any destination other than my nearby environs with the intent to make images, but that chance came on Sunday, one day in advance of the UK’s easing of national Lockdown restrictions. How come? I hear you ask. My reason for travel on that day was legitimate. I was returning home after spending several days caring for my mother who had had an emergency operation to save the sight in her one remaining good eye. A macular hole had developed so surgery was needed. She is a widow of 87 and lives alone, so first my brother then I supported her post-operatively. I am glad to say that her recovery is proceeding well. Because she lives on the other side of the country, I had a long 300+ mile return journey to undertake. A journey that long needs at least one break and I had already identified two possible locations both featuring iconic British Seaside Piers. Weston-Super-Mare and Clevedon. In the end I chose Clevedon because of it’s proximity to the M5 and I was pleased I did. I drove through the town which is a faded Victorian resort (and all the more charming for that) luckily finding a parking spot in full view of my target. The weather was chilly with a strong breeze and the tide was out. People were enjoying the typical ‘bracing’ seaside weather, but it was not crowded, which was good for my purposes. As it was the middle of the day, I had no aspirations for good light and indeed this was the case with low cloud and hazy atmospherics. However, my plan had taken account of this as I was thinking of long exposure, minimalist monochrome. Indeed the haze obscuring Wales on the other side of the Bristol Channel helped with this, as it eliminated distracting features in the background. The low people count was also a positive factor and as my intent was to make long exposures, their presence was not an issue. What was an issue though were the conditions on the promenade as after a couple of trial exposures, it was clear that long exposures would not be feasible due to the wind strength.

Clevedon Pier from the promenade
1/300s, f8.0, 35mm (50mm equivalent)

However, on descending to the beach, this issue resolved itself and my tripod proved up to the task. The beach itself was another hazard though, with patches of mud interspersed with areas of slippery seaweed. This was also a challenge in terms of composition if I required a foreground to balance the now looming pier. As you can see from the picture above this is an elegant structure with arching Ironwork, but in front of it the foreshore was fairly jumbled with at first sight, no real focal point and no leading line for my first composition, a vertical one. In the end, I found a pool with small stones that lead the eye in and with the aid of a polariser to reduce reflections on the water and reduce glare from the damp seaweed, this did the job.

Vertical composition of Clevedon Pier
15.0s @f11, ISO 200. Lee Circular Polariser, 3 stop soft ND Grad & 10 stop ND filters

Reviewing the edited image though, I am still concerned about the heaviness of the brown seaweed (actually bladder wrack) which renders as a dark colour. On a another day with different lighting conditions, the outcome might have been different I am aware that further processing in Photoshop would address this to a degree, but I have concluded that this would not achieve my intended result of a minimalist or ‘fine art’ image. I therefore went on down the beach further beyond the algae covered rocks and on to the flatter foreshore. This now presented the additional problem of mud and soft sand, both of which might preclude sharp results if using a long exposure. I was therefore careful to ensure a two second delay occurred after pressing the shutter release so that that any vibration was minimised. I re-arranged my composition so the Pier formed a diagonal from top right to left lower with marbled sand and some foreground rocks containing the image. I then inserted in addition to the circular Polariser a 10 stop ND filter and a 3 stop soft graduated filter. This then achieved shutter speeds of 30-240 seconds, control of the highlights and reduction in glare. Time however was now of the essence as the tide had now turned and as is well known in this part of the world, it comes in swiftly. I just managed to get three exposure off before the tide reached me and I literally grabbed the tripod as the final one clicked and ran up the beach trying not to fall into the many glutinous areas on the way.

Horizontal long exposure image of Clevedon Pier
Final Composition 120s @ f9.0,16mm. Uncropped

My final chosen image at the top I feel meets my requirements of a minimalist image with just the Pier, some rocks, clouds and soft water. I have cropped out some of the foreground and brought out shadow detail in Lightroom Classic. There has been a curve added and that is about it. In essence very little editing has been done because my use of filters has reduced the amount of editing needed. I could have achieved the same result in other ways, bracketing for example and if I had more time, I would have considered focus stacking, but all in all I am happy with the final result. Is it perfect? No, not at all, no image is, but it does tick all the boxes I had in mind that day. The other point, I would make is that there are practically limitless images to be made here. Sunset and Sunrise are the obvious possibilities, but in addition there are different angles to shoot, different focal lengths for a range of perspectives and then there are the people using the Beach and Pier. Water conditions are another factor, low and high tide, still, stormy weather and so on.

I have included some images discarded below for you to look at and think about. Do you agree with me on my choices, or would you have done something different? Does it help to see a range of images, or is it just muddling the picture?

Lastly a big shout out to Tony Worobeic ( for his heads up on this place at a recent Camera Club talk.

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