Take better photos, St Michael’s Mount, Cornwall

Head to a well-loved landmark with your camera, and improve your landscape photography with these tips

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When out walking and exploring, taking photos is a great way to permanently capture the fun you’ve had and the places you’ve seen – an everlasting memento of a great day out. While there is something very satisfying about taking a beautiful picture, it can be difficult to take good quality shots.

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How often have you thought you’d captured a great masterpiece, only to find the photo is blurred or wonky when you later download and view it on your computer? The truth is, taking good photos isn’t easy.

So, improving your landscape photography is a fantastic New Year’s resolution, as with just a few basic tips and pointers, you can quickly transform average snaps into great photos.

In the UK, there is certainly no shortage of great scenery and iconic landmarks to visit in order to hone your photographic skills. Wherever you decide to go, look online at images of the area beforehand – this will give you a few clues as to where
the best viewpoints are.

Cornwall is one of Britain’s most photogenic counties and St Michael’s Mount is arguably its most iconic and recognisable landmark – making it a great choice for a day out with your camera. Although now in the care of the National Trust, the mount is still home to the St Aubyn family, together with a small community. At low-tide, you
can reach this small, rocky island, crowned by a wonderfully photogenic church and castle, on foot by a narrow stone causeway. However, at high tide it is cut off from the mainland by the sea.

The mount is home to wonderful architecture, subtropical gardens and a wealth of history, but from a photographer’s perspective,
it is best shot from the beach
at Marazion. From here, you can walk along the golden sands and set up in various places to take photos. You can zoom in tight to photograph the castle, or go wide-angle to capture the mount in context with its coastal environment. The old stone causeway is a standout feature, great for taking photos. 

Light

If you wish to improve your photos, light is an important consideration – the majority of photos fail simply due to being taken at the wrong time of day. Midday light is often quite harsh and unflattering due to the sun’s intensity. Instead, early morning and late evening light – when the sun is lower and the light soft and warmer – are better times of day to take photos.

I set my alarm early, arrived at the mount around daybreak and started taking photos when the first rays of light reached the island. Take photos early or late in the day, and your images will look instantly better.

Camera shake

If a photographer moves while taking a photo, the shot can be ruined. To avoid blurry, shaky images, try resting your camera on a nearby rock or fence to help keep it steady.

If this isn’t practical, keep your elbows pressed tightly into your body and release the shutter in one smooth motion.

If you are using a camera which gives you control over shutter speed, select a speed of 1/125sec or greater and, if your camera or lens boasts image stabilising technology, make sure it is switched on. Better still, use a tripod. Being an SLR user, I always carry a tripod. I find that it not only guarantees sharp results, but it also slows down the picture taking process – allowing me more time to think about and refine the composition of my images. 

Composition

The composition you adopt will make or break your shot. Try remembering an easy compositional rule – called the rule of thirds. Imagine the image space divided into nine equal parts by two horizontal and two vertical lines. The points where the lines intersect are, compositionally, very powerful.

Therefore, by placing your main subject – for example, St Michael’s Mount – on or near one of these points, you will create a more balanced, stimulating composition overall. Equally, it is often best to place the horizon on a third – so that the composition is two-thirds land, one-third sky or vice versa.

Typically, this will create a much stronger composition than had you placed the horizon centrally. It can also be worthwhile including something of interest in your foreground to help create depth and scale – for example, a wall, river, rocks, fence, or footpath.

Avoid just quickly grabbing your camera and snapping away – take your time, think and position yourself carefully.

At St Michael’s Mount, the old stone causeway (right)makes ideal foreground interest, creating a nice ‘lead-in’ line to the island. There are also large boulders on the shore that make good foreground interest, and patterns in the sand. A low viewpoint can often work well – so don’t always simply take photos from head height; move about and try other perspectives.

Do so, and before you know it, you will be taking much better images – and not just during 2013, but for years to come.

Useful Information

USEFUL INFORMATION

HOW TO GET THERE

St Michael’s Mount is close to Penzance, ½ mile south of the A394 at Marazion. Direct trains run from London Paddington to Penzance station. A number of local transport services are available in Penzance.

FIND OUT MORE

www.nationaltrust.org.uk/st-michaels-mount

EAT

The Godolphin Arms

West End, Marazion
TR17 0EN

01736 710202

www.godolphinarms.co.uk
/food-drink/gig-bar-terrace

Traditional pub atmosphere, and a terrace with great views.

STAY

Mount Haven Hotel

Turnpike Road, Marazion,
Penzance TR17 0DQ

01736 710249

www.mounthaven.co.uk

Only a stone’s throw from the mount, this hotel is a great base for exploring Cornwall.

NEARBY

Mousehole

www.visitcornwall.com/destinations/mousehole

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One of Cornwall’s most picturesque harbours is
just across the bay.