We feature some of the brightest Instagram storytellers in the Passion Passport community through our Instagram Spotlight series. This week, Elliot Cooper (@cooperexplores) takes us on a tour of the British Isles, from his beloved homeland of Wales to the stunning coastlines of England and the epic hillscapes of Skye.
I first visited North Wales in 2016, as a stop en route to the Scottish Highlands. I had planned to spend one night camping in Snowdonia National Park, at the foot of Moel Siabod mountain. But the treacherous conditions that met me made for a real challenge, between the lashing rainfall and swarms of the infamous tiny insects called midges. Still, I have vivid memories of the high spirits I was in while there, amongst that area’s natural beauty, despite all of those obstacles.
The main sensation I feel when traveling through North Wales is one of amazement and awe. I’m from South Wales, which is a wonderful place, but it’s much quicker to cover. By contrast, North Wales is incredibly vast, filled with mountains, landscapes, and coastlines of a mystical scale. Wherever you go, you’re forced to come to terms with the diversity of the terrain. Whether it’s hiking Snowdon (the highest mountain in the country), standing at the foot of the tallest waterfall in Wales, or looking out over the mystical Llandwyn Island, you very quickly feel the grandeur of the natural world, and that’s a real eye-opener.
The first time I visited North Wales was also the first time I’d visited a location that I’d only ever experienced through the images of other photographers. It’s a very weird feeling to be standing at a spot you’ve seen hundreds of times on your tiny phone screen. Occasionally, the reality won’t live up to your expectations, but this region surpassed all of mine. It’s a place that will have me returning time and time again; I doubt I’ll ever tire of those fairytale landscapes.
Durdle Door, located on England’s Jurassic Coast, is absolutely stunning. There’s no surprise that it’s one of the most popular spots for photographers in the U.K. — after all, that landscape does about 80 percent of the work for you. During my initial drive to Durdle Door, I was as excited as I’d ever been to shoot a location. I’d researched it endlessly, seen hundreds of photos of it, and envisaged the shots I wanted to leave with.
When I arrived at the top of the coastline, Durdle Door was completely obscured from view by its surrounding hills. As I edged my way down the coastline, I slowly gained my first window into this magnificent location. I didn’t believe it was possible to be “star struck” by a landscape, but that was the exact sensation I experienced — I was like a wide-eyed child overwhelmed with elation. I genuinely did not know where to point my lens first! By some tremendous luck, I had the entire place to myself. The crowds and tourists I’d heard so much about were nowhere to be found. With the sun setting at a perfect angle, the chalk cliffs were luminescent with warmth. I knew I had to do this place justice.
That said, don’t let the warm undertones of the photos deceive you; it was a just couple of weeks before Christmas! That wind was bitterly cold. The only other person sharing this moment with me was a solitary gentleman scanning the pebbled shores below with his metal detector. I was silently grateful to him for the magnificent perspective he provided. Many people’s eyes are drawn to him immediately upon viewing that photo, and it’s one of my favorites for that reason. It gently reminds you how incomparably miniature we are in relation to mother nature.
One piece of advice for anyone shooting a coastline such as this is to aim to photograph it at either sunrise or sunset. That golden light never fails to enhance the scenery and offer the most beautiful spectacle to capture. I’d personally avoid the midday sun, as it’s directly overhead and often extremely harsh, making the sea almost impossible to photograph without sharp reflections. I always try to include warmer tones in my work, so either ends of the day are my times to shine (pun absolutely intended).
While visiting the Highlands, “stop the car” was probably the phrase I repeated the most. Quite literally, anywhere you point your camera makes for a beautiful shot. That said, for that reason, it’s important not to compare your work with others who may have previously captured the same scene. It’s very easy to take a shot that will be successful and popular — in fact, it’s been done hundreds of times before. But I personally try to take that preconceived idea and use it to add some new depth to an image, either with the use of narrative (such as the yellow Volkswagen van) or visual intrigue (like the dropping of a stone in a lake). It just adds an extra dimension for the viewer, especially if it’s a photo of a place they may have seen before. Always ask yourself if you can shoot from a lower angle or through some foliage as well, or consider adding a person or an animal in your frame. The possibilities really are endless. I’d love for people to view my images and be transported to that location in their mind, even if it’s for a split second.
