How I got that shot - Stormy skies over the North Sea

How I got that shot - Stormy skies over the North Sea

Focus Editor Philip shares his technique on how he captured a moment of drama over the steely grey North Sea

On a gloomy Sunday I ventured out to a stretch of beach on the Northumberland coast for an afternoon of picture taking. I'd visited this location once previously but had been greeted by dense fog when I arrived, which limited what I could do with the camera–so I wanted to give it another try.

For the first couple of hours after I arrived, I scouted the beach for interesting rocks and structures that could make a good subject for a seascape, however the dark overcast conditions made everything look a little flat, so I didn't feel too inspired and thought that this trip may yield little in the way of good shots. However, shortly after coming to this conclusion, the clouds started to break up and beautiful Golden Hour light started to trickle through.

It wasn't my intention to capture this shot below, as I often prefer to focus on other elements of the shoreline rather than looking directly out to sea, however looking at the colours light forming I felt compelled to take a picture, and I'm actually pleased with the result!

Stormy skies over the North Sea by Philip Mowbray
Tip: Look at Google Maps and tide times before heading out

Use Google Maps to look at the location beforehand, this is really handy as you can find where to park, or bus stops and train stations nearby. You may also be able to identify some interesting spots to photograph beforehand. For example, when I'm looking for locations at the coast I tend to look for places that have a mix of beach, rocky shore and human elements like ports and piers - this approach means I should hopefully find something of interest to photograph at the location.

Always check tide times if you're planning on getting close to the water for your photography. As a rule of thumb you always want to visit a location when the tide is receding - you don't want to be on location where an oncoming tide can potentially cut you off and put you in a dangerous situation. Sites like tidetimes.org.uk can help you calculate the best time to visit somewhere.

What could I have done better?

  • Some added foreground interest like some rocks, a groyne or perhaps a jetty or pier would have added an interesting visual element. However given the prevalence of drama in the scene with the light and clouds, I feel this shot passes as is.
  • Worn proper footwear; I actually have a pair of wellies that I like to wear when photographing coastal scenes, however as I hadn't planned to get wet on this occasion I hadn't bothered, I wish I had now as I got rather wet...
Note to self: wear appropriate clothing if there's a likelihood you're going to get wet, my regular walking shoes weren't the best option!

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Kit shopping:

- Camera: Fujifilm
- Filters: NiSi
- Tripod: Manfrotto

Further reading:

- See our guide for more Golden Hour photography tips

- For a full introduction to the coastal photography genre see our beginner's guide on how to photograph seascapes

- Learn how to improve your shots with our tips on advanced photography composition techniques