Dawn at Greystones, Co Wicklow, Ireland
A 6am alarm call is never pleasant on the best of days but always seems worse on a Sunday. Fortunately I heard the rain after I was out of bed, dressed and ready to head out the door or I might have just turned off the alarm and went back to sleep. I am glad I didn't as I had a great morning splashing about in the surf with my camera. I don't get to shoot at the beach too often and even though the sunrise was a little disappointing it was still a worthwhile trip. I ended up soaked to the knees but didn't care. The venue for the sunrise was the south beach at Greystones, Co Wicklow. Sadly, I don't live near a beach so I had to get up extra early for the hour drive.
The last thing you want when you are getting up early is a disappointing scene to photograph, so for most of my trips, I plan ahead. I use a multitude of tools for the task depending on the location of the shoot, but for landscape work the most frequent tool I use it the Photographer's Ephemeris or TPE for short. I have two versions of TPE; one for my mac which is free to download and a second version on my iPhone which I downloaded from the App Store for a small fee.
An ephemeris is a table of numbers giving the position of astronomical objects such as the moon or sun in the sky over time. The benefit of TPE is that this information is displayed graphically via an overlay on a map. Plot your desired photographical location on the map and TPE will display the position of the sun or moon for anytime of the day or anytime of the year. Therefore in its basic use, I use TPE to check the location of where the sun is rising/ setting in relation to the location of where I will be standing and the direction I will be pointing the camera. If you are shooting in the mountains or hills, TPE can calculate the difference in elevation and tell you how far you can see on a clear day and fine tune the sunrise/ sunset times for when the sun will appear above/ dip below the mountain rather than the horizon.
Of course, before I can this tool I need to locate where I am going to shoot. If I have an idea in my head I head straight to google maps or google earth. Using the satellite image I start to fine tune where I will start on the ground when I reach the location. I take this to the next level using google street view if the location is close to the road. This gives me a virtual preview of the views I could expect to see. If the site is more remote I would use ground level view on google earth to give a computer generated look at the view to expect. This is not much use for picking out detail, but useful to give an idea of changes in elevation if shooting in hilly or mountain areas. Google earth also allows you to turn on the position of the sun and set the time and date on your shoot. This can be useful in combination with the ground view to locate the position of the sun with respect to any hills or mountains.
For inspiration of where to shoot, I use 500px, Google+, Flickr or any other social media site for sharing photos.
The two last things to check before heading out for a shoot are the weather and for beach work the tide times. For the weather I generally use the AccuWeather app. This gives me a by-the-hour forecast for the next 24 hours including, an important factor, an indication of cloud cover. I will sometimes double check the satellite animations on the Met office website again to get an idea of cloud cover and the direction it is moving. I always check the tidal times to check if I am on a rising tide or a falling tide. I would prefer to shoot on a falling tide where the tide is going out as this leaves the sand, seaweed and any rocks as wet in the photograph which looks much better than when they are dry. As it happend, the tide on Sunday was at it's lowest point at sunrise. Luckily, due to the cycle of the moon, the tide cycle was at a period of a 'high' low tide. This meant the sea level was not too far out from the two rocks I positioned myself at when I got to the beach.
The Greystones south beach is a sandy beach but I found the sand to be almost gravelly with quite large grains of sand. I liked how the texture of the grains of the sand appeared in the photos. The south beach is about a 1km long and I parked near the northern extent of the beach. There is a small rocky outcrop here which I thought I would use, but the level of the sea was quite high near the rocks with some swell coming in over the front of the rocks so I ended up positioning myself just to the south of the outcrop near two isolated rocks in the sand. I deliberated positioned myself in the wet sand at the end of the surf to try and get the lines of the retreating waves filling the foreground to the edge of the frame. As I was setting up it was threatening to rain with the clouds coming in overhead from the west but I was still hopeful for some dawn light as I could see a few breaks in the clouds near the horizon.
The dawn appeared with the arrival of a friend from Google+ by the name of David Heath Williams. David is a regular of of Greystone's and part of my inspiration for my travels to Greystones that morning. It was great to have a little company to chat to and the sun greeted the new day. The photo below is my favourite from the morning. I took this shot not long after the sun first appeared. It is a bracketed exposure which I blended in Photomatix. As with the shots from Manor Kilbride the previous week, I used the ghosting tool to select the the best exposure for the sky and then another exposure for the retreating waves in the foreground. This avoided excess movements in the clouds and kept the lines of the waves clean in the foreground. The interface between the sky and the foreground was the only area that was fused together by Photomatix. I took a number of different frames as I played around with my timings of the waves and of course every wave that hit the shore was unique in the patterns that it created.
The next photo was taken looking south along the beach. The sun was rising towards the southern end of the beach rather than directly out over the sea therefore I spun around by 90 degrees to try and capture some more colour in the sky. However, I do not think the composition and the lines of the waves are as effective.
The final shot here is slightly different again with the sun higher in the sky. The frame has a slightly warmer feel to it than the previous two but I like the long lines of the retreating wave in this shot.
I had another composition which coincided with the peak amount of colour in the sky, however I got slammed by a big wave and despite regular inspections of the front of my lens, failed to notice a very large drop and a few smaller droplets on the front element. This rendered this set of photos useless which I am pretty gutted about. Lesson learned, when shooting on the beach clean the front element of the lens very regularly with a lens cloth.
I love the beach for photography so I will be back to Greystones in the future. The only pain is having to strip the tripod down for cleaning when you get home to remove all the sand grains and salt!