I recently visited Northumberland in the North East of the UK and took the opportunity to visit Embleton Beach before dawn to capture the iconic Dunstanburgh Castle in the morning light.
Dark, Wet and Windy
I planned to drive towards Dunstan Steads where I knew there was some space to park by the side of the road with access to Embleton Bay.
I didn't have an opportunity to visit this spot before heading out at dawn and so was ready for some challenges in finding compositions. I arrived early (around 1 hour before sunrise) and getting out of my car it was very dark with a strong, gusting wind and light rain in the air. Often at this point (standing on a dark beach in the rain at 5:15am in the morning) thoughts of going back to bed inevitably arise.
Persistence and luck
I have been caught out by these thoughts before but I have more often than not been rewarded for persistence in the face of un-promising looking conditions.
Yosemite National Park
I remember an occasion back in 2011 when I was up before dawn on the outskirts of Yosemite National Park, California.
It was dark and very wet and I was more than tempted to return to bed and call it quits but I had travelled 1000's of miles to get to Yosemite and decided to drive into the park.
As I drove in, I found that the rain was falling as snow in the park and that the weather was clearing to a bright, misty morning.
To say that the boulders that litter the South of Embleton Bay are slippery is an extreme understatement. I would warn those attempting to gain access to the waterline at this location to take care. I almost gave up after losing my balance within about 30 seconds of starting my scramble towards the water. Stay low and test the stability of each rock that you step to.
I ended up fairly close to the Castle and decided to try a panoramic composition to capture the castle and the cliffs.
I set the X-T2 to take 5 bracketed shots 1 stop apart. I wanted to capture the dynamic range of tones for merging to HDR in Lightroom.
It is often useful to have multiple exposures of a scene, especially when the lighting conditions are challenging. I often use Lightrooms merge to HDR feature as it results in a RAW file with very high range but I also use Aurora HDR 2018 for creative HDRs
I balanced my tripod legs across three rounded boulders while standing on a fourth. The wind was whipping up the waves and the sea was washing over my boots and in and around the boulders. It was tricky making the camera level and I was juggling Lee Filters while trying not to get blown over.
I could see that the thick clouds were starting to break up and took the chance to get some shots. I was hoping for some drama in the sky and although the morning started badly with thick cloud and rain it cleared enough to give me the shots I had hoped for.
I find it difficult to judge the time to head back home after a dawn shoot. It is arguably easier in the evening because the sun sets and it gets dark and the colour drains from the scenes. In the morning the early light can stay interesting for hours.
I usually pack up on a deadline. I promise to be back at the cottage for breakfast with my wife by 8:30am for example. This forces me (often reluctantly) to leave the location.
It is always worth a sneaky look back as you head to the car though. There are some worthwhile shots about in the early hours (Just don't take too long about it) :)
Return to Dunstanburgh
I decided to return to this location at dawn later in the week.