Sunday, 8 December 2013

East Coast tidal surge

Updated: Monday 9th December 2013

On Thursday 5th December, a massive tidal surge hit the east coast of England. Many places in Norfolk were affected by the extraordinary sea levels, in some places sea levels were even higher than the great floods of 1953.

Over the weekend I ventured out to see how some of my favourite places in the county had fared. A strange experience which left me rather humbled. Some places saw massive damage, yet in others it was difficult to see that the sea had wreaked any harm, except for some tell tale signs.

In only a few days, lots of work has been done right along the coast to start repairs. It is clear there is much left to do.

There are many places I could also have visited, and many photographs I could have taken. However it didn't seem right to go to places such as Hemsby. There are no photos of the damage to homes. There are also no photos of the seal pups I saw rescued at Winterton, having visited to check the beach cafe was still there and enjoying breakfast before moving on along the coast. Personally, it felt totally wrong to take photos in those situations.

This throws up an interesting debate on the moral codes and ethics of photography. I have found myself increasingly concerned with how others may react to me taking a photo, and thinking about why I decide to take a photo in the first place. If I feel uncomfortable in a situation, I normally just won't take the photo at all.

There is a fine balance with situations such as the tidal surge. Obviously these events need to be recorded - and photographs are essential to highlight the problems, dangers and immediate needs in the short term. Importantly, they also act as a historical record and a reminder of the ongoing need in the longer term. There is also a case for sensitive coverage of the after effects and the impacts on those involved. How would we know what happened in the past if it wasn't for some of the coverage of notable events over time? Certainly we may not have such an appreciation. In a purely functional way, photographs will also be hugely important in things like insurance claims.

If everyone involved is happy with photographs being taken, is there any harm in it? It is where photography becomes an unwelcome invasion that I find it difficult. I am sure everyone has view and an opinion on this.

For me, documenting the impact on the landscape (both natural and built) in a safe way was my intention (there is a whole other debate about putting yourself at risk to get "that photo"). I wanted to highlight the problems being faced by our coastal communities, without invading anyone's privacy. I hope I have managed to do this in a sensitive way.

The day started at sunrise, on Cantley Staithe. The water had topped over here, and a fine layer of silty mud coated the banks.

Sand bags were still out in force, and water the other side of the bank showed that some had come over the top.

Next, on to Winterton where I was pleased to see the cafe still standing, and I stopped for some breakfast. Much activity was going on, with a team of volunteers arriving from Friends of Horsey Seals helping with counting the seals, which had been hit hard by the surge. The seal wardens were trying to keep people from the beach entirely as pups littered the shore.

I finally got a shot of the little huts at Winterton which I was happy with.

Next on to Happisburgh. As with every winter storm here, the coastline had been eaten away, but by a staggering amount in some places. This sandcastle caught my eye at the bottom of the slope on to the beach. The sea was too far in to venture further safely.

Next on to Cromer, where there had been rumours that the pier may not have survived during the height of the surge. I am amazed it is still mostly in one piece. What an amazing piece of engineering. Looking up from underneath the pier, it was mind blowing to think how different the water level was just a few days earlier. You really had a sense of the scale of the surge.

The following day, I visited Brancaster. Here the signs of the flooding were not so immediately obvious, but on closer inspection, it was clear the water levels had been very high. The whole place had a coating of reeds and mud. In some places, the marks left by the high tide gave away the daunting water levels. Condensation in windows a sign of those buildings affected.

Blakeney fared even worse. The road on to the staithe was a mess.

The surge showed once more why the sea should always be respected. Finally, on the way home, nature reminded us that although it can be incredibly harsh, sometimes it is also breathtakingly beautiful.

See the full East Coast tidal surge photo set here.


Following the flooding, and this blog, I decided to auction some photographs for charity. It created a discussion on Twitter and it resulted in a whole selection of my favourite local photographers coming together and donating work to sell as The Surge Collective. You can read all about that here. Nearly £1500 was raised for the Flood Appeal.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

Introducing - Wooden Arms

After a few months away from my camera, the perfect project to launch back in to film making came up in April.

Norwich based band Wooden Arms launched their new EP at The Birdcage in Norwich, and invited Alexander Helm and I to document the evening. Wooden Arms are a five piece based in Norwich, producing some exciting new music on the Bare Feet record label. Something a little different to the norm, the evening was enchanting and captivating. Our brief was to capture the atmosphere of the venue, as well as the performance.

We enlisted the help of two local Norwich film makers for the evening, to assist us in getting all the shots we needed - Joseph Murray and Emma Smith. Their enthusiasm for the project was welcomed, and the video would not have been possible without their input.

The first part of the evening was spent filming all the "atmosphere" shots of the venue. The Birdcage is well known in the city for its cosy and welcoming environment so we really tried hard to capture the unique buzz of the venue. Next came the more challenging part of filming the performance, in a packed out back room with little room to manouvere! This is the usual challenge when doing anything visual at a concert - moving around to document the evening, whilst trying hard not to get in the way of the artists and the audience.

The evening was a great success, and "Separate the Verb" is available now at

Thank you to the fabulous Jess Orestano for doing an excellent job on the sound desk, and producing the audio track used for the video.

