Article by John Gravett of Lakeland Photographic Holidays - www.lakelandphotohols.com
As an island nation, many of us live fairly close to the coast – even in the Lake District, the Solway firth is only 25 – 30 miles away. I often take groups to the coast as a change from lakes and mountains.
As well as tidal patterns in the sand, surf, sand dunes, grasses and breakwaters, the Solway coast, like any beach around the coast, is host to a certain amount of flotsam. Although, rightly, we consider flotsam as undesirable rubbish, it doesn't necessarily mean that it won't make a good photographic subject. I, like most photographers, like a bit of decay, so a day on the beach finding flotsam was a great challenge.
A macro lens is useful, but any longish zoom with a macro facility would be ideal, as could a wide lens to put the flotsam in it's context with the beach.
Finding flotsam is not too difficult, selecting what to take and making anything of it photographically is the most challenging aspect. Apparently the most common piece of flotsam is the humble cotton bud, but they're not the most exciting photographically. I like to look for shapes and textures – from rubber gloves, to tin cans, which work best in close up using parts rather than the whole, giving a more abstract appearance.
I once found a broken plastic “beach” tennis racquet, and a few metres away a smashed tennis ball – they simply had to go together. A partly submerged skateboard made another great subject – because only the end of it was sticking out of the sand it had a really discarded feel.
Old nets from fishing boats snagged on breakwaters can look good too, and washed up wood that has been eroded into smooth sculpted shapes by the sea can look fabulous.
Ideal lighting is probably hazy sunlight – enough to give some shape to your subject, but not too much to create harsh shadows – as with everything, there are exceptions, and will be many subjects that suit either very overcast or very sunny conditions. I do find a reflector can help with bouncing light back into shadows.
More than anything though, be careful on the beach, wind blown sand is not the best thing to get inside your camera, even if they are dust- and splash-proof like the Olympus OM-D
, so make sure lens changing is kept to a minimum, and shield your camera from the wind when you do change lenses. I turn my back to the wind, and use my body to protect the whole camera – I also make sure that I change lenses as quickly as possible, to leave the camera exposed for the shortest possible time.
Tripods, no matter how stable, can sink into soft wet sand, so ensure they don't fall over, and lastly, be aware of the tide tables, check them on the internet, and don't get caught out by tides coming in fast whilst you're concentrating on pictures.
So next time your at the beach, keep a lookout for other peoples rubbish, which can become your art!