SOMETHING TELLS ME I'M NOT ALONE
If you want to be a night photographer, you’d better get used to going to strange places in the dead of night. There’s going to be some times when your imagination gets the better of you. Times when your heart feels like it’s going to race out of your chest. This one is a short story from a recent trip to Dungeoness.
STUMBLING AROUND IN THE DARK
I’d been meaning to go to Dungoness ever since moving to Thanet. It’s around an hour and a half drive from me but it’s one of the closest really dark places. I head down after finishing work and by the time I arrive it’s pitch black! It’s always best to scout a place out in the daytime if you can. This way you can work out what you want to photograph in advance.
As soon as I get out the car I realise how big the area is. It’s a huge beach that’s really hard to walk on because it’s all pebbles. I’d seen photos of the fishing boats that are often beached here but I can’t see more than a few meters in front of me. I don’t know how I’m going to find them at night.
As far as I could see it was quite a strange place. There’s a massive nuclear power station that dominates the landscape, but dotted all around are these small bungalows. I wonder what sort of people live here. Are they people who work at the power station? Maybe the families of the fishermen and women? As far as I could see it was such a desolate and exposed place. I’m sure that it’s beautiful in the day though.
I head off in search of these fishing boats. After about half an hour of my feet crunching loudly through the pebbles and an encounter with a Red Fox, I stumble across an access road. It’s got to lead somewhere, so I follow it. I eventually come to an opening with a load of lobster nets, a digger and yes…. some fishing boats!
These boats look really cool and Orion is right above them. I first set-up the tripod and take a few photos of the stars. I’m trying to be as quiet as possible because I get this feeling that I might be trespassing. Who knows where everyone’s property starts and finishes. There’s not really many fences.
I now begin a long exposure for the foreground. It’s going to take about twenty minutes. As I’m waiting for the camera I notice a slight flashing of yellow light in the window of the digger that’s parked behind the boat that I’m photographing. What is that? Maybe I’m on a building site. Is there a beacon flashing in the distance? Are the security guards from the power station driving out to see what I’m doing?
The light gets brighter and I begin to realise that it’s less of a flashing and more of a flickering… like a fire. Oh my God, a fire has just started right behind the boat that I’m photographing. Was it a fire from earlier in the day that a breeze just revitalised? Nope, I can here someone and they’re really close.
Now I’m fine photographing close to people, but when you think that you’re alone in the middle of nowhere and all of a sudden someone is right next to you. That’s different.
Do they live here? Are they a gang burning a body? Are they arsonists doing an insurance jobby? All these things go through your head. All I know is, I’m leaving, sharpish.
After an agonising six or seven minutes waiting for the camera to finish it’s exposure, I quickly pack my camera and hold my tripod in a way that I could use it as a weapon if needed. I begin to sneak away but the noisy gravel won’t allow this. As I hear voices close behind me I increase my pace and my footsteps get louder. I don’t want to run because it gives people a reason to chase after me, but as the voices get closer, run is exactly what I do. The concerned voices drop back but I keep looking over my shoulder all the way back to the car.
I don’t know how I manage to find the car so quickly. When I do get there, with my heart still pounding I start the engine and drive away. I don’t know who those people were but I’ve since heard that the local fishermen like to light fires to keep warm at night. That’s probably a more likely story than the gang or arsonist idea.
What I like about this photo, is that you can actually see the flickering of the fire in the window of the digger. Look, it’s just behind the boat.
Got to keep your wits about you in the dark. And if in doubt, run!
All the best, Joe.