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Photography tips: details

When you're in a beautiful location like Cornwall, it's tempting to be seduced by the dramatic seascapes and far-reaching views; the glittering bays and mighty sea cliffs. But as a photographer, it often pays to look for the details; the small wonders. Whether it's a weather-beaten piece of driftwood, an intriguing rock formation or a dramatic plant structure, there are often rewarding patterns and abstracts to be photographed right at your feet.

The photograph above is a close-up of an aoenium plant (a type of succulent) that is found throughout Cornwall. A really good place to photograph them is Trebah Gardens, but I found this one in the fishing village of Mousehole on the Penwith Peninsula. The water droplets are actually rain drops. This was taken on a drizzly, misty day when opportunities for wider landscape photographs were limited.


TIP No.1: When the weather is overcast or wet, look for the details. Pop a 50mm standard lens or a macro lens on your camera and go hunting for patterns and abstracts. When looking for details, it's often textures or patterns that will catch your eye. Wood, stones, leaves... all are full of potential. This photograph shows a line of pebbles snagged between the timbers of a wooden groyne. The pattern of grain in the two pieces of wood is as important as the trapped pebbles, so I chose to frame this close-up with a 50:50 composition, rather than applying the rule of thirds. It is, in effect, a pebble sandwich!


This photograph, on the other hand, is treated more like a traditional landscape, with a strong vertical element placed off-centre, or roughly a third of the way into the composition. This is a close-up of peeling paint on an old weathered bench at Mullion Cove on the Lizard Peninsula. I love the colour and texture, but without a strong composition it might have resulted in a cluttered, confusing image.

TIP No.2: Think carefully about composition. Sometimes the rule of thirds (often used in landscape photography) can be just as effective in close-ups or abstracts. It's almost as if you are creating a surreal landscape in miniature. But also think about breaking the rules and using really bold compositions, with the main subject dead-centre.


There's beauty in the detail! Spend a few minutes staring at a Cornish dry-stone wall and you will discover all kinds of photographic opportunities. I loved the way, for example, that this tiny fern (below) was growing from the cracks of a wall on Bodmin Moor.

TIP No.3: Try to use a tripod. Firstly, it makes you slow down and go through the process of adjusting the position of your camera so that you frame your close-up with the attention it deserves (avoiding distracting elements or a weak composition). Secondly, it allows you to shoot with a small aperture (f16 and above) and slow shutter speed to achieve adequate depth of field.


As well as pattern and texture, colour can play an important role in photographing close-ups and abstracts. In Cornwall, you will often come across clifftops or stone walls that seem to have been drizzled with bright yellow lichen. On some areas of clifftop, such as near Lizard Point, you will find swathes of yellow and gold succulent plants during late summer, while thrift (or sea pink) adds bright splashes of colour during May and June – Pentire Head and Bedruthan Steps on the North Cornwall coast are good spots for this.

TIP No.4: Use colour carefully. Try to restrict your palette (just focussing on sulphur-yellow lichen for example) and aim to juxtapose it against a neutral background. This works effectively in the image below of fishing buoys hanging on an old weather-beaten wall. The bright red floats really stand out.


Join me on a photography workshop in Cornwall. I'll take you to little-known coves and iconic viewpoints, ensuring you're in the right place at the right time to capture stunning seascapes, amazing clifftop scenery and often-overlooked coastal details.

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