Autumn shoot, North Cornwall
12/11/12I've been going down to North Cornwall since I was a kid, yet I have never 'explored' there with my cameras. So when I was approached to put some of my work in a popular bar & restaurant near Padstow, I jumped at the chance. The owner had seen my work but wanted to feature locations closer to his location. Luckily I'd visited his newly refurbished venue in recent weeks, so I had a good idea of the setting, interior styling and available wall-space.
After checking an OS map of the area and making my plans as to exactly what I needed to achieve in terms of image range, early one Wednesday morning in late October, I loaded the car and set off. I always like making the drive down. Once the M25 is behind you, the M3 quickly leads to the A303, and this is a favourite stretch of road. Meandering across Hampshire, Wiltshire and Somerset, some awesome views appear as the sun comes up in the rear view mirror.
Time it right and you can miss the traffic. The A30 was a doddle and I pulled up at Trebarwith Strand just as the café opened at 9.30am. I had a bit of time before the ebbing tide would allow me get onto the beach, so I grabbed a coffee and sat on the rocks to take in the view. It seemed surreal that just a few hours ago I was in Essex, yet now I sat looking over the swollen Atlantic waves crashing onto the beautiful, rugged Cornish coast.
My last time here was on holiday with 16 friends way back in 1982. Yet at the sight before me, suddenly the vivid image of carrying one of the lads off the beach with a weaver fish sting came back to me.
Russell had been playing in the surf when he felt a sharp sting that quickly built to an agonisingly swelling foot. I had known that the remedy lay in heating the affected area, as this neutralises the venom. So we laid Russell prostrate on the ground outside the café and got to work. While concerned for him, being blokes, we also saw the funny side in the situation. For, clad only in his ridiculously tight, brightly coloured 'speedos' and with his forearm theatrically covering his face, he proceeded to turn the air dark blue with his cursing. For whilst we may all have one or two select phrases for such occasions, Russell worked as a porter in New Covent Garden market and his colourfully wide vocabulary of wholly obscene profanities was truly something to behold. So, as I emptied a hastily purchased pot of tea over his towelled foot, shocked holidaymakers covered their children's ears and hurried past as he called me every expletive under the sun.
Sparked by this lovely setting, I laughed aloud as the long-lost memory came flooding back. Oh how I love doing this for a job!
With my OS map laid out before me, I reviewed my plans for the next few days given the prevailing weather conditions. For while the weather was now clearing, days of stormy depression out in the Atlantic had conjured fresh winds and big seas. Something that would be factored in to my approach. After the morning shoot at Trebarwith I'd move on to Lundy Cove. From the contour lines it looked like a spirited walk down to this little inlet, especially when carrying a heavy back-pack. So I had to allow enough time to get there, set-up and shoot before the turning tide pushed me back into the choke of the bay and restrict my options. When finished there I would head down the winding country lanes to New Polzeath to walk around, set-up and catch the sun setting over Hayle Bay.
And that was day one 'in the can'. After leaving New Polzeath, I had arranged to meet my good friend Allen who I would be staying with. We met at my client's bar and over a beer, the three of us discussed how my images would best be displayed.
I have recently discovered a German company who print Epson K3 inks onto a specially coated glass. This is then mounted onto a flush-fitting backing with hangings. Having no distracting surround or frame, large (A2+) sized images look fantastic and the clean presentation really suits contemporary, minimalist interiors, such as the one we were in. Happy with the suggestion, my client poured another round as I went on to relate the full unexpurgated story of Russell and the weaver fish.
