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Leave only footprints; take only photographs

A good picture is better than a long speech.{h}

With its variety of scenery and outdoor activities compressed into such a small space, St Helena offers much to the keen photographer

SEE ALSO: Sunsets

Opportunities For Photographers

From the vibrant colours of a parade in Jamestown to the natural landscapes of the peaks, via seascapes, cliffs, fields, woodlands, flora and fauna of many kinds, there is plenty to attract the eye of the photographer, even without straying far from the road. And with a little walking some remarkable views can be found. Our exceptionally high air-quality will help too!

Please Note All that we say here about photography applies equally to taking videos!

The camera is much more than a recording apparatus; it is a medium via which messages reach us from another world that is not ours and that brings us to the heart of a great secret. Here magic begins.{i}

What To Bring

In addition to your camera, a lightweight tripod may be helpful - many colourful activities occur during the cool of the early evening and darkness falls by 7pm even in mid-summer.

If you are going hiking, make sure you have a sturdy and waterproof case for your camera and accessories which can be slung rucksack-style on your back, as some of the tracks require the use of both hands for comfortable walking.

Basic supplies and equipment for digital cameras can be obtained on St Helena, including spare memory cards of most common types.

If your camera takes standard batteries (disposable or rechargeable) you can buy these here, but if your camera uses non-standard rechargeable batteries don’t forget your battery charger! You will almost certainly not be able to buy a replacement on the island and the best you can hope for is that someone here has the same camera as you and can lend you a charger. If bringing a battery charger or other outlet-powered equipment please be aware that the electricity supply on St Helena is 240v 50Hz, though most accommodations will provide 110v via a shaver-socket.

Please be aware that chemical film processing is not available on the island. If you still use chemical film, bring lots of rolls and a secure container to transport them home for processing.

Photo examples

To see more photographs of St Helena go to one of our image pages:

If you have a photo to share that we can use in our pages please email it to us{2}

Images from various photographers

Below: Sunsets by Bruce PetersMJ LtdAndrew / Peter NeaumPrize Winner, 2009Early colour photographGoogle Street View™

Sunsets by Bruce Peters

Bruce Peters has kindly allowed us to use some of his photographs, as below{a}:

These and many more spectacular sunsets are presented on our page Sunsets.

MJ Ltd

Merrill Joshua has kindly allowed us to use some of his photographs, as below{j}:

Andrew / Peter Neaum

Andrew Neaum & his father David served as priests here in the 1980s{k}. Given his occupation, many of Andrew’s slides contain Churches. His collection of island images 1982-1985 have been digitised and shared here by his son Peter Neaum, with other additional images here: www.flickr.com/‌photos/‌peter‌_‌neaum/‌albums/‌72157680506450671.

See a full gallery at www.flickr.com/‌photos/‌peter‌_‌neaum/‌albums/‌72157680506450671.

Prize Winner, 2009

The photograph below, by Ed Thorpe, was judged the best photograph submitted from St Helena from the World Wide Photo Walk in July 2009. It was selected because it beautifully captured the essence of Jamestown. It is an eclectic mix of old and new: 19 rooftops huddled together in the constricts of the valley.{11}

Early colour photograph

Below is one of the first colour photographs of St Helena, taken by Philip Gosse in 1939, showing Arum Lilies (then our National Flower) growing by the roadside.

Google Street View™

In July 2017 it was announced that St Helena was going to feature on Google Street View™, to go live probably later in the year. Some images did appear later in 2017, though not a full Street View™ portfolio, and at the time of writing they do not seem to have been updated. An example appears below:

John Isaac Lilley: our first photographer?

John Isaac Lilley may have been St Helena’s first proper photographer{10}, though he was only an amateur.

Lilley was Assistant Superintendent of the Military Store in Jamestown between 1861 and 1866, and immediately upon his arrival began photographing the island. In July 1863 he claimed to have invested some £300 and two years’ labour on his project, stating that his were the first photographs ever taken of St Helena on 11x9inch ‘high-resolution’ plates{5}.

Around 140 of Lilley’s gold-toned albumen prints are believed to have survived. Digital copies of some of his work appear below{3}:

According to Robin Castell:

The earliest known photograph taken in St Helena is that of Jane Matilda Stace in the year 1856. It was taken by G.W. Melliss (John Melliss’ father) at Oak Bank.

Photography Days

World Photography Day, on 19th August, is not formally celebrated on St Helena, though some recent island photography competitions have been aligned with the date. Sadly, August is in our Winter so is not the best time of the year for taking photographs. Similarly Nature Photography Day on 15th June.

Read More

Below: Article: Why the island of St Helena is a photographer’s dreamArticle: How to photograph all of St Helena in one go!That line isn’t straight

Article: Why the island of St Helena is a photographer’s dream

By Craig Williams, published in National Geographic, Travel, 17th March 2022{3}

I used to take what I had in my backyard for granted. St Helena - a volcanic island in the middle of the Atlantic - is where I’ve lived my whole life. Perhaps because of this, I never thought that much about all the island has to offer; I failed to see its unique beauty, with its volcanic valleys and lush, tropical centre.

