Updated: Sep 11, 2019
As soon as I found out that my children would be away together for a whole week at scout camp this summer I started planning a mini photographic adventure. It's not often I get to go away with my camera and this was an opportunity not to be missed. While looking for suitable locations I decided to settle on the Norfolk coast with its north facing coast hopefully providing lots of potential for coastal summer sunrises and sunsets, and with less than three hour's driving it made for a perfect mini break.
I planned for three days away and was glad when my mum agreed to join me. A photography trip can be such an adventure but even better with someone to share it with. We chose the village of Blakeney as our base and with only three days booked I began looking for inspiration online and also read Justin Minn's 'Photographing East Anglia', a fantastic guide to the best locations. It is always important to me to try and capture something a little different with my photography but it is also invaluable to look for inspiration from others and get a good feel for what a new location can offer before going.
The day of our trip arrived and we stopped on route at Flatford Mill in 'Constable Country', a peaceful National Trust treasure. I had of course seen Constable's paintings but never really looked at them closely and the exhibition there was a personal eye-opener. At first glance they tell stories of a quintessential Suffolk rural life but upon closer inspection they are extraordinary masterpieces of light, colour and movement, and most notably for me breathtaking skies. They were an absolute inspiration and ignited a new desire to explore more in the way of sky and cloud photography.
We arrived in Blakeney and I had it in mind to go along the coast to Wells-next-the-sea for the first sunset so off I went to the beach carpark, only to find it had closed early. With over a mile walk from the nearest one I drove to Holkham beach only to find that this was also closed! Things were not going to plan and I was suddenly worried I would miss my first sunset of the trip which would be a bit of a disaster! I decided to park a mile away and walk (panic jog) towards the forest and sand dunes and made it onto the beach just before sunset. Without the time to find a suitable sand dune to climb I headed instead for a small stream of water running across the beach to try my luck with some reflections. It was only a couple of meters wide and very shallow but was enough to do the job. With tripod up, sandals off and standing very still so as not to create ripples I took a mixture of single exposures as well as bracketed shots with my wide angle lens fitted with graduated filter from both low down as well as eye level. The beautiful colours changed quickly while the sun was setting and it was certainly a display I am very glad to have witnessed.
The following morning I attempted to get up and out in time to get to Wells-Next-the-Sea in time for the sunrise. Now, those who know me will know that I absolutely hate getting up early, even with the promise of some good photography. Instead of setting my alarm for 3.30am, I opted for the relatively lazy 4.15 and at 4.45am began the mile and half long walk (panic jog) along the harbour wall to the beach. Lo and behold, when I was about half way along, the sky started turning tones of scarlet and same golden disk I had witnessed disappearing over the horizon the night before reappeared over the Wells marshes. With various boats providing useful focal points I set up my tripod and used my telephoto lens to try and isolate a single boat. I generally prefer a simplistic composition and the telephoto lens proved essential for this.
I spent the couple of hours on the beach at Wells and although it was beautiful I struggled to get a shot I particularly loved. I spent time wondering along to the end of the beach huts and back photographing the huts and reflections in the small pools of water left behind by the receding tide. When the right conditions and a positive mindset align, landscape photography can be exhilarating and rewarding but when something doesn't click it can be mentally challenging and leave you feeling a little flat. On this occasion it was a case of being in the wrong place at the right time (or the right place a bit too late!). Either way it can be seen as all part of the learning process and I think can really help to further understand our photographic style along the way.
After a late night and early start time it was time for a well earned day at the beach in Cromer. The beach was busy and the camera stayed mostly in my bag but we did enjoy a swim and visit to the lifeboat station, wonderful museum and cafe before heading back. I decided to stay local to Blakeney for dusk and took another wander out along the coastal path as before. This time though, the skies were looking stormy and with rain and lightening forecast I kept my waterproof and camera's rain cover to hand. The forecasters were right about the rain and I did get rather wet but before it hit there was some beautiful light across the Cley freshwater marshes. With black storm clouds gathering above it was a perfect opportunity to use some of Constable's inspiration to capture the big skies. Over the salt marshes to the west the sun's rays started to come through gaps in the cloud so I used an old abandoned boat for a focal point and kept the composition fairly simple to let the sky do the work.
With one full day left before coming home so it was an opportunity to explore the coastline to the west of Blakeney, visiting Wells-Next-The-Sea, Thornham Old Harbour and Brancaster beach. It was an overcast day with some unforgiving westerly winds which offered some opportunities for long exposure at a couple of locations. Our trip to Wells was more touristy than photographic and we spent time visiting some of the lovely shops and photo galleries in the main high street. We popped down to the harbour which was a hive of activity with people crabbing along the harbour wall. With the tide low I just took a couple of shots before we headed on to Thornham.
The rather delightful old fishing boat at Thornham is a photographic gem surrounded at this time of year with a 'sea' of Sea Lavender. Unfortunately the old boat had a rather unsightly blue plastic canister tied to its mast which detracted somewhat from the atmosphere of the scene, however it was a wonderful setting to try out different compositions and exposures. With the clouds moving fast and the sea lavender swaying I used my ND filters to try and capture the movement. I am not usually a big fan of long exposure on clouds except with very simple compositions when I think they can add something to an image.
Next stop was Brancaster beach with its miles of wide open sandy beach backed with sand dunes. As soon as we stepped foot on the beach my decision to wear shorts was instantly regretted as the sand hit my legs. It really stings!!! Still, just a minor distraction from what was a truly breathtaking scene. Some submerged posts instantly caught my eye, and I spent my time trying different compositions and exposures on the sand movement. Waiting for the stinging sensation on the back of my legs to indicate it was time to press the shutter was certainly a novel way of doing things and made a change from the usual soaking from long exposure on waves!
Having the full force of the elements for a day we headed back to Blakeney and with yet another potentially uninspiring grey and rather wet 'sunset' on the cards we opted instead for a welcome evening drink at the local!
The following morning was to be our last and I'd had in mind that I wanted to capture the marshes at Stiffkey before heading back to Kent, and although the blue hour would have cast a lovely light over the sea lavender, I opted for the more sociable time of 8am for my visit. What did greet me though was a salt marsh at high tide which filled the cracked clay pools. The scene was like nothing I had seen and was a photographic treat. With wellies on, and polarising fitted to try and reduce the glare on the water, I spent a while looking for different compositions with the sea lavender and the water-filled pools. It was the perfect end to our mini break before packing up and heading home.
Thank you if you made it this far, I hope you enjoyed this photographic 'diary' as much as I enjoyed my time in this beautiful part of the country. If you did, comment and let me know your favourite pic!
If you are planning a trip to East Anglia I can thoroughly recommend 'Photographing East Anglia' by Justin Minns. A great read with lots of tips for all locations, and some stunning photography to boot!
All the best, Emma