By professional photographer Stuart Reid
There is no denying that St Andrews is a beautiful town, there are so many wonderfully picturesque areas of the town that we are often spoilt for choice. But too many visitors to the town leave with the same type of photos of the same places that just don’t do justice to it.
Allow me to indulge you for a while and take you on a short tour around some of my favourite photo haunts in St Andrews. Along the way I’ll share with you my thought process when photographing them and offer some tips and advice on how I captured them.
Undoubtedly my favourite thing in St Andrews to photograph are the streets, St Andrews has hundreds of little lanes and alleyways as well as some larger thoroughfares that make excellent photographs. One of the challenges faced here is traffic, both vehicles and people. When I’m taking my street shots I normally try to have as little traffic in them as possible. This normally has me up and about either very early or really late in the day to minimise the chances of people or cars.
Why does it matter? A lot of my shots involve either multiple or long exposures, especially if the light level is low, anything that moves in the frame will then have a ghost like quality in the final image. Normally I don’t want this as it can distract from the main focus of the photo.
Unfortunately something that is not always predictable is the St Andrews weather, but the weather can help you to create some wonderful shots. Taking street views when the roads have been soaked by the rain at dusk gives the street a fantastic sheen. Or look for large puddles and shoot the reflection rather than the subject. A stormy sky can change the mood of an image dramatically. Pay attention to where the sun is, and how it is reflecting on your subject, would it be better to come back when the sun is in a different location?
The time of day is also important. In photographic circles there is always a lot of talk about the “golden hours”, (sometimes known as magic hours). This is the first and last hour of sunlight during the day, a time when the quality of light can produce great photos. This is great if you are shooting sunrises or sunsets, but don’t limit yourself to the golden hours, while the light is important, it is not the only time you can capture great shots. What’s more important is the position of the sun in the sky, but more on that later.
My second favourite photo spot is the harbour; there is so much to take in here that you’re never stuck for a choice of subject. St Andrews harbour has a long history; while still a working fishing port, it is not a patch on the bustling port it used to be. The earliest references to the harbour at St Andrews date to the 14th century, but the estuary of the Kinness Burn was undoubtedly used before that as a natural harbour in a rather treacherous bay. Today the harbour is home to a few fishing, research and pleasure craft but it has retained some of its picturesque nature.
The Harbour has so many things to photograph, the best tip I can give you here is to move around. Often when I see someone taking photos, 99% of the time they stand with the camera at eye-level, take the shot and move on. What’s wrong with that? Nothing: you’ll get a photo that will look exactly like you remember the scene. But take a moment to also explore other angles for the subject, change your perspective, move left or right, get down low and lie on the ground, can you get up high? Changing the perspective of the shot can have a dramatic effect on the final image.
The beauty of some of the church interiors especially with the sun streaming through stained glass windows makes for wonderfully colourful photos. The challenge with photographing any interior shot is light and churches are no exception. I don’t like to use a flash on these shots as the light from the flash can be quite bright cold, and harsh in contrast to the normally soft warm light we find in most churches. My solution is to use a tripod and take long exposures. Again the first two tips also apply, I try to time it so that there are no people in the shot and I will explore different angles and perspective. Remember that it’s not all about the detail, take some wide angle shots as well as the zoomed in detail shots.
In my experience people don’t take enough photos. It’s probably the most common piece of advice I give out on my photo tours, take plenty of shots. That’s the advantage of digital photography, memory cards are pretty cheap, it’s easy to delete the photos that don’t really work for you, make some room on the card and go and take some more photos. A lot of the time we’ll go to a location and the participants will look up, raise their camera, take a shot and say, “Right, where’s next?” Nobody can capture the perfect shot first time every time, take the time to explore the area for the best composition.
Photography is about experimentation and learning, try new things, new angles, different styles. Not everything will work for you, but you’ll learn so much in the process.
So next time you take out your camera, pause for a moment, take in your surroundings, think about your shot, change the angle, move around, wait for the light and you can return home with some truly unique and spectacular photographs to remember your time in this wonderful town.