Patterns in the Sand

Let’s face it. Our New England beaches are mostly sand and rock, unlike those South Pacific islands that are blessed with shapely coconut palm trees and dazzling turquoise water.

Most of the time, New England photographers have to rely on colorful skies and dramatic weather to make compelling beach images. Now, there’s no denying that many superb images have been created with only sand, sea, and sky in the frame. But after a few years of beach photography, creativity can begin to wane when working with only a few photo elements.

I love beach photography. It’s one of the reasons I spend time scouting the beaches on Cape Cod. Cape Cod is only a few hours from my home in New Hampshire, and happens to have some of the finest white-sand beaches in all of New England (in my opinion). But the thing I have learned in my years of scouting is that not all beaches are created equal. Every once in a while, you stumble upon a WOW beach that truly excels in photographic potential.

In my opinion, First Encounter Beach in Eastham, Massachusetts is possibly the most photogenic beach on Cape Cod. The reason is mud. Well, not mud exactly but more like wet patterns in the sand. At high tide, First Encounter Beach looks like every other Cape Cod beach, with no special claim to beauty. But at low tide, it’s a very different story. And if low tide happens to coincide with sunset, now you’ve got something special indeed.

The beauty of First Encounter Beach has to do with its sandbars, sand ripples, and tide pools that make for fabulous foregrounds, particularly at sunset and dusk when shadows highlight the patterns. Vertical and diagonal patterns lead the eye through the frame, whereas horizontal patterns step the viewer into the middleground and background. Try combining sky reflections in a tide pool with sand ripples — you may find yourself giddy with excitement.

The best way to draw attention to the sand patterns is by shooting low. And by low, I mean on your knees — bring knee pads if you have them. You’ll also need a tripod for long exposures at dusk, a wide angle lens  (24mm works quite well here), and if you have one, a three-stop graduated neutral density (GND) filter to tame the bright sky.

First Encounter Beach is easy to find. From Route 6 in Eastham, turn onto Someset Road at the sign and follow the road to the beach parking lot. My favorite time of year to go to Cape Cod is: NOT SUMMER. In summertime, the Cape buzzes with an influx of tourists who crowd the beaches at all hours of the day. I prefer early spring and late fall because the weather is usually mild and there are few tourists. In March and April, you may own the beach.

Before you go, check the weather, sunset time, and tide charts. Good planning will get you the best photos. Partially cloudy or clear skies are great, but make sure low tide is no more than two hours on either side of sunset.

Michael Blanchette Photography

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One Comment

  1. Pam Wolfe April 7, 2011 at 19:24 #

    Hi Mike. I truly enjoyed your photos and the article. Also looked at your photo galleries and I really like your work. Awesome….

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