You can view the video below.

Wooden Arms - Separate the Verb (Live at the Birdcage) from Bare Feet Records on Vimeo.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Stone circles and monuments - your favourite places?

I have visited several stone circles, and in the last few years I have become ever more interested in them. The first stone monument I ever remember visiting was Stone Henge, back on a family holiday. Since then, I have visited several others. I find them really atmospheric and sometimes eerie places to be, and generally just fascinating. They always make me think.

My favourite is still the Ring o Brodgar at Stenness on mainland Orkney, and someday I want to return and take some photographs. Can you believe it, I don't have any! I visited this stunning place a couple of times when I was in my late teens and not so into photography and can thoroughly recommend it to anyone interested. The circle at Stenness has 27 standing stones, and the circle is the same size as Avebury's two inner rings.

That brings me nicely on to Avebury, the site of the oldest stone circle in the world, and a designated World Heritage Site. It is only around 20 miles from Stonehenge and is huge. I spent an afternoon in and around the circle in 2009, it was a really peaceful day and very interesting. I was intrigued by the trees on the site, which had amazing roots and were clearly a special place for many others.

The stones at Avebury are very impressive. This is a stone from one of the two inner circles.

I really liked the textures on the stones themselves. Over the years they have aged and weathered and created interesting patterns and colours.

From Avebury to Arbor Low, in the Peak District. The day I visited in 2010, it was particularly quiet and in fact only my friend and I were there for most of the time. It was wonderfully peaceful. This stone circle is on a private farm, but the landowner allows access. The stones at Arbor Low are mostly laying down.

I put together some panorama's of the circle at Arbor Low. If you click on these photos you can see them in larger format in my Flickr photostream.

Again the individual stones are very interesting and frequently topped by sheep, which freely wander around the site.

The last stone circle for this blog is The Cockpit, which sits on the hillside above Ullswater in The Lake District. Again I was very lucky to visit on a beautiful day, the sky was blue, and the clouds lined up perfectly for this shot. Isn't it amazing how sometimes you can be in just the right place at the right time?

You can see my "Stone Circles" set on Flickr here

I'd welcome hearing from anyone who enjoys visiting stone circles and monuments with suggestions of places to visit in the UK and Ireland, as I learn more about them.

Sunday, 10 February 2013

A dose of cute...

Last weekend I got to play with a friend's little labrador puppy, Freja. I don't think there's much I need to say about this one, it's just one big dose of cute. So I hope you like it.

Hello, what's all this then....

That thing you're pointing at me is clicking!

Whatever, I'm just going to have a snooze...

Almost time to go out and play


Is this cute enough?

Manners are important, even at 8 weeks old

Monday, 4 February 2013

A rare shot goes global...

Over the last few weeks, the night sky has been beautiful here in Norfolk.

January is a good time for star gazing, and I spent a lot of time looking up and picking out the different star constellations. Later on in the month after several days of being snowed in, I finally made it back into into the office. Late afternoon I noticed the gorgeous moon as I looked up from my top floor desk. I decided it was about time I had a go at photographing it, and willed the sky to stay clear until I made it home.

Luckily it did, and I took this shot on 24th January using a 50-500mm Sigma lens. Even with this mighty zoom, I had to crop the shot quite a bit, but I was amazed at the details that could be seen on the surface of the moon.

Three nights later, and in slightly different circumstances, I found myself outside again, this time looking at the ground as the snow melt combined with a large amount of rain had caused the river running past our house to burst it's banks. During Sunday evening we were keeping half hour checks on the river levels as the water crept slowly up the garden and the front driveway. Whilst outside I noticed the reflection of the now full moon on the newly created front garden lake (formerly a pond).

Looking up, it was beautiful and I trudged in over the soggy ground to get the camera again and set up my tripod. After all, I might as well do something fun to take my mind off the potential danger to life and property, right? After a few shots I experimented with the settings, with half an eye on the sky. I noticed something creeping into the right hand side of my vision and realised it was a plane about to cross right in front of the moon. I lunged for the shutter release and hoped for the best as the plane flew right across my viewfinder leaving a dark contrail behind. Such was the speed of it, I managed two frames. Cue quite a lot of excitement and also nervousness as I realised I had slowed down my shutter speed and that I was relying on the lens focusing properly and me not wobbling things about too much to capture anything.

Luckily for me, I got a just about useable shot out of it.

A week later and this is proving my most popular photo to date. It has had interest from national and international media and comments from around the world. I have even discovered what flight it was with the help of a friend, who established it was a Boeing 737, flight SAS7416, from Tenerife to Trondheim in Norway. The plane was travelling at approximately 580mph when I photographed it, so I'm amazed it came out at all.

For those camera minded people amongst you, this was shot at ISO500, f11 and shutter of 1/160. I wonder how much clearer it would have been at my previous setting of f9 and 1/250? I'll never know.

If you are interested in using this photo, then please do get in touch.

This photo appears in my Flickr "100 most interesting shots", so if you are interested in my most interesting shots according to Flickr please take a moment to view the slideshow.