Me and the family go on a trip to the beach around Christmas every year. Last year we spent Christmas in Wales near the coast, this year we couldn’t afford a full on Christmas break. Instead we just went for a day trip to our closest favourite beach, Brean in Somerset. And to mix things up a bit I shot with the Q7 and Pentax Q 11.5mm Shield lens.
Brean beach is a big sandy beach between Western-super-Mare and Burnham-on-Sea. Western and Burnham both have their charm, but we prefer the more rural nature of Brean. In the winter months it’s also especially quiet and is dog friendly too so it’s ideal for a peaceful, albeit often windy winter walk. The kids love it too – there’s something about going to the beach even in the middle of winter that they absolutely love. We all love it. It just feels like it clears the mind. It blows out the cobwebs, as they say.
I’ve said a lot of times on this website how much I love taking photos on the beach. There’s something about the simplicity of the compositions it allows that really pleases me. Add a dramatic sky and/or a sunset and I really feel like I’m in my element playing with reflections in the sand, looking for simple compositional elements such as rocks, washed up bits of wood, or other people walking. Brean is especially satisfying as it’s very flat and has a very large tide. This often results in lots of still water pools for playing with the light in too.
We’ve been there a few times now though, and I have lots of lovely shots that I’ve been really pleased with, so this time I thought I would mix things up a bit and take a slightly less conventional approach. There were two factors that inspired my approach this time. The first was the Jankuary project launched by Azriel. The second was a pair of lovely images that regular contributor David Hume sent me by email. We chat via email on and off, and during a recent conversation he happened to send me a pair of his seascapes. David has something of an ongoing project taking impressionistic images of the sea that I really enjoy – you can see/read some info on the project here – but these just happened to land in my inbox at just the right moment to inspire me. I already knew we were planning to take a trip to the beach and I had already planned to take some sort Janky camera to document the experience. Until David sent the images, I just hadn’t quite worked out what. Pretty much as soon as I saw them, it clicked in my head. I’ve been loving my little Pentax Q for a while now, but to date I hadn’t found a good enough reason to experiment with the 11.5mm Shield lens.
In case you haven’t heard of it, the Pentax Q 11.5mm Shield lens is a body cap style lens made by Pentax for the Q system. It’s a tiny lens that’s designed as something of a toy. It’s fixed focus, though the word “focus” barely applies. Results are a little like what you might expect from a pinhole camera/lens, though there is some glass involved here which helps bring the speed of the lens up to f/9, meaning that it can be hand held more readily than a pinhole. There’s also some impact of the optics that separate it slightly from a pinhole lens. It’s not uniformly soft for a start – the centre of the image is slightly more sharp than the periphery which gets very soft indeed toward the edge of the frame with an amount of increasing a sort of smearing blur. There also seems to be an optimal shooting distance where the central subject gets a little focus bump – though I didn’t pay much attention to that when I was shooting.
Of course, this is different to how and what David shoots. To my knowledge he uses a conventional lens but takes advantage of motion blur through using longer shutter speeds. I didn’t want to copy his work though, I was just inspired to use softness in the context of seascapes to achieve a more impressionistic outcome. And this lens definitely fits into the category of Janky. In fact, looking at some other peoples’ results online, I think mine might actually be more blurry than some. Never mind though, I like the look, and it fit the bill exactly for what I wanted to achieve!
Before I show you the shots I set out to take though, I will just share a couple of my family. I had initially intended to switch back to the more conventional 8.5mm f/1.9 lens, but once I was there I couldn’t be bothered. My wife is superb with her iPhone so we got some nice (in focus) family shots courtesy of her anyway, so I figured why not just embrace the lens for the day. I quite like the results too – I don’t think they are the ideal use case for the Pentax Q 11.5mm Shield lens, but there we are…
What I really set out so shoot was some seascapes. We were really lucky with the weather in the end – it turned out bright with quite a dramatic sky. The tide was well on the way out too meaning I had plenty of surface water to play with for reflections of the sky. The first couple of shots I got were of the family walking in the sun. Pointing the camera toward the sun, it decided to use a very warm whiter balance setting. I didn’t choose this, but once I saw it doing it, I didn’t actively seek to change it either. I figured if I didn’t like it later I could change it in post. I shoot raw, so tend to ignore white balance anyway, but once I got these on the compluter I decided to stick with the look, it just works for me for some of the images.
I took a couple of landscape format images, but pretty much every time I did I found myself preferring the portrait format equivalent. Here’s a comparison:
For the most part I carried on shooting into the sun. I did get a couple of shots in the day light with something in the foreground, but I don’t think these are as effective. To me, as soon as I introduced a subject, it felt like I was introducing a need for detail. I don’t think this image is terrible, but it didn’t have the right feel to me.
After those shots, I went back to using the sun, sand and surface water as subject finding the more abstract nature of the images to be more aesthetically appealing. This is probably my favourite shot from before the sun went down. Something about how the cloud created a shadow down the one side of the frame really appeals to me.
Not long after I took this shot the clouds came over and it started to get a little bit cold. We had been out for a while too, so we decided to head to the cafe for a warm drink. Whilst we were in the cafe the sun got lower, but the clouds cleared a little so we decided to brave the beach again. This time we walked toward the cliffs instead of away from them. Before we got close enough to them for me to start including them in the composition I noticed this pair of people and got this shot – another that I really liked from the day.
We then got closer to the cliffs and I found myself with a few little rock pools to play with. Funnily enough, as I have said, this really wasn’t the sort of shot I was looking for, but these following three images ended up working really nicely as a set of three. I really love the brightness and glowiness of the light in the reflections against the relative shadow of the rocks and sand.
Finally, I didn’t really think this last one would work, but thanks to the darkness of the shadows and shape of the cliff, I think it does.
Overall, as you can possibly tell, I am really happy with these. They have taken me back to the success I had last time I shot a pinhole camera. I don’t really know why I tend to avoid shooting these sort of images – I think the issue is that I worry I am going to miss something that I would like to capture, well, sharply… I also struggle with the process of shooting this sort of photo alongside more conventional photography. I struggle carrying more than a couple of conventional lenses, so trying to shoot more than one lens when one of them takes blurry photos and one takes sharp photos feels a bit like trying to split my brain in two and ends up feeling creatively stifling rather than enjoyable. In this situation though, where I have already shot the area a couple of times to my satisfaction, I was able to just concentrate on this specific creative goal, and because of that, I got a lot out of the experience and feel very happy with the outcome. With all that said, the Pentax Q 11.5mm Shield lens is so small, and so light, and I am carrying this camera so much of the time, I think I am going to see if I can find some more success with it… even outside of Jankuary…
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