12/11/2014
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Motorhome travel: west Cornwall

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Capturing west Cornwall

Words & Photography: David Chapman

I think west Cornwall is such a wonderful place for landscape photography because it’s an intricately-shaped peninsula with coastline facing literally in every direction. Its coastline is varied, from rugged with stacks, cliffs and offshore islands, to quite gentle, with beautiful sandy beaches.

The other critical point is the number of man-made focal points. Around the area there are numerous photogenic structures including lighthouses, engine houses, harbours, old houses and even ancient monuments such as burial cairns and stone circles. Finally, this is a very small area; all of the photographs in this feature were taken within just 20 miles of each other.

I’ve chose winter because landscape photography is often best when the sun is low in the sky, casting a more dramatic light on the scenery. Since the sun never gets very high at this time of year, we can take good pictures at any time of day, unlike in summer. I’ve also found two campsites that are open in winter and which turned out to be fantastic bases.

Kelynack Caravan and Camping Park is near SLarge rocks form an interesting foregroundt Just on the far west coast of Cornwall. It’s a short walk from one of my photographic locations in Cot Valley and a short drive from two of the others at Botallack and Land’s End.

For Cot Valley it definitely makes sense to walk. At the foot of Cot Valley is a beach called Porth Nanven with lots of large, rounded granite boulders. These make a fine foreground for a photograph. Out to sea is the island called The Brisons, which can act as a focal point.

If you look in the cliff you can see boulders incarcerated there waiting to be freed by storms. You can also clearly see how high the beach once was, where the rounded boulders end and the angular rocks begin. My estimate is about 33ft (10m) above the height of the current beach. This is a superb location for a sunset photo as it faces due west; the sun always sets somewhere out to sea from here. My advice is to wait until after sunset when the colours in the sky often get better and the contrast in light decreases somewhat. Use a tripod and allow your camera to take quite long exposures. Use a wide angle lens to get some of the foreground rocks in frame and position The Brisons so they are in the top right or left side of your picture.

Old mines festoon the landscapeIf you drive north through St Just from Kelynack you soon come to Botallack. Turn left by the pub and then left onto a track where the road bends right. This leads to a car park near the Count House (NT). This is the best area for engine houses and other ruins from the Cornish tin mining era, all now part of a World Heritage Site.

Near the Count House is Brunton Calciner, which was once used for harvesting arsenic, a waste product of the mining process. Its huge chimney, once used to increase the draw of air, can now make a good focal point for a picture.

Just down the cliffs from here are the famous ‘Crowns’ engine houses used in various television programmes, including Poldark. These engine houses sit beside the sea at the base of a steep cliff and are beloved by photographers. Any time of day can be good to take photos here but, in winter, a couple of hours before sunset is very good. You can’t really go wrong, but I would suggest trying to use some element of foreground to lead the eye towards the engine houses. The path can work well for this purpose.

St. Michaels Mount at low tideThe sun won’t be setting behind these features in winter, but I actually prefer this because having the sun in shot usually creates too much contrast allowing only silhouettes of the rocks to be shown in the image. The landscape often looks much more dramatic when facing diagonally away from the sunset, so you have to be flexible and move around accordingly.

Land’s End is also a good place to capture storms – the waves are likely to be bigger here than anywhere else. Obviously, you can’t get down to sea level because you have to consider your safety. What you can show safely from Land’s End is the impact of the storm on the stacks and on the Longships Light. For this you will need a telephoto lens and a tripod if it is windy.

Moving to Ayr Park in St Ives we have the opportunity to walk from the site to some more photogenic locations. St Ives is, of course, famous for the quality of its light and is extremely popular with artists as well as photographers.

I love St Ives in winter, particularly early in the morning at low tide when the sun rakes across the beach into the harbour and lights up the white houses and lichen-covered yellow roofs. As well as photos of the harbour and beaches, look for interesting cameos of the back streets and wonderful quirky features which abound in this historic town.

From St Ives you can look across the bay and see Godrevy Lighthouse, which is my next suggestion. Drive around the bay and park in the National Trust car park (free in winter). Most people go to take photos at sunset, though I also like sunrise here.

Read the full version of this article in the December issue of MMM magazine.



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