With its striking lighthouse, Portland Bill in Dorset has a lot to offer the photographer, explains Jeremy Walker
The Isle of Portland (or, as most people know it, Portland Bill) is an excellent area for landscape and seascape photography. Located just south of Weymouth in Dorset, it’s very nearly an island, except for the shingle causeway and road linking it to the mainland.
Once over the causeway, take the main road up the hill and follow the signs to the lighthouse. There is ample pay-and-display parking, but always pay for enough time for your photography as there’s nothing worse than having great conditions and wondering whether you’re getting a parking ticket.
The main attraction at Portland Bill is the red-and-white-striped lighthouse, and the rock stack known as Pulpit Rock, which is about 100m west of the lighthouse. About half a mile along the coast is Church Ope Cove, a secluded pebble-covered beach with the remains of a ruined church and graveyard tucked away in the cliffs above. Along the coast are the remains of the gun emplacements that were erected to protect Portland harbour during the war. It’s probably not a good idea to photograph the prison, though…
Portland can be popular with photographers and fishermen alike, and sometimes there is only room for a handful of tripods at certain locations. This is particularly the case at Pulpit Rock, so finding your spot and getting in position ahead of schedule can pay dividends.
When to visit
Portland Bill Lighthouse and the surrounding coast can be shot at any time of year. However, if you are visiting in the summer go in the evening – particularly if you are going to shoot Pulpit Rock as well. This is because sunset is late at that time of year, the car park is never locked, and you’ll only be a few hundred metres from your location.
At sunrise in the summer, the sun is so far round to the northeast that it doesn’t hit the cliffs and rocks. That said, the lighthouse can look wonderful with a fiery sky behind it (but sunrise will be very early).
Follow the coast path east of the lighthouse and you will find rock pools, crumbling cliffs, rusting cranes (great for close-ups and textures) and a quirky collection of huts.
Given the location and tide times, it is often possible to shoot good images during the day. Crisp blue skies with fluffy white clouds are great for long exposures, while big grey storm clouds with beams of light streaming through can all lend mood and atmosphere to this interesting location.
Food and lodging
Portland Bill is my kind of location, as there is an excellent café right next to the car park and close to the lighthouse.
If you want to stay in the area, try The Heights Hotel at the top of the hill, with its stunning views over Chesil Beach and the sea. It is very convenient for shooting the nearby locations. Slightly farther afield there are plenty of small hotels and B&Bs in Weymouth and the surrounding area.
If you are shooting coastal images, neutral-density filters for long exposures, silky water and clouds are useful. Try the Lee Big Stopper or Super Stopper, which adds 10 or 15 stops to your exposure.
If you intend to shoot at sunrise or sunset, a head torch is essential. The terrain around Portland Bill can be rough, and there is no lighting away from the car park. There are sheer drops, too, on the coastline.
It may be summer, but early and late in the day an exposed rocky headland can get very cold. A warm windproof jacket is a must. As the sun sets, the temperature will drop.
Jeremy Walker is an award-winning professional photographer and Nikon Ambassador. He has many years’ experience specialising in high-quality landscape and location photography. Visit www.jeremywalker.co.uk