Blog #5 – My Favourite Seascape Images; Newquay

Out all the images I have shot there a few which remain my absolute favourites. Often this is for very similar reasons.

Although you can plan landscape photography shoots down to the smallest detail, these plans can often be thwarted by conditions on the day that are not what you had expected or anticipated or desired. This is when this type of photography can be very frustrating & annoying…

Therefore, personally speaking, the greatest satisfaction for me in acquiring an image of a location in a specific manner is derived from when all the weather & sea elements materialize in the way you had hoped for – because you know that ultimately, your free time to get out and shoot is limited – and most of the images here are examples of this occurring…

The list below is organised in ascending numerical order – so you need to scroll down to see what’s at number one!

10) Crantock Beach

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This image was shot on a hot summers day during July 2015 overlooking Crantock beach at low tide during a small swell (see swell lines in sea).

What I love about this image is the compositional element that makes the image – the rustic old wooden gate in the immediate foreground. I found this location while scouting the coast path area adjacent to the beach for more locations after starting out down on the beach – and could not resist taking a few shots to capture the view on this particular day

Although unremarkable overall for the presence of any individual or multiple factors that came together on the day, I still find myself going back to this time and again, for the simple reason of the gate in the foreground – personally, if it has a particular old world charm which perhaps resonates with the wider experience of a simple life by the sea in Cornwall, and that being one of the reasons many people choose to visit this beautiful County year after year…

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#9) Little Fistral – Summer morning

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This image was shot early one morning in summer along little fistral beach. It get in to the list at #10 on the strength of intense colour saturation which can often be a result of early morning or evening sun during spring and summer. Such colour saturation allows an image to have an instant ‘visual impact’ upon the eye. Just take a look for a second at the aqua colour sea, the bright whites of the near foreground water, the golden sand, the rocks glistening in the sun with the waters reflection. The overall composition aside, the elements serve to form an image that is highly photogenic. Finally, if know you little fistral at all, you will know this particular spot gets cut off at high tide and therefore is only accessibly on days with a small swell. This was one of those daya, and as written above, everything materialized to create the image I was hoping for.

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#8) Holywell Bay – autumn swell

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This image of Holywell was shot from the coast path looking back towards the beach. This composition only really work between spring & summer due the need for the sun to get high enough around 4pm in the afternoon (where it is in this image – see top right – not possible in winter). This was the case on this August day on which there was a decent sized swell, which is a rarity in summer, to provide the lines of white water in the foreground. A shutter speed of 1 second was used to slighty blur the moving water and accentuate the lines. This was still ‘slow’ enough to freeze the water spray hitting the rocks, and the white lines of water running down the rocks in the foreground – bottom left corner – which I feel really adds an extra dimension to the overall mood. The image also has high natural colour saturation due to the intensity of the sun on the day, making it pleasing to the eye along with some nice cloud formations.

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#7) Watergate Bay – spring time morning

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This composition overlooks Watergate Bay from the very far northern end of its beach (covered by the high tide here), and on to Newquay Bay in the far distance. It was shot in early April 2016 during a spell of high pressure, around 9am at high tide with a mid-sized 5 to 6 foot swell breaking in the mid distance.

I was pleased to achieve this composition because, as with the previous image of Holywell Bay it has limited time period of the year in which it is possible to shoot this image. Only between Spring & Summer does the sun rise high enough so as to not create large and highly un-photogenic shadows cast in to the sea from the coastal cliffs. It also rises early enough to permit shooting in this southwards direction (while also ensuring no cliff shadows) to ensure the both the sun does not encroach on the frame and that it is still at the required 90 degree angle in relation to the camera lens, to allow the lens mounted polarizing filter to provide the deep blue sky seen here, and also ensure that tone is evenly distributed across the sky (get the sun position wrong and you might have half the sky bright blue and half deep blue – which would be a bit of an inconvenience at best, and ruin your shoot at worst) shooting in this south-wards direction.

Finally, what makes this image really work for me is based on a compositional aid/ element that is always present – so it’s not a weather reliant feature – the huge rock in the immediate foreground acts as the entry point to the frame.

