Updated: Aug 2, 2022
One of the best known and loved locations in Dorset with photographers, everything you need to know about Durdle Door.
The History of Durdle Door
Durdle Door is a limestone arch formed by continental plates shifting and compressing together and through natural sea erosion.
It is famous the world over it has been featured in several films and draws tourists from the world over so as I'm sure you can imagine its a busy place not to mention being one of the best photography locations in Dorset.
Summer sees the vast majority of tourists flocking to wonder at this limestone marvel but winter can still draw large crowds and a lot of other photographers seeking to add it to their "check list" of must have shots.
Winter sees the sun rise right in front of Durdle door and some spectacular images are up for grabs as the sun rises in the gap of the door itself and if you are lucky enough to have some sea mist then great beams cast through the gap and can give you an epic image.
Sunset in winter at Durdle Door is also the perfect time to capture the "stair shot" that is so popular now.
Durdle Door however isn't the only place to shoot here although it is by far the most popular, there is also the formidable chalk hills of Bat Head and the beautiful Man O'War Bay and the less noticed and photographed Butter rock.
Each of these areas are exceptionally beautiful and well worth shooting in their own right but Durdle Door always seems to attract the most attention.
Mornings will be your best chance of avoiding the crowds here for sunrise in the late seasons like winter but its still possible to get the place to yourself at sunset too, but not for much longer I fear with Dorset's ever growing army of photographers.
Directions to Durdle Door
To get to Durdle door you should use post code BH20 5PU, this will take you in to the Durdle Door Holiday Park, as you follow the signs through it you will come to a gravel car park on top of the hill, This is a pay and display car park and is patrolled regularly so don't think you will be ok for a quick wander down there without a ticket.
A word of warning here, the Holiday park of which you have to drive through to get to Durdle door has a gate on the front and this is locked in the winter time at around 4pm so you must be out by then or risk a cold night in the car.
You can however park in a small lay by at the top of the holiday park and walk down.
Once you are in the main car park follow the gravel path down and you will see Durdle Door as you are walking down so getting lost isn't really on the cards !
When you have walked down the path you will get to the top of Durdle door where probably the most famous shot awaits you looking down the curve of the stairs towards the door.
Just about everyone has shot this to death but with good reason, it's exceptionally picturesque and makes a lovely photo.
Sunset at Durdle Door, F11, ISO 50, 1 Second
Best locations for Durdle Door Pictures
As you walk down the stairs towards Durdle Door there are various possibilities for good composition by using the stairs as a lead line and also the plants that grow along the edges, sadly human intervention means that there is often litter at Durdle Door as taking it back to the car seems too much trouble to a sad few.
Be careful of the old stairs that lead to the door, they collapsed a few years ago and although now fenced off I often see people clamber over the fence to get down them, this is very loose soil and when it rains it turns into muddy clay that will easily give way beneath you so please stick to the main paths for safety.
Durdle Doors biggest issue for a photographer is the sheer volume of people that attend here and if you're not a patient person then I would advise against going anywhere near here, people are constantly going up and down the stairs and will stand in front of you completely clueless that you're shooting an exposure, Not just joe public but sadly other photographers will jump in your shot as they try and get their own so getting here early to secure a spot doesn't mean you will secure a shot. Patience is the way at Durdle Door, and understanding the use of the clone stamp tool in photoshop.
'Door Steps, F11, ISO 50 0.4 Seconds
Once you're on the beach things can get a little easier as you can get a direct line to the Door from the waters edge and unless people are swimming you shouldn't have anyone in front of you.
There is a gravel ledge here and the tide rarely pushes over it so study it for a while and when you feel sure you know how high it will go you can take up a safe position and shoot directly at Durdle Door with the advantage of the rolling tide making a nice interesting foreground.
I've always loved this view as to me Durdle Door looks like a dinosaur drinking from the sea, very apt as you are on the Jurassic coast.
The Dinosaur Drinking, F16, ISO 50, 3.2 Seconds
Best Time To Photograph Durdle Door
The best time to shoot this view is when the sun is setting and golden light is pouring over the door from late autumn through to winter or for a winter sunrise as the sun is coming up right behind it and the sun star shot through the gap is a possibility.
I wont bother putting this shots up as its been done to death and done better than I have anyway.
From this spot you can either go back the way you came and visit Man O'War Bay or proceed further down the coast and shoot the mighty Bat Head or Butter Rock.
Be very careful with the tides here, it will come right up to the cliff edge and cut you off so know what the tide is doing and keep an eye on your escape route should it rise faster than you expected.
Butter Rock & Bat Head
Rainbow at Bat Head, F16, ISO 50, 1/3rd of a Second
Jurassic Light, F16, ISO 50, 1/3rd of a Second
Butter Rock, F16, ISO 50, 0.8 Seconds
Man O'War Bay
From here head back to Durdle Door and go up the stairs until you come to Man O'War Bay and then back down the stairs into it, there are some lovely strata ledges that are usually visible no matter what the tide but to catch them at their best go for low tide as they extend quite a way.
I like to catch these at sunset which is actually behind you but it makes the cliffs absolutely glow as the last of the light hits them.
Its also a great spot for winter as the sun rises in front of this very picturesque little bay and as said before it receives far less attention than Durdle Door.
Strata & Light at Man O'War Bay, F16, ISO 50, 3.2 seconds
Gold at Man O'War Bay, F9, ISO 50, 0.3 Seconds
Going back up the path to the top of Durdle Door and the "Stairs Shot", if you turn directly behind you then you have a cracking view of Man O'War Bay and this is a real firm favourite to shoot for everyone as it combines the curve of Man O'War Bay and St Oswalds bay into one shot.
The sea here is on beds of chalk and there is a non stop supply of chalk being eroded from the cliffs and it gives the sea an impossible blue hue which looks almost unnatural but makes for a great picture, well worth shooting.
Man O'War Bay Long Exposure, F22, ISO 50, 30 Seconds
From here you can walk further up towards Bat Head on the cliff top and there are some really nice views to look back towards Durdle Door and again sunset seems to be the best time for this as golden light pours over the magic arch giving it a glow and maybe, just maybe reviving the dinosaur that drinks ;)
Last Light on Durdle Door, F16, ISO 50, 1.3 Seconds
I really recommend visiting Durdle Door as it is spectacular and something to marvel at but if possible try and do it when the peak holiday season has finished for your own sanity !
People have recently got into the whole night shot over Durdle Door and a couple of years ago you would be the only person there at night, now in the summer there will be upwards of 20 photographers all shining lights over it and generally getting on each others nerves, so if you think a night shot is the time for some solitude, think again.
Anyway its not all doom & gloom, catch it right and it will reward you big time and you will be glad you have gone.
As always, Happy shooting.
*Since writing this guide there have been some changes to the parking situation at Durdle Door. You can no longer parker on the roadside verge at the top entrance to the holiday park, this now has double yellow lines and parking tickets are eagerly dished out so please avoid.
I have hear whispers that the car park is now open from 4am on Saturdays, Sundays & Mondays in order to give photographers early starts but as I haven't visited myself in quite a few years I can't confirm this and would advise you to check on the website for more information.
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