Cornwall and a bit of Dorset

The latest of my trips with veteran photographer and workshop leader Tom Mackie was to Cornwall. Cornwall sits in the far South West and is two counties away from my home of Dorset, so is pretty much just down the road. It is known for its rugged coastline and balmy weather, and includes a number of well known destinations such as Lands End, Port Issac, St Michael’s Mount and many more. I was joined by some old friends, including Mike and Ed who I took to have a quick look round Dorset at the end of the workshop, as well as some new faces.

This was also my first proper go with my shiny new Nikon D850, which I bought to replace my trusty D4. The D4 had served me incredibly well and taken more than its fair share of knocks (read my earlier blogs and you’ll see what I mean), but since I was not doing Sports as much anymore and doing more Landscape, something with a slightly slower shooting rate but much better megapixel count seemed like a good call (I know its not all about the pixels blah blah, but this was a big jump!).

Part 1 – Cornwall

It was the end of April 2018 and we stayed mostly on the South coast during our mini photo tour of Cornwall. We were staying in Penzance which gave us quick access to some of the best sights, but Cornwall is a big place and there was a lot we simply did not have time to do. The first photo that I ended up happy with I completely forgot the location of, I just know it was somewhere between Cadgwith and Gunwalloe, on the South coast. Answers on a postcard (or in the comments) please.

Coastline on the South Coast of Cornwall. 30s @ f11. ISO 100.

We pulled in to this spot and had to scramble around to find a reasonable position to shoot from. I eventually settled on this view looking down the cliffs to accentuate its ruggedness and bring out some patterns in the waves below.

Later on we headed to a cove known as Dollar Cove, named such as it is said that coins from the wreck of a Spanish ship still wash up on this beach after storms. No coins but we did get a lovely view of the cove with fluffy clouds overhead.

Dollar Cove. 30s @ f11. ISO 64.

I particularly like the contrast between the sharpness of the rocky outcrop in the foreground and the softness in the misty water (achieved with a long exposure) and the fluffy, slightly streaking clouds. The colours really popped as well which I’ll claim is because of my excellent shooting and post processing…

For sunset we headed to a very well known spot just down the road from where we were staying. St Michael’s Mount is a tidal island, meaning it connects back up with the mainland and can be accessed on foot depending on the tide. At the top sits a castle and chapel dating back to the 15th century. A popular shot of this involves waiting for the tide to recede, which reveals a causeway connecting the island to the mainland, and using that as a leading line up to the mount. At the time we were there the tide was well and truly in, so I found a little tide pool on the rocky shoreline and aimed for a reflection.

St. Michael’s Mount. 30s @ f9. ISO 200.

The light from the sunset never really materialised and a lack of clouds didn’t help either. The reflection wasn’t quite where I wanted it either, but short of getting lower and losing most of the tide pool this was the best I was getting. There is one nice puff of cloud just over the castle, which is also nicely reflected in the pool, so overall it was a surprisingly good result.

The next day, after an unsuccessful sunrise at nearby Mousehole we headed to the coast at Pendeen Watch Lighthouse and I had a chance to try my newly learned Focus Stacking techniques. The previous day Tom had taken me through how to use the focus stack feature of the D850 so I went and put it to use. I found some budding flowers and used them as a simple foreground to the coastline below. This particular show I originally discarded, but came back to and went to see what Photoshop could do with the stacking. It did an admirable job, but struggled with the gaps between the flowers, resulting in out of focus bits between them. I started manually correcting the mask when I remembered people raving about Zerene Stacker, a specialist bit of stacking software. I grabbed the free trial, tried a few bits and came out with a much better result. The only issue I had was the clouds, since I used a long exposure (not entirely recommended for focus stacking!) it had no idea what to do with the clouds, so there had to be manually brought back in. I’m sure there are options I could have used to improve it, but I was running out of free trial…

Flowers by the coast at Pendeen Watch. 6 images focus stacked in Zerene Stacker.

