Few natural features are more iconic of British scenery than the sheer, white cliffs found at Beachy Head in East Sussex. This chalk headland is among the most picturesque in all of England, providing some of the best opportunities for landscape photographers to capture sunrise, sunset, night skies, milky way, and even a postcard-worthy lighthouse.
With a rare sunny day on the forecast, we decided to make an impromptu trip to photograph Beachy Head lighthouse under a blanket of stars, arriving with plenty of time to scout the entire region. After taking in sunset and staying for the stars, we were up only hours later to capture a gorgeous sunrise from the cliffs as well.
When planning our trip, very little useful information was available for travel and landscape photographers like ourselves, so we decided to create the guide we wish we had. In this blog, you will learn the best vantage points, factors to consider, and other tips for photographing Beachy Head.
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Where is Beachy Head
Beachy Head is a stretch of coastline famous for its white chalk cliffs, located in East Sussex near the town of Eastbourne. These spectacular cliffs are within South Downs National Park and are continuous with the Seven Sisters cliffs.
This part of the coast is often confused with the (more famous!) White Cliffs of Dover located in Kent. However, having visited the White Cliffs of Dover and Beachy Head several times, I don’t think I could pick a favourite!
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When to Visit Beachy Head
One thing that makes Beachy Head photography so amazing is that you have equally good vantage points available for sunrise and sunset. What makes it truly unique, however, is that it is one of the few places in England that you can see (and photograph) the Milky Way.
If you only have time for a day trip, we recommend at least staying through sunset. The late golden hour glows radiantly from the cliffs in the light of the setting sun. This is a truly magical time to photograph the scenery here.
The best option is to arrive early in the afternoon so you can go for a walk and get a lay of the land. Photograph golden hour and sunset, then head to the “Z bends” car park to set up for a night of astrophotography at Beachy Head Lighthouse. Though there is some light pollution from nearby Eastbourne, it is one of the darker-sky options in England, and the lighthouse makes an amazing subject.
We’d also recommend setting an early alarm to get out for sunrise as well. Again, Beachy Head Lighthouse provides an excellent subject for a composition that includes the sun rising over the famous white cliffs.
What to Photograph at Beachy Head
There are a few interesting subjects in and around Beachy Head that will likely star in most of your compositions.
Beachy Head Lighthouse
This gorgeous symbol of strength stands triumphantly at the base of the cliffs, providing scale and an object of interest for the viewers. It’s white and red stripes contrast perfectly against the deep blue of the ocean. Expect a lot of your photographs to include the beautiful lighthouse.
The Seven Sisters Cliffs at Beachy Head
I imagine people from the area don’t get all the fuss, but the white cliffs of the Seven Sisters represent a rare marvel of England. When many people from around the world daydream of the English countryside, they conjure up images of rolling hills running into steep white drops; this is what they imagine.
Look for compositions that include their steep nature, grandiose magnitude, and interesting texture that can serve as a backdrop and/or context for your photo.
Low Tide at Birling Gap
During low tide, the textures of the beach near Beachy Head are abstractly beautiful. Ridges, swirls, braided sands, and all sort of patterns and textures come to life as the ocean inhales. Be sure to note what time this occurs and factor that into your visit, particularly for sunset if possible.
Belle Tout Lighthouse
While the Beachy Head Lighthouse steals the show due to its location, the Belle Tout lighthouse is also highly photogenic. While you cannot go into the lighthouse unless you are staying there, you are likely to find it in the distance of many of your photos, adding a nice touch of character to the headland.
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Photographing Sunset at Beachy Head
Sunset photography at Beachy Head is a bucket list item for any UK photographer. The way the white cliffs are bathed in golden light with the tones reflected in Atlantic or tide pools is something to behold.
If you are fortunate enough to visit when the low tide corresponds with sunset, we recommend you focus on Birling Gap. There is plenty of parking here, both paid and unpaid, and beach access from the parking lot.
As previously mentioned, the textures left in view by the receding water provides some incredible compositions. Use your favorite as a foreground, while including the Seven Sisters as your backdrop.
Be sure to arrive in time for golden hour, as the white cliffs turn pure gold.
If the tide is in and you cannot photograph from the beach, instead walk up the hill in the direction of the Belle Tout Lighthouse. Turn around when you get to a nice high point and focus instead on a composition that includes the cliffs, turquoise ocean water, and setting sun.
Photographing Sunrise at Beachy Head
As much as we hate waking up for sunrise, this is definitely a place where it is worth it!
Our favorite shots were of the Beachy Head Lighthouse with the changing sky behind it. True, we were not able to see the sun cross the horizon with this composition, but we did get it as it crested the cliffs and without the lighthouse, the scene feels just a bit sparse.
There are two similar compositions that we liked, both beginning from the same parking lot. It is indicated as “Belle Tout” on Google Maps, but the easiest way to find it is to look for the small dirt parking area located east of the Belle Tout Lighthouse, just before Hodcombe Farm.
From here, go up the hill towards Belle Tout Lighthouse looking back toward the parking area for a neat composition that includes the snaking road and distant cliffs. Your composition will also include Beachy Head Lighthouse, though it will likely be smaller for this composition. See that photo above.
The other option is to go in the opposite direction, climbing the hill and looking directly onto Beachy Head Lighthouse. Frame your shot with the white cliffs on the edge and the lighthouse below, keep just enough space for some sky burn at the top of your frame. As the sun rises, you’ll get a beautiful sunstar that puts an exclamation point onto the scene. See that composition below.
Night Photography at Beachy Head Lighthouse
Any UK photographer with an interest in astrophotography will be hard-pressed to find better compositions than photographing the Milky Way over Beachy Head Lighthouse. True, there is a bit of light pollution to contend with and often a marine layer, but with the right technique and a bit of luck, it makes for a spectacular photo.
To photograph the Beachy Head night skies, park at the “Z Bends” parking lot, then follow the trail up toward the edge of the cliff. Depending on the time of year, the exact vantage point to align the Milky Way and lighthouse will vary, but it will be somewhere between S-SW.
We use an app called PhotoPills to know where and when it best aligns, but the Z Bends parking area will always be the place to start.
While we would love to teach you night photography in this guide, it truly is a complex art form. What we can tell you is that you will want to begin shooting about 90 minutes after sunset and on nights with little-to-no moon. If you know what you are looking for, you will be able to see the Milky Way with the naked eye.
We have created a full list of our travel photography equipment for those interested. Photography at Beachy Head requires the usual gear, which varies based on weather and interests.
Night photographers will definitely need a VERY STURDY tripod, as the winds tend to be brutal up there on the bluffs. Adam uses this Manfrotto BeFree tripod and did not have any shake in his shots, though he had to keep it low to the ground.
For that same reason, as well as the many nesting birds, drone photographers are generally not going to be able to fly here.
Aside from the basics, the only other thing we would recommend is a polarizing filter to cut the glare off the ocean. This will capture deeper color.
Also, bring some “wellies”, if available. The beach is quite slippery and sloppy, making high-rubber boots the perfect footwear.
Beachy Head Photography Final Thoughts
As always, we truly hope you have found some useful information and/or inspiration for your next trip to Beachy Head. If you have enjoyed this guide and are looking for other things to do in England, you may want to peruse some of our other guides:
- Prettiest English Villages
- Best Castles near London
- Ultimate London Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in York
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