Seascapes and Stories You Can’t See

I’ve quite recently realised that one of my favourite photography subjects is the sea. We go to the coast as a family once a year, and I always take a camera to the beach with me. Every year I get a photo I’m pleased with, so I’ve decided to collate them. In doing so though, I have realised that they mean something to me that’s a little more than could possibly visible to other people who might look at them.

I currently have an article brewing that talks about photography not being a competition. I’ll save the full details, but in short, I talk about how I’m really rubbish at collating my favourite images either on my website or for printing. The gist of the article is that I don’t feel motivated to do it because I’m also not motivated to try and perpetuate myself as a “good” photographer. My hobby photography is just that – a hobby, and if no one else sees my work, I don’t really mind.

Anyway, I’ll come back to that in more detail in that other article. The reason I mention it here is that – quite ironically I suppose – writing that article has made me want to collate some of my favourite images together for display online. Though I should add, this is not really for the benefit of showing them off as such. The main reasons I’ve decided to do it is for my own personal satisfaction, and as a way that I personally can view them more easily as a set.

Actually, it wasn’t just that article that inspired this thinking. I also took a photo (above) on my recent holiday to Cornwall that I was particularly pleased with. I shot 4 rolls of Portra 400 that week – some of the shots I’m really pleased with – but that was the primary keeper of the trip. As you’ll see below, not all of my favourite seascapes are as minimal as that one, but there’s just something satisfying about making minimalism work in a photo that – for my own aesthetic enjoyment at least – makes this shot really work.

But, what I also personally love about this image – and in fact all of these images – is that for me they tell a story that none of you can see. They tell a story of my holiday. They remind me of the moment I was enjoying when I was taking them. Without fail, all of these images were taken when I was on holiday, in a good mood, either enjoying some time to myself or some time with my family.

I shared a couple of these images on Instagram recently and in doing so mentioned this. In fact, it was when sharing this next image that I commented about the idea that however much I like it as a photo, it would also always remind me of the time me and Norah went for a walk together along Seaton beach in Cornwall. It was a baking hot day, Norah didn’t have any shoes on, and we walked probably half a mile together in total having our little conversations about the colours of the stones on the beach, how hot the sand was etc. We also talked about not climbing some steep concrete steps… and then how we were still going to climb them because Norah wanted to, and really there is no stopping Norah when she wants to do something… I wouldn’t have taken this next photo is she hadn’t won the argument.

None of this is in this photo for you. But it is for me.

Taken with a Pentax SFX and 77mm Limited lens in case you are interested

Then there are photos from last year’s trip to Wales. This next shot was taken on a beach called Freshwater West in South Wales – I can’t tell you the joy I felt as we walked down on to a beach that must have been a few miles long to find practically no one on it on a midsummer day. We spent the whole day there with the kids and some friends doing very little. I wondered off for some time to take a few photos by myself and found an area of rocks where there was literally no one around at all. Just me with my thoughts and a camera.

Taken with a Mamiya 7
Taken with a Mamiya 7

Even when there are people about I am happy though. In fact, part of the fun for me sometimes is finding angles that frame out the people. This next photo looks like a quiet beach, right? It wasn’t, it was actually quite busy, and only moments before this shot there were kids playing in the sea by the rocks. It’s like a little challenge waiting for the “decisive moment” when everyone has buggered off for a split second. It might be almost a lie presenting the beach as empty when it was bustling with people, but the photo quite nicely captures how I felt on that day.

Mamiya 7 again

This was the year before, in Cornwall again. Again, a busy beach. There are a few people in little boats hidden behind that big rock, and one just out of the frame on the right handside. I was stood here for a while waiting for the right timing. This particular day Hannah had stopped back at the house we were staying in and I remember taking quite a long walk by myself.

This one is the work of a Makina 67

This was taken with a pinhole camera the year before that again. I was getting some bemused looks from a  couple to the right of me as I set my tripod up in the water. I knew exactly how I wanted this photo to come out, and despite not shooting much pinhole it still worked exactly as I wanted it. I have this photo as a background on my phone. I love Holywell Bay where is was taken, and it reminds me of that place and the fun I was having taking the image.

Zero 2000 pinhole

This was taken in Devon the year before. I lost my wedding ring in the sand this day and didn’t realise until the evening. Luckily I managed to find a local man with a metal detector and we worked out the area for him to comb to find it. I didn’t even know I had lost it when I took this photo – but that holiday, and specifically that beach, will always remind me of the horror of losing it and the relief when it was found.

Taken with a Leica M-A

This image was taken the year before on a cliff walk with Hannah when she was pregnant with my youngest. We went on holiday with her parents, again to Holywell bay. This was an evening when we left Connie with the inlaws to get some time to ourselves. I remember how peaceful it was – it felt like a bit of calm before the storm of introducing another baby into our lives.

Taken with a Leica M6 TTL

This last image was taken the day before, and is probably the image that sticks in my head as being the first successful seascape I took. It also remains one of my favourite photos. I took it with my Leica iiia and Voigtlander 28mm f/3.5. I have labeled all of the cameras I used on the photos above – I remember them all without having to look them up… but the camera/lens really stick in my mind with this shot as I remember wondering how well I could get away with shooting it at f/3.5. I then spent a lot of the holiday wondering how well it would come out – I was overwhelmingly happy with the outcome when I got it back.

