In early October 2018 I visited Bedruthan Steps, a relatively long stretch of Cornish coastline punctuated by imposing sea stacks. The route to down from the National Trust carpark is via several flights of stone stairs carved out of the cliffs, which is where I assume the ‘steps’ name comes from (I’m wrong about this, the ‘steps’ are acutally the sea stacks themselves thought to be stepping stones for giants…daft). It’s a rugged and windswept place, a haven for sea birds and rockclimbers although access is somewhat conditional; “DO NOT attempt to reach the beach when the stairway is closed” the National Trust warns, “DO NOT enter the sea at any time - DANGEROUS CURRENTS” and finally “BEWARE of being cut off by in-coming tides” for good measure. Aside from the constant threat of death though, the location is dog friendly and boasts an excellent gift shop.
I descended the stairs carefully, clutching the rail as I went, then walked for a whiIe, alone, appreciating the solitude and bracing wind. It started to rain heavily, but undeterred I took out my Leica M2, a 1961 model I’d partnered with a type V 50mm Summicron and loaded with a roll of Kodak Portra. My first shot was to be a largish rock formation immersed in a pool surrounding one of the taller sea stacks, it's pale alabaster segments in stark contrast to the iridescent green of the seawater, possessing an almost metallic sheen.
I held the Leica up to my eye and focussed the rangefinder patch on the rocks, the camera offered nothing, no clue as to what the exposure was, just a simple uncluttered view of my composition within an elegant square frame. Guessing the values, I twisted the aperture ring to f5.6 and the shutter speed dial to 1/125th of a second then carefully pushed the shutter release...click...that sound of the curtain opening and closing has inspired many a photographer to marvel with appreciation at the ‘M’ and I'm no exception. The film counter dial clicked round a notch to read ‘12’… “still plenty left on the roll” I assured myself and carried on walking.
The rain eased slightly but the wind became more persistent, I turned to look out to sea and framed another shot, opening up the aperture to f4 and the shutter to 1/250th to get some definition in the waves. Focus, breathe out, click, wind on. Is this a good shot? I had no idea, weeks later when reviewing the images on my computer I’d mark it as a keeper but for now I was in blissful ignorance; the result never seems to be important for me in the moment, just being there is enough.