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"Liminal Light" Dawn & Dusk Photography Short Course at West Dean College

It was a challenging, tiring and, ultimately, meteorologically immensely rewarding week-end for the participants of my dawn and dusk photography short course at West Dean College.

The talented, enthusiastic and up-for-it crew was alarmed up at 05.00 for the 06.00 lickety-split departures and had to endure some pretty drippy, damp and drab weather on the Saturday morning and afternoon shoots. Of course we acquired interesting, low-key monochromatic material during the poor weather but it was a shame to have had so many technicolor sunsets and sunrises in the preceding few days in the area, only for the weather to go totally Pete Tong on their first day of shooting.

All of that, however, was to change on the third day of the course.

East Head, West Wittering

Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4 Nikkor, f9 at 0.6 second

16.04, 10th December 2016

We awoke on the Sunday morning to crystal-clear, glittering gemstone skies - and a dusting of ground frost at West Dean College. The minibus journey to Church Norton was absolutely stunning; with a slowly evolving stripe of vermilion on the horizon beneath the indigo pre-dawn canopy. Intermittent layers of mist and fog were languidly sliding over the hillsides, clinging to the South Downs' woodlands and lingering in random copses of wintry farmland trees. I had no expectation that the misty conditions would persist all the way to the coast; but I was wrong.

We arrived at Church Norton about an hour before official sunrise and an hour and a half before high tide. The salt marshes were already almost full to the brim - and looking as calm and meditative as I've ever seen them; absolutely flat as plate glass and as reflective as a mirror. There was a collective gasp of awe from the entire group as we emerged from the tree-lined path to see this view open up before us... Even with shadow detail pretty non-existent, you could see from the pre-dawn that the morning was shaping up to be something really special.

Church Norton Salt Marshes

Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4 Nikkor, f9 at 1.6 seconds, tripod

06.56, 11th December 2016

As the dawn colours and cloudscapes evolved, conditions became so wonderful that it was difficult to know which way to turn; we were, literally, filled with wonder... Magenta-pinks, pale golds and pastel blues blossomed and drifted above us. There was zero wind, a steady rolling mist, perfect reflections, serene clouds and geometric con-trails. Colonies of wild birds were formation flying over us from time to time in the dawn's syrupy light (and a few loners were paddling about in the marshes too)... A couple of deer even put in a brief cameo appearance in the adjacent field...

Opportunities were so varied, plentiful and beautiful, we literally didn't know what to shoot next. Most of the time I was mentoring in the group, but out of the ten shots I managed to snatch for myself, half were either keepers or crackers.

Church Norton Salt Marshes

Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4 Nikkor, f8 at 1/40 second, tripod

08.03, 11th December 2016

Industrious, experimental and productive, all the group worked as quickly as they could, working the scene in the rapidly evolving light and changing conditions. Back at the college in the IT suite, their haul of images was an absolute delight to behold.

Church Norton Salt Marshes

Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4 Nikkor, f8 at 1/20 second, tripod

08.06, 11th December 2016

After the relative disappointments of the conditions on the previous day for the group, all I can say is that they really deserved what Mother Nature offered up to them on the Sunday pre-dawn and dawn shoot. In all honesty, in my experience, for those meteorological and tidal conditions to coincide like that, at dawn, in that location, was probably a one in a hundred chance. Happy days indeed.

A few minutes after sun-up and a gaggle of geese buzzes past John

Nikon D810, 50mm f1.4 Nikkor, ISO 3200, f11 at 1/2000 second

08.16, 11th December 2016

Thank you to West Dean College for the hospitality, IT facilities and delicious cuisine over the weekend; and thank you to all the members of my course crew, who, I'm sure, will be both amused and not surprised to learn that all the images in this blog were shot entirely on my trusty nifty-fifty...


It was an absolute pleasure to meet you all and to get to know you.

So... In politically-correct, alphabetical order...

Adrian - a special shout out must go to our smooth, swift and steady (I'm referring to driving skills - not film-star looks or Olympian athletic abilities...) minibus driver (actually, Adrian is a very accomplished tog in his own right - and the honorary eighth shooter on the team) who kindly relinquished his weekend lie-ins, joined us for the 06.00 departures on Saturday and Sunday, got us safely to our shoot locations and home again to WDC in time for breakfast (just!). Thank you, Adrian.

And my tip-top group participants...








...I very much hope our paths will cross again.


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