Photographing the Swanage piers

By Ian Middleton


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The Cobbled Banjo Jetty

At the end of April, I started a trip around Dorset to get new photos and scout locations for my upcoming Dorset workshops. I had also just purchased a brand new Canon R5 which I was itching to try out. I began in beautiful Swanage with the aim of photographing the lovely Swanage piers, both the old pier and the Banjo Jetty.

I had been to Swanage once before and photographed the old derelict pier which is the most well-known and photographed. However, it was the end of April and this time of year and throughout the summer there is a diving pontoon strapped to this pier, making the traditional shot from the front impossible. To get a clear shot at this time requires going onto the new pier. This, sadly, makes photographing it at sunrise or sunset impossible as the main pier is closed.

Therefore, after some research, I discovered that further along the seafront lies the old cobbled Banjo Jetty, which coincidentally faces east. This of course, means it’s perfect for a sunrise shot.

Parking here is really easy, especially at sunrise. There is street parking right next to the pier, or a smaller car park nearby. Somebody else later told me there is free street parking just around the corner.

Photographing the Banjo Jetty before sunrise

The best shot of the pier is looking straight down the middle with everything symmetrical. This can be difficult to line up, so a good option is to use the grid lines on your live view. However, I was yet to figure out how to do this on my new camera, so had to resort to the old fashioned way and use my eyes!

My first shot worked well. I captured the pier a little before the sun came up over the horizon. As I was shooting directly into the light, I used a 3-stop Lee Filters hard grad to balance the brightness of the sky against the silhouetted foreground. Thankfully there was some haze on the horizon which was diffusing the intensity of the rising sun.

The old cobbled Banjo Jetty at sunrise in Swanage, Dorset, England.
Banjo Pier just before the sun came up

Photographing Swanage beach and groyne at sunrise

At this point I was faced with a dilemma. I wasn’t sure if the sun would rise in the right place for it to be in my composition of the pier. I eyed the beach and groyne nearby and decided to move over there and compose a shot.

The tide was receding and therefore the wet sand around the groyne reflected the colours nicely.

The sky was completely clear, but thankfully there was some mist on the horizon which helped to diffuse the sun a bit. When it’s too clear then the intensity of the sun creates a much higher contrast scene. Once again I used the 3 stop hard grad, which worked perfectly.

Back to the Banjo Jetty

Once I had a good few shots I was happy with on the beach, I rushed back over to the Banjo Jetty and saw that the sun was lined up perfectly.

I captured my first shot then waited a while as I watched some nice cloud drifting over. Then I had the idea to move closer and try to line up the sun with the pole and basket at the end of the jetty.

The Old Swanage Pier

A few days later I returned and photographed the old pier from the new victorian pier on a windy, cloudy day. While many may think there is no point in taking a photograph in these conditions, I saw it as a great opportunity to get a high key fine art black and white shot.

Getting a long exposure in the middle of the day

I used a long 30 second exposure to smooth out the sea. It was the middle of the day so in order to get a long exposure I had to put a Kase 10 stop ND filter on to darken the scene and fool the camera into believing it was darker than it actually was.

The brooding sea was much darker than the sky too, so I put on my kase 2 stop medium grad filter to balance the sky and sea.

The next step was to ensure everything was tightened down well. If there is any movement of the camera or lens during a long exposure then your shot is ruined.

Finally, as I was standing on a pier, I had to ensure nobody walked past me during my exposure and caused any vibrations.

Finding a new composition

The view above is only possible from the new victorian pier. However, the guy at the ticket office directed me around to the other side and told me I could get a nice view from there at sunrise.

At first I was a little apprehensive because I thought the view would also include the new pier, which it does from some vantage points. When the diving platform isn’t there, this is the place to come for the front view.

I went for a look anyway, and found this great composition that also includes Old Harry Cliffs in the background. Just goes to show it’s always worth a look.

The view looks northwards, so it won’t actually be possible to get the sun in the photo. However, in high summer it should be close enough that with the righ cloud cover you could get some amazing colours at sunrise.

Unfortunately, during my time here I didn’t get another good morning to try and get this at sunrise. But I will certainly be trying again one day in the future.

Swanage pier and Old Harry viewpoint
Swanage pier and Old Harry viewpoint
View of the old pier in Swanage with Old Harry Cliffs in the background, Dorset, England.

Getting to the UK

The UK is widely served by pretty much every airline around the world. If you are coming from within Europe then the following airlines are worth looking at.

Wizz Air: Personally I have always found them to be the best and offer the lowest fares.



British Airways

Skyscanner: A great place to search and compare flights

Ebookers: Ebookers have been around for longer than most and have always offered a great choice of flights.

Getting around


The best way to get around the UK is by car. Either take your own car or you can rent one easily from any airport or major town and city. Here are three great places to look:

Discover Cars

Skyscanner Car Hire

Ebookers Car Hire


The national Express coach service connects most major cities and towns and is a great way to get around.

National Express Coaches

Stagecoach is the local bus service that operates across the UK. Use this for more local connections, and also express services between towns and cities. This is a great way to also meet some locals.



The national train service also serves a lot of the larger towns and cities. Great for getting from one side of the country to the other.

Trainline: A great website to search and book your train tickets online.


Holidu: This is a great website to search for a variety of places to stay.

Hostelworld: If you are looking for budget accommodation then Hostelworld is a great place to search for a variety of backpacker hostels, B&Bs and hotels.


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