Have you ever returned home after a wonderful holiday or weekend break in the UK only to discover that your photographs don’t quite live up to expectations? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. It’s all too easy to get caught up in the moment, snapping away and believing that every shot is a winner.
In these six images, taken in some of the UK’s most spectacular locations, award-winning photographer William Gray shows how you can use simple techniques to transform your photos from ordinary to extraordinary.
Photograph: Little Langdale Valley, nr Ambleside
Photo details: DSLR, 90mm, ISO 400, f/18, 1/50 sec
Nearest Pride of Britain hotel: Gilpin Hotel & Lake House, Windermere (13 miles)
Trick no.1: Use leading lines and a strong focal point. Sitting pretty on a grassy knoll surrounded by sombre, snow-streaked fells, this lone tree is crying out for its picture to be taken – especially with that gorgeous morning light making it glow against the shady slope beyond. Instead of zooming in on the tree, however, I pulled back to include the distant mountains and capture more of the essence of the Lake District. Next, I thought about where to place the tree. Photographers often use the Rule of Thirds, and it worked well here. By placing the tree on an imaginary line one-third of the way into the frame, it not only creates a more pleasing balance in the picture, but I was also able to use the dry-stone wall as a leading line to draw the eye into the composition.
Photograph: Broadway Tower, nr Broadway
Photo details: DSLR, 19mm, ISO 100, f/22, 0.4 sec
Nearest Pride of Britain hotel: the Farncombe Estate, Broadway (1.4 miles)
Trick no.2: Change your viewpoint. Broadway Tower is one of the most snapped spots in the Cotswolds. Most people (myself included) walk straight up to the 20m-tall folly and photograph it against a fairly uninteresting sky. Looking for new and unusual ways to capture well-known scenes is one of the best ways to develop as a photographer – and a simple but effective method is to get down on your knees. By changing to a low viewpoint, I was able to use these four trees to frame the tower and add symmetry to the scene. A tripod is very useful for this sort of shot as it slows you down, makes you fine-tune the composition and keeps everything steady when you use a slow shutter speed – needed here because I set a small aperture (f/22) to obtain maximum depth of field.
Photograph: Botallack Crown Mines, nr St Just
Photo details: DSLR, 120mm, ISO 100, f/22, 10 sec
Nearest Pride of Britain hotel: The Headland Hotel & Spa, Newquay (41 miles)
Trick no.3: Pick the best light. It’s the Holy Grail for photographers. They think nothing of waking in the middle of the night to get into position for capturing the peachy glows heralding sunrise. Another golden hour takes place around dusk when the setting sun creates warm tones and rakes the land with interesting shadows, often creating a more vibrant scene than at midday. This photograph of the tin mine ruins at Botallack in Cornwall’s wild west was taken at sunset, the old engine houses bathed in golden light. By selecting a very small aperture (f/22) in the fading light, I obtained a long shutter speed to blur the motion of the sea, creating additional mood. A tripod was essential to keep the camera steady.
Photograph: Climping Beach, nr Arundel
Photo details: DSLR, 50mm, ISO 400, f/8.0, 1/80 sec
Nearest Pride of Britain hotel: Bailiffscourt Hotel & Spa, nr Arundel (1.6 miles)
Trick no.4: Look for the details. By getting in close to your subject, you can often find striking patterns, and it also simplifies the scene, cutting out the clutter of the wider landscape. Walking along a beach in West Sussex, there are always plenty of opportunities for wide-angle seascapes, but for this image I decided to focus on just a small section of one of the timber groynes. The ‘pebble sandwich’ formed a strong abstract composition, helped by the horizontal lines of the grain in the wood. The receding tide had also left the timbers and pebbles wet, accentuating their colours.
Photograph: Snowdonia, nr Beddgelert
Photo details: DSLR, 24mm, ISO 100, f/8.0, 1/200 sec
Nearest Pride of Britain hotel: Bodysgallen Hall & Spa, Llandudno (36 miles)
Trick no.5: Capture the moment. When photographing people on holiday, rather than setting up a posed shot, try to capture action as it happens. You need to anticipate the moment, visualising the photograph and getting into the right position beforehand. For this shot of children arriving at a spectacular viewpoint of Mount Snowdon, I wanted to show them walking (and cycling) into the scene. By placing them to one side of the photo, it gave them some ‘space’ to move into (rather than being squashed up against one edge of the frame). They also form a strong diagonal line in the composition which leads your eye to the mountain. A relatively fast shutter speed was needed to freeze the action.
Photograph: Natural History Museum, Knightsbridge
Photo details: Smartphone, 4.12mm, ISO 400, f/2.4, 1/15 sec
Nearest Pride of Britain hotel: The Capital Hotel, Knightsbridge (1.2 miles)
Trick no.6: Get smart with your smartphone. Cameras in smartphones are becoming increasingly sophisticated and, while their quality still lags behind digital SLR or mirrorless cameras, they are particularly adept at capturing photographs in low light. It’s all too easy, however, to take a quick snap with a smartphone. Spend a bit more time and you can capture some striking images. For this image of the blue whale skeleton hanging in the main hall of London’s Natural History Museum, I found a high viewpoint (at the top of the stairs) so I could concentrate on the elaborate vaulted ceiling and crop out the distracting crowds of people below. By taking a few steps left or right, I was then able to frame the skeleton dead centre and create a strong line of symmetry. The purple light on the skeleton contrasts perfectly with the golden stonework.