• Richard Reader

Brighton Rocks

So, a day trip to that jewel of the south coast. Brighton.

I'm actually quite used to going to Brighton. Until a couple of years ago I used to travel there at least once a month to practice my martial art, iaido, with a senior sensei (teacher) who lived there, or attend an iaido seminar. Now it's a couple of years since my last visit.

Today's excursion was planned a few weeks ago while milling around a couple of London pubs and taking photographs (yes, this is about the photography!) with Jay Vulture of Vulture Labs.

I had been on a couple of long exposure photography workshops led by Jay during 2016 and we occasionally meet up for a beer or two and a spot of photography, mainly in London. In June I'm going on Jay's Iceland workshop. "So, when are you free next buddy?" said Jay. "Let's go to Brighton, do some seascapes". So it was arranged.

Jay, living in London, was going to take the train down from Blackfriars. I, living in north Kent, would drive. Not knowing how the M25, M23 and Brighton parking was going to be, I allowed good time to reach Brighton and find somewhere reasonably priced to stick the car for the day.

Needless to say on this occasion there were no hold ups, the parking was easy and I was there long before Jay was going to arrive. So one flat white and a choccy/fruity cake thing later I'm sat on the concourse at Brighton station waiting for Jay's train to arrive. And that gives me a bit of time to do a little bit of street photography using my phone. Due to a failure of the main board in my lovely LG G4 I'm now the (proud?) owner of Google Pixel XL. It's a great phone although I do wish it had a micro SD card socket. However it backs photos up to Google pretty much straightaway if allowed to and the big G have provided unlimited storage for Pixel owners. Which is good news because it has one heck of a camera, currently the best on a mobile by a number of accounts. I find mobile photography using the basic camera quite boring. Yes I can, and do, push shots through Snapseed, but I tend to prefer using an excellent app for photography called Vignette. This can be set up to emulate a wide variety of film and camera types and I generally use a square or 4x3 black and white toy camera setting with a grungy frame. So a few shots were taken while waiting for Jay.

On his arrival jay and I headed for the beach, aiming for the iconic sight of Brighton's West Pier.

The Pier was opened in 1866 having been designed by Eugenius Birch. It was 340m long and was one of 22 piers built around that time all about the British coastline. It was in fact the second pier at Brighton, the earlier 1823 Chain Pier which was destroyed by a storm in 1896 prior to the new Palace Pier being constructed in 1899. The West Pier survived a number of modifications over the years but ran into financial difficulties during the 1960s and closed in 1975. In 1982 it was granted Grade I listing status, the only pier in the UK to receive this status. Plans were made to restore and reopen the pier but the Great Storm of 1987, financial issues, and further subsequent storm damage put these on ice. Two fires in 2003 and high wind damage in 2004 finally led to the pier being declared as being beyond repair by English Heritage. A further storm in 2014 led to more of the remains falling into the sea.

Today the skeleton of the concert hall and a number of the pillars that supported the pier from the land is all that remains. Some pillars have been removed and will be incorporated into a currently ongoing redevelopment of the beachside walkway which also include the British Airways i360 observation tower which is the world's first vertical cable car and the world's tallest moving observation tower.

Needless to say the main point of the trip was to do some long exposure photography of the West Pier.

We got to the beach at about 12:30, which also happened to coincide with high tide. Unfortunately it was quite sunny and, looking south out to sea, the light was catching the water quite badly causing a lo of highlights - basically far from ideal for what we intended. We took a few shots from the west side of the beach to minimise the affect of the sun but that was about as much as we were going to get at that point. We were both using 16 stop ND filters plus 3 stop ND grad filters on our cameras. I was using my Fuji X-T2 plus, initially, a 23mm lens and later a 14mm. Following this it it was decided that lunch was in order.

After finding a great lunch of fish and chips, along with a beer (it's the seaside after all), plus a visit to an outdoors shop so Jay could pick up a new waterproof for Iceland, we returned to the beach to find that things were improving. The tide had gone out quite a way, some decent clouds had formed and the sun was now about an hour off setting, so well out of any shots. As we set up we noticed that the tide was starting to show the sand beneath it that runs out towards the pier from the edge of the shingle beach, and that this was giving a reflection of the pier. I started by using my 14mm lens with a 10 stop ND and a 3 stop blender grad but changed to a 23mm lens to get a bit closer. As we shot the light got better and so did the reflection as the tide ebbed out.

As the sun set we finished shooting, congratulated ourselves on holding out and getting some decent shots, and then went to a bar for final drink before heading home. A great day. Thanks Jay.


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