Pic 1 St Anthony’s lighthouse from a low angle

I couldn’t help it, as I leaned over the side where the water lapped at my fingers and threatening to ruin my camera I had the tune in my head.

“Work your cares away

Dancing for another day

Let the Fragles play

Down in Fraggle rock,”

They are the only words of the song I could remember from childhood, but as I stared up at Fraggle Rock Lighthouse the words circled my mind. It’s not really called Fraggle Rock Lighthouse of course. It’s real name is St Anthony’s Lighthouse, but it was the setting for Jim Henson’s   1980s series and although it’s been protecting shipping coming in and out of Falmouth harbour since 1835, it will forever be known, I think for it’s TV name.

It’s one of those places that’s been photographed over and over, but I was hoping to get a different perspective on it because I was on a boat. I’d chartered Obsession, a personal charter boat run by specialised charters out of the Lizard. I’d chosen to do a day’s photography in the River Fal Estuary and we started off with the most prominent feature – the lighthouse.

The Fal Estuary is a strange body of water that lances deep water into the Cornish countryside. Starting at the mouth we travelled inland past King Harry’ Reach and its famous ferry, and on up to see if there were any old container ships waiting at Tolverne where General Eisenhower saw his troops leave for the D-Day invasion of Normandy in 1945.

The journey started though with me dangling over the side of Obsession, a Warrior 165 hardboat. She’s a fairly stable platform, but on the water a tripod is next to useless, so I made use of the additional ISOs provided by my camera and was able to get a decent shutter speed and aperture rating. If I did this on film, I’d be in high grain territory to get the speed and aperture setting I needed.

I wanted a low angle to accentuate the fact I was on the water and managed to get a beautiful shot that you never see of the lighthouse (see pic 1). I couldn’t see through the viewfinder of course, but I employed a Zigview to enable me to hold the camera away from my face and still get the framing. Several cameras these days have flip out screens, which make this kind of photography much easier. I often wonder why not that many utilise this technique. Low angles provide such a dramatic look to a picture and are easy to produce. On a boat though I had to be careful not to get too close to the water.

From St Anthony’s Head, we headed to St Maws that sits on the Roseland Peninsula. It took just a few minutes by boat, but would have taken a good half hour by road.

Sailing barque in front of St Maws Castle

At the mouth of the harbour, just in front of the famous fort built by Henry VIII was a stunning sailing barque. It’s white sails, luminous in the lowering sunlight, were held out just a little by the light breeze. It wasn’t a good day for sailing, but it was for photography as the barque and castle made a lovely monochrome image (pic 2).

From St Maws we headed inland down the River Fal. We passed the popular Pendennis Castle on the other side of the river to St Mawes and carried on towards the Old Harry Ferry where the river narrows, but it doesn’t get shallow. Deep water cuts several miles into Cornwall here providing a very safe anchorage for old ocean leviathans.

An old container ship ready for the scrap yard lies at anchor

As we neared the Ferry, I could see the stern of a massive container ship (pic 3). It dwarfed the yachts and kayaks that were out enjoying the sheltered waters afforded by the estuary. This is one of the few places in the world where such huge ships can come and lie up when not in use.

The best view of the vessel was against the sun, so I used a grey graduated filter to bring back detail in the sky, while I had to over expose slightly to compensate for the back lighting.

Just after the start of the recession, there were a half dozen ships here. Only one was left on my visit, but in the growing economic uncertainly more of the older ships are being either mothballed or held here while their owners try and find work for them. So they come and go and if you get the opportunity to get here, its worth the visit.

The Windsor Castle looking pristine at Tolverne

The vessels dwarf anything else on the water and look so out of place in a setting so lush that it could be a tributary of the Amazon. One vessel the container ship didn’t dwarf though was the immaculately maintained Windsor Castle (pic 4), an old Northern Lighthouse tender which was sold to a private investment company in 2000. She has been moored opposite the popular Smugglers Cottage at Tolverne for several years, but in the 1960s and 70s used to ply the tough seas off northern England and Scotland delivering supplies to the manned lighthouses. She’s a pretty ship and has become almost as popular a tourist attraction as the pretty Smugglers Cottage (pic 5).

Smugglers Cottage is a popular tourist spot at Tolverne where the US D-Day troops left UK shores

The ancient house is now a cafe, restaurant and is busy with yachties and people brave enough to drive down Cornwall’s famously narrow lanes. In 1945 though it was the setting for an invasion force and the concrete slipway is still there where General Eisenhower watched his soldiers depart for Europe. It’s a peaceful scene now, much like the rest of the Fal river system.

Branching off the main channel are a cornucopia of creeks, which seem like they are in the middle of nowhere, but are in fact just a few miles from Falmouth itself. I’d seen some rustic boat hunts from my time spent exploring the shoreline on previous visits in some of these creeks and luckily  Andy, Obsession’s skipper, knew exactly the sort of thing I was looking for.

We wound our way passed overturned tree roots, and into a creek system where I expected to hear the sounds of banjoes being carried on the wind. This is where we found what could optimistically be called a rustic boat shed. Most people would call it a broken down shack, but it made an excellent photographic subject. (pic 6).

An old broken boat shed creates a beautiful monochrome image

As the light faded, we made our way back into Falmouth and as I checked the images on the camera I was thinking of ways of making them even more special. I selected a few to make into monochrome (see monochrome) and a couple more to enhance to create a bit more grit and reality to them. Modern camera results are a bit too polished for my liking, so I like to tweak the images a little to put back the imperfections of older cameras (See gritting it up).

It also gave me chance to contemplate the benefits of using a boat for a photography trip. Getting to places around the coast quickly is a bonus. It would easily take twice as long in a car. I didn’t have to park and walk along muddy and slippery tracks to reach my subjects. And most importantly, I could photograph popular landmarks in a different way; from a different angle and in different light. I loved it and will be looking for an excuse to go back and try somewhere else next time. Perhaps Lizard Point.

INFORMATION

Monochrome

Monochrome or Black & White isn’t just a way of jazzing up poor pictures. Only a picture worthy of being Black & White is able to really work, so look for an image with all the qualities of a good colour picture first – correct focus, good composition and proper exposure. Next look at the tonal range of the picture overall. I either like a low contrast so a picture that forms mostly the same tone when the colour is removed, or a high contrast image where, once the colour is gone, you are left with good detail, but mostly black and white.

The picture of St Anthony’s Lighthouse for example is a high contrast image. The white of the lighthouse contrasts well against the dark blue of the sea and the dark greens of the land.

The Smugglers Cottage on the other hand is low contrast as the greens and blues all melt into one when in monochrome.

I use Aperture and create the picture using the Monochrome mixer facility. I play with the sliders until I achieve almost my desired results and then swap to Photoshop.

In photoshop I beef up the contrast even more until I see good shadows and a desired selection of greys. It may take me some time to get it right just like Ansel Adams working hard in his darkroom to achieve his final result.

Fact File

Obsession is run by Specialised Charters out of the Lizard. It can be launched from various locations depending on what you want and the weather conditions. It is suitable for two people who can split the charter cost, and comes with an experienced skipper (you can also catch your supper if you like). For full details see: www.specialisedcharters.co.uk

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