This was my first visit to Norfolk’s Blakeney Point, I’d already spent a day at Winterton Beach a couple of days before photographing seals, but thought I’d give Blakeney Point a try for some different kinds of shots. It’s a good hours walk from Cley beach car park along a shingle ridge, although walking on the sandy beach is easier, you can’t see across the Cley marsh, so the view isn’t as good, plus with only the sea and shingle ridge visible it’s hard to know how far you’ve gone, or have to go – not always a bad thing. I took the ridge option on the way and was rewarded with the below shot of distant walkers, which I thought was worth stopping for. By the time I started to head back, it was getting dark, so I walked along the beach for speed. You can view the route on the National Trust’s website.
Being December the sun stays pretty low all day, so the light was great the entire time I was there and I was also treated to a cracking sunset. Not only that, except for about four other people I passed on my way, I was the only one there! Great weather, great light and a whole bunch of seals made it the best photographic experience I’ve had all year.
I really like the texture and colour of the shingles and it made a nice change to the sand at Winterton Beach. Whilst it’s possible to get shots of the seals in the dunes at Winterton Beach, it’s easier at Blakeney Point, plus the surrounding area provides a far better backdrop.
A large part of the colony is actually roped off, so the seals aren’t disturbed, but there are still plenty in the areas you can access. I always stay a respectful distant from the seals, with a long lens and binoculars there’s no need to get close and possibly stress them. I’ve never been so close that a seal has started to back away, or even put its head up for more than a few seconds. The general rule is to stay low and move slow. I’ll sit or lie in one spot for an hour or two sometimes, that way the seals will often come into range by themselves. If a seal’s eyes are closed, I’m guessing it’s not too troubled by my presence.
The pups are born with a fluffy white coat that turns slowly grey as they quickly fatten up on their mother’s milk. After about three or four weeks the pups are abandoned by their mothers who are then ready to mate again. Hunger finally drives the pups into the sea to find food. They are full of character and there are lots of different expressions and poses to capture.
The mating game
Bull seals stay on shore throughout the breeding season so they can establish themselves and improve their chances of mating with numerous cows. Cows mate with several dominant bulls to give their pups the best chance of survival. Check out my Winterton Beach post for some dramatic mating behavioural shots.
A different kind of shot
I can’t believe how long I spent trying to get the below shot of the seal and the wheel. I was determined to get its head in the centre with white all around it. I had some caption going through my head, something like ‘Seal on wheels’ or ‘Deals on wheels … and seals’, not sure where I was going with it, but I’m happy with the result; it’s something different.
As the sun started to set I made sure I was in a good spot where there was a couple of different pups available to photograph along with a nice background. It’s more challenging light to shoot in, but the results are worth it when you get it right … I didn’t always; there was a bit of trial and error.
I recall watching a programme where bears were filmed sitting on the beach, apparently watching the sunset, I don’t think the seals were as interested, well, not nearly near as much as me anyway.
All pictures were taken with a Nikon D800 and a Nikon 80-400mm lens, either using a tripod, elbows or camera bag for support.