Helen Bartlett / Family Portraiture

Just One – boys on the beach


I love photo shoots on the beach, and it’s always one of the high points of my summer to travel out of London to photograph children and families on some of Britain’s most beautiful beaches. This photograph, today’s ‘Just One’ preview image, was taken on the wonderful Filey beach in Yorkshire, one of my favourite places in the world.

Photographing children on the beach is so much fun. It has interesting photographic challenges with directional light and limited shade, but it’s always such a lovely, varied place for photography. From close-up shots of children building sandcastles (and then knocking over those their siblings have built), to big pictures that take in the sky, the sea and the vastness of standing on the edge of the land. I just love it.

For a while now, I’ve had a picture in mind that I wanted to take when I went to Filey this year. Sometimes I plan pictures in advance, particularly if I visit a place often – it might take years for all the elements to come together and for me to actually make the image, but these ideas sit at the back of my mind, there ready to be pulled forth if the circumstances fit.

I had an idea of the boys running up the beach since hearing that the youngest boy had just started to walk – it was great timing, as he only got to his feet for the first time two weeks before this pictures was taken. So I knew it would be a novelty for him and that his older brothers – both so kind and keen to look after their youngest sibling – would be happy to take his hands and make sure he didn’t slip over. So far, so good.

Then I needed a good sky. A bright blue cloudless sky wouldn’t have worked for this image – I needed detail and interest in the sky, but also a deepness to the tones that I could bring to the fore in the processing. I needed detail in the foreshore too, but good detail – something to bring texture and interest, but not sandcastles and writing which are so often the main features of the beach by late morning. I wanted something that would keep the foreground interesting and yet wouldn’t distract the eye.

On the day, all the elements came together. Filey is a wonderful beach as the tide comes all the way in to the beach wall, so twice a day the beach is washed clean of the marks of humankind. The sandcastles are gone and the beach stretches out in front of us – beautiful, clean and with little puddles of sand and water that added just the right level of interest to the foreground.

The puddles weren’t all good though as, to get the angle I needed, I had to lie on the beach – yes, in those very same puddles! – to get the shot. But it was worth it.

Everything came together – the older boys looking down on their younger brother, the fabulous semi-silhouettes as they are lit from behind, the incredible sky (which is even better in black and white) and the beach, completely empty for miles around. This is just the image I had in mind and I absolutely love it.

I look forward to sharing some more pictures from this children’s portrait photography session soon, but in the meantime I hope you will enjoy today’s ‘Just One’, a single image from our family beach shoot in Filey this summer.

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