Growing up in the island’s St Paul’s district, I’ve always been surrounded by trees and vegetation. When I started taking photos, I began to appreciate the beauty of my surroundings and wanted to give something back. I bought a drone; first a DJI Phantom 2, and then a Mavic 2, and was able to see the island from a totally different perspective. It was breathtaking.

What I love the most is capturing top-down images of the steep, striking coastline - constantly smashed by ocean swells - plus historic fortifications such as High Knoll Fort, which towers over homes from its perch on the crest of a hill. Then you have Diana’s Peak, where the path to its summit is often shrouded in low fog - a pathway to the sky, if you will. My favourite locations to photograph are dotted around the island, but if I had to choose one, it would have to be the seaside on the outskirts of Jamestown, the capital of the island. Sunsets there are never the same, from the warming colours of the sky to the beautiful Georgian buildings with history spilling from their walls.

No visitor to St Helena will ever be disappointed - from history enthusiasts and nature-lovers to photographers and younger people looking for a fun night out. Take it from me, this beautiful island deserves to be on your bucket list. For keen hikers, there are endless routes to places like our famous Heart Shaped Waterfall, and the challenging Sharks Valley.

Above all, no matter where you go on St Helena, there’s always a photographic opportunity. Since I started using my drone, I go out every day to fly, and to find new locations. St Helena, I’ll forever be grateful for the views, the perspectives and the beauty you offer - and the fact I have all this in my backyard. I’m very lucky indeed.

Craig’s top three St Helena experiences:

  1. Diana’s Peak Post Box Walk

    Standing 2,700ft above sea level, Diana’s Peak is the highest point on the island, with panoramic views stretching across this tropical paradise. The peak has gained the name Cloud Forest because of its thickly forested slopes, often wreathed in mist.

    [See Diana’s Peak.]

  2. Sunday ride followed by an ice cream from Uncle Bob

    Aside from the popular attractions, for me, a traditional Sunday ride around the island, finished with ice cream from Uncle Bob’s ice cream truck, is a must. Bob is a fun, friendly, down-to-earth guy who’ll share stories about local Saints, while you watch the sun slowly set at the seaside - an experience to remember.

    [See Driving in St Helena.]

  3. Jacob’s Ladder challenge

    Climb the 699 steps of Jacob’s Ladder, the same ladder that was used to transport goods hundreds of years ago. Be warned, this is a real challenge, but it’s incredibly rewarding if you’re brave enough. Plus, there’s also the opportunity to get some close-up images of birds swooping around the ladder.

    [See Jacob’s Ladder.]

Article: How to photograph all of St Helena in one go!

Published on earthobservatory.nasa.gov 7th May 2009{3}

Saint Helena Island, located in the South Atlantic Ocean approximately 1,860 kilometres west of Africa, was one of the many isolated islands that naturalist Charles Darwin visited during his scientific voyages in the nineteenth century. He visited the island in 1836 aboard the HMS Beagle, recording observations of the plants, animals, and geology that would shape his theory of evolution. This image was acquired by astronauts onboard the International Space Station as part of an ongoing effort (the HMS Beagle Project) to document current biodiversity in areas visited by Charles Darwin.

This astronaut photograph shows the island’s sharp peaks and deep ravines; the rugged topography results from erosion of the volcanic rocks that make up the island. The change in elevation from the coast to the interior creates a climate gradient. The higher, wetter centre is covered with green vegetation, whereas the lower coastal areas are drier and hotter, with little vegetation cover. Human presence on the island has also caused dramatic changes to the original plants and animals of the island. Only about 10 percent of the forest cover observed by the first explorers now remains in a semi-natural state, concentrated in the interior highlands.

Saint Helena Island is perhaps best known as the place where Napoleon Bonaparte I of France was exiled following his defeat at the Battle of Waterloo in 1815; he died and was buried on the island in 1821. Later, his remains were returned to France. Today, the island is a British Overseas Territory, with access provided thirty times a year by a single ship, the RMS St Helena (1990-2018).

Astronaut photograph ISS019-E-14918 was acquired on May 7, 2009, with a Nikon 2DXs digital camera fitted with a 400mm lens, and is provided by the ISS Crew Earth Observations experiment and Image Science & Analysis Laboratory, Johnson Space Center. The image was taken by the Expedition 19 crew. The image in this article has been cropped and enhanced to improve contrast. Lens artefacts have been removed. The International Space Station program supports the laboratory to help astronauts take pictures of Earth that will be of the greatest value to scientists and the public, and to make those images freely available on the Internet. Additional images taken by astronauts and cosmonauts can be viewed at the NASA/JSC Gateway to Astronaut Photography of Earth. Caption by William L. Stefanov, NASA-JSC.

