This is a guest post by Sam Ison. Sam lives in Sydney and quite possibly enjoys photographing the early sunrises of his beautiful city a bit too much. You will find him out shooting the waves and chasing his beloved “Flowtown” on most weekends. Check out his Instagram account @sam.ison.photos or his Facebook page to see more of his amazing photography.
As photographers, we’ve got it pretty good here in Sydney. There’s the Blue Mountains an hour to the west, the world’s best harbour (take that Hong Kong), and great weather conditions year-round. But perhaps the thing we are most blessed with is the incredible array of beaches, rock shelves and ocean pools that we have right at our doorstep for our photographic pleasure.
Seascaping is a way of life for photographers here in Sydney, and we take our shooting very seriously! Here is a list of 5 of my favourite locations to shoot for sunrise.
And a safety note: our rock shelves in Sydney are deceptively slippery. Appropriate footwear with spikes such as rock fishing boots is a must to access any rock shelf.
1. Narrabeen Head – Turimetta/North Narrabeen
Talk to most Sydneysiders about Turimetta and you’ll probably get a blank stare in return. To photographers, though, this place is Mecca. I have shot ‘Turi’ dozens of times and have never had it to myself – there are always other people here, and with good reason. The unrivalled diversity of rock shapes and patterns, the sheer number of different compositions available and the ability to shoot Turimetta in all sorts of tides and conditions make ‘Turi’ far and away the best place to shoot seascapes in Sydney.
Adding to the appeal of ‘Turi’ is that it changes all the time with sand levels. I’ve seen all the sand completely washed away, and I have seen all but the tallest rocks buried under sand. This makes for an excellent variety of shooting possibilities.
Perhaps the most interesting time of year at Turimetta is late winter and early spring, where green moss covers the rocks in abundance and provides an excel lent foreground subject.
Completing this double act of fantastic seascape locations is North Narrabeen, which is connected by way of rock shelf to Turimetta. North Narrabeen is home to an excellent ocean pool with wooden decking that could please even the most discerning carpenter, an excellent rock shelf, and the famous Narrabeen Gorge – a channel formed in the rock shelf which can get extra hairy in the right conditions.
If you haven’t shot Turimetta and North Narrabeen, get there now. It’s worth it.
One of the most popular seascape subjects here in Sydney is our array of natural and man-made rock pools. Almost every beach in Sydney has a pool of some sort, but Bronte’s is by far the most aesthetically pleasing.
Nestled amongst a series of large boulders, a large curved wall has formed a leading line in many a photographer’s foreground, as have the steel hand rails at the pool’s entry.
You can shoot the pool from above on a platform, behind from a rock shelf, and from the side on a series of boulders. There are also plenty of opportunities for people shooting at Bronte – you’ll find at least a dozen swimmers or more there most mornings.
Perhaps the most striking feature of Bronte Pool is the incredible blue/green colour of the water reflected from the bottom, which can be enhanced by a circular polariser.
My favourite part about shooting Bronte is the ability to jump straight in for a swim after sunrise – too convenient!
3. Turimetta Headland – (North Turimetta/Warriewood)
But wait Sam, haven’t you already picked Turimetta? Well folks, I have great news for you. Turimetta is such a good beach that it has not one, but two incredible rock shelves.
In fact, North Turimetta is my Turimetta of choice. Accessible only at lower and low-mid tide, this shelf has an awesome array of large boulders, channels and interesting rock formations. Even at low tide there’s plenty of water flow – some compositions aren’t for the faint of heart!
When the tide is below a metre, you’re also able to walk around to the Warriewood Blowhole, another spot that offers some excellent compositions and some great flow. I haven’t had conditions line up for me to shoot this spot yet, so you might find me down there sometime soon!
4. Mona Vale
Mona Vale boasts one of Sydney’s most unique ocean pools. Set in the middle of the beach, instead of to the north or south end like other pools, it sits on a flat rock shelf that juts out from the beach into the ocean. One of the best things about Mona is its potential as a high tide shooting location – many other locations in Sydney need a low-mid tide to be at their best.
The pool can sometimes be tough to access in higher tides and can make for some very dramatic and unique images, with water flowing over the sides or even making the pool hard to access in big surf.
At mid tide, the rock shelf reveals itself to the photographer in search of a closer view of the pool and the swimmers within. There are plenty of opportunities to get closer here and capture some more intimate compositions of the pool.
From the air, the Mona Vale pool is especially striking, set on its own little rocky peninsula out to sea. At high tides, it can look like an island.
Mona’s pool is complemented by its rock shelf to the north, which can be accessed at all but the biggest tides. It has some fantastic large jagged boulders and rocks to incorporate into your compositions.
5. Whale Beach
Whale Beach is a little further removed from civilisation than the rest of my picks, but it is definitely worth the journey.
Home to the famous Devil’s Cauldron, you’ll need to steel yourself for a 20-30 minute rock hop along the shore to get there. This is one of the biggest rock shelf channels in Sydney and is widely known as a camera eater if you’re not careful.
Devil’s is one of those locations, like the Warriewood Blowhole above, where conditions need to align to shoot it properly. I would look for extra cloud cover and a tide no larger than 1-1.2m to get there and back. Unfortunately you’ll also need a fairly decent swell to get the most dramatic images there. This is yet another location where the stars have failed to align for me and I’ve got a good list of aborted attempts to get there. One day I’ll nail my shot there!
Whale Beach also has a number of other interestingly shaped rock formations along the way, so if you can’t reach the Cauldron you’ll have great fun nonetheless.
Sam’s Sydney Beaches Map
Check out the Google Map below for more information on any of the locations listed above including details on how to reach the rock shelves.
- Mahon Pool – Visit this great pool and get a bonus awesome rock shelf!
- Lurline Bay – A Council’s worst nightmare – little photogenic potholes everywhere.
- North Curl Curl Pool – Wait until this bad boy overflows in a big swell.
- Long Reef – Rocks, glassy reflections, serenity. But only at low tide.
- Avalon Rock Pool and Shelf – My friend Brian told me I had to include this one. I guess you’ll have to find out why.
- Bombo – it’s close enough to Sydney, OK?
All images Copyright © Sam Ison Photos