A Proud Heritage - Cape Cornwall to Wheal Edward Mine (Botallack)

Botallack Crowns Mine Engine Houses
The lower of the two engine houses was built in 1835 to pump water from the mine.

The higher engine house was built in 1862 to provide winding power for the Boscawen Diagonal Shaft, which ran out under the sea. Men were carried up and down the shaft in a gig, a purpose-built, wheeled box, which was also used to raise ore. In 1863 there was a terrible accident, caused by the gig-chain breaking, and eight miners and a boy were killed.

Location: From the National Trust Car Park at Cape Cornwall I headed off North on the SW Coast Path towards Botallack - see GPS track on EveryTrail at the bottom of this post.

The walk provides wonderful views of Cape Cornwall, houses and cottages clinging to the side of the cliffs surrounding Porth Ledden, and the remains of a once proud mining heritage scattered all along the route.

Inspiration: The previous day I'd taken a guided tour of the nearby Levant Mine which gave me a marvellous insight into a typical day in the life of the miners who worked the mines in this area. With this in mind I had a much clearer vision of how I wanted my pictures to turn out.

These miners would start the day walking as much as 3 miles to work, in all weather, 6 days a week, 52 weeks a year. Then almost an hour travelling down to the working level of the mine, before starting his 8 hour shift; working in temps of 95 degrees Fahrenheit. The 8 hour shift didn't include breaks for lunch or even blasting, when all work had to stop until the air cleared. After up to 10 hours underground he began his hour long trip back to the surface - only then to face another 3 mile walk home (often in dire weather).

These guys had a hard life and they were tough. So I didn't want to create a 'sunny' holiday snap of an idyllic cliff side ruin. These mines were the first in the world to dig over a mile out under the sea. So I had to show a sea pounding and all the time threatening to break through and flood the mines. I had to show the dark hard volcanic rock these miners had to work with manual tools for 8 hours a day. I wanted to show how these mines were not only leading edge - striking out under the sea - but also 'on the edge'.

They were risky and very dangerous enterprises that contributed greatly to our Heritage and we should be very proud.

Technique: After a couple of trial shots it was clear that I'd need a polarising filter. This had the effect of reducing the glare and saturating the colours in the sea and rocks. It also reduced the speed I could shoot at which I didn't want. I didn't want a fuzzy fairy tale quality to the sea - I wanted to show its hard pounding action (the increased saturation did give the sea an added power). So I increased the ISO to 200.

I would perhaps have done better to increase it to ISO 400 as I was still only shooting at 1/80sec which might have been too slow given that I was shooting a distant object (I didn't want to introduce motion blur), but I guessed the VR would probably compensate. (I still have an almost irrational fear of introducing noise - even to an already 'noisy' picture). I regret the decision now as the image is slightly on the fuzzy side - but acceptable I hope.

Finally I wanted to keep the detail in the sea so I exposed for the highlights in the waves.

Camera Work: RAW(12bit), ISO 200, Focal Length 135mm, Exposure: 1/80sec at F9, UV & Polarizing Filter

Post Processing: In Nikon Capture NX2

Unprocessed RAW image
Changed to Picture Control > Landscape then increased Sharpness to +8, reduced Brightness to -1, and increased saturation to +1. This gave me a more vivid image.

Adjusted Exposure Compensation to -2ev (the D80 almost always over exposes - I could have used that fact to increase the shooting speed (mental note taken for next time). This gave me a perfectly exposed sea but the rest of the image was in deep shadow.

Adjusted Shadow protection to 76% to open up the shadow detail in the rocks (this had virtually no effect on the sea)

That concluded the RAW processing but I still had some adjustments to make:

1. the leading edge of the lower engine was on the slant so I rotated the image through -1.73 degrees,

2. I felt the need to perform a small crop to make the bottom right rock more prominent and remove the unattractive rock face to the left of the lower engine.

3. The engine houses were still a little lost in the shadows so I created a selection layer over the land and introduced a 25% D Lighting shadow adjustment then using the same selection layer

4. I used a shallow S curve adjustment to increase the contrast between the dark rocks and the Engine Houses

5. Finally I added Black and White control points to open up the darkest shadow in the rocks and close down the brightest highlights in the sea.

The final processed image captures exactly what I'd imagined while perched on that cliff edge. My only regret is not having shot at a higher speed - just 1/125sec would have done the job - to preserve that overall sharpness.

Cape Cornwall to Wheal Edward Mine at EveryTrail You can see the photos I took, their precise location and view the route, here on the map below (just move your mouse over the red waypoints - click for a larger view) or view on GoogleEarth by following the link.

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