With that done, we headed to Lands End for sunset. Lands End (unsuprisingly) marks the end of the British Mainland, so its quite a tourist attraction. It also happens to have a nice group of islands, including a arch called Enys Dodnan Arch. It was windy on the clifftop, but once the sun started setting we got some nice colours and a reflected sun just before it dipped below some far away clouds.

Enys Dodnan Arch, Lands End. 20s @ f11. ISO 100.

With Lands End under our belts, the next day we headed to Kynance Cove, a beautiful natural cove dotted with rocky outcrops and perfect white beach. We scrambled up a nearby hill and set up with a beautiful view in front of us. We were lucky in that the beach was nearly deserted as well, meaning no people to try photoshopping out.

Kynance Cove. Panorama

By fluke I managed to capture an interesting cloud coming across that looked to me like a giant butterfly in the next photo.

Sadly the rest of the day was less successful, with a daytime trip back to St Michael’s Mount and a sunset in a rocky beach called Porth Nanven that smelled of death both not producing anything particularly worthwhile. This shot of the beach was the best I could come up with. I did have fun doing an 80 second exposure and got a visit from a friendly dog. So not a complete waste of time.

Porth Nanven. 80s @ f8. ISO 125.

The next morning we headed back to Mouehole hoping for slightly better light, and I got a reasonably nice one of the port just as the sun starting hitting the houses.

Mousehole. 1/13s @ f9. ISO 80

Our next stop that day was Glendurgan Garden, a National Trust owned garden famed for its variety of trees and flowers, bluebells and even a hedge maze. There weren’t a huge amount of bluebells out, so instead I tried to pretend there was by capturing one in isolation using my 200mm lens to really throw the focus out everywhere else.

Bluebell at Glendurgan Garden. 1/400s @ f2.8. ISO 200.

Following the trails around the garden eventually leads you to a great viewpoint looking down on the hedge maze. There was only space for one photographer at a time, but the patterns that this viewpoint gave you were worth it. The thatched summerhouse that acts as the centre of the maze made a great focal point.

Maze at Glendurgan Garden. 1/40s @ f8. ISO 200.

Maze at Glendurgan Garden. 1/10s @ f8. ISO 200.

Again the 200mm lens was used to compress the perspective and provide a better crop than a wider lens would have. We were also very lucky with the lack of people in the maze, later on the day it was much busier and some creative cropping and photoshop magic would have to have been used.

Being a popular garden, the local wildlife were very used to people. So much that this Robin kept buzzing us, so I decided to get my 200mm lens back on and pretend to be a wildlife photographer briefly. Not that Robins are the hardest birds to photograph in the world.

Robin. 1/250s @ f4. ISO 200.

I like the curiosity in his expressing in this shot, as well as the slightly more intesting colours in the background. The next shot shows off the puffy chest so recognisable in Robins.


Robin. 1/200s @ f2.8. ISO 320.

The next day we headed north to St Nectans Glen, which is an area of woodland with a number of waterfalls and trails. A decent hike eventually led us to the main site, which sits behind a paid barrier. On the plus side you could hire wellington boots, which came in handy when we got to the main attraction. St Nectan’s Kieve is a plunge pool with a 60 foot waterfall that cuts through a hole in the rocks. To get the angle we needed required a bit of wading and some very careful placing of the tripod, but eventually I got into a semi comfortable squat with a great view of the cascade and the hole in the rock.

Waterfall at St. Nectan’s Kieve. 1s @ f11. ISO 100

I used a 1 second shutter speed to retain some movement in the water and add to the patterns in the foreground water. The greens of the mossy rocks contrast nicely with the stark white of the water. The original version of this included some sky, but it was slightly burnt out and provided nothing additional to the photo, so it got cropped out.

This little haven made us forget how windy it was outside of the protection of this natural shelter, and our sunset trip to the coast resulted in me getting nothing but blur from the brutal winds. Even the best tripods were struggling. It was a nice walk along the coastline though.

