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A photographic tour of St Lucia

Photographer Ben Howell takes us on an insightful journey of his home, as he shares through images, the highlights of his beautiful, photogenic island of St Lucia...

When I first became interested in photography, I realised I had 238 square miles of excuses to go out and capture something interesting, from land, the people, light and much more. Living on a beautiful island presents many photo opportunities - even with a small island, such as St Lucia. The sunrises and sunsets are ever glorious, the people always interesting and the landscape often changing. Come visit and see why this place is my grand studio. In the meantime, let me take you on a visual journey round the island and see my favourite places and things to shoot, I'll also show you how you can make your own visual memories of the Helen of the West yourself.

Many off-the-beaten-trails and locations within eyeshot of natural landmarks like the pitons exist, giving immense views from various angles. A somewhat strenuous ascent through the Fond Doux nature trail in Soufriere rewards one with this unique vista of Petit Piton. The scene is framed with the surrounding trees and foliage and gives a feeling of wilderness and discovery as well as a sense of scale. It’s like you are walking through the jungle and then 'Bam!'... this protrusion through the blue sky greets you. Paying attention to foreground and background can tell a good story via their interplay in a landscape scene such as this.

The stark white of the dwarfed yachts on serene lake-like waters against the imposing yet protective verdant green hills convey a certain hint of coziness and security in a truly exotic setting at Marigot Bay. It contrasts as well as it connects man-made luxury and design with nature’s vastness and resplendence. A true hurricane hole, this bay located in the island’s western coast offers shelter to vessels during stormy times. Just descend the steep hill via land and be ushered into a new world of marine beauty. As to the view coming into the bay from the sea, you’ll have to ask a Yachtie.

At a viewpoint just out of the town and southbound toward Choiseul, this magnificent valley scene is revealed. Soufriere Bay seen here is always a great capture where you can zoom in to take a closer look at the ever-present aquatic crafts or zoom out to display more of the blue waters and sky simultaneously. The wake of moving boats do well to punctuate the location. The homes and buildings of this quaint town seem to be flowing and ready to spill into the sea. A late afternoon sun throws shadows on the distant mountains creating a more defined and chiselled topography. A circular polarizer can do well to intensify the blue sea and sky as well as the green vegetation.

I love climbing up toward Fort Rodney on Pigeon Island in St Lucia’s touristic north. The resultant view as seen here explains clearly why. A sweeping vista of a hotel strewn beachfront, a coral filled turquoise ocean dotted with yachts and distant rolling mountains under a wide sky all make for a rewarding trek. A circular polarizer is very effective in eliminating glare and reflections to expose under the water and bring out strong colours. It is difficult not to get a nice picture from this elevated vantage point and all the elements that a wide angle lens can accommodate in the frame will do more to enhance than to distract from the image.

The faces of the Caribbean people can be seen to shine brightly, reflecting the glorious Caribbean sun. And more so, those of the children. An intimate portrait of my own daughter reveals a pretty face outside her grandmother's house in the Mabouya Valley. Using the flowering plants, I positioned myself to capture her glowing visage through the deliberately blurred pinkish red blooms of a pomegranate tree. Juxtapositions like this add to the impact of the portrait as they subtly or otherwise lend a certain aura. A telephoto lens and/or a wide aperture (with a separation between the position of the foreground flowers and the girl’s face) is best to achieve such a scene and an evenly lit face as this is best obtained when in shade.

St Lucia is home to many bird species and habitats. During the evening, one can always see flocks of egrets and other birds dashing low across the sky to turn in for the night. Just on the city's edge at Vigie, sandwiched by the George F L Charles airport and the Castries harbour is this hidden lily pond and egret habitat near the Auberge Seraphine Hotel where this shot was taken. This place radiates peace and serenity with the perennial presence of these graceful aves. Many a birdwatcher stops there to observe them. A telephoto zoom and a tripod will be good equipment to record these birds closely.

Local band Avot Service performs at the Monchy Mizik en Kweyol event in Monchy which comes as one of the free fringe musical extravaganzas accompanying the St Lucia Jazz and Arts Festival each year. The colourful stage lighting really punches up this event at night and I positioned myself so that one or two of the spotlights were directly behind the singer adding a string-thin halo about him (especially the blue-purple one about his legs). Nuances in positioning can give your image that extra oomph that others may miss. Those free events are my stomping ground as they are...well... free and you have a bit more freedom in terms of your mobility as a photographer from the crowd to the stage. 2016 coincides with the 25 year anniversary of the Jazz and Arts festival.

'Epic' is how I want to describe this Fond D’Or beach horse and rider scene. The horse is in an almost perfect stance and the rider exudes poise and confidence. The background sea and landscape lend some drama and do well to complement the main subjects. This location brings out nature's restless beauty. The sea is always churning loudly but is balanced by the smooth sandy shore and mountainous background. There is a tributary that flows into the sea as well. On Sundays and holidays, the locals will spend the day here, start a fire and cook a delicious one pot or roast breadfruit.

If there’s anything we have in abundance here in St Lucia, it’s our beaches. And do we love to enjoy them. Soufriere, a place I go to over and over again, is the location of this scene with some kids having fun around a fishing boat. The man sitting near the engine is not the least bit impressed, nor bothered. In the background are more people on the pier and one seems to hang from a tree toward the right. So while we advertise sun, sea and sand to tourists, we make full use of them ourselves. I love this image as it captures so much fun in one shot. The beach on a Sunday afternoon is a good place to train your lens upon.

I can’t remember ever hearing him actually speak, but this sage instead speaks loudly through his bright placards of words and pictures that implore us to protect our lands and trees. Sitting quietly at the George Odlum Stadium in Vieux Fort during an unrelated event, his message now seems to resonate with the island as sustainable development and renewable energy have become buzzwords. A strong showing at COP21 in Paris in 2015, a wind energy test tower in Dennery, a proposed 3 Megawatt solar park in View Fort and ongoing geothermal exploration put us on a path to a cleaner environment. There are always interesting and unique people who can tell cogent visual stories for those who seek a documentary image. Special events  are keen to reveal such people.

Close-knit, carefree and convivial is how I perceive Canaries village. This classic and well timed image of an uncommonly muscular boy with a ball suspended in mid-air, along with the other people around and the houses that seem to have no spaces between them, remind me of a time when I was growing up and used to play with my friends in the neighborhood. You were everyone's child and they had a right to whoop you. A big village family is what I see right there with everyone feeling comfortable around each other even as they engage in different tasks. With such scenes, one must look for decisive moments and the motifs that define them. No doubt it's the boy and his ball in this case.

Again I return to Soufriere. In a place of such beauty there is bound to be beautiful people in every nook and cranny providing many opportunities to camera snoop on a tryst or two. The pier here is seen from way above with the surrounding trees emphasizing an intimate encounter from a voyeuristic viewpoint. One can almost feel the interaction and hear the exchange between the two individuals over the water. Observing people with anticipation and quick reaction is an art which the photographer can use to express the various human interactive dynamics for nearly every moment frozen in time, was but a fleeting instance in real life.

Thank you for coming on this visual tour with me and I hope you visit my island home Saint Lucia, The Helen of the West, very soon. And don’t forget your camera.

All photography used with permission of Ben Howell Productions.


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