St Mary’s Lighthouse, Tyne and Wear, England

What do you do when you visit a place only to find yourself under the harsh light of a glorious day, many families with their kids and dogs enjoying the sun, the sand and the waves? Well, there are solutions, if you are willing to improvise

I spent a few days in Northumberland, England. I hadn’t been in the area for quite a while so it was a good chance to visit some familiar locations as well as some new ones.

I wasn’t lucky with the weather, however. The sun was not available when I wanted it, during sunrise and sunset, but insisted oo coming out during the day, when I wanted to do some intimate landscape photography or some long exposures. One thing is for sure, you cannot count on the weather when you are a UK resident.

Saying that, this was a good opportunity to try some new techniques – some of the results were surprising and some were very disappointing. Nevertheless, it’s all in a full day’s work for a landscape photographer.

One of the places I had never visited before was the lighthouse on St Mary’s Island. The problem was that I had forgotten to take the sat-nav co-ordinates with me, they had been left on my work desk. The strange thing is that I have completely forgotten how I used to travel around before the sat-nav days, simply by looking at the map. Well, why on earth am I not carrying a map with me these days? And then I remembered how easy it is to find sat-nav co-ordinates these days, all you need is access to the web and Google search. Just searching for St Mary’s Lighthouse brought up the post code, as simple as that. I could then relax, enjoy the drive, and the little hovering above earth apparatus called satellite would take me there, on the spot.

Anyway, once there I found myself under the harsh light of a glorious day, and so did hundreds of families with their kids and dogs, enjoying the sun, the sand and the waves. I had no chance of making an image among the crowds.

I looked around and I spotted a series of what seemed to be fallen rocks at the end of the bay. After a short walk there, I realised that some of them were displaying beautiful rusty colours and strange patterns. There you have it, always walk slight further and be ready for surprises.

Setting up

I chose a composition, set the gear up, fitted the Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L on the Canon 70D and set the camera’s aspect ratio to 1:1 – square format suited the subject perfectly. I went through all the technicalities and I was now ready to fire the shutter away. I made a test capture and checked the exposure and corner sharpness (some tilt had already been added on the lens) – all seemed fine. Now the final part. I calculated the exposure length for adding a CP filter, a 3 stop Lee pro ND filter and a Lee Big Stopper – 180sec at f/11 and ISO 100. Three minutes later the results were positive and I was a happy man.

Now, some of you might ask why I chose a very long exposure, and rightly so. There are a few reasons for this. The first reason was that I wanted the sea surface very smooth. I did not want the waves to interfere with the picture and take away the viewer’s eye from the foreground rocks and the distant lighthouse as these were my main subjects. I like my pictures as minimalistic as possible. I did not want any clouds in the sky either but I can’t fight the weather. Another reason was the passing boats. I did not want any of them included in the frame either. The third reason was that usually long exposures make a place appear much calmer than it really is.

As you might know, you get a blue colour cast when using the LEE Big Stopper filter. However, all it took was a click of the eye dropper (Lightroom) on the white of the lighthouse to alter the white balance. The image still has a slight blue cast to it but I quite like it.

St. Mary's Island was originally part of Northumberland but when Tyne and Wear was formed, the county boundary included the Island in Tyne and Wear. The lighthouse was built in 1898.

The lighthouse can be reached along a causeway which is covered by the rising tide twice each day.

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  1. Avatar

    It is always good to know how another photographer approaches a new location – especially like the foreground rocks in this.
    Wishing you a very happy Christmas and good light (to steal your own phrase) for 2018.

  2. Avatar
    Emille Currie on

    Nice summary of the shoot Dimitri but I was wondering – you noted that you were very disappointed with some of the results when you tried new things and techniques – which ones did you particularly find disappointing?

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      Hi Emille
      Well, the first one was that there are light leaks through the filter holder that can ruin a picture. I had to completely cover the camera all the way to the front edge of the lens with a black cloth. The other one was that the Canon 70D produces some luminance noise on very long exposures, no matter if you expose to the right or not.

      • Avatar
        Emille Currie on

        OK got you! I was surprised by the light leak thing! Good reason I guess to carry a dark jacket or umbrella…if you aren’t able to snag one off a friendly individual 🙂

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