Gwithian Sands on the Cornish north coast has long been one of my favourite haunts to relax, but never before had I seen it with fog quite so thick as it was on the Thursday, maybe two weeks ago. To call it atmospheric is accurate but scarcely does it justice. I'd gone there on this occasion with my girlfriend and her dog, a Border Terrier with an affinity to roll in the sand, simply for quality time together and as ever I'd taken my camera along with me.
Granted on this day I didn't have my full kit with me, not even a tripod. Just an entry level Nikon DSLR and a 16-85mm lens that I use as my default. Nevertheless I was determined to make the most of the situation, changed heads in favour of a photographer’s mind-set and set off into the mist.
Walking across the grassy dunes before the beach is a pleasant and relaxing past-time, if a little taxing given my current and frustrating state of unfitness, but with a 100 metre visibility and the natural environment in downturn as winter approached I struggled to see any potential compositions. Previously I'd enjoyed low suns with the wind breezing through the tall grasses and the surf washing the sand in the distance. Today however, all I could see was grass and dirt tracks with our dog running hither and to marking his territory.
It was photographically frustrating.
Not until we reached the beach did the visibility extend out to maybe 200 or 300 metres. I could now see the potential of the mist with the rock formations and the cliff faces that gradually disappeared into the distance. At this point I looked around and found my other half removing her shoes and rolling up the ends of her jeans while the dog, Rolo, was indeed rolling and scratching his back in the sand.
I wasn't really in the mood to get my feet wet and so remained to adjust my camera settings for the ambient light of the moment. When I turned again, I noticed her footprints in the sand leading away from me were rather prominent and she was already a fair way away and up to her ankles in the sea.
Choosing the footprints closest to me as my focal point and with a relatively wide aperture set, I held the camera upright as for a portrait, aligned the horizon to roughly the top third of the frame and...
In a moment of mental absence, (seemingly more frequent as I get older) I had forgotten to adjust the shutter speed and so my image of footprints in the sand emerged on the camera's built-in LCD screen with significant over-exposure. So obviously, I dialled up the shutter speed, watching the exposure meter slide across and tried again.
Much better in fact. My Partner in Crime was in the distance, frozen in time as she splashed through the Autumn surf with Rolo just behind her and both shown with, to my mind, the right amount of blur. The footprints in the sandy foreground however were in focus and added a good amount of interest to the fore of the shot. I was happy with the image and looked forward to poring over it later on my laptop. But for now my Darling, still in the surf, was moving further along the beach and I needed to catch up to her. I made sure nothing had fallen from my pockets (car keys) and holding my camera secure I jogged towards her.
Rolo had at this point seen my splurge of movement and had bounded over to me to investigate. I slowed and crouched to receive him, but rather than thudding into me for fuss he peeled off from his initial course, slowed to a stop and began twisting and rolling in the sand.
Daft animal, I thought again, but I still took the opportunity for a shot. Assuming the rule of thirds I placed Rolo’s writhing body in the lower left corner of my frame, levelled my horizon and…
My settings were as they were for the previous shot so I wasn’t overly concerned about over-exposure (or under for that matter). Overall I was happy with the image, the exposure was fine but for Rolo’s tortuous movement my shutter speed was a touch slow and while the image was pleasant and amusing, even engaging to a lesser extent, it was not perfect. Rolo's movement had a slight blur to it and he wasn't quite in focus. By the time I’d compensated by adjusting not only my shutter speed but also also my ISO level and was ready for another attempt, he’d upped and was off again.
So finally I’d caught up with my Partner in Crime and we strolled along the mist shrouded beach. Ahead of us several silhouettes eventually took shape out of the fog. Drawing closer it became clear they were of surfers, all of them in the sea bar one who seemed to be going through several yoga positions (though I couldn’t be sure). I would have liked to take a few misty silhouette shots but (to my judgement) I had the wrong lens on for this and if I’d moved closer they would have ceased to be silhouettes shrouded in mist.
So we ignored them and continued along the beach, Rolo running around us chasing scents and leaving his mark. After a while we came up to a group of rocks, gradually appearing from out of the fog and which stood isolated like an island in a sea of sand. I stood and took in the new scene; the rock formation was engaging to my eye, the cliffs to my right stood tall and dominating but faded softly into the distance, the mist itself adding a tremendous atmosphere. I wondered if the surfer silhouettes would be included in a wide angle frame…
They were, and I felt a grin grow at the corner of my mouth.
Levelling my horizon I checked all my settings. Unlike the previous shots which had reflective light from the wet sand the ambient light here was much softer so rather than increase my ISO level and introduce noise to the image, I reduced my shutter speed ever so slightly, still keeping it at a hundredth of a second. I decided upon changing my white balance too while I was at it.
I was pleased with the preview that emerged on the camera's screen, I knew I’d crop up the lower edge in post processing as the beach was a dead space which added nothing to the image. Though this aside I felt the image was balanced and worked well. Once again I secured my camera (and car keys), caught up with my girlfriend who was navigating bare foot over some rocks with Rolo pushing the get ahead. By now I was starting to feel hungry and asked how she was feeling.
We went and got something to eat.