Arriving on Scilly


To truly comprehend how isolated and tucked away the Isles of Scilly are, you have to get there. My travelling began at 4:30am, and after using four modes of transport I arrived on St Mary’s at 1pm. It was a complicated and fiddly excursion but when I finally arrived, eating chips overlooking a vast expanse of ocean, I knew I was really at the edge of Britain.


Passionate gusts of wind blew the smells of salt and seaweed off the coast. The air was alive with birds. If I closed my eyes it was the same as home – wrens belting out their embellished trills, blackbirds speeding underfoot with shrieks of alarm – but as I was watching a dunnock I heard something that I thought at first to be a great tit, but the two syllables were the same pitch. Then, confirming my suspicions, a tiny brown, featureless bird appeared. My first chiffchaff in the flesh.

Later in the day I was struck with another bout of stress and worry. What if the flowers I wanted to photograph weren’t there? What if it rained every day this week? And as I stewed in paranoia I got a sign. I normally pulled faces at signs but this had to be something of an existential signal. As the sun went down the sky was alight with rich colour so I took my camera and headed down to the beach – only about twenty paces from the flat – and started taking photos of the foliage silhouetted against the sky. The sun sank so quickly that in minutes it had completely disappeared, but it was one of the most stunning sunsets I’d seen in months. There were other people taking photos too, and I heard one woman say “This is the best I’ve seen so far this year.” I arrived on Scilly this afternoon, and the day ended with a sky like that. I still felt apprehensive about this week, but my worry was also mixed with a little more optimism than before.


Minimalism in Photography

Recently I discovered a photographer called Petros Koublis during research for my photography project. In preparation for my upcoming trip to the Isles of Scilly, I was exploring the theme of isolation, as on Scilly geographical isolation has resulted in extraordinary diversity of both flora and fauna. So, I want my images to convey this seclusion without the subjects looking barren. When I found Koublis’s work I thought how beautifully minimalist the images were, and yet still varied and intriguing. The beauty was its simplicity.

Petros Koublis 11

So I set out and tried to capture my own images where the subject looked isolated but was still thriving. Inspired by Koublis’s minimalistic approach, I concentrated on simple colours, repeating shapes and uncluttered compositions. Using my 60mm macro lens, I de-cluttered the frame even more and filled it with my subject while washing out any detail in the background.


I almost always zoom in as tight as I can, especially when doing macro photography. There is a great urge to make your subject as large and detailed as possible, but often I’ve found that this removes all context from the image and it loses some impact. While it’s always nice to have a little mystery in photography, revealing a few secrets can bring even more magic to an image. For example, the lichen on the twig below was only a few centimetres in diameter, but with nothing to compare it to, all scale is lost. Now the image has been taken, the lichen could be any size and the challenge of getting such a tiny plane of detail in focus doesn’t seem as significant. Although the texture is still intriguing, the presence of something more familiar could only have added to the effect.


So on another trip out I began to step back. Although I couldn’t achieve the same crisp detail with more distance between myself and the subject, I could begin to introduce context and place the subject into a scene. An isolated section of this terracotta brick could have been taken in a garden or even at a construction site, but with the border of dry pebbles and the blurred suggestion of ocean, the subject is put in a time and place. As all photography is subjective, those with a fine art approach might say context isn’t necessary, but I like the way this image is clearly of the coast but it isn’t conventional in its composition or choice of focus. It suggests the theme more subtly. Also, the absence of any other noticeable features conveys the isolation I’m interested in showing, and shallow depth of field draws the eye immediately to the subject.


I’ve always been interested in shapes and lines in photography. Although perhaps a beginner’s cliche, a leading line is undeniably pleasing to look at. Here, the point of focus is the very centre of the image, with the tide line leading the viewer directly to it. It is loosely symmetrical, a technique I like to use to show balance and calmness in a scene. Here, there are two clear halves; one is almost completely lacking in detail except thin lines of movement from the tide, and the other has extensive detail. To emphasise this contrast even further, I desaturated the right half so even colour was absent from the water. I never excessively manipulate my photos as I like to replicate the true scene as much as I can, but subtle changes like this (when the colour of the water was almost grey anyway) can draw attention away from certain aspects in the frame to others.


My Scilly expedition is fast approaching. I can’t wait to see what opportunities arise during my week’s stay on such a diverse archipelago. I think practice shoots like these will help broaden my creativity in preparation for a whole new environment.