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Godrevy Squall

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The forecasters predicted a change from the blue skies and bright sunshine that had been around for a few weeks. They suggested a new Atlantic weather front would be coming in during the late afternoon presenting an opportunity that I wanted to take advantage of. Checking my tide tables, I noted a turning High tide coincided with the 'witching' hour before sun-down. So I decided to take a trip a few miles down the coast to a favourite location that I thought might take the full benefit of the conditions.

With rugged rocks, lots of framing features and wide sweeping vistas, even at high tide, Godrevy is a photographic gem set amongst North Cornwall's coastline. Frequented by local surfers and discerning walkers, the National Trust do their usual excellent work in maintaining the natural integrity of the surroundings. Set on the tip of a broad, sweeping bay that curves right around taking in Gwythian, Hayle and across to St. Ives in the far distance, Godrevy faces directly into the setting sun and, on this occasion, the incoming weather.

I took the winding coastal road that passes by Hells Mouth and the magnificent views, to descend from the high cliffs through rolling hills to surrounding sand dunes. It was 5.30pm and the sky looked promising. There was good definition, with lots of light breaking through the 'craquelure' high cloud and swollen dark clouds pushing in from the West low on the horizon. As I arrived in the car park I could see the Marram grass on the high dunes being blown around by a fresh offshore wind. I mustered my equipment doing a final check to ensure I had all the filters, cables and weather gear that I might need and headed off down the winding track through the dunes.

On reaching the crest overlooking the bay the first thing that grabbed my eye was the bobbing host of surfers amongst the foaming breakers to my left. Their presence gave me my first direction and I immediately turned right to follow the track leading to the bay that overlooks Godrevy lighthouse. I love surfing and there's little that comes close to it's adrenaline-fuelled exhilaration and thrill. Yet with over 70 of the seal-like wave riders in the water, the isolation and remoteness that is a feature of my photography, would be compromised. Hence I turned the other way and began to get my head around the prevailing conditions.

The granite and slate rocks at the high-tide line were wet and slippery, so I took it easy as I scrambled down to the 'barnacle line'. Once you're standing on these helpful little crustacea you can be pretty sure of your footing and it is far easier to set up. Directly in front of me was a raised promontory with inlets to either side that were constantly been dashed by breaking waves. 50 meters in front was a large rocky outcrop running horizontal to the horizon and forming an obstacle for the large green rollers that were having their crests whipped away by the wind as they smashed against it. The sky was changing all the time and I could see to my far left that the dark rain clouds were approaching.

Setting my tripod firmly amongst the cracks underfoot, I levelled the legs and aligned the panning head with the horizon. I took out my EOS 1DS MKIII and the trusty 16-35mm lens and took a few test shots. While there was total cloud coverage, the light values were good and in manual mode I could set F16+ at 'L' ISO and still get good exposure times that 'froze' the foaming surf. I checked the white balance to ensure the surfline was kept bright and, keeping out of the wind, I attached the filter housing and selected a hard ND9 filter. With the wind quartering over my left shoulder I could keep the worst of any spray away from the lens but I slipped a large micro-fibre cloth into my pocket just in case. I slipped a flash unit into the hot-shoe in case I wanted some fill-in lighting and all was ready.

The sky looked great and the light gave superb detail to the rocks and water alike. The ND9 filter maximised the cloud cover to accentuate the textures while allowing extended exposure times that brought out the detail in the foreground rocks. I spent half an hour at this spot before the receding tide flattened out the surf and fell away from the rocky outcrop to make a 'visual barrier' that now compromised the composition of the shot. So I pulled the gear together and set off down to the sandy shoreline that was now being exposed. Judging my movements to time with the in-rushing waves, I managed to reach the wide expanse of virgin beach leading up to the lighthouse to the left and way down to Hayle to the right. Yet looking in that direction, I noticed the majority of the surfers were departing as the surf receded, leaving the sea to a few scudding gulls, myself and my lens. The promised squall arrived timing perfectly with the 'witching hour'. For a short while the light was ideal. I stood alone on the vast expanse of beach running back and forth with the waves to shoot the magnificent tideline scenes playing out in front of me.

I have uploaded some of the images of this shoot - Godrevy Squall, To St. Ives, Godrevy to St. Ives, To St. Ives Art - to the 'Cornwall Horizon' gallery of the Portfolio section.