Words and Pictures Steve Thaw
Living, as I do, by the coast at Lytham St. Annes gives me the opportunity to photograph those magnificent Victorian structures, Piers, four in fact - Blackpool's South Pier, Central Pier and the majestic North Pier, not forgetting St.Annes Pier, loved by painters and photographers alike. Here's a selection of images I have taken of St Annes and a few tips to help you shoot this bold subject
Varied weather conditions, blue skies, dark thundery scenes and rainbows give a wealth of dramatic backdrops for this imposing architecture. The best time of day to photograph piers is the same as with landscape photography; early in the morning and late in the day, the warm light, long shadows and great sunrise and sunsets give mood and atmosphere.
One thing that can spoil a photograph taken by the coast is an uneven horizon. I've lost many a good shot to this problem. Of course these days it's easier to straighten up an image digitally but it helps to pay more attention when taking the shot. When hand-holding the camera take extra care by having a quick last look around the viewfinder before pressing the shutter. If the camera is attached to a tripod an accessory spirit level can be attached to solve the problem. The new Nikon F80 incorporates unique on-demand grid lines while cameras such as the Fuji Finepix 6900 have a digital grid to help.
Most lenses can be used in pier photography from wide-angle to telephoto, even a macro can be useful for rust patterns and limpets, which get attached to supports under piers. My constant companion is a Tamron 35-70mm zoom.
I prefer transparency film such as Fuji Sensia, Velvia and also Kodak Elite Chrome 100. These scan very well when I need a digital result and Cibachrome enlargements, although expensive, can be made from the best slides. I recently discovered Agfa Scala black & white slide film, which I find excellent choice.
My favourite seasons for pier photography are Autumn and Winter. When the sun is low in the sky and the late afternoon sun is warm.
With the sky playing such an important part in pier photography, I find warm-up, polarising and grey graduated filters useful to have to hand. Warm-up filters are used in daytime hours to give a golden hue while at sunrise or sunset the natural colours are preferred. A polarising filter can be used to increase colour saturation, but my favourite filter is the grey graduated for its ability to tone down bright skies.
One effective technique is to throw the pier into silhouette; this is easily achieved by taking the exposure from the sky, which in turns sends the pier into silhouette.
Another good tip which I use often is to not just photograph from the first vantage point you see, look for alternative viewpoints, walk around the pier, under the pier - try to avoid the obvious.