Our last day started with a trip to Lanhydrock, a National Trust property containing a large stately home and impressive surrounding gardens and woodland. Our main focus was to get the bluebells in the woods and, although there were plenty of them, I was utterly uninspired by what I saw. My fellow photographers were able to get some lovely shots, but everywhere I looked I just couldn’t see anything that got me interested.

So with that unsuccessful trip over it was time for the last location. The Cheesewring is a granite Tor located in the village of Minions. It consists of a pile of granite rocks stacked seemingly the wrong way round, with the largest at the top and the smallest at the bottom. It is a natural formation created through weathering, although it looks anything but natural. The Tor itself didn’t afford much interest photographically, but just across from it was an outcrop weathered in a similar way, and it happened to face the sunset quite nicely as well.

After a decent hike to get there we feared the weather wasn’t going to be on our side, as we had nothing but grey skies overhead, but just as we were thinking it would be hopeless, the clouds started parting giving us some great colours and patterns.

Tom on rocks at the Cheesewring. 1/15s @ f11. ISO 100

We got Tom to go and give us his best Rocky pose, which worked nicely against the colourful sky. Once Tom was out of the way, a nearby sheep decided it wanted to get in on the action as well, just as the sunset was dipping below the horizon and giving us one final farewell.

Sheep on the rocks at Cheesewring. 1/6s @ f11. ISO 100

And that was the end of the Cornwall trip. It was another workshop of good friends, great locations and lots of learning. This was also the first time I didn’t lose or break anything on a workshop, so that was a win. It was now time to head back to Dorset, and in tow I had Mike and Ed, who I was hoping to show some of the best of Dorset to.

Part 2 – Dorset

Not it was time to head back to my home county of Dorset with Mike and Ed. We had a few days to try and cover some of the classics, as well as some more hidden away finds.

Durdle Door. HDR @ f8

Any photographer who comes to Dorset is bound to come to Durdle Door. This natural arch is one of the highlights of the Jurassic Coast and attracts visitors from all over the world. This particular evening was mercifully quiet (we came back later in the week and there were people EVERYWHERE), although the sky didn’t quite light up as much as we would have liked. The isle of Portland can be seen in the distance above the arch.

The next day was a scorcher, with perfect blue skies and bright sunshine, which did not lend itself to nice photos. We headed to Old Harry’s Rocks, a set of chalk stacks on the isle of Purbeck in the South East and, although it’s a lovely spot, left feeling a little uninspired by the blank blue sky. Sometimes you just need a smidge of something in the sky to make it more interesting. No matter, later that evening we headed to Portland Bill, a working lighthouse on the Isle of Portland. This is another classic photo spot, with the craggy rocks contrasting nicely with the smooth red and white stripes of the lighthouse itself.

Portland Bill Lighthouse. 8s @ f8. ISO 80

Again, not much interest in the sky, but we got a bit of colour from the sunset hitting the sides of the lighthouse and the green of the seaweed in the foreground popped quite nicely.

The next day was another perfect blue sky day. We toured around the north parts of Dorset, visiting a few spots and trying to find something that the harsh sunlight wouldn’t ruin. I didn’t have much success, but that evening we came back to Gold Hill in Shaftesbury. Gold Hill is a steep cobbled street that is most famed for its use in the Hovis advert ‘Boy on the Bike’ that aired back in 1973 and was directed by Ridley Scott (yes, that Ridley Scott).

Gold Hill, SHaftesbury. HDR @ f8.

We waited atop the hill for quite a while for the sun to kiss the top of the houses. I used small amount of bracketing and combined them into a HDR to bring up the landscape in the background a bit better.

The next morning was the final morning, so we planned one final hurrah and a very early morning shoot at Swanage Pier. Swanage sits in the south east of Dorset, and it’s old broken pier is a regular spot for people to photograph. We headed down at stupid o’clock in the morning, only to be greeted with construction works blocking access to the new pier which you would ordinarily shoot from. That wasn’t going to stop us though, so we worked our way round a footpath to the side and found a small beach (that said it was private for a boating club, but shhhh) that have us a good view of some of the remnants of the pier sticking out of the water.

