A morning by the seaside – for photography

A ‘Me’ day, just me and two cameras – plus kit. It was a day out that I’d been planning for weeks, and I went the week before Christmas 2020. What’s more, it was all to try to get one particular shot – the one in the final image below – sort of, but more of that later.

I set out early, before sunrise, drove to Liverpool, then onward through the Wallasey Tunnel beneath the River Mersey to New Brighton on the North-Eastern tip of the Wirral Peninsula. At that point, the town faces Liverpool Bay where the River Mersey meets the Irish Sea.

A major feature of the resort is the 90 foot high Perch House Lighthouse (seen above). It was built from Anglesey marble, coated with a volcanic substance that hardens with age – and its 1827 design followed that of the Eddystone Lighthouse. Its revolving light, decommissioned in 1973, was the first in the country. The light was re-illuminated in 2016.

I mentioned earlier that I’d been planning for the trip – this had involved checks against weather reports, sunrise times, traffic reports, tide tables, parking and equipment requirements. I’d needed to be at my target location before high-tide and, to fulfil my plans, I arrived early enough to drive a bit further to photograph the Perch Rock lighthouse and the Peel Ports cranes before my photoshoot, but I left there in time to return North so as to beat the high-tide at my chosen spot.

Peel Ports has installed five new cranes at its Liverpool 2 site at the Port of Liverpool – directly across the River Mersey from Perch Rock. When completed, the site will boast eight ship-to-shore (STS) and twelve cantilever-rail-mounted-gantry (CRMG) cranes. They make a high-visibility landmark for miles around – especially when lit-up at night. Personally, I find them very photogenic, so I’ve cropped the first image to give you the close up in the second of the two shots.

So, once I’d got my unplanned shots, I headed a mile or so North to the area of beach adjoining North Wallasey – near the West Cheshire Sailing club house. I parked on the roadside on the opposite side of the sea-wall from the groynes that I’d come to photograph. Groynes are a type of man-made coastal defence. Their purpose is to limit the effects of longshore drift and erosion, but also to encourage deposition of sediment carried by longshore drift. As is common with such structures, the New Brighton groynes run mainly perpendicular to the shoreline.

I carried my gear from the car to the beach and took the photograph above of the incoming tide, now almost at its full height.

I was careful not to erect my tripod at this time. An incoming tide is always preceded by water running below the surface of the sand and making the sub-surface unstable. The obvious danger to tripods is that, loaded with a camera, they could become unstable too, start to sink and, possibly, tip over. In the shot above, the tide had started to recede. I had wanted to be there when the groynes were fully submerged, but I hadn’t known – despite my planning – that I should have waited for a tide greater than nine metres. On that day it was about 8.5 metres. So, anyway, it was now a race against tide and time – and, as I was also to learn, against photo-bombing beach walkers.

I’d come hoping to be able to do some long-exposure photography using neutral-density (ND) filters to allow me to use a slow shutter speed. The longer exposure smooths out the wave motion and focuses the viewer’s attention on the subject – the groynes in this case. The thing about long exposures. though, is the need to have a rock-steady tripod.

Alongside that, I wanted to delay my shutter action for ten seconds to allow any tremor arising from pressing the shutter-button to settle. Long exposures can cause the camera’s sensor to get warm and this causes electronic noise, resulting in an ugly graininess in the final image. In order to counteract image graininess, I’d also actuated the camera’s Long-Exposure Noise Reduction feature, and this would double the exposure time. (With LNER the camera takes an additional shot of the closes shutter – a dark image which the camera’s software uses to counter the grain).

So, a fifteen second exposure – in total would require forty seconds to complete (10+15+15). This, naturally, allows dog-walkers to appear, seemingly from nowhere, and for them to stand in front of your camera asking what you are taking a photograph of! Well, you just have to wait until they walk on and then re-take the shot – just when you’d needed that moment to catch the tide at its best!

Another problem with long exposures is that the brightness of the sky can change from moment to moment – mid-shot in fact. To use a filter you need to factor-in the strength of your filter. You have to make an educated guess – yes, base your shutter speed (without a filter) and the strength of your filter to determine your long-exposure shutter-speed, but then hope that the Sun, wind and clouds will co-operate.

Planning again. Remember your pre-shot checks – are the lens and filter clean? Switch to manual mode after you’ve done pre-filter exposure and focus-checks. Lock your focus on your lens (if available) – or tape the focus-ring on the lens barrel. Use gaffer tape over your viewfinder and also over the outer edge of your filter holder – all to prevent the ingress of stray light. (see how the seconds leak away).

When you’ve finally taken your shot, try a different viewpoint – as above.

You can try a shot while standing.

But, would crouching be an improvement?

Live dangerously. Lower your tripod to its minimum height if your camera has a tilted rear-screen and use live-view to get a shot like that above- it was my shot of the day, but no banana – as I’ve said, the tide needed to be more than 9 metres. I’ll know better next time – and there will be a next time.

The building in my Photo of the Day is of St Nicholas Church, North Wallasey – minutes from the beach on my way home.

EXIF Data: Two lots of EXIF data today. I took the final shot of the groynes with my Pentax K-1, 36 MP full-frame dslr camera using a Pentax 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens, a NISI 10 stop neutral density filter and a Vanguard tripod. The shutter speed was 13 seconds @ f/11 and 24 mm. The ISO was 100.

I took the photo of St Nicholas’s church with my Fujifilm X-T4 24 MP cropped-sensor mirrorless camera with a Fujinon XF 16-55 mm f/2.8 lens @ 1/120 seconds, f/5 and 16 mm. The ISO was 160. I took that shot handheld.

Author: writingandphotography0531

I am a retired local government officer. At that time, I was an IT manager and had associated responsibilities for training. I have previously been involved, in various organisations, with aspects of industrial training and management development. My hobby is photography and, until recently, hillwalking in Snowdonia. I have just written my first novel, Persephone and the Photographer, published as a Kindle eBook.

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