Updated: Aug 2, 2022
I decided I would do a bit of a guide to locations in Dorset for landscape photography and what better place to start than my absolute favourite, Portland.
What is there not to like about this fantastic area, it has everything a photographer could wish for, Portland Bill lighthouse, big angry waves, rocky ledges, small bays, I could go on all day about it.
While I'm not going to be able to list every location as it would take forever I will list the key points, but have an explore yourself as there are plenty of hidden gems there that I am keeping up my own sleeve for the time being.
To start with we will cover my favourite stretch of Portland and its probably the easiest to access too, The southern most point of Portland which is home to one of the most famous lighthouses in the country, Portland Bill.
Access to the island is via Weymouth on the A354 which is accessed from the main A35 road.
Once you drive down the A354 approaching Weymouth you will Portland Bill very well signposted.
The A354 leads directly onto the island then its basically a straight road to get there but if your using a sat nav then postcode of DT5 2JT will make life even easier.
As you pull into the car park right next to Portland Bill you will get your first taste of what this wonderful place has to offer. The car park is pay & display and is often checked so don't be tempted to "risk it".
There are free to use toilets on site which is and added bonus as you never know when you might just need them and there is also a restaurant on sight and a few hundred yards from the car park there is a pub too so you can spend the whole day here assured of refreshment and a comfort break if needed.
Portland Bill is one of three lighthouses on the island although it is the only working lighthouse there and was first switched on in January 1906 and kept ships safe from the multitude of dangerous obstacles that make up Portland's shore including rocks, reefs and the very fast swelling sea known as the Portland "Race".
A word of advice here, Portland tides are VERY dangerous and unpredictable even in good weather, Don't put yourself at any risk for any reason as no shot is worth that.
Be especially careful on windy days when the waves hit the rocks and are very capable of coming right over the cliff top and giving you and your valuable gear a violent soaking.
The rocks are also notoriously slippery when the tide is low and beware of the ones covered in red seaweed, this is just like ice and if you fall into the Portland race then your probably not going to get out of it again so please take care.
The lighthouse can be shot for a full 360 degrees but the most popular shots seem to include the rocky foreground from one of the many ledges that push out from the main bank or from the pathway which gives a nice lead line to the lighthouse itself. It is also on the site of an old quarry so there are plenty of rocky boulders laying around of the famous Portland limestone which has been used in many famous buildings including St Paul's Cathedral and Buckingham Palace.
Portland Bill from the first ledge (Looking West)
Portland Bill from the path (Looking East)
Morning Light On Portland Bill
Portland Bill Lighthouse
There are many compositions available here and in May there are some wonderful flowers that line the banks that are well worth shooting as a foreground. Big sky is the key here to a really rewarding shot and Portland seems to really know how to throw a few your way if you're lucky.
Obviously the lighthouse is your main feature but if you can try and include a nice foreground or good sky element then you will get an even better shot.
Just behind the above shot is the T.H. Obelisk, this is often confused for Thomas Hardy but in fact its nothing to do with him and is actually the Trinity House Obelisk. Trinity House is a charity dedicated to safeguarding shipping and seafarers, providing education, support and welfare to the seafaring community with a statutory duty as a General Lighthouse Authority to deliver a reliable, efficient and cost-effective aids to navigation service for the benefit and safety of all mariners.
It's not very often shot but personally I think it's a great interest to have in a picture when you get a good sky.
TH Obelisk (Trinity House)
Just North West from the light house you have The Pulpit Rock, this is much loved by climbers as well as photographers and there will often be a lot of human traffic at this little spot but its well worth getting too as it offers you a chance to shoot down the shore to Portland Bill at the T.H. Obelisk too with some great wave motion as it thrashes against the rocks and than rushes over them back to the sea
Looking back towards Portland Bill (Facing South) from Pulpit Rock.
Pulpit rock is a coastal feature at the southern tip of the Isle of Portland. The artificial stack of rock was left in the 1870s after a natural arch was cut away by quarrymen at the Bill Quarry on the famous headland, Portland Bill.It was intentionally left in place as a quarrying relic.
The landmark was designed with religious connections; the large slab of rock leaning again the main stack depicted an open bible leaning on a pulpit.
Pulpit Rock (looking south) as golden sunlight kisses the quarry
Looking the other way (Facing North)
In the picture above you will see the end of the line at Portland as its fenced off so return the way you came and explore further down the coast and you will have plenty of views looking back towards Portland Bill lighthouse with plateaux areas, rocky craggy points etc....
Looking North East (Portland Bill directly behind)
Low Tide at Portland
The above shot shows the main plateaux looking towards the red crane which is also very popular with photographers and is next to some lovely old weathered beach huts which never seem to be used but make interesting subjects to shoot.
The plateaux will become completely submerged at high tides but in low tides you can walk along it gaining access buy the red crane, its a bit of a scramble but gives you some interesting angles to shoot and not many people venture down there so an original image or two.
There is also a pair of slanted boulders that have broken away from the main plateaux and make a lovely foreground as the waves wash over them.
This map will show you the locations where to shoot at Portland
Moving further up the path past the plateaux you will come to the small bay that used to have the much loved Pom Pom rock, This was sadly battered and knocked down in the viscous storms of February 2014 and its a great shame as it was such a lovely area to shoot.
I have included it simply to show you what was there as it appears in other pictures from some time ago.
Pom Pom Rock (looking East)
Pom Pom Rock (looking West)
As you walk further up the shore the less photographers you will see and just a handful of walkers but theres loads of fantastic little bays and also another crane and these usually always get overlooked by most but catch them at low tide and you can be sure of a rewarding shot. Small rock pools at low tide and at high tide the chance of a dramatic seascape present themselves.
Low Tide at Portland
There is an awful lot more to explore on this stretch of the coast but I don't want to give it all away so I will encourage you to walk it for yourself and see what you can find.
Another area well worth looking at on the island is Church Ope Cove which is on the east side of Portland and is a small and shelter bay with large pebbles and a few beach huts and for the brave there is the pirate cemetery to visit on the way down the steps.
You will need to have your breakfast before attempting this one as the walk back up the steps has broken many men before me, its not actually that bad it just looks it !
Church Ope Cove
The Old Winch at Church ope
Church Ope Cove location
One of the best known views in Dorset is that from Portland Heights looking over Chesil beach and it really is stunning, there are so many ways you can shoot this and so many possible weather conditions and even better it has a car park right next to it thats free ! just pull up and there you go.
If it were any better it would have to come gift wrapped.
Portland Heights (looking North West)
The West of the island needs an entire blog for itself really and I personally need to spend some more time there, I'm not going to plaster the blog with pictures of it but I will say to those photographers who aren't lazy, who want something different and feel like they can challenge themselves then check it out cause you may have several very good surprises.
Its not full of seascape heavens like Portland Bill area but theres fantastic cliffs that offer a new perspective on it all and again they are great for weather shots.
Portland offers the chance to have lots of interesting things to shoot at night as well, the light house being the main one of course but things like pulpit rock basking under the milky way can make a really interesting and pleasing shot too.
Portland Heights just after dusk
Milky Way over Pulpit Rock (Single Exposure)
I hope this has been and enjoyable read for you and if you have stumbled across it while looking for locations in deepest darkest Dorset then I hope you get some information and find it useful and it aids your trip in some small way.
I intend to do a few more of these guides for other Dorset areas over the next few months so please do watch this space.
You can see more of my pictures from this area in my Portland Picture gallery
As always, Happy shooting.
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