Holkam Beach West 1 ed

Holkam Beach

Railway Volunteers 1

Railway Volunteers

Holkam Beach in North Norfolk is greatly loved, particularly by those who have a passion for the area; and there are many. You emerge from the pine-covered dunes onto sand that stretches for miles to the east and west, and also quite a great distance out to the breaking waves when the tide is out. A lot of this coast is salt marsh, which is beautiful and fascinating in its own way, but darker and more muddy than this expanse of firm sand and dunes. Of course sand is just a beige substance, and huge stretches of it can be very dull and look like any beach, anywhere and what I wanted was an image that got to the nub of what people adore about particular place.

It was October and thWhitwell & Reepham Railwaye weather was, once again, changeable and tending to be rainy and dull. I had traveled up the previous day and wandered through the middle of Norfolk from East Dereham, via the Whitwell & Reepham Railway to the charming village of Heydon and on to the north coast around Sheringham.

The skies had darkened as the day progressed which was frustrating, as usual, and I ended the day looking out from the lovely Blakeney Hotel into dark grey skies and teaming rain.

Cromer Pier Stormy

View towards Cromer Pier at 10am

The morning was no better and as I battled the wind and rain on the seafront at Sheringham, it began to look like I was going to heading home early, which would mean that I’d have spent a lot of time and miles to get a handful of usable images. I decided to leave the coast and see if I could get some atmospheric, if not colourful, shots in the wooded hills a few miles to the north, around Felbrigg Hall. It is a lovely mixed woodland with leafy rides, on a hillside where goldcrests chirrup in the trees and fungi colour the forest floor, so I had a nice time contorting myself on the damp leaf litter taking close-ups. Then, as I began to head back to the car, I noticed that there were shafts of sunlight transforming the gloomy atmosphere and making the damp bracken shine. It was looking very promising, and I drove to Holkham suddenly feeling hopeful.

As  you emerge from the pines, the beach is very impressive and seems to go on forever, but how to capture the atmosphere under a predominantly grey sky? I often take wide landscape images from low down as you get the foreground detail to add interest to the big panorama, which can otherwise look mundane, so I crouched behind some scraps of reed to use the contrast of the green shoot against the sand and sky. I also took some shots from close to the ground to capture the way that the wind had blown the sand in the foreground using a small aperture so that I also captured the middle and far distance in focus (see page 82). But the best shot, the one that seems to have captured the Holkam Beach essence, is the double-spread on the previous pages. This was taken with my old Lumix G1 camera from the top of the dunes and has no foreground detail at all, but it did capture a shaft of sunlight that silhouttes two people in the middle distance under a dark sky, with the pounding waves breaking to the right.

When you want to get a particular feel to a photograph, there is a lesson here, which is to take a series of photographs from different positions and at different focal lengths, and also to take advantage of any contrast in the quality of the light. Many of the best photographs are taken without the expectation that they will turn out well, but it is the fact that the image was captured at all that puts it in the running.

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