Vincent Howcutt’s drone images of the South Devon coastline are a visual memento of lockdown, recording a unique time when some of Britain’s most beautiful coves and beaches lay empty

Late afternoon in early lockdown design director Vincent Howcutt was usually to be found preparing his drone photography kit, prior to walking out to the South Devon coast. ‘My apartment in Stoke Fleming is a 10-minute walk from Blackpool Sands. Normally at this time of year it would be hustling with people, but over Easter it was just dead,’ he remembers of the overcast day when he took his first picture of the curving shingle shoreline that resembles the Caribbean.

‘The sea was a blend of emerald green and bright turquoise, and I quickly realised that the lockdown period would be a unique opportunity to document it in different hues. To capture how clear and blue it was without boats and ships moving about, and with the beaches empty of people. Blackpool Sands is surrounded by a plantation of exotic trees and it felt remote, like being on a tropical island.’

And so Vincent’s This Wild Project began as he set out to capture local South Hams beauty spots from above, using drone photography – at Little Dartmouth, Strete, Start Point, East Prawle, and later on, as lockdown lifted, Thurlestone Rock, Soar Mill Cove and Hooken Cliffs. ‘My day-to-day workload had come to a halt and I wanted to turn a negative into a positive,’ he says. ‘How many times in your life can you do something that’s just a passion? Every afternoon I would walk out with the intention of discovering something new.’

Taking drone photographs at soaring seabird eye level gave Vincent a novel perspective on the coast, allowing him to observe it in a deeper way. ‘I would set up for the golden hour, around 5pm at that time of year, when the light is softer, and take 20 to 30 images from the cliff tops. Where the land meets the sea there is often a breathtaking array of textures and colours – from rocks covered in shells and algae to striations in the sand created by the tide, to ripples on the water that resemble fabric. There is inconsistent consistency to the shapes and patterns you find. Drone photography flattens everything out and you see things more graphically – a smorgasbord of design elements thrashed together in a completely natural way.’

Every evening, Vincent would download his shots and marvel at what the camera had recorded. ‘I’m one of those people who waits for the perfect moment, looking for all the little details and flourishes that make a good composition,’ he says. At Little Dartmouth he spotted a shoal of mullet swimming below the cliffs, and sent the camera up to capture them. Rugged Soar Mill Cove also yielded arresting images – rocks covered in acid-green flora, and ragged-edged rockpools full of tiny animals. The rocky outcrops towards East Prawle where cormorants rested inspired his imagination, while all around inquisitive seals bobbed in the shallows. One perky resident, nicknamed Cyril by Vincent, regularly popped up at Blackpool Sands, akin to a small periscope, oblivious to the coronavirus crisis raging onshore.

‘I couldn’t have wished to have been anywhere better than the south coast of Devon during lockdown,’ says the designer. ‘It was a paradise that I seemed to have all to myself. It also gave me the opportunity to get into drone photography and understand it better.’ Photography is a hobby for Vincent, but it’s also intrinsic to his design work and feeds into colour palettes and textures that he uses in commercial branding projects. Above all though, he’s just happy to share what he witnessed and recorded, saying: ‘I love the idea that people will look at these photographs and get inspired by the natural world.’

A selection of This Wild Project images are available as signed limited-edition prints; browse at Follow Vincent’s adventures on Instagram @thiswildproject, and take a look at some of his incredible photography below.

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