Shadows and Reflections in Monochrome: Winter Scenes From the High Intertidal

My course on January 26, took me off across the cobbles, onto the beach, and finally to the mussel beds. There, I meant to photograph the limpets that live on and blend in with the bed’s gooseneck barnacles. All signs were favorable, and the morning unfolded as I had hoped. So here are a few scenes in monochrome, including proof of my encounters with limpets. As it turned out, the morning leaned to monochrome, and the shadows and reflections were on high alert. One result was my black-and-white processing scarcely altered the effect.

Though it’s a seascape, cobbles headline the scene below. The morning sun is still shy of peeking through the forest that cloaks the distant headland. Even so, there is light enough reflecting from the cobbles’ smooth wet surfaces. The dominant play of cobbly reflections and shadows and how it interacts with the rest of the elements in the scene is memorable for me. And the reason is this. I’ve made many intriguing finds in the cobble zone, some much more so than the buoy in the foreground. Thus, I’ve taken plenty of photos from that perspective. But I have yet to achieve any photographic success there.

A marker buoy, long adrift, rests on cobbles shiny with indirect morning sunlight. Beach and the surf zone in the midground. The sun hasn't yet topped the low headland in the distance. Moody sky.
Lost marker buoy come to rest

Below, out on the beach, an empty and partially buried razor clam shell rests in the backwash sheen known as the mirror. Reflections of the looming maritime forest appear in the image’s upper right-hand corner. I processed this photo in sepia to better match the color of the shell and the beach’s sand as they appeared in real life. (To see this image in color, go to the gallery for January 26 at Wrack Line 2023.)

Both valves of a razor clam, Siliqua patula, partially buried in the sand. Reflections of the forest above in the backwash sheen.
A meeting of sister ecosystems

Arriving at the mussel beds, all that had to be done to find limpets was to discover some fine stands of gooseneck barnacles Pollicipes polymerus. Once you’re onto the barnacles, the limpets are plentiful. Little Lottia, shown below among the barnacles, is only about half an inch (13mm) in length. Its anterior region (where its head is) is under the highest part of the shell, way over to the left. If it moves forward, it will be nosing into the shadows.

A single Lottia limpet with a few black markings on the lower reaches of its shell perches on the capitulum of a gooseneck barnacle.
Perched on Pollicipes

Conventional wisdom says Lottia‘s pattern provides camouflage on the barnacles. But the shadows. Do they make it easier or harder to blend in? Either way, can you make out the limpet edging into the shadows? To the human eye, the patterns, textures, and shades of Lottia and Pollicipes are as good a match in monochrome as they are in real life.

Three Lottia limpets blending in among the gooseneck barnacles.
A match in monochrome

Nothing lasts forever. Tides turn, and there’s a time to get off the beach. Here’s the scene right before I retreat. The boulders are reflective because they’ve been soaked in the swash. (Who would guess that I would have to move up the beach nine seconds after I took this shot to avoid getting soaked myself?) It’s still early enough that the shadows are in play, and I like the effect on the wet boulders.

A boulder field and the incoming swash. In the distance, the surf zone and beyond. Partly cloudy sky.
Boulder field adieu

Note 1: The header image is from trail’s end, where big wood has been pushed up against the now leafless willows. It’s my way of inviting you to climb over the driftwood and drop down onto the cobbles where this adventure begins.

Note 2: The first two images of this post give a glimpse of the things I found washed up on the cobbles and beach as I advanced on the mussel beds. If you want to see more drifted floats, buoys, and other sea wrack I encountered, go to the gallery for January 26 at Wrack Line 2023.

Shadows and Reflections in Monochrome


    1. Thanks, Nancy. I like the header image too because it is a better invitation to step across and join me on the beach than any words I could find. I’m glad you like it!

  1. Tranquility is defined in your photos and your thoughts. To allow us to look out in the distance and also see where you walk and look in detail to what you find is beautiful. To put it all in monochrome just adds to the ambience.

  2. Always an interesting and educational perspective for us Steve – many things most of us have no idea about. I loved your macro images on this one as well as your beautiful pre-soaking beach image.

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