St Andrews Photography with Wet Pants

St Andrews has a lot offer by the way of landscape photography. Similar to Edinburgh it is steeped in history and has some stunning landmarks and features.  It is also geographically diverse, with a wonderfully varied coastline.  It has beaches, cliffs, hills, coastal paths, ruins, dunes and of course the town itself.  These combine to provide a veritable photographic playground with no end of potential for getting great prints of one of Scotland’s most iconic towns (and getting wet pants too).  It also represents my first ‘place’ beyond Edinburgh – long overdue, but hey, I’m going in the right direction!

St Andrews Reflections – Behind the Photography

Mid winter sunrise over St Andrews, reflected on the West Sands

‘West Sands Reflections’ By Dougal Nicol

If St Andrews means something to you, I hope you like ‘West Sands Reflections’.  I did get lucky with the conditions at the time, but it’s not all luck…………..

First Reconnaissance

I know St Andrews reasonably well and have seen ‘classic’ views of the town.  I decided to make my first serious foray there at the end of last year and spent an afternoon scouting about locations that I thought had potential, the West Sands being perhaps the prime candidate.  The most important element of this exercise was to confirm possible winning shots and the compositions and vantage points for these.

Planning the Photograph

After gauging the lay of the land from my first trip, it was a question of planning the photograph in more detail. What? When?

The ‘what’ was easy.  I wanted to capture sunrise reflected in the wet sands with St Andrews in the background.  Boom, job done.  However, the ‘when’ was a bit tricky.   The West Sands lie due north of St Andrews. So if I wanted a sunrise the best time of year would be as close to mid winter as possible. OK, not too complex.  But the tide needed to be half way up the beach. Too high and there’d be no sand, too low and there’d be no wet. OK, so mid tide at sunrise in mid winter.  Sunrise at that time of year is about 8.45am. Sorted. Nope, think again.  The tide shifts by an hour each day so what is mid tide at 8.45am one day, isn’t the same the next day. Bugger.  And the tidal cycle only repeats every 2 weeks.  Bugger again.  So not 8.45am on just any morning, in winter.  OK, so mid tide, at sunrise, in mid winter but only for 1 or 2 mornings in every two weeks.  Not quite the window of opportunity I was hoping for!!  Next problem, I have other work commitments (a less glamorous 9 to 5 desk job – lets not go there) and kids to look after.  The Missus says I need to share in this.  I know, I can’t believe it.  Typical.  The little tikes are of course very lovely, but not the photographer’s best friend.  Hhhmmmm, so this is now getting very tricky.  I needed a Sunday (Saturday is a Dad day) or a holiday, in mid winter with a once in a fortnight mid tide, with no parenting duties…………….AND with fair weather. Ahhh, s**t.  Gimme a break!

I Got a Break

St Andrews Photography West Sands

One of the failed early attempts – too much cloud cover.

Well I did get a break or two and managed a handful of trips up to St Andrews around last Christmas.  I did my best to give these a sporting chance by keeping a keen eye on the forecast for my critical target days – mid tide, 8.45am, and all that jazz.  The forecast is another critical area in planning these expeditions and is a whole other subject, and can be pretty hit and miss.  Suffice to say my first couple of attempts drew blanks and I didn’t come away with much from my early morning endeavours to the tip of Fife.  But trip No. 3 came up trumps and all the conditions were as hoped for.  Happy days.  Very happy days (and wife).

Capturing the Moment

So if conditions were good, all I had to do was take a picture. Yes, “all I had to do”.

I’m self taught and still learning, and when the sun rises you don’t get that long to twiddle your thumbs and think about the best options.  It can all be over pretty quickly.  So for me the pressure is on to try and make the most of what’s in front of me, the equipment I have and what I know. So suffice to say it is still a pretty manic affair during the brief window of opportunity.

St Andrews Photography West Sands

Did find the time to grab a quick selfie on my camera phone though!

I’d prepared for the moment as best I could and had a game plan in mind.  I wanted to get as close to the wet sand as possible to make the most of the reflection.  This took using a tripod out of the equation as the wet sand is pretty fluid (as are the incoming waves!) and my tripod doesn’t go low enough anyway.  Consequently, shutter speeds were high to minimise the impact of shooting out of hand.  I used a wide angle lens (24mm) to get as close to the subject as possible but keep St Andrews in frame.  This helped keep the depth of field in check given the proximity of the foreground, despite bigger apertures required to trade off against the higher shutter speeds (a bit of ISO increase helped here too).

Coupled with this, the best reflections occurred immediately after larger waves retreated from the beach.  So to avoid getting swamped by the waves, there were some yo-yo shenanigans; standing up, lying down, standing up, lying down, to try and get in position behind a big wave to get the shot without getting soaked.  It was actually pretty entertaining and fairly lively.  My preparations had given me water proofs, but when it came to it, these didn’t really keep me dry when lying in a couple of inches of the North Sea. All in the name of photography!

Ultimately there was a bit a photography geeky stuff going on but there was Benny Hill chaos too, with one eye on not getting soaked and stopping the camera from getting trashed and the other peering through my camera.

Post Processing – St Andrews in Print!

And the image at the top is the result of my labours.  I’ve polished the picture a bit, as all modern photographers do digitally and their predecessors did in the dark room.  However, I have tried to refrain from going too over the top to keep it looking as it did when lying in the surf, on the West Sands, on that morning. I hope you like it.

St Andrews Photography West Sands

Good times!!

So a bit of luck to get the final photograph, yes, but not without planning and perseverance.  And certainly not without enduring one and a half hours home in the car sitting in soggy clothes head to toe. But it’s worth it, and I love it.


Links – Photography Tips

Want to know more about how I go about approaching photographing somewhere new?  This might be for you – How to Photograph a New Landscape [LINK COMING SOON].

I also hope to pass on my knowledge of where to get the best photos of St Andrews soon – The Best Photography Spots in St Andrews [LINK COMING SOON].

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