It also helps to create perspective – or a sense of three dimensions in a two dimensional space – the presence of such a large object so close to the frame in contact to the receding cliffs that get smaller and smaller the further back you go subconsciously tricks the eye in to interpreting a three dimensional space, because it processes the objects relative sizes and determined there must be a significant amount of space between them for the image for the perspective to exits. It may be an illusion or trick on the eye, but it works remarkably well. It is a tried and tested technique in landscape photography that goes well back – see my tutorial on perspective for further reading on this topic

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#6) Towan Headland

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This image was taken in September 2014 during an almost month long period of continuous warm weather and high pressure. I consider this image one of my best & certainly most satisfying: I waited all summer for the elements that contribute to this composition to come together at once on the same day. Firstly, the super spring low tide that occurred on this day was 0.1 metres – allowing you to view the black spots of the reefs and rocks submerged below the water surface. Secondly – a calm sea state & offshore wind. Even with a low spring tide, the reefs are not always visible if a big swell is present. The offshore winds create a visually patterned texture on the water surface Thirdly, Colour saturation – people comment on the deep aqua & blues present in both the sea & sky, giving the scene a look as if it could have been shot somewhere far more exotic – the kind of colour saturation is only possible in summer when the sun is at its zenith and there is little cloud to reduce its power. The sky here has some cloud – a little, which adds an extra dimension to the image. In terms of landmarks, look to the far left & you will see the famous Headland Hotel, built in the early 1900s, in the centre is the old RNLI Lifeboat Station, and on the far right is the headland itself, upon which the Cribbar Reef is to be found – the cause for the giant surfing wave which can begin to break during big winter swells, often producing a wave in excess of 20 feet or more. I tried unsuccessfully on several occasions throughout the summer to achieve this image with the above elements all present, and for this reason alone I would place it among my best, and most satisfying images.

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#5) Fistral Beach – South

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This image depicts Fistral Beach as seen from the far south end and was taken in July 2014 on a sunny but slightly overcast day. It really is one my all time favourites as far as images ago. Although you could turn up at this location and know with certainty that the composition elements of coastline and rocks you are relying on will always be present as they are here, the two variables that gives this image is power are three things; 1) a flat sea state with a gently offshore breeze which created the calm eater in the immediate foreground, allowing you to see below the water surface and even view rocks below the water; 2) the mid tide height of the water meant that the huge rock in the foreground was exposed enough to make it a noticeable compositional element, but too large that it takes over the whole scene; 3) Cloud Formations – if you’ve read some of my blogs and tutorials, you’ll know I might talk about Cloud formations a lot – it is for good reason – in my view they have unrivaled power among dynamic variable weather elements (e.g. water movement motion blur, etc) to create a sense of atmosphere that is unique to that scene coastal seascape views rarely work well without cloud and help to enhance the depth of field, unless you are shooting a flat beach scene with little depth of field.

Furthermore the cloud formations here, being backlit by the sun, display a good variety of shadow in the darker clouds, and bright white highlights in the lighter part – giving extra contrast to the scene

The two large rocky formations in the immediate foreground serve to give perspective to the tiny bathers & lifeguard jeeps that can be seen throughout the long stretch of beach present at Fistral. In between these two large rock formations, if you look closely enough you can see through the surface of the water and see the rocks which cover the shallows below. In the distant background there is the new & old combined: on the right can be seen a row of new apartment block developments recently built, now mostly sold as holiday homes – adjacent to the old – the red brick Headland Hotel built in the early 1900’s.

To the left of the Headland Hotel the old Lifeboat Station can be seen, and in the far left of the frame is the white hut perched on top of the Headland. The large white clouds and their varying formations add an extra dimension to the image, as does the definition & contrast between the bright highlights and dark shadows of the clouds, which were created by strong sunlight briefly making an appearance.

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#4) Newquay Harbour

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This image was taken in August over the bank holiday weekend at the height of summer, 2014 on a blisteringly hot day, with the heat of that day perhaps most evident in the sheer number of beach goers and bathers enjoying the relatively calm waters of Newquay’s Towan beach. If you direct your attention to the bottom right hand corner you can begin your journey through this image and enjoy the details contained within. In the immediate bottom right of the frame is the foreground object of summer brambles & bushes – being so close & therefore large, they serve to give other far away & small objects perspective. Located below these are the small fishing boats with their moorings gradually disappearing in to the water. The Harbour Wall depicts passengers waiting for the next tour boat to arrive and take them out to sea. Can you spot the Ice Cream van – located further along the quay side, located next to a porta loo?? Towan beach depicts bathers enjoying the summer temperatures, with Blue Reef Aquarium also visible, along with the famous ‘house on the Island’ too. Perched above Towan the green grass verges of Killacourt are also present, As you continue through the image, the beaches of Great Western & Tolcarne are visible.

Overall and to someone who lives in Newquay this can be seen a timeless & classic summer image of Newquay’s beaches, picturing the heart of the town & some of its iconic elements (the house on the island), being enjoyed by people of all ages

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#3) Gannel Estuary

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This image overlooks the Gannel Estuary at high tide from a viewing platform at Penpol Creek, a few minutes’ walk along the coast path route from Crantock Beach.

As you can see from viewing the Gannel Estuary gallery webpage here – although there are similar images from the same location & platform, they do not all have an identical look.

It was shot around 3pm on a cold and wintery February Sunday afternoon in 2016. As I had set up, the sun – here, behind the camera, so ‘backlighting’ the scene – was already going down rapidly ensuring I had to work quickly.

