My wife hails from Jersey, in the Channel Islands, so we make regular trips there to catch up with family and friends. It also gives me a pretty good excuse, if I ever needed one, to take my camera and capture some of the stunning scenery on the island.
La Rocco is a defensive tower from the Napoleonic era, and situated a half mile off St Ouen’s beach on the western end of the island. I’ve been to St Ouen’s on many occasions, but never yet managed a photographic outing through the combination of wrong tides, strong wind or just generally bad luck – plus La Corbiere lighthouse is a short distance from here, and usually draws me (as you will see from my other Jersey images!).
Some time ago, a well-known pro landscape photographer told me you know when you’re a true landscaper when you obsess over four weather forecasts on an hourly basis. Well, on this particular day I was definitely a true landscaper! We had been in Jersey for a week and only had a couple of days left, and I hadn’t managed to make any images yet – I hadn’t even taken my camera out of its bag yet! Looking at the forecasts again, they suggested either light rain, heavy rain or a mix of light and heavy rain – with a chance of sunshine around 8pm. Now, for a relatively small island like Jersey, that’s quite some variance! However, Jersey airport was one of the forecast options, and was the one suggesting sunshine around 8pm. For those of you who are unfamiliar with Jersey’s geography, St Ouen’s is near the airport, and if you take off heading West, you’ll fly right over the beach and La Rocco tower. Airports like to have accurate forecasts for operational and safety reasons, so I was beginning to feel hopeful for a photographic opportunity. I’m quite partial to a passing storm front as they often give amazing light, and it looked like I might have one tonight.
Despite the heavy rain and thunderstorms near St Helier, I packed my bag and jumped in the car to head off – I think my family thought I was mad! On arriving at St Ouen’s, I was beginning to doubt myself too!! The rain was even heavier, with a fairly brisk wind whipping in off the sea!!! Oh well, time to make the trip a little useful, so I decided to scout views, angles etc for a future trip, with hopefully better weather. After driving up and down 5 Mile Road (which is oddly 3 1/2 miles long), and checking out various chunky granite slipways on to the beach, I had narrowed it down to two potential shooting locations. The local authorities are currently renovating La Rocco, so a third possibility would be added to the list once the work is finished, and the scaffolding on the northern wall removed!
It was still raining quite hard, so I left the slipway at Le Braye and headed south, considering heading home – but I had faith in the airport and their forecast, so I wasn’t driving very fast. I think the photography God heard my prayers, as just as I neared my preferred shooting location, a ball of light appeared between the clouds – at 8.05pm. They were late, but it looked like they might just be right after all.
Diverting to the nearest car park, I pulled in, wound down the window, and turned off the engine. The weather was definitely doing something interesting, but was still raining quite hard. Oh well, I had a waterproof jacket on, and my camera bag has a waterproof covering, so I locked up the car and headed across the road to the beach.
Heading down on to the sand via the impressive sea wall (think German WWII fortifications), I suddenly felt very alone. The wind was blowing, the rain was falling, and I appeared to be the only person on the many square miles of beach. But, the light was improving and the rain easing – time to find some foreground interest! Just off to my right was some lovely chunks of Jersey granite, nicely leading down into a series of rock pools – looks like I had found my foreground.
Having traveled light on this trip, I hadn’t taken my Manfrotto carbon fibre tripod, and was about to initiate the 12″ tall Hama tripod I had bought earlier that week. I usually take my Manf, but just didn’t have the space or weight allowance this time.
After about 15 minutes of standing in the rain, it finally stopped, so, I set up my camera with the usual hot shoe spirit level, cable release, filter holder and fixed it firmly to my mini-tripod. Now where exactly to shoot from…
I could see several options that looked appealing. I wanted to show La Rocco tower in isolation – after all, it stands a half mile off-shore. As is usual, my best option looked like it would be from a small rock right in the middle of the biggest rock pool – they’re never near the edges! So, I checked the sky/land exposure difference and slipped the 0.9 ND Grad into place. I also wanted to control the reflections in the pool, so added my circular polariser – I really didn’t want to be hunting for filters while balancing on an angled rock above water!
After a rather circuitous route, I ended up on my rock – and made an image. It looked great; clearing storm, brooding sky, rocks, reflections etc, but it wasn’t quite what I had in mind, and the storm was still clearing… Another rock to the right could be the answer – more hopping, jumping and wobbling later and I had the even better view that you see here. Now all I needed to do was compose and expose before the rain I could see falling to my right reached me. I was looking to use the reflections off the water, so my mini-tripod proved perfect. I was still very nervous as it’s definitely not as sturdy as my Manfrotto, but it was going to give me the view I wanted in a shake-free way,
I just couldn’t believe the transformation happening in front of me – the wind dropped, the clouds cleared, colours changed. I quickly adjusted the polariser to get the reflection effect I wanted, checked focus/aperture/ISO/Grad position and tripped the shutter. Voila, I was a very happy photographer.
Rain was now getting quite close again, so I made my way back to sand, and started to head for the car park. All in all, the rain had stopped for less than 10 minutes, but I had captured possibly my favourite image of Jersey so far. I came away with two images I am very pleased with, and when I got back to my family, they couldn’t believe what I had captured as it was still raining heavily in St Helier, just a few miles from this view. If you’d like to see the brooding image I captured just before this one, take a look at my gallery pages.
Sometimes you’ve just got to have faith, and persistence!
Exposure info: 1/4sec at f/11, ISO100, 0.9 ND Grad + Circular Polariser
Prints of all my images are available from my website.