During the past 10 years I have been very fortunate to photograph some of the most remote corners of the Earth. Until recently I have always been focused on venturing further afield and somehow, I have completely neglected the UK.
Last year I started to plan how I would photograph Chichester Harbour. I have been attracted to this unique Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) for many years and visited the harbour several times in 2019 to explore its winding creeks of tidal mudflats. When I spoke to local residents, I could feel a sense of pride in their tone, and rightfully so as the harbour is a hidden gem - a special place of tranquillity in the crowded south of England with narrow inlets, salt marshes, sand dunes, and mudflats. There are at least nine different habitats that make up the mostly flat landscape, at odds with the chalk escarpment of the rolling South Downs immediately to the north. 41% of the AONB falls below mean high-water spring tides and can only be seen at low water. For an aerial photographer, it is not only fascinating to capture fragile and vulnerable natural habitats, but because of the constant change of the tide, it is a golden opportunity to create some truly unique abstract photographs.
I have planned meticulously with books, online searches, and satellite maps and worked out the best times to align tides, seasons, and daylight hours for my flights over the harbour. But the project has proven more challenging than I first anticipated. I initially had an opportunity to fly in January 2020, but 10 minutes into the flight the weather turned unexpectedly and I had to abandon the trip and return to Goodwood airfield. COVID-19 and the national lockdown put plans on hold, but I was constantly thinking about the project. When the lockdown was lifted in June, I grabbed the first opportunity to fly again and headed straight to the coast.
Lady luck smiled at me and on this occasion all of the elements fell into place, with great conditions for aerial photography. Although I knew the harbour was beautiful, once I was up in the air, I could not believe what I was seeing; it literally took my breath away. The quality of the clear, blue water made me think I was above the warm Indian Ocean near Australia. I could see all of the meandering shapes of the tidal inlets, and how the incoming tides were shaping the precarious sand and shingle spit at the entrance to the harbour. As lockdown eased over the summer of 2020 it was fascinating to see people near East Head and on West Wittering Beach - sunbathing, walking, kayaking, windsurfing, and kitesurfing whilst trying to maintain social distancing. 2020 has been a highly unusual year, but seeing these people being positive gave me a sense of hope that humanity will persevere, and we will move forward together, ultimately stronger.
I hope to visit the harbour again in the years to come and see how the sea defences continue to protect East Head and the natural habitat behind it.
Yi Sun, November 2020