The fact the image was shot as seven separate images – and stitched together later on in processing – made it imperative to get to work quickly.

Fortunately, I was able to capture the soft, golden light visibly on the left hand river bank which illuminates the housing developments in a very athestically pleasing way.

It cannot be under-estimated in landscape photography the difference that good or excellent light can make to a scene, and although I don’t have a separate image to prove otherwise, after 30 minutes from the point of setup the light you see here was gone, and therefore so as the colour saturation, the subtle cloud reflections in the water surface, the overall warm colour of the water, the deeply saturated greens of the right hand river bank, and also the deep blue in the sky and most of all – the highlights and shadow in the clouds (similar to that of image #5 – Fistral beach South).

From a compositional sense, this location works well for so many reasons with the primary ones being a) immediate foreground element to create perspective (here, the bushes and its leaves), a body of moving water (at high tide) to accentuate with slight motion blur, planes & depth of field provided by individual river bank formations receding in to the distance (similar to Watergate Bay – image # 7) that ultimately converge in the far distance and create the ‘vanishing point’ effect – to further enhance the illusion of a 3D space in a 2D image.

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#2) Little Fistral

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This image was taken during the winter of 2017 on a January afternoon around 3pm, an hour or so before sunset.

Long exposure can create motion blur to the extent that the entire sea surface appears smooth like silk. You may that find images like this result in the creation of a mood or atmosphere that can be interpreted as ‘serene’ or ‘relaxing’.

I would argue the latter point regarding mood as the case in this image. For me, it is what makes this image stand out among my Newquay portfolio as exceptional and something different based on the fact that a lot of the images you will see in this portfolio – whilst characterizing water movement to create mood, few are long exposures at all – with only a couple of others that have a completely smoothed sea surface – see two examples – one here & one here.
As with all of the images in this top 10, certain elements materialized on this day at this time as I had hoped and planned for, to enable the capturing of this location in this manner.

First, the wind was around 15 mph which allowed the camera to be kept still throughout this exposure. This is not always the case, winds in excess of 30 mph around the coast are not uncommon during winter on Cornwall’s Atlantic coastline.

Second, a good 5-6 foot swell allowed a decent amount of white water in the foreground to be blurred.

Third, the tide level was high enough to allow the white water motion blur to act as the main foreground object, but still low enough to allow the few rocks you can see to remain partially visible, before they were covered up by the high tide. These rocks help to create depth field, scattered through the frame as they are, from bottom left to mid centre.

Fourth, a good amount of Cloud formation covered almost the entire portion of the sky here, and was moving at fast enough speed (aided by the 15mph winds) to be blurred.

Finally – and perhaps most importantly – the quality of the light was acquired by shooting in what is commonly referred to by photographers as the ‘golden hour’, that hour before or after sunrise or sunset, when the sun is low enough and weak enough to bath the scene in the golden light which can observed here along the headland, or peninsula of land jutting out in to the sea.

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


#1) Fistral Beach North

1. kernow seascapes - matt montano - Fstral Beach 4

This image is my favourite Newquay image simply due to the iconic location and the conditions encountered on this day. Like previous entries in this list (Holywell Bay) this location only really works in the way it is depicted here between spring & summer for the same reasons described above. This was shot in March 2016 and although the sun – was within it last two hours of daylight it remained strong enough to provide the deep & intense colour saturation you see here in the blue of the sky, the greens of the land, and the aqua/ turquoise sea.

It also contains strong shadow & highlight areas within the cloud formations due to the strong sun, and the exposure of 1.3 seconds blur the water motion slightly but remains the desired of portraying the power of the water movement – as it about to hit the rocks near the foreground.

The cloud formations here are probably the very best I have ever encountered. The depth of field they add to the composition is priceless. As with the Gannel image at #3, after 30 minutes of shooting they were gone; you might be lucky enough to encounter clouds like this on many occasions, although you may find that often they are only fleeting in their presence – perhaps only 30 minutes as here – and when you do capture them with great light, as here, it makes for images with a high visual impact.

Look at how the clouds reduce in size the further their distance from the camera – big objects depicted near to small objects on an incremental scale create depth of field. That is what is taking place here. Your eyes might not necessarily pick it out straight away like you might do with the colours and the actual form of the clouds, because it is an illusion – but your eye/ brain knows its there.

In terms of landmarks, on the far left side there is the International Surfing Centre (now occupied by shops & restaurants, including Rick Stein) in the centre is the relatively new RNLI lifeguard tower and in the background is the 18 hole links Golf course.

You can buy this image as a canvas or print here


I hope you enjoyed reading the above insights in to a small selection of my favourite Newquay images. 

Please do leave a comment in the box on the right if you would like to leave a message, thanks – Matt.