Old Swanage Pier. 60s @ f11. ISO 100

We needed to use our longer lenses to reach the pier, but this had the nice effect of collapsing the perspective a bit. The first touches of morning sunrise created some nice colours and striping in the water, in stark contrast the sharp wooden structures sticking out of them.

Just as the sun had started rising we spotted a sailboat in the distance that looked like it would cross perfectly. We all hurried to get our cameras set up and in position for its passing, and eventually it drifted nicely across.

Sailboat at Swanage Pier. 1/80s @ f11. ISO 100.

This was a nice ending to a quite challenging couple of days in Dorset. It’s not enough we complain about the weather being too good, but with the scorching temperatures (by English standards) and featureless blue sky, this was one of those rare occasions.

So another workshop (plus a bit of Dorset) was over, and it was back to the grindstone, but I was left with another nice batch of photos, a few more techniques under my belt and more great memories.

Lofoten Islands – Week 2

This is part 2 about my time in the Lofoten Islands, Norway, on another Tom Mackie workshop. Read the previous post about week 1.

Day 7 – Sunrise over Sakrisøy, Sunset over a shed.

Day 7 heralded our last day with Tom and our last day in Sakrisøy before we headed out on our own further north. It started with a trek up the hill out the back of our cabins for sunrise. With a bit of scrabbling and sliding we eventually got set up in a prime spot overlooking Sakrisøy, then we waited for the magic light. For a moment it looked like the clouds were going to scupper us again, but soon enough it cleared.

Sakrisøy Sunrise. Panorama. 10s @ f9. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

I chose to again use the Lee Filters stoppers (can’t remember which one, probably little) to get a slower shutter speed and smooth out the water, which had the added benefit of showing off a lovely mix of colours in the water which would have been lost in the slightly choppy surface. The island on the right of the picture is Sakrisøy, in fact, the very cabins that we were staying in were the ones to the right of the white building on the near shore.

After scrambling (read: falling) back down the hill we packed our things and left Sakrisøy. We ventured north to our new home in the fishing town of Ballstad, then continued north on the E10 to reach the Lofoten Tourist Centre. We weren’t there to go inside and have a coffee though, we’d just spotted a damn near perfect reflection in Steirapollen Lake at the side of the road. And what photographer can say no to a good reflection (I soon learned the answer, none).

Mountain reflections, Steirapollen Lake. Panorama. 1/320s @ f9. ISO 50, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 16mm

The shape of this particular mountain range led itself to a bit of creative zooming, as well as using my artistic licence to flip the image.

Arrowhead mountain, Steirapollen Lake. 1/200s @ f8. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 27mm

And voila, an arrowhead! I think flipping the image helped make it obvious what I wanted you to see, with the arrow going the standard from left to right, but maybe I’m wrong, let me know either way in the comments!

And it was with this last stop that we said goodbye to our tutor and friend Tom. He was off to take on another workshop whilst we struck out on our own. 5 of us in a Skoda Octavia. It was, uhrm, cosy. Well, it was for the mugs in the back anyway…

Before heading back home there was just time to find somewhere for sunset. With a bit of driving we came across a nice little shed by the water. The main attraction was actually a mountain in the distance, but the light never really caught it, so I got a nice sky, a nice colourful reflection in the water and a shed. What? Not every photo can be of some beautiful mountain ranges!

Red shed sunset. HDR @ f8. ISO 125, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 70mm

I did a bit of minor HDR’ing using the Nik Collection to bring out the very dark shed a bit more whilst still getting the great colours of the sky and the water.

Day 8 – Another Aurora! And a smashed lens.