Instrument(s): ISS - Digital Camera

More images of St Helena from space on our page Weather and climate.

That line isn’t straight

Example image

Have a look at the photo on the right. Does something look a little odd? Yes - the horizon isn’t flat. Read on to find out why (and how it could have been prevented…)

Have you ever taken a photo, looked at it afterwards, and realised there was something odd about it, though you perhaps can’t immediately see what? Not just a waste-bin or some other object that you don’t remember being in shot, but something just slightly not-right?

The way cameras work can cause minor distortions in the photos we take. One common one is Perspective Distortion. If you are researching for a science paper on perspective distortion, stop reading now and go instead to the Wikipedia page ‘Perspective distortion (photography)’ for a detailed technical explanation. If you just want a lay-person’s explanation, and some tips for preventing it, see below.

Why QQQQQisQQQQQ the horizon bent?

What’s wrong with the picture above is that the horizon isn’t straight. This photo appeared on Social Media{6} and there was some debate going on in the ‘comments’ about why that would be. Someone had pointed out that, if you go up high enough, the horizon does appear curved. The earth is, after all, a ball, not a disc{7}. But this photo was taken from the cliffs on St Helena - that’s theRMS St Helena (1990-2018) in the bay - and they are only about 450m high. That’s nowhere near high enough for the curvature to be as pronounced as it is in this photo. The answer lies in the camera lens.

Every lens has a parameter called it’s ‘focal length’. Look on the front of your camera and, near or on the lens, you will probably see a number that looks like a measurement in millimetres, e.g. 35mm. Exactly what the focal length is needn’t bother us here {8}. What matters is that it affects the width of the image you can capture with your camera. And it also can cause your photos to be distorted.

Early simple cameras tended to have a lens with a focal length of 50mm. Nowadays it is usually 35mm or lower. The smaller the focal length, the wider the image taken, and the change was made so that camera users could easily get more into their pictures. With a wider-angle lens you don’t have to step back to get Auntie Ethel into the picture, or move further away to get the whole Diana’s Peak range in. But, as always, there’s a price.

At f=50mm the image is pretty much undistorted, but as you decrease the focal length the level of distortion increases and straight lines become more and more curved. Take this to extremes and, at focal lengths below 16mm you get an effect known as a ‘fish-eye’ view. Have a look on the Wikipedia at Category:Fisheye Images for some examples of quite extreme fish-eye view photographs and there's also one on our page Jacob’s Ladder - a view of Jamestown taken from the top of the ladder. Fish-eye lenses are great for special effects but not so good for taking snapshots of your family & friends. Camera makers aim for something in the middle, giving a wide angle of view with an ‘acceptable’ amount of distortion.

What can I do about it?

Professional and serious hobby photographers use cameras that take interchangeable lenses, with different focal lengths. They have the option to choose a lens that will minimise (or maximise, if that’s the effect they want) the perspective distortion. But the ordinary point-and-shoot cameras that most people use don’t have interchangeable lenses. If your camera has an optical zoom (i.e. the lens actually moves in and out as you change the zoom{9}) you could try using longer focal lengths. Just zoom in, though you may then have to step backwards to get everything in. But there is also a simpler trick that will usually work.

The prominence of the distortion tends to increase towards the edges of the photograph. The horizon in the example above is in the top quarter of the image, and so is quite distorted. Had the photo been composed with the horizon running through the middle of the photograph, the distortion wouldn’t have shown up. Of course the picture would have also had a lot more sky in it, but that could have been cropped out afterwards. Modern digital cameras take quite high-resolution images so a degree of cropping is possible while still keeping good image quality. So if it had really mattered that the horizon appear straight, that would probably have worked without having to change positions.


{a} Bruce Peters{b} Andrew / Peter Neaum{c} John Isaac Lilley, 1861-1866{d} Geoff Benjamin{e} Ed Thorpe{f} Google Street View™{g} Earth Observatory, taken from the ISS{h} Napoleon{i} Orson Welles{j} MJ Ltd{k} Andrew / Peter Neaum


{1} Without the porch, added later.{2} We cannot pay for photos but we do credit the photographer.{3} @@RepDis@@{4} Father of John Melliss.{5} He did admit that a few small views had previously been taken by other amateurs.{6} Thank you to Fay Howe for letting us use her photo.{7} Though fans of the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett may wish it was otherwise.{8} Of course, the answer’s on the Wikipedia at Focal_length.{9} As opposed to electronic zoom, which manipulates the image that is captured but doesn’t change the focal length.{10} It is said that the illustrations in ‘Views of St Helena’, by G.W. Melliss{4}, published in 1857 were drawn from original photographs, but if this is true the photographs no longer survive so G.W. Melliss{4} loses out to Lilley, in our opinion.{11} Taken from the St Helena Herald, 21st August 2009. {3}.