Those of you that have not been to the UK may be most familiar with Cornwall through British TV dramas both period and contemporary. Of more current shows, both Poldark and Doc Martin are both set in the county.
The reason for this? It’s simply stunning as a location. Of course what is good for the TV crews is equally good for photographers as I found out on a recent trip.
Cornwall is one of the more remote places in England. While you can get there by public transport, you will be limited to bigger towns. The best way to explore the county is by car, in fact, to reach the remote villages a car is essential.
Trains can take you from London to Penzance and car hire is readily available. Accommodation is plentiful but can be expensive, especially during the UK school holidays from late June to early September. We were there in June and paid £49 ($65) per night for a beautiful Airbnb in a small village.
What To Shoot?
Where to start? Cornwall is chock full of incredible landscapes, seascapes, castles, beaches and towns. I will talk about a few of the locations we visited but beyond that, there is so much more to see.
The South Coast
One of our first shoots was at St Michaels Mount on the southern coast. This is the Cornish counterpart to the French Mont Saint-Michel, an island monastery linked to the mainland by a tidal causeway. It is photogenic from many angles, particularly from the beach and quays in Marazion, the village connected to the Mount.
During the morning twilight and dawn, the light is particularly beautiful on the light grey granite of the monastery buildings. Late in the day, the sun sets behind the Mount giving rise to great golden hour shots.
Not far from the Mount, south of Penzance is the beautiful fishing village of Mousehole, pronounced mousehole or mauzel depending on who you ask.
The harbour of this tiny port is chock full of colourful fishing boats while the quaysides are lined with 16th Century buildings. When the tide is out, a small beach is a great shooting point, getting a low down perspective on this stunning location.
The North Coast
If you have time, the north coast of Cornwall is worth several days on its own. Sadly we were time limited but managed to get the iconic fishing village of Port Isaac.
Fans of the TV drama Doc Martin will recognise this as the fictional Portwenn. It is a tiny village with narrow streets, and beautiful high cliffs and hills surrounding it, a landscape or seascape photographer’s dream.
There is one caveat to this though, you need to go early, not only to get the light but also as it becomes intolerably crowded during the day. We got there at 5 am to film and photograph the sun rising over the village but by 7 am tourists were already arriving in the town.
The rest of the north coast, however, is less touristy, and in some places very remote. Towering cliffs, with tiny coves and beaches, are the perfect locations for twilight seascapes. Indeed some of the UK’s most prominent landscape photographers made their names shooting Cornwall’s north coast.
As well as the tiny beaches, there are majestic sweeping beaches that would not look out of place in an Australian soap opera. Some of these beaches are among the world’s best for surfing and other sports. World championships are sometimes held in Cornwall making it a great location for the sports and action photographers as well.
Another place worth a mention for photography is the Eden Project. These vast botanical gardens feature biodomes, one of which houses the largest rainforest undercover. For fans of macro and horticultural photography, it's a must visit – the sheer wealth of plant-life available to capture is staggering. The setting itself, built into a disused quarry also makes for some impressive photos.
I could happily spend months exploring the photographic possibilities of Cornwall, probably without even scratching the surface. One consideration you have to make is the British weather. We were lucky enough to have arrived in the UK during an unprecedented summer of sunshine, but this will not always be the case.
That said, Cornwall, due to being the south-west extremity of the UK has it’s best and most benign weather. It is one of the few places where palm trees grow naturally and it has one of the highest rates of sunshine in the country.
Whatever your type of photography, there is a strong chance you will find something to shoot in this beautiful part of the world. Although its only 250 miles from London, it can feel very remote but also very peaceful.
Outside of school holidays, the crowds are less and the photographic possibilities are much more. For those willing to get up for the morning twilight, the rewards will be great indeed.