Dorset in the UK is really “my thing”. Even with weather circumstances not being ideal, and by far not enough time, my first trip there had the goal of scouting some Dorset photography locations.
So where did I go?
This post is a contribution by my awesome dad a.k.a. Hans.
Dorset photography locations
Preparations and things to bring
One of the most important tools (besides the actual photo gear of course) for a landscape photographer is a good topographic map. You don't always find the best locations right next to the road. Especially on my US trips in the Southwest, I have observed on many occasions people with professional looking gear not venturing further than a few 100 meters from their car.
Maybe just a well: if you’re prepared to hike a bit you usually can manage to get a nice piece of Mother Nature all to yourself (everywhere except for my crowded home country). Living a rather Burgundian lifestyle myself, I cannot claim to be amongst the fittest (I can imagine some of my old workshop friends chuckle now) but I do occasionally defy death by climbing a hillside for the right picture.
Back to the maps: I love to keep maps both on my tablet, phone or on my as well as on paper. Paper is easy for annotations, and batteries do not last forever, so together with a good old compass, they continue doing the trick. For the UK, Ordnance Survey maps have truly earned their reputation: don’t leave without them!
Some other information equally important: weather reports, sunrise/sunset and exact positioning of the sun at these times, tide tables if the coast is your destination, site accessibility: public access allowed or not (Dorset, for instance, has some military ranges not always open to the public).
1. Corfe Castle
I know it’s a landscape’s photographer destiny and duty to be ready for dawn, but I still think it can be bloody early as soon as the days are getting a bit longer. But I was brave that early morning. The sky did not look very promising, though.
I finally decided to go to Corfe Castle. I shouldn’t have done that: I had this idealistic image in my mind of these ruins, half-hidden under a blanket of fog. I had in mind where the sun would appear and obviously, I would capture these fantastic moments right before that, with the veils of fog colored from below by the sun.
Of course, this only happens once every so often. And you need to work the location for a longer period and seize the opportunity when it’s there. But still, it wasn’t fair. I got up so early and the sky was crap.
There, I’ve said it. As I was there, I felt obliged to press the shutter. The images were crap as well. At least compared to those in my mind's eye…
This dawn shoot once again I was confronted with what I already learned too many times: images aren’t taken, they are made, as the great Ansel Adams knew already such a long time ago.
It means you have to pre-visualize what the final image would need to look like, what the light is like, where exactly the sun is, and all sorts of other weather and other conditions that make it such that is it a unique reflection of your own reality, rather than just a snap.
2. Lulworth Cove
Lulworth Cove has a beautiful white sandy beach and bluer water than you'd ever expect to find in England. People come here to enjoy watersports, hike, relax, coasteer, or – of course – practice their photography skills.
3. Old Harry Rocks
After breakfast, I headed towards Studland Beach, to start at the beginning of the Jurassic Coast and to pay Old Harry a visit. Near Studland Beach, there is a pay and display car park (you’re supporting the National Trust parking there) and then you have about 1.5 miles to walk to Old Harry, along with the South West Coast Path.
The Old Harry Rocks are three chalk formations sticking out of the sea at Handfast Point, marking the most eastern point of the UNESCO World Heritage Jurassic Coast.
4. Kimmeridge Bay
From Harry, it went to Kimmeridge Bay, another highly recommended location. It was still fairly early and when I arrived there I found a closed gate and lots of threatening language not to trespass. I checked and double-checked my maps to conclude that I was indeed in the right place.
And I was, there was just no living soul around at the time, while Kimmeridge Bay is a popular place for rock pooling and snorkeling.
5. Durdle Door
Durdle Door is one of Dorset's most photographed and thus also most iconic landmarks. It's a natural limestone arch and is actually privately owned but open to the public.
6. St. Oswald's Bay (a.k.a. Man O' War)
St. Oswald's Bay is right by Durdle Door and is great to capture from above, with its rather narrow stretch of sand running up against its high chalk cliffs. Getting a shot here is a must for your Dorset landscape photography collection.
7. Portland Bill Lighthouse
The Portland Bill Lighthouse is a renovated and still functioning lighthouse on the tip of the Isle of Portland. There's a visitor center and it's also possible to climb the lighthouse.
8. Chesil Beach
You might know Chesil Beach from the novel “On Chesil Beach” by the author Ian McEwan and its 2017 film adaptation starring, among others, the Golden Globe-winning actress Saoirse Ronan.
I drove around for two days (plus doing a fair share of walking as well) taking Dorset pictures. Enough material to inspire me for a longer trip next year: I need at least two weeks just in Dorset.
I’ll know exactly when to go. I will have worked out what the angle of the rising or setting sun will be. I will be better informed about opening and closing times of some of these locations (Swanage Pier for instance). Last but not least this time I will not forget the tide tables.
Looking for different scenery?
Drive three hours west and you can hike the Seven Sisters Country Park in Sussex. While it's still close to the coast, this park is mostly known for its views of the Cuckmere River.
How to get to Dorset
The closest airport is Bournemouth International airport but you could also check if flights to other UK airports are cheaper and then travel onward by train, bus, or rental car.
Check here for flight options and prices.
You can travel to Dorset by ferry from Cherbourg and Saint-Malo in France as well as from the Channel Islands. If you're already in the UK, there are ferries between Sandbanks in Poole and Shell Bay at Studland in Swanage as well as between Mudeford Quay and the beach at Mudeford Sandbank.
Check here for ferry routes and prices.
It's easy to get to Dorset by bus from many other cities in the UK. National Express is one of the biggest providers of intercity bus travel there.
Dorset has 23 train stations connected to the national rail network and five other stations on the Swanage Railway line so it's pretty easy to travel to Dorset by train from just about anywhere in the UK.
If you want to take the train to Dorset from London, you can use one of the two direct lines from Waterloo station to Weymouth and Exeter St. Davids alternatively, offered by South Western Railway.
If you don't mind driving on the left side of the road, I highly recommend you get a rental car. Especially if you want to do some sunrise photography in Dorset, having a car is a must. It offers you the flexibility to go where you want to go, whenever you want to go there, and to stop for some unplanned pictures of Dorset along the road.
Where to stay in Dorset
Check Booking.com for an extensive list of options for all budgets and needs.
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Hans Couwenbergh is a food and travel loving photographer. Snapping away, he tells you all about the stories behind his photographs. Connect with him on Facebook.
Looks really cool. And I agree, a photographer’s delight. I love going to such places with my camera :) It’s in “our backyard” and we still haven’t been here – what a pity.
Soon, I hope:)
Hans Couwenbergh says
Thank you! If this is really your backyard I am a little bit jealous. I need to travel to find so many photographic gems so close to each other… Hope my pics are an incentive to plan a visit there!
They definitely are, Hans. Love the sunset shot of Durdle Door :)
Kathy Gabriel says
All great photos… hats off to the photographer!:) Love that shot of the blue boat on the shore. I could feel the beach sand/pebbles under my feet! Nice detail…
Hans Couwenbergh says
Thank you! Looking forward to spend some more time there next year…
Jan Polatschek says
Some great ideas about maps, especially tide tables and sunrise-sunset times. I’ll be in England next April, so Dorset will be on my To See list. Thanks.
Bianca @itsallbee says
Beautiful pictures! This place brings back memories as my climbing buddies and I stay just a few meters from Portland Bill in a banker house we rent we are climbing in Portland.