The small and charming seaside town of Swanage is great for all levels of photography, says Jeremy Walker

Swanage beach

The beach faces in an easterly direction making it ideal for shooting sunrises. Nikon D3X, 24-70mm, 0.5sec at f/11, ISO 100. Credit: Jeremy Walker

Swanage is situated on the south of Dorset’s world-famous Jurassic coastline. Rather conveniently the town and its bay face an easterly direction making it great for sunrises. The further east you go along the beach, the quieter it will be. There are plenty of wooden groynes to shoot (avoid the ones with the red metal basket on top). As you walk east along the seafront you will reach the old beach huts painted in strong primary colours making for some interesting detail shots. Next to the stone pier are rows of modern huts – again good subject matter for colourful angular abstracts.

Head west along the seafront and you will come to the Victorian pier, open from 6am until 6pm. A small charge (£1.00) is payable at the gate but it’s worth it as there is much photographic potential and a chance to view the remains of the earlier pier.

One mile west of Swanage is the Durlston Country Park and National Nature Reserve with Durlston Castle at its heart. For photographers who are into bugs, butterflies and flowers Durlston is home to 33 species of butterfly and over 500 different types of flowers.

Swanage railway station

Swanage railway station is a must for any train fans. Nikon D850, 24-70mm, 1/200 sec at f/8, ISO 400. Credit: Jeremy Walker

Swanage Railway

In the heart of the town is Swanage railway station. This is certainly well worth a visit. If you are staying in Swanage, catch the train to Norden, the end of the line, and get the next train back, but break the journey at Corfe Castle. If you are just visiting Swanage for the day I suggest you park at Norden, just north of Corfe and purchase a return ticket. Depending on the timetable the trains will be steam, diesel or alternating between the two. All the stations have an old-world charm and there are plenty of detail shots to be had. Speak nicely to a driver and you may get to do a shot on the footplate of the steam locomotive.

Swanage beach hut painted in flowers

The modern huts are great subjects for colourful and detailed shots. Nikon D850, 50mm, 1/250 sec at f/8, ISO 64. Credit: Jeremy Walker


Shooting advice

When to go

Early morning is the best time to visit Swanage in the summer months, before the hordes of tourists descend upon the beach. Try to catch an incoming tide at sunrise on the sandy beach for shots of water lapping around the wooden groynes. There is also the small banjo-shaped pier and its little wooden shelter. Not only do they make good subject matter to photograph, but they are also somewhere to shelter if the weather doesn’t play ball.

Food and lodging

Eating is not a problem if you are after a light snack or some fi sh and chips. Norden, Corfe and Swanage railway stations all have refreshment facilities available. The refreshments stall at Swanage is in an old railway carriage. At Corfe refreshments are served from a quirky location: a 1950’s military lorry. For good-quality service and traditional seaside fare try Beavers, a cafe on the High Street, which is 100 yards from the seafront.

As for accommodation I have to admit I have never had reason to stay overnight in Swanage, but because it is a seaside town there are plenty of bed and breakfasts and hotels to choose from. There are also numerous bed and breakfast and farm stays in the countryside surrounding Swanage. If you have the budget try Mortons House Hotel in Corfe (which is quite handy for the steam railway).

Swanage beach huts

The old beach huts make for colourful and lively detail shots. Nikon D850, 50mm, 1/100 sec at f/11, ISO 64. Credit: Jeremy Walker


Kit list

  • Tripod and filters If your aim is to shoot a peaceful sunrise on the sea shore perhaps utilising Big Stoppers for long exposures, a tripod is essential, as are a few grad filters and of course a Stopper or two.
  • Lenses After the above I would suggest ditching the tripod if possible and going handheld with just a couple of primes – maybe a 24mm and 50mm or a 24-70 zoom, and take a polariser. Minimal kit gives you a bit of freedom and helps keep the kit weight down, essential on a hot summer’s day.

Award-winning professional photographer Jeremy Walker has been shooting landscapes, architecture and people for more than 25 years. See his work at www.jeremywalker.co.uk.