Picturesque places can be the hardest to photograph, places which look great through eyeballs but unoriginal on an LCD screen. This was my experience in Portmeirion, the curious Welsh village/film set/tourist attraction/hotel. Somewhere stunning to soak in during a visit earlier this year but difficult to take images of that didn’t look like they belonged on a postcard stand.
Over the course of four days I saw Portmeirion in rain, shine, and mist – morning, noon, and night. If I’d been there for a day trip I don’t think I would have been able to find some of the angles that appealed to me the most.
One of the most interesting things about Portmeirion is its size – photographs and first impressions are deceptive. Look closely and many of the details that give the buildings their sense of scale are actually painted on. Perspective tricks and fake windows all add up to make a place that’s actually tiny look larger than it is.
All this is hard to reveal in a photo and eyes need to be there to really see the magician’s secrets, but that’s probably why it’s made such an iconic film set over the years.
The use of colour throughout the village makes for some appealing images, especially in the soft light of an early morning or sunset. It’s hard to say why but for some reason the Technicolour pastels of Portmeirion suit the surroundings without being tacky and look good through a lens.
There are some really interesting little details as well, bits of architecture which have been pinched from other places and placed in Portmeirion.
For anyone serious about photographing Portmeirion I’d recommend staying overnight and travelling in May. At that time tourists will have left by 6pm with evenings still bright enough for a few good hours of light. There are plenty of interesting views when it gets dark as well.
I’d also recommend reading the book Portmeirion the Place and its Meaning, the Gideon’s bible of the hotel rooms in Portmeirion (though it costs a £10). Written by Portmeirion’s architect Clough William-Ellis it describes how the village was conceived and constructed over several decades. Aside from being an inspiring tale of an architect who wanted to create well-designed buildings that everyone could appreciate it’s also one of a creative endeavour, a project that should be inspiring to anyone trying to create something fun and universally appealing.