Photographing Cornwall


CornwallIt was the draw of pretty Cornwall that made me sign up for the trip, that and the knowledge that my wise photography teacher was hopefully going to calmly reintroduce me to my camera and tripod.  But by the time I arrived in Lands End, it was already dark and having listened to my taxi driver regale me with Cornish folklore all the way from Newquay airfield, I was beginning to have my doubts. With my kit bag and luggage, I stumbled out of the car, to howling wind and the crashing sound of the sea that most certainly was registering on the Beaufort scale.  I was back with Light and Land for a photography tour around Cornwall as well as some tutoring on printing techniques. I had last been in Cornwall in 2006, for a culinary tour of Rick Steins eateries, now here I was in a rain jacket and hiking boots thinking oh my God where have I landed.

CornwallBy lunchtime the next day, the bad weather had cleared and while dining out on soft Cornish pasties we drove to the deserted stony inlet of Sennans Cove. We clambered down sheer cliff sides, to set up in a landscape of natures own doing. Huge sea sprayed boulders dominated the shoreline, alongside a warren of rock pools with brown seaweed sprigs and lime green algae. In pockets, gritty sand with chipped shells and pebbles allowed for a steadier work space and easier tripod assembly. And right at the back of cove, mining caves and abandoned rock formations provided alternative compositions. So much to shoot! Where to begin? and what to photograph? My mind was at a blank.  One of the instructors ambled over and kindly remarked that in an action packed landscape its typically hardest of all to set up a good shot. He provided some pointers on lens and composition choices and for the rest of the afternoon, I shot multiple images of everything and anything, panicking that I would have nothing good to print.

By evening, things had improved. We had moved back near the southerly tip of Lands End and the sun was setting. There was now ample opportunity to capture a pink sky, a blue grey seascape and as if by an act of God a perfectly formed sea arch just off the coast line. This shot needed precision and patience. At some point the sun would dip to a perfect angle, send its beams across the bay and flood the chamber of the sea arch with red and orange rays. I wasn’t going to jinx it. I sat unmoved on the cliff for over an hour and snapped repeatedly as the sun made its descent and catching the curve of the rock and illuminating the sea. Relief I thought as we hiked back to the hotel – I think I got have at least one photograph (out of five hundred crappy ones) worthy of a print out.

CornwallIn the mornings the group assembled for tutorials on the art and science of printing.  It was fascinating to listen to the precision and exactitude of mastering a quality print.  Understanding the intricacies of Lightroom and Photoshop, made you realise how much there was to learn. Mulling over colours, shades, textures and mood was labored – Cornwall it would appear photographs well in either black and white or in colour. Deciding the finish of the paper – matte, gloss or canvas, before loading up into large Epson and Canon printers that had been specially set up in the work room with the assistance of fotospeed.  And then finally the overwhelming joy of seeing your own image, still warm to the touch, coming off the printer – making you want to run out and frame it in an instant.

CornwallBy midweek the sun was high in the sky. One of those gorgeous bucket and spade days in Cornwall with the sea sparkling a turquoise colour and a steady stream of day trippers making their way across the Lands End southerly tip. We were off to the former tin and cooper mines of Botallack – now part of a World UNESCO site combining other Cornish and Devon mining landscapes. Set on sheer cliffs overlooking a pretty bay, Botallack comprises a series of chimney stacks and engines rooms that offered lots of shooting potential. We trooped down the cliff and crossed a narrow stone bridge to position ourselves on a bluebell sprayed cliff with the sun shining down on us. The scene was simply idyllic. Down below in the bay, a seal was frolicking on the rocks and as the waves rolled in to the foot of the mines, their white crests set off the blue sky, the blue water and the violet hue of the bluebells. It was the stuff of pretty pictures and with some tutoring from my wise teacher the photo took shape. For the rest of that blissful afternoon, we sat perched on the side of a cliff perfecting and tweaking the shot surrounded by heart wrenching beauty, enough to make your heart sing.

CornwallThe days rolled on and started to form a natural pattern of printing, shooting and Cornish pasties from the bakery in St Just.  One day, we clambered over boulders for miles to get out to try and shoot the epic rollers crashing off the coastline. I was eager to get the chance to use my newly purchased (but oh so heavy)  Canon 70-200L IS f4.0 lense. More than challenging when you are clinging for dear life to the rocks, with your kit bag and tripod. But we made it and while the photos weren’t great, the experience was heady. But all too soon, it was time to pack up and leave. My Cornish taxi driver was ready with more yarns by the time I was departing. With so much to process – both in terms of photos and memories, I sat back in the car and let him chatter on. Cornwall photographed and freshly printed but more importantly a small part of Cornwall shared.

[The tour was led by Joe Cornish and Antony Spencer from Light and Land, with Vince Carter from fotospeed]


Emer Maria Kielhorn lives and works in Dublin with her husband and two cats.

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