6 best Dorset photography locations to visit with your camera

Summer is just about here, so more and more people will be flooding into many of the UK's most popular visitor areas. 

It's time, then, to look at some of the best photo locations in one such area, the beautiful county of Dorset in southwest England. 

This article will introduce some of my favourite spots across the county to shoot in, providing a mix of coast, country and town locations. I'll start with Dorset's stunning coastline, especially within the world-famous Jurassic Coast World Heritage Site

 

1. In and around Lyme Regis harbour

image of lyme regis harbour

This lovely seaside town sits right on Dorset's border with Devon, the steep coastal hillside on which the town sits, dropping down to a beach and a neat little fishing harbour. 

Although the town is historic and quite attractive, I always find myself drawn to the harbour for photography. It's not so much for the boats that I like to shoot here, but more for the harbour's famous curving stone wall, the Cobb, and the mountains of fishing equipment piled up in one particular part of the harbour.

In itself, the Cobb is not immediately a photogenic subject. Yet, its simple, minimalist curving outline and sloping top surface work a certain magic against almost any kind of sea and sky. 

On the other hand, the fishing gear confronts the photographer with a chaotic but colourful jumble of nets, ropes and marker buoys that (for me at least!) beg to be photographed. Such a tangle challenges the photographer to pick out details and patterns, homing in on the interplay of the shapes created by the mass of knots, net mesh, lines and spheres. I can and have spent hours there!

There is pebbly and boulder-strewn Monmouth Beach, moving away from the harbour itself and heading westwards. Best explored at low tide, this is the place for gigantic fossils embedded in rocks that thankfully are just too firmly rooted to be taken away. Most of the fossils consist of circular, spiral ammonites, though a few Nautilus fossils are recognizable by their obvious snail shell outlines. 

However, one of the most fascinating and photogenic areas has been dubbed a fossil garden, consisting of a flat table expanse of rock littered with the marks of hundreds of smaller ammonite fossils. 

To photograph any of these fossils, one can take the easy option of simply standing over them and shooting straight downwards, producing a good record shot. However, I prefer to produce something more creative, crouching down as low as possible and shooting across the fossil, illustrating its three-dimensional relief above and below the rock's general surface and showing off the seaside context as the background.

 

2. Durdle Door and Lulworth Cove

image of durdle door, a popular photography location in Dorset

Sitting almost side-by-side in the eastern part of Dorset's Jurassic Coast, these two locations are perhaps among the county's most iconic sights. Lulworth Cove is famous for its almost perfect circular shape, just a relatively narrow outlet giving access to and from the open sea. 

Photographically, Lulworth Cove is not easy to capture. A wide-angle lens is needed to fit the entire view into a single frame, though it would work well as a panoramic. The best view is from the top of the high cliffs that tower over the central part of the cove, though take care if attempting to do this: it is a steep hike up, and it's a precipitous view once you're up there. For example, there are many other interesting angles from the low cliffs on either side of the seaward mouth.

Barely a mile west, Durdle Door is a magnificent – and much-photographed – rock arch that points out into the sea, set alongside a golden beach and gleaming white cliffs. The arch can be photographed well from various angles at any time of the day or night and at any state of the tide. The side of the arch visible from the shore does face northwest, so don't expect to have the sun shining on its face, except perhaps very late on a summer's day. Any shots taken in the morning are likely to show the arch in silhouette. 

The most commonly shot angles are those taken from the beach or cliff immediately in front of the arch, but to obtain something a little more creative, head further west along the clifftop to obtain a high view looking eastwards along the coast. You then obtain images of Durdle Door in context as a part of this wonderful coast. This walk also allows shooting the beach and white cliffs without the arch, simply capturing some lesser-known parts of the Jurassic Coast.

Related: Tripods for photography: the essential kit we love to hate

 

3. Corfe Castle

image of corfe castle, a popular Dorset photography location

Incorporating a ruined castle and an adjacent village of the same name, this is one of Dorset's most well-known historic inland sights. The castle, destroyed during the Civil War, is the quintessential castle ruin of shattered walls and towers, sitting on a low hill in the middle of a valley between two much larger hills. The village, mostly of medieval stone cottages, crowds around the southern base of the castle hill, creating a highly atmospheric would-be real-life movie set. 

Although that atmosphere is ruined by the very busy main road that runs right through the village, several back lanes are lined with cottages that make for some wonderful photography. The castle is easily reached from the village and is a treasure trove of classic ruined castle images. 

However, the most well-known views are shot from outside the castle, on the slopes of the two hills that rise on either side, to the west and east. The positioning of the two hills makes for great sunset and sunrise viewpoints, either illuminating the castle in silhouette or frontal lighting, depending on which hill you choose for the time of day. 

Perhaps the most iconic views of this castle are taken from the west hill at dawn, with the valley filled with mist and the castle rising above. A tough one to get, but on the right morning... Second to this is perhaps silhouettes of the castle at sunset, shot from the eastern hill. 