Editing is another crucial aspect for me: the edit often dictates what the viewer will feel. This means that you have the power to convey whatever emotion you’d like! I always strive towards warmth, given my adoration of colors. Often, even in the most popular and photogenic regions, there are some landscapes are overlooked, and I feel it’s my job as a photographer to bring the spotlight back to them and allow people to see their world in a new way.
Turning a camera lens to familiar terrain is pretty mind-blowing. I’ve lived in South Wales my entire life, but it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I realized just what this place has to offer. No matter where you are in the world, people often get tied down to and never even venture out of the place where they were born and bred. Through no fault of their own, they don’t truly see or recognize the beauty around them! For this reason, I’d implore anyone and everyone to head out and watch a sunrise wherever they can and to experience whatever nature is nearby. It adds a completely new perspective to any location, and it’s a must.
Personally, buying a drone also helped open my eyes to the beauty of my hometown. Even though I thought I’d known the area inside and out and had exhausted every possible angle, throwing my drone up into the air breathed new life into it and offered a new, almost dream-like perspective. And it certainly made me envious of the birds! New perspectives like these can really help change your opinion about the place you live in, and make it your mission to showcase it in the best way you can.
ISLE OF SKYE
The Isle Of Skye is truly a photographer’s playground — that, and a real bucket-list destination. You have to remind yourself that it’s in the U.K., or on Earth for that matter, because of the otherworldly landscapes that await around every corner. This first photo was taken while I was standing at the door of my tent. I’d just hammered the last peg into the ground, and turned to see this colossal cloud engulf the mountaintop. The speed of the cloud was remarkable, and within five minutes, this spectacle was lost forever. There was extraordinary power in capturing this single moment in time, and in holding onto that indefinitely.
There’s also a little story behind the second photo, which was taken at Kilt Rock Falls. When you arrive in the area, you’re led toward a small balcony that stretches from the coast and offers a view of this waterfall. I’d been there for maybe five minutes before a busload of tourists arrived. Not a second later, a man in traditional Scottish dress began brandishing a set of bagpipes. Marching on the spot, he belted a familiar melody, to the sheer delight of the tourists. I couldn’t help but laugh as I captured the moment.
This third shot, on the other hand, shows one of the most photographed spots in Skye: the cinematic road that leads to the Storr, a famed rocky hill on the Trotternish peninsula. I’d been set on shooting this scene since I first planned the trip, and the typically moody Scottish weather made for the perfect setting. I only wish that I would have had my skateboard with me, so that I could have cruised that winding road — maybe next time.
Adventure plays a pretty major part in my photography, because it always takes some level of adventure to get my nature shots. I believe that a corresponding narrative also adds a great depth to any image, especially when you share exactly what you had to do to get the shot, what the conditions were, or what you remember most from that moment in time. For me, knowing what a photographer has gone through to get a certain shot is like being a kid again; it’s like hearing those old, magical stories for the first time. Suddenly, the image becomes so much more than just visual candy.
It’s also important to remember to have fun with photography. You can’t just be hellbent on taking photos that will get a ton of likes on Instagram — you have to remember to enjoy every aspect of the photo journey, regardless of the result. You could hike for hours through hail, rain, and snow, or camp overnight in terrible conditions only to return home empty-handed. Those experiences can be disappointing, but they always leave you with new memories and a story (or two) to tell. It’s all about balance because, in the end, the adventure and the photograph feed each other.
The adventure adds the sensations and the emotions to an image, and as soon as you look at it, you’re transported straight back there, standing on that very spot. It’s a truly delightful feeling.