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Time Planning for Coastal Photography

Most landscape and similar photography benefits from similar considerations, like where the lights coming from, time of day, season, and perspective. Coastal photography is no exception, but you have less options available to you unless you have a helicopter or other means to move off the cliff and over the sea.

Most of the coast does not run in straight lines but meanders along, on most stretches of coastline you will find parts that face many different compass positions. This means that any part of the day when the sun is showing there will be photographic opportunities to get the effect that you want, however some locations will be more difficult that others.

There are other variables, such as the season, height of plants that are blocking your view, the state of the tide, weather, and accessibility.

The question is often can we line up the collection of variables that would work well for us. We can often narrow down the season, and some other considerations, we can use tide tables to see how the tide lines up on different dates with our preferred lighting direction and from this get perhaps a list of dates and times that would work for us. It's then a case of hoping that our diary, and other commitments, line up with these and that the weather is ideal.

If we have a specific goal, to take a specific view then we can follow the plan above, but often we don't we are just going out with our camera, and expect as we move along a coastal past or stop at different points where we can get a view for the conditions to be sometimes with us and sometimes against us. Over much of the coast you can take shots in at least two directions, as we walk along a coastal path, forward or backwards, at some points we may have other opportunities as well such as photographing an estuary, or an island. We may also have decided on a date, or just want to make the best of a weather condition or have some other criteria. However even in these cases we can apply some planning, in that we can select where we start and end and the direction that we travel. It may seem not to make a lot of difference if you sat at one end or the other of a walk, however it would mean that the tide would be at different states along it. Often we would like to see the tide in estuaries, at resorts and the like, while with interesting cliffs with rocks below and with rock pools we may prefer it to be out.

Sunsets and sunrises over the ocean can also be a subject worth considering. To plan these

Rock Pools to Islands are all found at the coast

See Larger Image The Severn Bridge from Aust

you will need to consider where the sun is going to rise or set and the time. These will vary throughout the year from an earlier more southern angle in the winter to a northern angle and later setting in the summer. The variation from rising in the east and setting in the west is northerly by up to 30 degrees in the summer to southerly by around 30 degrees in the winter.  You also get some variation in practice according to the landscape.

Information available

To be able to plan, we ideally need some information, We can look at maps, and aerial photographs, with Multimap and Google maps, often on the aerial photos we can see the coastal paths and work out what we would be able to see from each point, as well as the direction we would be facing.
From our reference section you can see other mapping systems well.

In the reference section (reference index page) we also have a page that links to a variety of  websites that will tell you the times of tides in just about any place in the world. Probably the easier to use for UK coastal areas is pol.ac.uk  which has a 28 day prediction, or the BBC site that has many more points along the coast but covers only a few days ahead.  The Climbers Club, an organisation for those interested in climbing mountains, and cliffs has only a small number of places in comparison to the BBC but you can get predictions for any month up to about 12 years into the future.  The Admiralty Easytide system has a vast number of points that you can predict the time for, but the free system covers just 6 days ahead.  All tide tables are a prediction as the actual time of the tide can vary, both in height and to a degree by time depending on prevailing and strength of winds etc. However its not usually far out.

See Larger Image Leaving the harbour is
dependent on the tides

The weather is a different matter, as it can often rain on one side of a hill and be fine on another. So most forecast as a general trend only. We have a page within the reference section on weather forecasts, but those of particular interest relating to coastal photography are:-

  • BBC Coastal forecasts  updated twice a day at 5am and 5pm (1 hour later in summertime).

  • BBC coastal observations shows you the latest on the ground report, updated every 3 hours.

  • The met office website provides more general forecasts for up to 15 days, but I would question, given the variability of our weather here, if this is likely to be a great deal of use. I suspect that in some cases it will be correct but in many others just guessing what's gong to happen tomorrow can be a challenge.

As you may guess we have a page in the reference section with links to sites that can tell you the sunrise, sunset as well as similar information for the moon. Many of us carry a sun compass in our camera bags this is used to get a good idea of where the sun will rise and set and the height at different times of the day. If you don't have one a good substitute is a printed sheet that you can line up with a map or compass. Print your own sun position compass is a PDF file we have that can be printed to meet this need. This can be cut out and folded, and contains instructions. This version was calculated for Derbyshire (UK) as Derbyshire's around the middle of the UK in a north south direction, you can use this throughout the UK and it will be very near. It also shows the suns elevation at different points in the year, to correct this for a location, every 100 miles south increase the angles by 1 degree and every 100 miles north reduce them by 1 degree. Use this as a guide, particularly in hilly or mountainous areas where the sunrise and sunset positions can be affected by the relative height of the landscape.

Visiting costal areas in other countries

The considerations we have discussed above apply equally well to most other countries.


By: Keith Park Section: Walks Section Key:
Page Ref: coastal_time_planning Topic: Walks Last Updated: 07/2009

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