My guide to Saltwick Bay

The three Icons of Saltwick Bay

Saltwick bay is a little gem of a location on the North Yorkshire coast, situated just south of the fishing port of Whitby.  It offers an abundance of photographic opportunities that are all compacted into a relatively small area.

The bay consists of a small sandy beach surrounded by high cliffs and flanked on either side by flat shale shelves. These shelves hold two local icons, ‘Saltwick Nab’ and the probably more well known, ‘Black Nab’.

Black Nab viewed from the beach

The ‘Black Nab’ is situated on the southern shelf.  It has a distinctive shape similar to that of a submarine coning tower and close to the base of this can be found the remains of the ‘Admiral Von Tromp’, a Scarborough based fishing trawler that ran aground in 1976 with the sad loss of two lives.  There is an abundance of rocks in this area that offer interesting abstract compositions and you may also find ammonite fossils which this area is also famous for.

The 'Whale shaped' Saltwick Nab

On the northern shelf you will find ‘Saltwick Nab’, a somewhat ‘breeching whale’ shaped rock prominence again surrounded by a shale shelf offering similar textured rocks, some of which have very bizarre patterns and deep grooves that seem almost unreal.

One of many abstract composition opportunities

The Bay has another trump card up its sleeve though.  The fact that it is North East facing makes it a very unique location because in the height of summer you can capture the sun rising and setting over the sea, quite novel considering you are on the east coast.

So, you could literaly spend all day here from dawn to dusk, tide permitting.  Talking of which the location really need to be photographed with a falling tide, there is little beach available at high tide, and to get close to the ‘Back Nab’ and wreck site you need the tide to be almost at low water.  Do not photograph the shelves or nabs on a rising tide, there is a real danger of being cut off by the tide.  I use the tide tables here but always consult your usual reliable tidal references.

Now, how to get there.  The bay is located from Hawksker Lane which is the road that takes you to Whitby Abbey.  From there turn left up the lane to Whitby Holiday Park and then park in the layby by the park entrance.  To get down to the bay walk along the cliff top towards the holiday park and you will come across the path that leads down to the bay.  This path can be quite muddy and slippery in places especially after wet weather so take care and wear good suitable footware.

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Tides & Photography

Spurn Point Spurn Point, Yorkshire

Britain’s coastline is steeped in history and natural beauty making it possibly the most photographed coastline in the world.  Castles, Coves and Cliffs all make great photographic subjects that can give instantly pleasing results but if you want to perfect your images you need to plan ahead to get the tides right and for your own safety, so this is my little guide to just that. 

Generally speaking costal images are best made on a falling tide a) it’s generally a safer option and b) you get nice wet rocks & sand etc for added impact and detail in your images.  But certain locations require pinpoint accuracy, some secluded coves, for example, are inaccessible at high water.

Having lived by the coast for a good part of my life, and 15 years of Scuba Diving to my name, I feel quite confident around water but I never get complacent about it.  It’s all too easy to go out on a beach at low tide, be captivated by your photography, then find your exit is now awash with water.  Only on a recent trip to the Northumberland coast I was stood on some boulders while taking a series of images and you could see the tide moving in fairly quick and had I not been aware I would have soon been in water too deep for my welly boots to contend with.  These images were taken just 4 minutes apart and clearly show the rising tide.  The image on the right was taken with a 10 Stop filter to blur what little motion in the water there was.

Northumberland-5429 Northumberland-5432

The tides are governed by the gravitational pull of the sun, the moon and the rotation of the earth.  The Moon, being closer to us, is the more dominant factor.  We have roughly, there are exceptions, two high tides and two low tides in a 24 hour period.  Now, I’ll attempt to explain tides in simple terms for us photographers. 

These gravitational forces cause the water on the surface of the earth to bulge and thus create our high and low tides. When the sun and moon are at 90 deg to each other in relation to the earth these gravitational forces work against each other and this reduces the tidal range (a small bulge) – this is known a Neap Tides.  Whereas when the Sun and Moon are in line with the earth they work together increasing the gravitational forces producing a greater tidal range (a large bulge) – known a Spring tides. 

tidesImage courtesy of “Curious About Astronomy” 

You may be asking what is the relevance of all this, well, during spring tides the tides are higher and lower than those of neap tides and thus produce a larger range of water movement.  So, if you want to photograph those old decaying Groynes on the beach you may want to avoid high water spring tides because they will probably be under water and conversely a low water spring tide will probably leave them high and dry.

