A cold north-easterly is whipping off the sea. The chill wastes no time seeping into my bones. Hands numb, ears feeling nipped and I’ve barely got going. I’m grateful for refuge behind the beach huts.
I seldom encounter weather too bad for photography. Today isn’t close. But when conditions become challenging, it’s up to me to adapt. Be flexible and capture images that tell the story of the day. Make the weather one of the lead characters.
I bend into the breeze and walk on. I must: this is my first planned photography trip driving to a place since England’s lockdown 3 was lifted and travel restrictions eased.1
Herne Bay is a seaside town on the Kent side of the Thames estuary. It’s beach huts (and useful windbreaks) are many and multi-coloured. They stand guard, single file, predominantly at the Hampton end of the seafront. The town also has a visitor-friendly choice of street and beach level pathways, a colourful if now short pier2, a modern-furbished, level-paved prom and a Grade II listed clock tower circa. 1837 overlooking a small, sheltered harbour. The coastal view up-river is towards Whitstable, down-river towards Reculver. On clear days Reculver Towers can be seen edging out to sea (see photograph).
My plan is to walk the beach-level path from Hampton to the start of The Downs. Where the path breaks I’ll walk on the pebble-shingle beach itself.
My photography plan is less defined. I aim to get some images of the vibrant huts and the two parts of Herne Bay’s pier but otherwise want to be free to photograph whatever attracts my attention.
The sky is a cool blanket grey with a hint of blue. The light trapped under the cloud conspires with the sea’s surface to give the water a neutral brown hue, similar to much of the stone and shingle along the shoreline. White, choppy, breeze-powered waves bring motion to the scene and ensure the land and sea don’t visually merge into one.
While looking for photographic opportunities I rarely pay attention to people. I prefer to concentrate on places and scenes. In truth, I hope people stay out of my field of view. Today is different. I catch myself looking at what fellow walkers are wearing. Thanks to my unpreparedness - insufficient layers, no gloves, a sunhat instead of a woollen beanie and steady decline from feeling cold to very cold, my focus drifts. I’m now envious of their comfort. Worse, I’m tempted to take photographs with them in my scenes, all looking toasty, snug (and smug) in their chill-wind-repelling wardrobes. I resist at first but am weak. My planned return to outdoor scenic (people-less) photography, specifically seascapes today, has morphed into something else.
Today has become about an out-of-season English seaside town on a nippy, windy, overcast day on the North Kent coast. And locals on daily exercise walks, alone, in small groups, with prams, pushchairs and dogs. No visible passing ships or small pleasure craft near or far to divert the eye. The dulled but still vibrant colours of the beachfront attractions and the sound and motion of small, angry white waves rolling in on the tide provide the backdrop.
Returning to the luxurious warmth of my car, and circulation in my fingers and toes, I feel content with my day’s photography. Okay, not as planned but I look forward to reviewing my alternative collection of images when I get home.
Heading back up the M2, I reflect on my first planned post-lockdown 3 photography drive out. Can I call it a success, or was it a failure? One or two potentially usable photographs despite the wind and grey – success, or weather conditions not as preferred and my inadequate wardrobe woeful – fail? I decide neither. The day was already a success when I began walking and before switching on my camera. I planned a drive out, photography the aim, and that’s what happened. The fact that one, maybe two photographs prove good enough to share on social media is just a bonus.