Jenifer Bunnett: The Art of Seascape Photography
Award-winning landscape photographer Jenifer Bunnett’s portfolio hosts an impressive collection of moody, inspired, and captivating photography.
Specialising in seascape and coastal imagery around the UK’s shores, Jenifer masterfully uses long-exposure photography techniques to capture atmospheric and often painterly, dream-like photographs.
Join us as we talk about childhood interests, photography competitions, keeping creativity alive, and more!
Your photography journey began at a very young age, by your fathers’ side. Is there a particular moment when you knew you would work in the world of photography?
Not really! It was more of an evolution. I intended to be a painter and spent more time doing that than photography in my youth. But I enjoyed being at my father’s studio…he had such interesting staff and he himself was a very special person.
I gradually found myself spending my weekends there, and popping by after school to see what needed doing. Hence, I became a competent black and white printer, wedding, and portrait assistant, and so on.
My father was a brilliant landscape photographer too, and being a passionate sailor, often photographed yachts and dramatic seascapes.
On a rare weekend when there was no wedding booked in, we’d trundle around the Pembrokeshire countryside, me with my sketchbook and my dad with his cameras.
I started using a camera to record something if there was no time to finish a drawing and soon found myself watching how Dad did it, trying to make my images as good as his. I had a long way to go!
When I moved to London, my first objective was to acquire an income, so I found a job as a trainee colour printer, thinking I could do black and white and might as well learn colour.
I also did a course in transparency retouching – what we did before Photoshop!
There was no plan, I just happened to always find my way into photography-based environments, I guess because it was all so nice and familiar.
I ended up doing a degree in it too, while also continuing my job, and afterwards worked in various aspects of post-production. I even had a short spell as a Photographic Recruitment Consultant, a job I loathed.
Eventually, I started at a company where the beginnings of the digital age were changing everything. I used to scan transparencies which were stored in massive memory banks in a fridge-like room!
Several years later, when my youngest son started school, I began to explore my options. I started painting again.
But with the realisation that the digital era had grown up, I saw that if I spent some time learning the new way of things, I could now process photographs at home – fitting it in around the kids. Painting always felt easier to me than photography.
Trying to reduce a scene with everything in it to a coherent, balanced image was more challenging than being able to arrange things as you wish from scratch. I found myself keen to rise to that challenge, and finally got on with being a photographer!
Prior to focusing on your own work, you worked with other photographers. Did these years help you find your niche and style in photography, or did that come later?
I did the processing and printing for a wide variety of markets over the years, from holiday snapshots to hand printing for talented (and some not-so-talented) professional photographers.
But I’d say the majority of what I did was for the advertising world – lots of cigarettes and glossy magazine imagery, all quite commercial.
I think I learned what I didn’t want to do, rather than what I did! I also learned how important the printing process was in achieving a finished artwork, which we now do in Lightroom or Photoshop.
Not many photographers were also printers, especially colour printers, so I had that advantage.
Looking back, it was probably very useful because when I was teaching myself how to process digitally, I kept in mind what I’d have done in the lab. That stopped me from making things over complicated.
The huge array of complex techniques that I kept reading about, and pre-sets that photographers seemed so keen to sell me, could have been overwhelming… am I meant to be doing it this way or that?
Remembering my old workflow – it struck me that there is no right or wrong as such, there is only the process I developed that works for me.
You’ve mastered the use of long exposure in your seascapes, cleverly capturing the movement in the landscape. How did you come to develop this style of photography?
It’s funny because it’s the only type of photography I hadn’t really tried! When at college I was a keen swimmer, so I’d started experimenting with photographing water – the patterns of it in the pool and the moment someone dived into the water.
My long-suffering friend had to dive in over and over for me! But I’d felt something was missing, my painting style had always been impressionistic, and I wanted to get that sense of looseness in my photographs too.
When I was getting back into photography properly, I picked up a book about photographing flowers using creative techniques. I tried them all and started figuring out how I could apply any of them to my work.
At first, I played with Intentional Camera Movement (ICM) and shallow depth of field in woodland scenes, such as fungi portraits, but soon moved on to my unfulfilled watery ideas.
I had also always been interested in coastal erosion and weathering. To me, it was by far the most interesting aspect of my Geography A-level.
I began experimenting with my shutter speeds to convey what the water was doing, where it was going, and how it behaved in different conditions.
I found myself spending a lot of time just watching the sea, and then imagining how I could interestingly utilise that movement.
The long exposures seemed to satisfy both my tendency toward impressionistic art and my interest in the coast from a geological perspective.