Dawn on day two saw me at Rock. Playground to the 'Kensington set' in summer, 'Knightsbridge-on-sea' has changed beyond all recognition in recent years. Back in 1982, many of the properties that line the coast road were run down or derelict. Today, they are the holiday homes of TV 'celebs' and bankers. Right or wrong, Rock is a perfect example of how transient summer residents can transform a location. Out of season its atmosphere returns to a strange detached tranquility that I love. Here, amongst the silent dunes overlooking the estuary, I got a few shots of the dredger working off The Doom Bar. However, the recent storm systems had pushed-up a swollen tide that was exceptionally high and this kept me pinned down amongst the sand dunes as the best of the dawning light passed. All I could do was wait and watch ranks of destructive waves relentlessly eat-away the foot of the dunes. In toppling protective fences and washing-away swathes of marram grass, they were compromising years of local conservationist's efforts.
Yet adversity can spark creativity. It's often the case that in such conditions force you to look for different 'angles' to work with. Seizing the chance can often produce the best image of the day. So I got out my coffee flask and sat back to wait.
A while later the tide turned and skirting the dangerously undercut dunes, I worked my way down to the newly revealed beach and got some nice shots looking across Padstow Bay. Interestingly, directly opposite my position, the rising sun was highlighting what looked like a small sandy cove and I made a quick mental note as I worked my camera.
Leaving Rock, I moved on a few miles up the coast to Port Quin, a pretty little natural harbour that's overseen by the National Trust. I climbed up the cliff path leading to the rocks that cluster around the harbour's neck and checked out prospective shooting positions. I found a few but unfortunately, stubborn banks of flat grey cloud moved in to hang directly overhead. In obscuring the sunshine that was a vital ingredient of the panoramic image I was hoping for they persisted to torment my efforts. In such a situation, I give it a chance and then cut and run, as it's easy to waste a morning. Once again, flexibility and adaption are key. So back in the car I revised my itinerary and, looking at the map, I decided to check out what the map told me was Hawkers Cove, the small bay I'd seen on the opposite side of Padstow Bay.
Good move! For this turned out to be a lovely setting. From here, the clouds that had tormented my efforts at Port Quin, became the element of interest as their reflections lit the wet sand. It would also be a promising future location to capture a sun rise. Something that's not easy on the north coast. After a good spell there I went back to the car and put 'Trevose Head' into the sat nav. This large promontory overlooks the popular surf beach of Constantine Bay. I spent most of the afternoon at the foot of cliffs hoping to get some big surf crashing on barnacled rocks but the waves were not as large as they had been the previous day and were a little disappointing. However, once again I'd found a new location and made a note for a return visit when the conditions were right.
I think this is a key objective when advancing your serious passion for photography to a business footing. You have to be flexible in working with the prevailing weather conditions. Able to correlate such key factors as time of day, tide-times and influences such as seasonal sun positioning and foliage state. Then, referencing your local knowledge, you can hopefully maximise your time in exactly the right place at precisely the right time. That's why building a bank of locational knowledge is important.
As it was, the sea was driving up the coast and the cloud was breaking, so I decided to head back to Hayle Bay and the rocks at New Polzeath. The previous night had seen mist and drizzle sweep in to frustrate me. Even under the canopy of my large fishing umbrella, using a slot-in filter system saw the drizzle spoiling a number of shots while cloud had obscured the sunset. Yet my return saw near perfect conditions and produced some good shots.
However, the best was left to last. Day three saw me up and about early. After spending dawn on Daymer Bay and then taking a walk along the Camel estuary by Wadebridge, I headed for Pentire Steps. And this turned out to be a truly magical setting that immediately ranked alongside my top Cornish locations.
Leaving the car, a tricky, winding track leads from a farm to the crested towering cliffs that overlook sweeping stretches of pristine beach. Suddenly the path drops off the edge and zig-zags down a precarious cliff face. It's not for the faint-hearted but with huge rocky outcrops, caves and a host of interesting aspects, I could immediately see shooting here would be a joy. I'd planned to spend my afternoon here and as it turned out, this was a very good move. As the light conditions changed, so I got a whole host of alternative shots that culminated in a set of simply breath-taking sunset shots that are amongst my favourite images.
You can see a selection of my shots taken on this trip in the North Cornwall gallery of my portfolio. I hope they illuminate the text of this blog and show the result of my approach to photographing new locations.