Burnham-on-Sea at High Tide

Over the last 7 or 8 years I’ve probably been to Burnham-on-Sea about a dozen times to take photos of the famous lighthouse. Every time I visited the tide was out, leaving the lighthouse sitting in the sand several metres away from the water line. I have always wanted to photograph the lighthouse at high tide, with the sea surrounding the long white wooden legs which protect the lighthouse by keeping it well above the rising tide. I decided to plan a trip by visiting the area when high tide was around the same time as sunset, so that I could use a long exposure to capture the beautiful colours of the clouds during the golden hour with the creamy texture and tones of the sea.

Luckily I only had to wait around a week for such a time to arrive, and so I made my plans to visit after work on a Thursday. The lighthouse is about an hour from where I work, so I figured I’d leave work around 5.45 to get there at least an hour before sunset. Before work I packed all my gear and my wellies in the van, and went to work like any normal day. After work I left town and made my way towards Taunton to travel up the motorway to junction 22, which is only a few minutes from the coast.

During my planning I looked at weather forecasts and found that there would be patchy clouds around the time the sun set (perfect!) and that the wind was going to be around 20mph blowing in land (perfect too!). It really did seem like the conditions would be just right for what I wanted. As I walked over one of the sand dunes towards the sea I noticed there was a lot more sand on the worn pathway through the dunes than usual, and that it was much softer and deeper too! Perhaps it was a bit windier than I anticipated. I made my way on to the beach and began walking towards the lighthouse which was slightly further up the coastline.

As I reached the lighthouse I set my tripod down and began trying to plan a composition that allowed me to shoot the lighthouse at an angle that showed its shape, included some texture from the clouds, but didn’t actually include the sun within the frame. When I started doing this I was stood on the very edge of the line where the waves move up to, so the water would just about touch my toes. Within those two minutes or so the tide has risen enough that I could feel the cold water inside my wellies as the waves lapped over the top. Wow! I knew that the tide here rose fast, but this was incredible. Every time I moved back a bit to get out of the water, I would only have a minute or so to take a photo before having to retreat back again.

Over the course of the next 45 minutes or so I took a number of photos, experimenting with different compositions and exposures. I was keen to avoid taking a photo with the sun in the frame as there was not enough cloud cover to stop it from blowing out the highlights and giving me much too much contrast in the scene. I knew that I wanted light pastel colours and soft lighting to give me a calm looking image which would suit a long exposure.

As the sun set I waited a few minutes to see if there were any spectacular post-sunset colours as you sometimes get, but the sky just began to get slowly darker so I began heading back towards the van. I ended up having to walk back to the van within the sand dunes as the sea had now completely covered the beach, all within the space of an hour or so!


After processing some of the photos from the evening I ended up with two that I was very happy with. The first is a black and white square crop of the lighthouse from soon after I arrived. The sunset colours hasn’t yet materialised and the light was still quite harsh, so I used the texture of the waves as they receded back into the sea to provide some foreground interest leading towards the main subject, the lighthouse. This composition breaks the traditional “rule” where subjects are places on a third line, but I chose to place the lighthouse directly in the centre of the frame to provide more impact and drama.

The second image is exactly what I hoped to capture on my visit, a calm image of the lighthouse with the smooth texture of the water surrounding it, with lovely pastel colours in the sky. I chose a shutter speed of eight seconds to provide a bit more movement in the clouds, without totally blurring them.

After shooting mostly film over the last couple of years, I’m really happy that my first proper digital outing resulted in images that I’m so happy with. If you have any comments (or critiques) then please feel free to post them below.