Capturing that perfect picture of our Biosphere
The Isle of Man is a photographers' paradise but how do we ensure we capture it in spectacular photos? We speak with local landscape and wildlife photographer Stephen Corran
Why do you enjoy photographing the Island's landscapes and wildlife?
Getting into photography has opened my eyes to the natural beauty our Island, and, indeed, our planet have to offer. Having lived here my whole life, I am now discovering, through photography, places I didn't know existed or hadn’t visited. One of the things I love the most is you are never more than 15-20 minutes away from a totally different type of landscape/seascape, whether you want to shoot on a mountain, in a valley or glen, in one of our beautiful plantations or if you fancy a seascape shoot. Even just on the way to a location there is so much to take in. In the summer months, I will quite often head out for hours, walking miles to a location, as, for me, its all part of the enjoyment and experience.
What type of camera equipment do you use?
For the first six months or so, I just used my phone, then I got a Canon 750D, which was a great starter DSLR which enabled me to learn some of the basics. I just used the lens that came with it, an 18-55mm lens, for most shots. I purchased other, cheaper, lenses along the way such as a Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 which was a decent lens for the price. Last July, I upgraded my equipment. I am now using a Canon 6D Mark II and the main lenses I use are a Canon 17-40mm f/4, a Tamron 24-70mm G2 VC f/2.8 for landscapes, a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 IS II for wildlife and a Samyang 14mm f/2.8 for astrophotography…but I still have a few other lenses and bits and pieces on my wishlist.
I also use a MeFoto tripod and have a number of other accessories such as Polarizing filters and ND filters, which really help with certain types of shots such as long exposure and around water.
How do you choose your locations and what do you factor in to get great shots?
When I started out, I would just head out for a walk somewhere different each time and see what I could photograph along the way. I didn’t do much in the way of planning. But I used to love heading out around sunrise as it's so peaceful and quiet, there is little traffic about and you feel like you have the Island to yourself. Plus I just love the warm light and the colours in the sky you can get around then. It’s just beautiful!
Now I plan my photoshoots more. Sometimes the location is picked based on what I feel like shooting at the time, sometimes I’m inspired by other local photographers photos I’ve seen, especially if it is a place I haven’t been before. Other times it's the seasons that dictate the locations, as some locations pop more in the spring and others locations in late summer or autumn.
There can be many things to factor in. For example, there are only a few months a year which are optimal to shoot the Milky Way because of how much of the galaxy you can see in the northern hemisphere and its position in the sky. You also have to ensure it's when either the moon hasn’t risen above the horizon or there is a new moon. You also would need a clear night, with little to no cloud. As these photos are long exposure, it is best when there is little to no wind. On top of that, I try to ensure there is an interesting landscape in the photo, too, so it isn't just a photo of the sky. Picking a good Dark Sky location on the island is easy as, thankfully, there are quite a few of them over here! But as you can see there can be quite a bit to consider in order to get the shot you are after and that’s just one type of photo. There are other considerations when shooting other types such as coastal sunrise/sunsets.
Sometimes it's just a case of being in the right place at the right time, so ensure you have a camera with you - as you never know.
Is there something to photograph at all times of the year in the Isle of Man?
Absolutely! For starters, sunrises and sunsets are not dependant on the seasons and that’s what I love shooting the most. I love shooting in what’s known as the golden hour, the hour after sunrise and hour before sunset, as, on a sunny day, the light around this time is a lovely, diffused, golden light that makes landscapes more vibrant, warm and inviting. The angle of the low lying light cast by the sun can make for really nice shadows across a landscape, which can transform the look and feel of it compared to the middle of the day when you can have a hash bright white light.
The cherry on top for me when shooting around these times is the amazing skies you can get. A great sky, along with that warm light, can make an average landscape great and a good landscape amazing.
When it comes to the seasons, I tend to shoot in some of our many glens in the autumn as I love the rich autumn tones of the reds, browns and yellows. Late summer through autumn also sees the gorgeous purple ling heather you get across the Island. Along with the yellow and greens of the gorse, this can make for some very colourful landscapes.
During springtime, you can head out to meadows and nature reserves such as Glen Dhoo, which is stunning, or somewhere like Ballaglass Glen, where you can find carpets of bluebells.
Any time of year, after heavy rainfall, the Islands rivers, streams and waterfalls have a heavier flow of water so they can be great to shoot and there are just some places which are great to shoot year-round and the views you get from visiting Manx National Heritage such as Mull Hill, by Cregneash, are incredible.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get out and about and start taking photos?
Don’t get too caught up in thinking you need expensive equipment. Apart from astrophotography and low-light shooting, your phone should be fine in most cases and there are plenty of apps to help you take control and shoot with more manual type controls to get better results rather than letting your camera do everything automatically.
There are also plenty of websites and Youtube vidoes to point you in the right direction when it comes to settings and shooting different types of images etc.
Find someone whose photos make you think 'Wow, I would love to be able to take photos like that' and find out how they do it. One of my biggest influences is Serge Ramelli who has a Youtube channel with lots of free tutorials and tools to help you. But there are many others.
Composition and lighting is everything! When finding a composition (framing a shot), a technique I use is to try and visualise how it would look as canvas or framed hanging on a wall and move the camera around until it looks right in the screen as some compositions will look better than others, even if similar.
The beauty of digital photography as you can take lots of photos with different compositions and then see which you like the best and just delete the rest.
But probably the most important advice is to just to get out there and practice and to enjoy it. Like anything, the more you practice the better you’ll get, especially when done along with some guidance from tutorials or articles. Lastly, don’t forget to enjoy the experience and take in the beautiful views nature has to offer with your own eyes. Don’t spend the whole time behind the camera.
Of the photos you have taken, what is your favourite and why?
My favourite, but not necessarily my best, was one I took at White Beach by Niarbyl, which is a bit of a hike to get to. It was taken May last year and was probably one of the first images I’d put planning and patience into. The beach has jagged rocks sticking out of the water and, straight away, I thought it would look really nice with a great sunset (as its on the west coast of our Island). So I had to time high tide with sunset or the rocks wouldn’t be covered and it would expose a load of seaweed. I wanted it to be a great sunset, not just an average one, so I ended up going back there again and again over a couple of months until the conditions were right and I was finally rewarded with the conditions you can see above.
Never being satisfied, though, and having a little more experience now, I know what I want to do to improve the images I got so I’m planning to head back there at some point to try again.
I still have so much to learn and experience to gain so I often find myself heading back to locations I shot when I first started in order to try and get a better shot.
Of course, you are at the mercy of nature and so you never know how long it will be until you get the shot you want.
Stephen Corran is an administrator for a corporate service provider and a semi-professional photographer. He can found on Facebook and Instagram @Picsbycorraste and on Twitter @Corraste, with Steve Corran Photography to be launched soon.