A black sand, beach photo shoot, was one of our 2019 summer highlights this year. The volcanic fierceness of Sandy Bay is a free perk, right there in our ‘backyard’ so-to-speak, but one we really haven’t made the most of. (Note to self, do more of these.)
We had actually used the Sandy Bay beach location a couple of times in the past, but many years had lapsed, and now we were back with a Saint model once again for a shoot in the beautifully charred looking landscape.
Ashton Yon, on the island for a short holiday from the UK, was our accomplice for the day’s adventure. We first shot with Ashton nearly 10 years ago, so it was fantastic to get together again and slip effortlessly back into our familiar, easy-going, micky-taking, laugh-a-minute stride.
Shooting At High Noon | Darrin Henry
The concept was to backdrop the harsh, desolate features of Sandy Bay’s coastal area, with a focus on the black sand beach which is sadly, not considered safe enough for swimming.
Mountainous terrain surrounding the beach area soon blocks out the afternoon sun when it begins to dip in the sky.
With this considered, we planned this shoot to begin from midday. We would work through the strong afternoon light instead of the conventional approach of waiting for that soft, warmness.
Two days earlier we had met up to plan the looks, outfits and shot ideas, always an exciting step in the shoot process. The beach, being located on the far side of the island, is probably the longest distance for us to travel anywhere on St Helena, so it was important not to forget anything.
Smooth Makeup, Rough Sea
Our shoot was on a Monday, when we hoped the beach might be empty. There was one solitary, unattended vehicle in the parking area when we arrived. Its owners we would discover later were hiking to Lot’s Wife’s Ponds. Otherwise there was no one around. We had the ‘Mad Max’ terrain to ourselves.
Whilst Sharon applied Ashton’s makeup in the back seat of the car, I went for a wander to scout locations.
Rough seas made it obvious we would have to cancel an idea of shooting on the fishing rocks. No sense taking unnecessary risks.
Stone walls of the old fortifications, though, were going to be good backdrops. So was the stream that had become completely covered in tall grass. The rutted Land Rover track was going to be perfect for that barren, desert look. There was plenty to work with.
As If From Nowhere, People Appeared!
Just as Ashton finished changing into the first outfit a bunch of people turned up!
The hiking couple returned from the Ponds, and then, just along the beach a sightseeing tour party arrived.
The reactions are always quite funny when people stumble across one of our location shoots. But St Helena’s a small community so right away everyone would have seen it was Sharon and me, and probably guessed we were on some photo project.
Otherwise, why else would Ashton be glammed up in a shiny blue cocktail dress, middle of the day, heading down to the beach?
Working The Wall
And so the shoot was soon underway.
Historic fortifications in Sandy Bay date back to 1742, an infrastructure effort of Governor Lambert. Much of the original construction has fallen down, but an impressive stretch of wall remains although it’s clearly been restored and rebuilt in places.
The blue satin-like fabric of Ashton’s dress was catching the strong breeze, bringing a nice sense of movement to the image. The sun was in and out from the cloud cover so it was a case of waiting to catch the bright patches.
Lost In The Grass
Our second look was to use the tall grass.
The stream in Sandy Bay originates from the island’s central peaks. The flow has created a dense thicket of green that runs right down through the otherwise barren valley.
The last time we did a photo shoot here, our model sat on the rocks in the stream with the water flowing around her. Eight years on and the explosion of grass had completely obscured the stream, only the trickling sound of water giving away its presence.
Climbing onto the rocks for an elevated camera position was a bit nervy for me, having spent the previous six weeks recovering from a knee injury picked on a hiking trip. (note the knee bandage in the video) It was my first real outdoor excursion since the accident so I was not a picture of agility.
Walking Barefoot On The Clinker
Somehow photo shoots are obliged to involve some degree of pain for the model; ‘suffering for your art’ you could say. Although, to be fair the next concept was Ashton’s.
Walking barefoot in the ‘desert’ sounded good in planning, but our desert in reality was more sharp rocks than soft sand. So a lot of painful steps were taken for this third look. But worth it, I think.
Trashing The Dress
Down onto the rocks and beach was next with a rather glamourous, colourful gown that was at the end of its lifespan, so was being offered up for one final sacrifice.
What we failed to realise was once the bottom of the dress became soaked in water, the weight pulled the whole outfit down making it difficult to walk across the beach without tripping. The carefree, skipping-through-the-surf look was not quite as straightforward as we had hoped.
Bikini Beach Babe
You can’t shoot at the beach without a swimsuit look, and this was next.
By now we were all barefoot, enjoying the silky texture of the black sand under our feet.
Not A Good Reputation To Have
Sadly, Sandy Bay beach has gained prominence in recent months for the wrong reasons – environmental pollution – more specifically, plastic from the ocean. The evidence was sadly all around us.
The Atlantic currents somehow converge on Sandy Bay to deposit plastic rubbish, including tiny micro-plastics on the black sand beach. Local conservation teams have spent many hours combing the beach, collecting samples and vital data to aid understanding in the fight to clean up the ocean.
The Skirt That Never Stood A Chance
The time had slipped by quickly and so had the sun, now dipping below the mountain peaks around us. It meant breaking out the strobes for the final look of the day.
Sharon had picked out a tie-wrap skirt in green and copper tones that she thought would look good against the landscape we were shooting. This was our final look, and with the landmark column of Lot in the background.
However, Ashton was not convinced about the styling, despite our best efforts to encourage her that the skirt looked good. After a few feeble attempts to feign belief in the outfit, the skirt was whipped off and we finished the shot with just the bikini bottoms and a happy model.
Back To The Day Job
Shooting outdoors is a rush. The unpredictability of weather, terrain and even people turning up suddenly, all conspire to keep both photographers and models on their toes.
The key to success is always planning; being well prepared. And it certainly helps if you can have a good laugh along the way.
When Ashton is back at work in England and her workmates ask about her holiday, I think there’s a good chance the black sand adventure in Sandy Bay, might come up.
The Behind The Scenes, Beach Shoot Video