Seascapes are widely loved by landscape photographers. How do you come up with new compositions and inspiration when shooting seascapes?
I don’t have rules in my head, although I appreciate they’re a useful tool, especially when learning about composition. But I just have a sense of finding a quiet balance in what is before me.
Sometimes when the weather is perfect (i.e., cloudy) with a hint of magic about it and the sea is performing, I can get completely lost in what I’m doing.
I’m not really looking for anything new because a coastal scene is always new, I’m just trying to find something special out of what is there that day.
Of course, most artists, myself included, like to keep experimenting and I often find myself doing other things.
Inspiration can arrive from nowhere and it’s exciting to follow that through. But I don’t try and force the issue – I just react to what feels right on each occasion.
As a recipient of numerous photography awards, how do you decide which of your images you submit for a competition?
For me, the most important criterion when selecting what to submit is to be proud of that image. You can never second guess what the judges are looking for – I don’t think they know until they see it.
If you have entered something that you’re not really proud of and it gets placed, then you will always feel a bit embarrassed or apologetic about it. It could be published around the world, and you don’t want to be saying “I wish they’d picked this one instead”.
Send them only what you wish they’d pick.
What do you think the practice of entering competitions has to offer budding photographers?
Entering competitions is useful for many reasons. It teaches you to look at your images in a more critical light and to view them as a collection of work that may be starting to represent you as an artist.
The process of entering competitions is quite lengthy, so treat it as a job, allowing plenty of time to prepare the images and do the write-ups for each one. Put all your contenders into a file together, then weed out the ones that are giving you doubts.
This can be very beneficial.
Success in a competition can lead to lots of useful publicity, print sales, and gravitas, not to mention some covetable prizes. But here’s the difficult bit, there are lots of brilliant photographers out there, and you may not get anywhere.
This may be because your picture isn’t good enough, it may be because there were several similar ones, or it may just have been unlucky and pipped at the post.
Some competitions offer feedback on your entry, which could help pinpoint where you went wrong. Never feel defeated. Take a deep breath, pour yourself a glass of wine, and drink to having another go next year!
What keeps your passion for photography alive?
I think most artists just have this unquenchable desire to keep doing more! I love the feeling of having been out in the elements all day, my cheeks glowing from the salt spray, and a memory card full of potential.
Some days go wrong; the rain never pauses, the sun makes a bright and persistent appearance, or the sea is in a half-hearted mood.
But on the occasions when everything comes together, you get a high that I can only imagine is the reason some people take drugs – you just want more of it!
Do you have a favourite image you could share with us, and tell us what makes this so special to you?
I often cite my image ‘Confluence’ when asked this question, but for similar reasons, and as a change, I will offer up this one – ‘Crooked Mile’.
Both images were ones that I’d seen the potential for on an earlier occasion and had to wait until conditions were right to get it, which happened on my fifth trip to these Hebridean Islands.
I needed an interesting sky to tie the two headlands together and for the water to start to climb the edge of the dune, but not be so feisty that I couldn’t wade in up to my knees.
It had been relentlessly windy (even for a Welsh person) all week, enough to blow you right over, making long-exposure photography almost impossible.
Another 100 paces along here and the wind was still merciless, but I was just able to find a spot where the lee of the headlands gave enough relief.
The wind was driving the waves up the beach and all I then had to do was get the exposure right to achieve the overlap as the retreating ones rolled back.
It’s very satisfying when a plan comes together!
Do you have any locations on your photography bucket list that you are yet to tick off?
Actually, I’m not one of those photographers who yearns to traipse around the world.
I wouldn’t, of course, turn down a commission to photograph the wonders of the Galapagos Islands, for example. But the UK is surrounded by water, and I don’t need to travel far to get to it – an environmentally sound prospect too.
I’m putting together a new portfolio of work from my home county of Pembrokeshire. For personal reasons, I’ve had to overcome some emotional barriers to do this, but the place has all my formative years whirling around on the winds.
It’s time the seas of my childhood became a key part of my portfolio. Perhaps I need to add some Irish ones to my collection as well. But no bucket list.
Any coast will do me, although having said that, I will always consciously avoid those places that wantonly murder pods of dolphins or which still slaughter whales for example; I won’t support those economies.
We can’t wait to see more of your work – can you give us a clue as to what you are working on next?
Other than my portfolio of Pembrokeshire images, as mentioned, I have also been working on a series about environmental issues that affect the coast.
This is a subject that has been important to me for many years, and it seems right that I combine my interests in this way. Life has a way of nudging the lens a bit, and off I go, following its direction.