Some of the joy in all this is how this feels like an ongoing project with just one or two images being added to it each year – it’s about as slow a growing collection of images I could make. Some are probably more successful than others, and I guess they have fairly limited appeal to other people. I’m no expert in this field, nor do I have any desire to be.

Regardless of how good or otherwise they are as images though, the rest of the joy is in the fact that they are treasure troves of memories to me. And however much I describe the stories that are hidden in them, nothing of the story is ever going to be visible to anyone else who looks at them, so no one will never be able to completely understand what they mean to me. In short, these photos have a value that is only relevant to me, and somehow that makes them feel all the more special.

This is in fact part of my conclusion in the forthcoming article about photography not being a competition. As photographers I think we sometimes think a little bit too much about what our images might mean to other people, when in fact their real power is in what they can mean to ourselves.

Having written this, I finally got around to adding a new gallery of images to my website too – which feels like a good thing even if no one apart from me ever looks at it.

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26 thoughts on “Seascapes and Stories You Can’t See”

  1. Great article Hamish and very relevant also. Photography is for me firstly an ability to capture a moment, but when you expand on what ‘The Moment’ is your article above really makes sense. The fact that you (and others) can probably reel of the meta data (at least camera, lens and film stock) of the image that means the most to them even if it was not recored in the file and especially not on the negative speaks volumes about how important an image is to that individual. It’s something until recently I had forgotten. The images I make now are not primarily for others. If others enjoy them (I hesitated to write ‘like’) then great. Some people may even buy my images. That’s is very different to being commissioned to make images. Keep up the good work.

    1. I believe the blobs are hanging shutter curtains. If If you want to shoot film please use Nikon, Cannon or Minolta cameras. They are much cheaper. You can buy a whole kit for the price you invested in the one you used. I recommend Minolta either the xd 11 or the xe7. I own and shoot both without problems.

      1. I think you have commented on the wrong post – for anyone reading this, this comment relates to this article

        The blobs are from something in the lens. Different lenses on the same camera didn’t cause this issue, and when testing the lens on a digital camera, the issue was also very visible.

        Additionally, in my 30 years of shooting film cameras, I have indeed shot Nikon (I once had most of the SLRs they’ve made), Canon and to a lesser degree Minolta. I have also shot Leica, Olympus and many others including Pentax which I now have a collection of. I have over the years experienced issues with every single brand of camera. In fact, when I worked in camera retail – selling both digital and film cameras in the early 2000s – we saw issues with all sorts of cameras come through the doors, even the most expensive ones.

        Contax cameras, are admittedly more of a risk in 2021 than some others. But, they are still an option, and I will still shoot them. The point of my article was simply that in 2021 we have options. If I want to shoot digital because a film camera has annoyed me, that’s my prerogative. Equally, I still have to choice to shoot whichever camera I choose, however risky or otherwise shooting it might be. The trick is to be prepared and to test the camera before using it for something serious. That’s where I fell short on this occasion.

  2. The priceless value of particular pics…. a great article ????.

    Btw, thank you for your excellent site. I’ve just recently got back into the “fun” of shooting film. Keep up the good work.

  3. I love this! It’s a concept that I find fascinating and really enjoy hearing the stories behind images. I’ve been toying with the idea of writing fictional short stories about some of my anonymous images (i.e the ones that aren’t of my friends and family haha) as I’m interested in the idea of an image having a different feeling for each person that looks at it.
    Thanks for sharing!

  4. I’ve never really found pinhole photography interesting, but daaamn I see the appeal in the one you posted here!

  5. Richard Wilford

    The emotional connection is an important part of what makes a good photo great, but no one will have the same or as strong a connection as the photographer who took it – their ‘secret’ story. That first image is sublime but it’s the last one that provokes the strongest emotion for me. I can imagine standing on those wet rocks, the cold sea splashing around my bare feet, the cool breeze – that’s the emotional connection I get from looking at it. Great photos do that. Wonderful article, thanks.

  6. I once got severely sunstroke at Holywell Bay on the day we arrived. It was gloriously sunny and 80plus degrees. That night it thundered and poured down, nearly blowing our tents away. It continuously rained for the rest of the week!

  7. Beautiful photos and article. I think the sea is a very emotive subject, because it has that alive-ness to it, I find it capable of carrying so much potential meaning, if that makes sense. The contrast of it against rocks and beaches is always interesting too, like two different kinds of strength meeting.

  8. Lovely article, and pictures!
    You’re one of very few out there who are able and willing to speak warm and with an honest voice about life, photographing and cameras – thank you. I’m a (digital ????) hobbyist, that on different levels get so much out of reading your posts.
    Inspiring and thoughtful in many ways, you’re site!

  9. A bit late in replying Hamish but nevertheless, my kinda post – a great story line to support the images. I’ve had a similar one ‘brewing’ since before lockdown on a Leica C3 at Porlock in Devon. Great sea images esp the pinhole! (would make an awesome album cover.)

  10. Jonathan MacDonald

    That’s a very nice article and I have some of the same feelings. Now I live in Madrid and I really miss the sea. Your article and photos reminded me of a visit a few years ago to the “playa de catedrales” on Spain’s north coast – it’s a really beautiful beach that gets great light at certain times and a photographer’s dream. I get the idea that it’s somewhere you’d really love.

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