 

4. Abbotsbury

image of abbotsbury

This attractive little village, sitting just inland from the western part of the Jurassic Coast, is very much a Ye Olde English Village, consisting almost entirely of honey-coloured stone-walled thatch-roofed cottages. Although rather marred in summer by the enormous amount of traffic that squeezes through its main street, there is still some attractive village photography to be done here. 

More importantly, however, Abbotsbury is renowned for two beautiful locations: the Abbotsbury Swannery and the Sub-Tropical Gardens. The former is the UK's only breeding centre for mute swans and has been in place here since medieval times, originally as part of an abbey. This is the place to visit hundreds of swans paddling around at the western end of the Fleet, the UK's only tidal lagoon, and photographically is quite a spectacle. 

The Sub-Tropical Garden sits outside the western end of the village, a truly beautiful oasis of greenery consisting of a series of different garden settings arranged around a wooded valley. While to call it 'Sub-Tropical' might be more a selling point than the truth, it is nevertheless a very sheltered and lush spot, worthy of some great photographic attention. 

A short distance along the same road, you come to Chesil Beach, a huge shingle bank that runs for 27 km along the Jurassic Coast, and the far western end of the Fleet, close to the Swannery. As a vast open space, photography here is a challenge, but it's always worth a go!

A mile or so west of Abbotsbury, the road climbs steeply uphill to a viewpoint with magnificent views eastwards along the coast, taking in the full length of the Fleet and most of Chesil Beach, all the way to their eastern limits at Portland and Weymouth. 

It's a wonderfully photogenic view, made all the more so by the very well-placed hilltop of St Catherine's Chapel, acting as a very convenient point of interest in any photograph's foreground. This view is best photographed during evening sunlight at any time of year. In the morning, you'd be looking straight into the light.

The chapel itself is easily reached on foot from the centre of the village, its hilltop location giving great views across Abbotsbury to the north and east and over the Fleet and Chesil Beach to the south. 

 

5. Morden Bog National Nature Reserve

image of dartford warbler

A series of heathlands characterize the landscape around the town of Wareham, most of them protected as nature reserves, largely because they are home to all six of the UK's reptile species. 

One of the most photogenic is Morden Bog, a national nature reserve north of Wareham. Here, the landscape slopes gently downhill from north to south and is a mix of pine woodland, heathland and marshy ponds. It is at its most colourful when the heathers (of which there are four species here) are in flower, from mid-July to mid-September. This is a great time to photograph the heath and the ponds and some of its reptiles with any luck, most likely the common sand lizards. It's also a good spot to see and photograph Dartford Warblers, a rare bird at home on this Dorset heath.

Other heathland nature reserves around Wareham that are also worth photographing include Stoborough Heath, Hartland Moor and Arne, all south of the town. Arne lies on the western shore of Poole Harbour and so can be a good place to see wading birds. It is also home to a very tame and photogenic herd of Sika deer, a species introduced from Japan in the 19th century.

Related: Somerset photography: 8 locations to explore with your camera

 

6. Hambledon Hill National Nature Reserve

image of hambledon hill

Standing a few miles north of Blandford Forum, Hambledon Hill is most well known as the site of a large prehistoric hill fort. However, it also benefits from being a national nature reserve, giving its slopes protection that ensures it is never ploughed and subject only to limited grazing. 

The result is a rare example of truly healthy chalk grassland, which in June and July is a mass of chalk-loving wildflowers, along with the mass of butterflies and other insects that rely on them. The diversity of flowers and insects found here during the summer months greatly outstrips that of the heaths around Wareham but is generally much less well known. This is the place for lovers of macro nature photography. 

There is still the hill fort to shoot for those not so keen on the small things in life, and all photography outside the flowering season. None of the original wooden structures remains, of course, but what can be seen is the series of defensive dykes and ditches carved into the ground surrounding the hilltop. Together, they can be used to create some interesting compositions and wonderful views across the surrounding countryside.

 

Exploring and photographing Dorset

These are just a few of my favourite photo locations in Dorset: there are many more, and while I've highlighted these six places, other photographers will have wholly different lists of favourite sites. 

However, this list will hopefully give you some pointers on where to head in the county, both on the coast and inland. 

With the whole of summer still ahead of us, there is plenty of time to get out photographing in many of these places, hopefully in some fine, warm weather. Happy shooting!

 

This article was written by Nigel Hicks, a hugely experienced Devon-based professional photographer. Nigel has written this article to coincide with the start of summer and to link in with the launch of his latest book, Beautiful Dorset.

Presented as a series of photo essays, this book takes the reader on a photographic tour around the best that Dorset has to offer. Beautiful Dorset is available from all good book shops, high street and online, and directly from Nigel. 

See sample pages and images, and buy copies at https://www.nigelhicks.com/editorial-photography-writing/books/beautiful-dorset/

 

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