Cornwall, at the southwest tip of England, is a photographer’s dream. A rugged land with cliffs molded by the sea and shadowed by stormy clouds, it glows in the light. A local tour guide said the light glowed pink in the town of St. Ives, from the color of the sand.
My friends and I stayed in St. Ives while we walked some of the coastal paths of Cornwall. Attracting artists for decades, and bustling with tourists, St. Ives has a little bit of everything: galleries, art museums (including the Tate St. Ives), beaches, eclectic shops and restaurants, a harbor, and proximity to coastal walking paths.
St. Ives is delightful to photograph. Unfortunately I had very little “alone” time to do so, as a result of our walking schedule. The key was to plan ahead and use my time wisely. The rest was up to luck, which usually related to weather conditions.
My checklist of shots for cities, such as St. Ives, includes street scenes, viewpoints, landmarks, local people, architecture, markets, night scenes, sunrises and sunsets, and close-ups. You can develop your own list, depending on your interests. Keep it in mind when you travel to a city, or even when you are photographing your own hometown. Fine-tune the list with your pre-trip research. Don’t forget to check on-line to see if there are recommendations from other photographers.
My list evolves as I walk around and get a feel for a city. In St. Ives I took a walking tour to get the lay of the land and local information. I also checked The Photographer’s Ephemeris for sunrise and sunset times, and the locations of the sun and moon.
With the little time I had, I knew I wouldn’t hit everything on my checklist. There were also hoards of tourists (due to a bank holiday) to maneuver through, and intermittent rain showers. From my checklist and based upon conditions I encountered, I developed a photography plan for my free time.
For architectural shots I got out very early, before the streets were busy and when the light was soft. After a rainfall, I searched for reflections that might improve my photographs. When the sun was bright, I looked for colors and shapes enhanced by the bright light of the day.
My best sunrise shots were taken from my hotel window, which had a view. I positioned my Fuji X-T1 camera on the window ledge and used my self timer as a shutter release, to eliminate camera shake. I wanted soft, ethereal water so I attached an eight-stop variable neutral density filter to my camera lens. The neutral density filter allowed me to reduce the amount of light entering the camera. I slowed the shutter speed to maintain a correct exposure, blurring the motion of the water. I experimented with different stops on the filter, and waited until I got home to my computer to see what effect I preferred. My favorite was a 10 second exposure at f/11, ISO 200.
I try to book a hotel with a view when I travel, if possible. There are days I just don’t want to get out early, before the crack of dawn. Even if my room doesn’t have a view, other parts of the hotel such as the rooftop or a patio, will suffice. I hit the jackpot in Cornwall, at the Pedn Olva Hotel. I had a perfect view from my window and the hotel terraces had beautiful viewing areas.
I added “tourists on holiday” to my checklist, since tourism defines St. Ives today. The best way to photograph people when there are so many crowds is to stay in one spot and wait and watch. You can preset the camera’s exposure and focus, and divert your attention to what you are experiencing.
Try to pick your spot very carefully, to be sure you have a good background and that the light doesn’t create unwanted shadows. If the sun is too bright, wait for the sun to go behind a cloud or set your spot in open shade.
It doesn’t matter how little time you have to photograph during your travels. If you plan your photographic day and refer to your checklist of shots, you should be ready to shoot when free time emerges.