Chasing Inspiration, Light and Purple Sandpipers

Chasing inspiration, light and purple sandpipers. 

Winter is the season for landscape photography! At least that is the mantra that seems to be spilling from the pages of photography magazines at the moment. So what happens if, like me, you have been finding the wet, grey days a bit of a challenge?

I came back from the Outer Hebrides at the end of October, where even in the middle of a storm the light and land seem to exude a beauty that can sometimes seem hard to find on the flatter East Coast. Since then the weather has been miserable and my motivation for taking pictures has been somewhat lacking.

I think we all go through phases where we question our work and creativity and perhaps long to be somewhere ‘more inspiring’. However what I think we really need is simply to get out in the landscape with our camera, but with no preconceptions about our image making, and just spend some time looking.

So with this idea in mind I headed out to the coast at Bawdsey. It is a place I know really well but I wanted to try and look at it with fresh eyes and see if I could reconnect with my photography and my local coastline.

I arrived at the beach just as the sun slipped behind some really menacing looking storm clouds. It was late afternoon, about 2 hours before sunset so I headed to the waters edge trying to find some inspiration, wishing the light hadn’t vanished completely.

There was another photographer on the beach crouched low by the tideline, photographing something but I couldn’t make out what. I set up my camera away from him and focused on taking a few shots of the beach, when he soon wandered over for a chat. It turns out he was photographing purple sandpipers, a winter visitor from the high Artic.

‘Go and have a look’ he said. ‘If you approach slowly they won’t fly away.’

So I changed my 24-70mm lens for a 70-200mm and crept slowly along the beach to watch the purple sandpipers doing their thing – which was pulling worms from the mud.

I spent a happy half an hour completely absorbed in their company. They seemed totally oblivious to my presence and despite my inadequate equipment I managed to capture some shots I was really pleased with.

Leaving the birds to their evening meal I wandered along the shoreline to explore the mud stone myself. It was low tide and the patterns in the exposed mud formations were stunning – the colours were amazing too. Grey blues mixed with oranges and fawn in a formation of miniature gulleys, holes and pools. I had photographed this area of coast years ago but had completely forgotten how beautiful it was. There is a temptation to think of east coast mud as grey and featureless, but this outcrop really isn’t like that at all.

By this time the light was starting to return. The heavy storm clouds were breaking up and the colours of sunset were beginning to spread across the sky – despite the fact that I was facing east and not west.

I spent the rest of the afternoon shooting long exposure seascapes and went home happy.

For me this outing proved that inspiration is everywhere, we just need to get out and find it. Watching the birds gave me a connection to the coast. I was so delighted by their antics that I forgot about the pressure I put on myself to create ‘good’ images. It was just me, my camera, the sea and four little birds.

Somehow this brief spell of wildlife photography gave me some renewed enthusiasm for my landscapes.  I went away inspired to return to this area of coast that I thought I knew so well but which still had some new things to show me.

It turns out winter is good and I don’t need to head north to find my inspiration – I just needed to wait for some northern visitors to head south!