Saltwick Bay, Whitby, North York Moors Landscape Photography Trip Report

In the middle of a cold December at the end of 2016, I thought it would be a good idea to travel out to the coast in search of some new scenes to photograph. The location I had in mind was the North Yorkshire coast, particularly Saltwick Bay in Whitby which runs along the edge of the North York Moors National Park.

Day 1 was reserved purely for travelling and scouting. I made my way over using public transport, taking in the increasingly beautiful scenery as I left West Yorkshire and started to head through the moors of North Yorkshire. I arrived in Whitby town centre and it was already starting to get dark so I immediately headed to Saltwick Bay to have a look around. The relatively short walk involved traversing up the famous 99 steps, past Whitby Abbey and on to the Cumberland Way. I walked at pace, eager to arrive at my location before it was too dark as I'd hoped to return later that night to shoot the moonrise and then once again for sunrise.

I arrived at the bay and there was just about enough light left for me to walk around and get a sense of the location, along with the relationship between it's main features - the Saltwick Nab and the Black Nab. I wasn't helped by the fact this bay faces North East, meaning that any light that did remain from the sunset was being blocked by the large cliffs that surround the bay. However, the time I spent there gave me a few ideas and I felt confident returning later that evening.

After very little sleep I headed back out to the bay just before 1am. The sky was clear and the stars were out in full force. As I arrived the moon was just peeking above the horizon so I set up my camera and shot a small time lapse whilst I monitored the tide. It was important to make sure the tide was on it's way out as I'd hoped to head out on to the rocky headland on the bay which is only accessible then.

As I was shooting the time lapse, although clear skies were forecast all night, I noticed some cloud start to move in from the west. I wanted the moon and stars to be visible in the image I had envisaged so this meant I had to cut the time lapse short and head down on to the beach to set up a composition. I had no time to get out on to the head land so I set up on the shoreline amidst some interesting rocks and pebbles. The cloud moved in very quick and had occluded the moon and most of the sky that was to be in my shot by the time I got down there and set up. This now presented a scene with a totally different feel, it had more atmosphere and mystery to it. The clouds weren't particularly thick so the moonlight was still casting subtle highlights across the rocks on the shoreline so I took the image.

Canon 6D + 24mm TS-E. 30 sec at f/3.5, ISO 3200. In hindsight, I feel this image told a more truer story of the event - mysterious, eerie and intense. 

Pleasantly surprised by what I saw on the cameras LCD, I packed up and headed back for another short nap.

After another short sleep I was up and out for sunrise. Again the forecast was for clear skies yet there were still a few lingering clouds which I had no complaints about. Arriving at the bay I knew where my first composition was to be due to my brief scout the night before, so I set up and waited for the sun. As the sun came closer to the horizon it lit the lingering clouds with a beautiful firey orange. This was exactly what I'd hoped for so I waited for the right wave, took the image and then moved to search for other compositions whilst the colour remained.

Canon 6D + 24mm TS-E. 1/5 sec at f/9, ISO 50. 2 degree tilt, 2 image vertical panorama using shift. Sky masked in from darker exposure. I should have used less tilt and a smaller aperture here but I think it still works. Didn't notice this till I got home.

Canon 6D + 24mm TS-E. 1/5 sec at f/9, ISO 50. 2 degree tilt, 2 image vertical panorama using shift. Sky masked in from darker exposure. I should have used less tilt and a smaller aperture here but I think it still works. Didn't notice this till I got home.

I took only a few steps back to find a very simple, yet pleasing composition. A lone rock, placed perfectly at the edge of the incoming tides reach. I dialled in my composition, focussed my lens and waited for the right wave. To my delight this happened almost immediately and I hit the shutter.

Canon 6D + 24mm TS-E. 1/10 sec at f/14, ISO 50. 1 degree tilt. Sky masked in from darker exposure. 

By this point, as anticipated, the golden sunlight had started to break in to the bay, illuminating the cliff tops at the North end. I walked up the beach looking for some foreground interest for which I could use the cliffs and the Saltwick Nab as a backdrop. I found an old, worn down groin by the waters edge. As the waves came in and out this created a nice leading line to the cliffs and rocks in the back ground so I set my composition and took the shot.

Canon 6D + 24mm TS-E. 1/4 sec at f/14, ISO 50. 1 degree tilt. Sky masked in from darker exposure. 

By this point I was more than happy, having ended up with not 1 but 3 images so I packed up and head back, for a well earned cup of tea.

After I'd had a rest and something to eat, the plan was to make my way down the Cumberland Way towards Ravenscar. I'd heard of an interesting rock formation call the 'Mermaid Tables' that I wanted to shoot around sunset. Unfortunately, upon checking my travel options I found there would have been no way for me to make my way back into Whitby for my train home so had to abandon this and decided I'd head back down to Saltwick Bay for sunset.

Arriving at the bay approximately an hour before sunset, I was disappointed to find a clear, featureless sky and lacklustre light. It was low tide so I took the opportunity to have a scout around on the headland. The Saltwick Nab looked imposing and really impressive from up close. There was definitely a composition to be had here but the conditions just were not up to it. I headed back to the beach and towards the other end of the bay to get a closer look at the Black Nab.

It was tough work navigating through and over large, wet boulders and I was tired, hungry and wet. I wanted to call it a day. I made sure that I stopped every now and again to look around me knowing that conditions can change fairly quickly at this time of the day. After about 10 minutes of clambering over wet rocks I stopped and noticed some cloud cover had come in over the Saltwick Nab where I'd just come from. The sun at this point was below the horizon and as a result was casting a lovely purple glow on to these clouds. I thought, this is it. If I'm going to get an image tonight this is my chance. I'd previously noticed a scarred shale shelf sticking out above the receding tide which created a leading line towards the Saltwick Nab. I knew this would make a great foreground so set up my composition and took the image.

Canon 6D + 24mm TS-E. 1 sec at f/9, ISO 50. 1 degree tilt.

Feeling incredibly satisfied with this result I decided to end my trip here and head back into Whitby to have some food and catch my train. Safe to say, however, if I'd have caved in and head back earlier, I would have likely missed this opportunity entirely. Yet again, proving that persistence in landscape photography, certainly pays.

Thank you for reading! I hope you have enjoyed this article and if you have any thoughts, feedback or comments feel free to put them down below. You can also watch the full video series of this trip either over on my YouTube channel or using the embedded video below.