We were on for another Aurora, so headed to Uttakleiv beach, a popular spot on the east coast north of the ‘capital’ Leknes. After scrambling down to the rocky shore with just the red light from my head torch (didn’t want wreck anyones shot if I accidentally pointed it at them) and saying hi to Tom and his new group of workshoppers who happened to be there as well the light show started. Just. It was pretty faint but with a bit of good timing we still managed to pull off some decent, if not exactly award winning, shots.

Aurora at Uttakleiv. 6s @ f2.8. IS) 800, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 14mm
Aurora at Uttakleiv. 6s @ f2.8. IS) 800, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 14mm

After a few hours here we decided to head back to Ballstad at about midnight. We got through the tunnel and saw the lights start to appear behind us again, needless to say we swung in to the next pull in, hopped over the railings and got the cameras out.

Touch of Aurora. 8s @ f2.8. ISO 640, Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 @ 20mm

The shape of this particular aurora seemed to bend itself quite nicely over the mountain, which I emphasised by cropping down to a square format image. The strong moon lit up the mountain and cast a nice reflection in the water with a relatively low ISO of only 640 and a shutter speed of 9 seconds. Sadly this was to be my last photo taken with my trusty Nikkor 14-24mm f2.8 Wideangle. For this trip I’d bought a new Tripod, a ‘3 Legged Thing’. It was super light and strong enough for most (but not quite all) conditions we faced so far. Problem was I hadn’t got used to the screw tight release plate on the ball head that I got with it, as I had only ever had heads with quick release plates. The screw in plate is fine as long as you are not trying to determine if it’s tight through gloves whist tired. I hadn’t screwed my camera on tightly enough and picked up the tripod to move just a few feet when the whole plate, with camera attached, slipped off and crashed from 6 feet onto the rocks below.

I almost cried.

Any other camera at this point would have been ruined, and that would have been my photography for the rest of the week over. Luckily I use a Nikon D4, which is certified grizzly bear proof, and apart from a few scratches and a small bit of plastic dislodged in the eyepiece (which I don’t even notice anymore) it was in perfect working order.

The lens was not so lucky. In the dark it looked like it survived, it was only when I tried to focus it I noticed a problem. Turns out the metal part at the rear of the lens, the bit that keeps all the important bits together, had bent a bit out of shape.

So that was done for, but luckily I only had a few more days left. Even more luckily home contents insurance covered a full replacement for it, so I had a shiny new one within a couple weeks of getting home.

Day 9 – Ballstad, stuck French tourists and more red cabins.

Another morning, another glorious sunrise, this time just two minutes around the corner from our base at Ballstad. Mike did a little recee the previous morning whilst I was still in bed and found us a nice spot with some yellow (not red!) cabins. When we first turned up it was snowing and cloudy, so we started heading back, but then all of a sudden the weather cleared. We swung a quick 180 and set up again. The far shore in this photo is where we were staying.

Yellow cabins at Ballstad, 10s @ f8. ISO 64, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 26mm

Whilst here we were visited by a friendly local who took a quick photo of us, he said this was the view he woke up to every morning. Couldn’t help but feel a little envious, but being able to capture it was good enough!

We then headed on a bit of an adventure north to Henningsvær, a fishing village nestled in a bunch of islands on the south coast of Austvågøya. It was a great drive along the coast, taking in many classic Lofoten sights along the way, including the obligatory tourist in a totally inappropriate vehicle spun out and stuck in a snowy verge. After being all heroic and pushing the little Citreon without studded tyres back on to the road we carried on and came across a great little iced up lake overlooked by mountains and (you guessed it) little red cabins.

Red cabins across the ice, 1/50s @ f8. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 35mm

The clouds meant timing was everything to try and get some decent light on the mountains. There was also a fairly strong wind that was whipping up the icy, sharp snow all around us, giving us a lovely case of windburn. Being right by the lake I also made the mistake of leaving one of my tripod legs slightly in the water, resulting in it freezing up a treat, but after wrapping it up in my buff and gloves and sticking it in the back of the car it soon sorted itself out.

