Adam Burton Photography

Backways Cove, Cornwall

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It is no secret that the Cornish Coast is breathtaking.  Photographers have been photographing the beaches and clifftops of this beautiful area for many many years.  So you could be forgiven for thinking that this coastline has revealed to the world all of its many hidden gems.  But this is not so.  There are some locations that offer jaw dropping beauty and yet remain relatively un-photographed; Backways Cove is one such place.

Geographically Backways Cove is so close to the spectacular Trebarwith Strand that it barely seems to deserve any attention.  It is true that at sea level the cove struggles to compete with the beautiful geological offerings at The Strand’s beach.  But Backways Cove comes into its own when viewed high up from clifftop vantage points.

I headed to Backways Cove on a moody and overcast afternoon; not the usual conditions for landscape photography but ideal for capturing this kind of coastal scenic.  The heavy cloud held back any direct sunlight, which would mean I could photograph the crashing waves without having to worry about overexposed patches of bright white sea.

Upon my arrival, I puffed my way up the steep hill to reach an almost overhanging ledge high up on the southern cliff.  From this vantage point I knew I could gain a birds-eye view looking down towards the impossibly jagged opposing cliff face.  Being an old slate quarry the cliffs at Backways Cove have been shaped by human hands; rather unexpectedly this only seems to add to their magnificence.  The textured surfaces of the towering cliff walls glistened with many different grey tones in the diffuse daylight.  A finger-like pillar of slate, left by the quarry workers, stood watch at the base of the cliffs, withstanding a barrage of attack by the relentless Atlantic waves.   

As the cliff face offered so much beautiful detail I decided that a tight composition would work well.  I attached my 24-70L lens onto my Canon 1DS Mk3 and manoeuvred my tripod into position.  There were two jagged triangular rocks below me which would offer ideal foreground to balance my picture.  I fine tuned my composition to ensure that the two foreground rocks fitted into the opposing cliff face almost like a life-sized jigsaw puzzle.  Finally I attached a polariser to both extend the shutter speed slightly and saturate the colour of the sea below.

After taking a couple of shots from this viewpoint I moved a little further down the steep hill to reach my second vantage point.  The sloping grass covered clifftop was sprinkled with tiny pink dots, flowering thrift, sometimes known as sea pinks.  For this image I visualised a more typical wide-angle composition and so fitted my Canon 17-40L lens.  Setting a lower viewpoint on my Manfrotto tripod I composed to include as much of the pink flowers as possible in the foreground, while also capturing the cliff face and distant island (Gull Rock) in the background.  To keep everything in sharp focus from front to back I set a small aperture of F22.  Finally I used a Lee 0.6 ND graduated filter to stop the sky from overexposing.

Feeling pleased with the shots I captured I packed up my camera gear, and headed northwards over the headland and towards Trebarwith Strand where a special sunset rounded off an excellent trip.

I have returned to Backways Cove on a number of occasions since this trip, and always have been rewarded by having this spectacular location all to myself.  It seems that despite its beauty this little stretch of the Cornish Coast remains relatively undiscovered, and long may it remain so.


Hello Adam!

I love your new website and your work is fantastic! I hope you can answer a question I’ve been wondering about for a while.

On your first and second photo of this page, how have you placed your ND-grad? Along the sea horizon? If you have, how do you prevent the top of the mountain to the right to become dark?


by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 15th May 2010

Hi Carl,

Many thanks for your kind message and comments.

There is no easy way to avoid the cliff from darkening in such situations when using grads.  If you look again at the two images, the tops of the cliffs are indeed darkened in both shots, which is because of the grads.  When shooting this kind of shot, I carefully position the grad so its angled diagonally across the sky, and therefore less of the darker glass is placed over the cliffs. This lessons the darkening of the cliffs but does not remove the problem entirely.  It also has the side effect of making one side of the sky (in this instance the left side) slightly darker than the right.

Sometimes it works better than other times, and alot depends on the position of the sun, and whether there are clouds.  For example, if you are shooting towards the sun and clear sky you would need stronger grads and therefore the cliffs will go extremely and unnaturally dark. 

All in all its a case of careful positioning of the filter, and also making compromises to get the most natural exposure throughout the image.

Hope this helps,

by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 15th May 2010

Thank you Adam, that helps a lot! I really appriciate your help.
Someday I hope I’ll be able to get to one of your workshops.

Best Regards

by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 16th May 2010

Stunning composition, detail and beauty in all of your amazing photographs, that thrills and delights.  It’s an absolute joy to view your work.  The main photograph is breathtaking,  I almost expect to see the mist from my breath enter the frame.  Your work is most inspirational.

by SOUL AFLAME on 06th February 2011

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