Another variable to maybe consider is the movement of the water itself.  Photography has it’s rule of 3rd’s and tidal prediction has it’s rule of 12th’s.  At high or low tide there is very little movement of water, this is known as “Slack Water”, but as the water falls (an ebbing tide) or rises (a flood tide) its rate of change speeds up at roughly the mid-point of the tidal change.  The following table may help explain this;

1st Hour 1/12th of the total tidal movement
2nd Hour 2/12th of the total tidal movement
3rd Hour 3/12th of the total tidal movement
4th Hour 3/12th of the total tidal movement
5th Hour 2/12th of the total tidal movement
6th Hour 1/12th of the total tidal movement

You may again be asking what is the significance of this.  Well, lets say your down on the beach at low water, you’ve been there a couple of hours exposing images, your now at that point of a rising tide where there is the greatest amount of water movement.  In places this movement can be rapid enough to out pace your retreat up the beach or in other places, if you are on a higher sand bank for example, cut you off completely from the shore line. 

So, how do you avoid these mishaps and plan your shoot to have the optimum tide for your location?  You need to consult tide tables.  The are produced by a number of sources. 

Ch2-Fig-7-tide-table Example Tide Chart

The UK hydrographic office produce tidal information that is published on the Admiralty web site, see below.  They are free for a seven day period but you can register and for a small fee and get tide times for any day of the year.  Most harbour offices sell locally produced tables and there is a whole host if sources on the web.  My favourite though is the National Oceanography Centre website which give free 28 day tidal predictions for most UK ports, have a look at their website here. If your photography is away from a listed port then an element of guesswork and calculated judgement is needed.  Using admiralty charts it’s possible to plot the tide for any given point, but, must of us dont have these nautical charts so you need to look at the port tide times either side of your location then you have a range from which to estimate your tide times.

Tidal charts are fairly easy to read and understand.  They give the times of high and low water but most times are in GMT so make sure during British Summer Time (BST) that you add 1 hour to the published times unless already corrected for BST, don’t get caught out by a simple error.  The other figures are the tide heights above chart datum, the lowest depth that the tide should ever reach.

So, there’s my guide to tides which  I hope will take some of the confusion out of tidal prediction and give you a little confidence when using tide tables to enhance your costal photography.  Remember, do you homework and you will have a safe and enjoyable day at the coast.

Here is a few resources that you may find useful;

National Oceanographic Centre Free 28 day tidal predictions
UK Hydrographic office Admiralty 7 day tidal prediction service
WXTide32 Freeware windows based tidal prediction software
BBC Weather Tide Tables 7 Day predictions from the BBC
Maritime & Coastguard Agency A website full of useful information about coast safety and related issues.

Indoor Sports Photography

Well, I had another go at shooting indoor sports shots last weekend.  It was my Daughters gymnastics competition at Rushclifffe in Nottingham.  The event went fantastic for her and resulted in her qualifying to represent Nottinghamshire in the East Midland regional Finals next month.  A proud dad to say the least!!!!

The photography was a different matter though.  The arena at Rushcliffe is a large windowless expanse of a building building lit by high flood lighting with a few skylights in the roof.  Not ideal lighting as I’m sure you can imagine.  This meant I has to use my Sigma 70-200mm wide open at f2.8 and only by ramping up the ISO to 800 was I able to get shutter speeds fast enough to capture some of the action.  Flash photography is not allowed at these events so as not to distract the gymnast.  I obtained some nice images but was somewhat disappointed with the noise levels which I though my 40d was able to handle a little better.  I’m  now researching as to my choice of camera setting to see if I can reduce the noise but I feel its something ill have to accept while shooing at high ISO’s  (Need to upgrade to the 5D MKII  –  hint to wife!!!).

Below are a few examples of what I achieved on the day, I’ve just adjusted the exposure in Lightroom slightly.  I know Lightroom has a noise reduction tool but I’ve no played with this tool as yet, that something I need to explore.  Ill have another opportunity to take some more shots at her finals in a few weeks down in Leicester.  Ill let you see the results of that day, and who knows, it may have better lighting at this venue.  Any advice then please drop me a line.

 Thanks for looking..