A little further on we came across another little red cabin (well, more of a shed this time) stuck out in the middle of an inlet on its own. Naturally we pulled in and got shooting.

Isolation, 8s @ f9. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 27mm

I shot this one portrait to try and make it seem even more isolated and to capture the big sky we had overhead. I was a little disappointed by the sea in this one, it ended up just looking a bit messy rather than smooth. The telegraph pole on the left hand side is also a wee bit distracting, but I could get rid of that if I work on my Photoshop skills a bit more.

We did eventually make it to Henningsvær and, although its a wonderful place I didn’t really get any decent photos. Just goes to show that the best stuff can sometimes come from the most unlikely sources, in this case the random spots we came across on our way.

Day 10 – Frozen sand, surfs up, and my last day of shooting

The day started with a trip to Haukland beach. We were the only ones on this white sandy beach that looked like it should have been somewhere in the Mediterranean, if it weren’t for the snowy mountains that surrounded it and the fact that you could pick up the sand in icy sheets and smash it.

Touch of sunrise, 1/8s @ f8. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

The little inlet we hopped over in the foreground leads the eye quite nicely to the mountains in the backgrounds which just got touched with sun at the top, making it look almost fake.

Sunrise done we headed back home, then to the bay at Unstad, but not before stopping the side of the road for a quick church shot.

Buksnes church, Gravdal, 1/1250s @ f8. ISO 250, Nikkor 70-200mm f2.8 @ 195mm

This was pretty much the first time I got to use my favourite 70-200mm lens. Naturally, landscape doesn’t often lend itself to telephoto shots, but occasionally it can be good not only for capturing things a bit too far away, but also for compressing the perspective or simply removing unwanted distractions.

Unstad is a small village on the western coast of Vestvagoy island. Its beach is apparently famed for its surfer friendly waves, unsurprisingly there were none there on this day, just one other pair of German photographers.

Misty rocks, Unstad, 30s @ f9. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 44mm

I used a 30 second exposure to completely kill off any movement in the waves and turn it to mist. I particularly like the contrast between the dark rocks and the white, misty sea, especially in the middle distance. The sky was a welcome surprise as well with a touch of streakiness in the clouds.

Just for good measure we headed back to Uttakliev beach one last time, and I ended up with a shot that I still, after 5 months, can’t decide if I like or not.

Rushing sea, Uttakliev beach, 4s @ f11. ISO 100, Nikkor 24-70mm f2.8 @ 24mm

I like the movement in the waves in the foreground, captured using a fairly slow 4 second exposure whilst the tide was receding. I also like the clouds coming off the mountain in the rop left that almost make it look like the mountain is on fire. But there’s something about the image I don’t like which I haven’t figured out yet. Lack of a real subject, or possibly the overly bright centre portion (which I could fix). Or something else.

That was to be the last day of shooting, the next day we got up early and headed home, this time with me taking the little prop plane hop back to Bodo. So much quicker than the ferry. I was sad to be leaving this stunning place and parting ways with my newly acquired friends, but at the same time I was quite happy to be heading home. On the last day there came a point where everyone else was shooting something, and I just didn’t have the energy anymore, so sat atop a hill just looking at the view instead. It was bliss. Its something you don’t often get a chance to do when trying to capture the scene. There’s no doubt that going to these places with a camera helps me appreciate the scenes in front of me more and take time to really get to know it, but at the same time it was lovely to put the camera down and just sit watching the view.

Yet again this was an experience I’ll never forget, and it was made so much better with the brilliant support of my fellow photographers, who not only helped me enormously in the photographic department but were the best little team of people I could have wished to have been with. And with the exception of one broken lens, it was a largely successful trip, with plenty learnt and lots of photos to treasure, I even ended up putting a bunch of them up (along with some of my shots from Iceland the previous year) on my wall.

Thanks for reading, if you enjoyed the blog or fancy commenting on any of these shots please just give me a shout in the comments, or you can find me on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.