Autumn into winter marks my favourite time of year in Guernsey for landscape photography. Weather becomes less predictable, skies become more dramatic and the low sun moves south, exposing Guernsey’s south cost to beautiful light, not seen at any other time of year. This is South-coast season.
Le Jaonnet bay has been a regular destination for me for many years. During winter it is wild and mostly deserted but with some care, is reasonably accessible. I feel a kind of magic when I visit this location, which is difficult to describe. Perhaps it’s the desolate wildness, perhaps it’s the clarity of light, which seems to be peculiar only to the south coast. Whatever it is, it keeps me coming back year after year.
The path to Le Jaonnet passes Icart, one of the island’s most popular viewpoints, winds along the clifftop for a while before it splits and descents a valley. As the coastline comes back into view, steep steps replace the footpath and the final descent onto the bay is via a steel ladder onto the slipperiest rocks known to man. It’s wise to consider every footstep down here, some years ago a misjudged step resulted in a broken big toe for me and a difficult climb back to civilisation. During winter, there’s a good chance you won’t be found for some time if you happen to take a tumble.
Despite many visits, I’ve haven’t felt that I’ve fully exploited Le Jaonnet photographically. Only a small bay, varying weather conditions and differences in tide continue to present subjects and compositions I hadn’t seen before. Small as it is, this beach holds endless potential.
On this occasion, a ‘V’ of high-level cloud began forming to the south - good news and just where I needed it. Upon reaching the ladder I saw what looked like a human body slumped against a rock and felt compelled to check up. Upon reaching it, it moved and we exchanged awkward greetings. Clearly somebody who also appreciated Le Jaonnet’s magic and had dozed-off. Slightly embarrassed from disturbing him, he soon left and the entire beach was my own until dark.
I feel lucky to have created the main image above. More than any other, I feel this photograph epitomises everything I’ve always aimed for at this location. It depicts the wildness, drama, colour and clarity of the beach almost perfectly. Although the sun was very low in the sky, the crystal-like clarity of the air made it extremely bright forcing me to shoot in this direction. Although calm, a moderate swell was hitting the shoreline and I timed my exposures to coincide with the largest sets. A relatively slow shutter speed gave me the motion-blur I wanted and the harsh but warm side-lighting provided the magic.
Once the sun had set and the beach was in shadow, I was able to search for a composition that would include more of the sky and the stunning cloud base that had formed. Nestled at the base of the cliff, among giant fallen boulders, I quickly set up for a wide-angle panorama as the sky put on a truly beautiful display.
As the rocks fell into darkness, it was time to begin the tiring trudge back up the cliffside. I didn’t see a single person on the way and I stopped several times to rest but also to marvel at the amazing sunset that seemed to just keep giving. By this time, it would usually be dark but deep colours remained in the sky for some time, marking a perfect end to a very successful trip.
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