A weekend at the coast is the perfect opportunity to photograph some magnificent piers. The UK is home to some fantastic Victorian as well as more modern piers that are perfect for a small photographic project you can have a go at before you head off for your fish and chips. A nice, sunny day when the sky is bright blue is a great backdrop for piers but don't be put off by the more common, dull British weather as this can add mood to a coastal image and on the upside, this type of weather gives you the perfect excuse to nip into a seaside café for a quick brew.
Most lenses can be used for pier photography. Wide-angles give piers perspective and context, plus they're perfect for sunset or sunrises where you want the pier to be a dominant foreground structure.
While macro lenses can be used for close up shots of textures in the wood, rust patterns and limpets. If you don't have one of these, try a close-up lens or even an extension tube.
A tripod can help prevent a wonky horizon but it's not a necessity, just remember to have a quick last look around the viewfinder before pressing the shutter if you're working hand-held to make sure the sky and sea's not at an angle. Some cameras and tripods have built-in spirit levels that will help combat this problem. If you don't have one of these you can buy an accessory spirit level to attach to the tripod to help you.
A polarising filter will help cut down on reflections and also increase colour saturation so if you're at the coast on a particularly sunny day they'll be less glare in the image and your sky will come out a lovely bright blue.
Do remember to wipe all of your gear down when you get home and leave it to dry out completely. This should be done even if your camera is water- or at least splashproof, such as the magnesium alloy bodied Olympus OM-D
, as salt water can damage equipment. To protect your lens while you're out in the field consider fitting a UV filter as this will prevent small grains of sand from scratching it and when you're not using your gear, put it back in your bag.
If you need to change lenses, try and do it off the beach so sand is less likely to be blown where it shouldn't be.
The best time of day to photograph piers is the same as with landscape photography; early in the morning and late in the day as the warm light and long shadows create mood and atmosphere. As do varied weather conditions. Blue skies on sunny days, dark thundery scenes and if you're lucky enough to see one, even rainbows are perfect backdrops for these imposing architectural structures.
Once you've stood on top of the pier start to look for alternative viewpoints and unique angles – you don't always have to shot the 'norm'. If it's safe to do so try walking underneath the pier to photograph the shapes formed by the structure and this is also the perfect place to get up close with the barnacles and other sea beings that create interesting textures on the supports. If you do plan on spending time under the pier make sure you keep your eye on the tide as if you're distracted it can easily take you by surprise.
Another effective technique is to turn the pier into a silhouette; this is done by exposing for the sky rather than the pier. We'll have more on shooting silhouettes later on in the month.