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The Story Behind That Picture - Guest Blog by Bernie Pettersen
Blog by Ian Michaelwaite
Published on 21st February 2014 16:56

The Story Behind That Picture - Guest Blog by Bernie Pettersen

Bernie Pettersen – The Story Behind The Picture

I have taken many ‘after effect’ photographs of storm damage; but due to their usual infrequency, short time span and isolated area of intensity, I have never had any suitable ‘free time’ to pursue the idea of actually capturing the violent yet majestic energy of nature . ‘Free time’  that is, from the scheduled and controlled media work that I’m normal involved with.

Unlike those that are reading this I have little or no knowledge of the effects of ‘Lows’ surges or barometric pressure on tides, whilst watching and understanding the suns rise and fall,  it’s effect and quality on lighting subjects and colour balance;  you could rightly class me as ‘ ignorant’ to weather in general.

However the one thing that I’m not ignorant to, and a message to those seeking storm images is…Safety!  I implore you, to take every care before you undertake a venture to attempt to record the true power of nature. 

In the national and international press and circulated around the globe by many media outlets some people may have seen my image of ‘UK Storm, Porthleven’ ? For those interested  I would like to explain a little of how I was fortunate enough to obtain this, along with many more storm images, all from the exact same location.

Ignorant of weather patterns and tidal effects I get there early before the high tide and watch to see if there are patterns of lulls and swells. As the weather continued to worsen, I remember the huge waves reminding me of the Movie Perfect Storm (incidentally directed by Wolfgang Petersen, no relation!)  and in-line like the bellows of an outstretched, huge black concertina I watch as they crash and break, watching the order of the strike pattern, where the wave hits first, then, I watch the harbour wall for signs of change in level, working out an early indication ‘strike point’ as to alert me as what might be for me that ‘perfect’ wave!

UK Storm, Porthleven.  Bernie Pettersen/

The hardest part…?  Leaving, even though you know you have ‘the shot’.  You fear a better one is, excuse the pun, on the horizon.  But, needs must as I dash back to my little home office and get the image out to South West News Services,  having  received such global interest from this image, it proves to me they are a very effective and professional news agency.  They have this and many other of my images currently available on license from:   [email protected].

Read on for more details from Bernie including safety advice, how he learned his trade and some advice and tips from a very experienced photographer (and genuinely nice gentleman with it too)

A Bit About Me

Having sailed the world after previously serving in the Royal Navy for 28 years, 25 as a Professional Photographer, I would like to think I’d been on the receiving end of a big storm or two.  Being locked inside and thrown around a hermetically sealed tin can for hours, I had with very little or no regard for the effects of the storms on land, that was until now.

Being born in Litherland, Liverpool, a little over a mile from the Mersey, I have always had an affinity with the sea, joining the Royal Navy at the age of sixteen and a half.  It was this Navy life, a little over 36 years ago that brought me to my current location, Helston in Cornwall.  For those not familiar with its geographic location, it is less than 25 miles from Lands End, on the start of the Lizard Peninsula and just 4 miles from my nearest fishing harbour,  Porthleven.  

Safety First

A message to those seeking storm images is…Safety!  I implore you, to take every care before you undertake a venture to attempt to record the true power of nature.

Before I choose my camera equipment I have more important thing to do:  to assess and protect myself as much as I can from the elements. I have 2 years’ experience  as the Military Photographer for the 42 Cdo, RM, a Plymouth based Royal Marines unit, to thank for that! 

I wear 3 Layers of clothing, a hat and most importantly, I wear full, yellow high visibility water resistant clothing, jacket trousers and a pair steel toe capped wellington boots.  I’m very much aware that this does not give me ‘Superman’ capabilities   but hope that it provides me with the best opportunity for others to see me, should I get into difficulty. Thin clothing is a danger to yourself, if you’re cold and wet, you’re not focusing on the goal of getting an image and often will rush, slip or go to more perilous areas in search of shelter.

As on this day, I say ‘Hello’ to any coastguard emergency worker other photographer and persons that are nearby.  Hopefully, they are my ‘eye’ to any unseen danger, whilst mine is pressed against the camera!  

Preparation, Location and Equipment

To me it is all about location.  Unlike some amazing memorable images that  come from a ‘random off chance’ encounter,  this one, was pre-planned, in the sense that I’d visited previously, on both picturesque and  less ferocious occasions.  During this time I have made myself familiar with vantage points and access and exit routes. Whenever possible and at any location  I always try to have two exit points and ensure I physically walk these points to ensure nothing has changed and I can egress from an area, in haste, if needed.   This is difficult to do when seeing such waves and effects and distract myself from ‘being like a child in a toy shop’ pausing to this before getting involved. 

Further to location, I ensure I’m on public property or have consent from the land owner.  It’s not my vision to record, if the land I stand upon to capture the image is denied to me.  In this case an elevated, public cliff side road, with a 1.5 metre wall protecting the road from the immediate elements.  The clock tower is approximately 25 metres so this will give viewers some idea of height I was from sea level.

Having first started my trade learning on a bellows and cloth type camera, often seen in Western type movies, I learnt the ‘art’ of photography and as such I’m not a camera aficionado:  with the latest ‘techno’ camera on the market; being Freelance I simply buy what I need and ‘must’ make the most of every photo to pay my monthly wage.  I recently purchased a Hi-resolution DSLR and was fortunate to be using this on the day.

This camera has a ‘multi shot’ type facility, however I seldom use it, or if I do have it selected I use the shutter button as if it was on single frame, judging my best opportunity.  For people who want to know why - the file sizes are so large and the camera buffers after so many images even with using Lexar © professional storage cards it is possible to miss ‘that’ shot whilst the camera is in ‘writing to card’ mode, so less motor drive, less buffering and the camera always ‘ready’ to shoot!

Digital cameras and water do not mix well, check your insurance, as with my professional one, there is a clause about it!  Don’t let salt water or spray remain on your camera when you finish.

I would ask that anyone venturing out undertakes great care and be diligence in anything they do, safety first, please be aware of your surroundings, especially when your eye is to a camera. Think of whose lives are being affected and be respectful of this personal turmoil you are witnessing, after an hour you may leave with a picture, they will be left with months of sadness and hardship, and someone with a camera may not be the help they are seeking.

Some of you may not be aware but digital cameras record ‘hidden’ written data, including copyright information, to whom the Photograph belongs, telephone number, date time and some even have GPS, showing the global position as to where it was recorded from.  It also has all the camera settings details.

Technical Info

‘Boring’ Alert  for those not interested in photography,  the shooting data:

I shoot, both RAW files and JPG files, having two card slots in my camera they record simultaneously. I seldom use the JPGs and whilst less immediate, I work with the RAW files, in an attempt to obtain the very best results. 

Camera blurb:
Nikon D800, Lens 80-400mm, Focal length of image 95.0mm, 1 640th, f6.3.  1000 ISO   ‘Manual’ setting.  The master file is 103.4mb in size.

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