Images of Cornwall as Generated by AI

By . Last updated

With the advances in AI coming thick and fast I thought it would be interesting and fun to see how well generative AI tools could recreate some iconic Cornish locations. Now, I am no expert in artificial intelligence and can only guess how these images are created. However, I am more than happy to comment on the results, which I have to say are in some respects impressive, but in others unfathomably bad! Let's just say that AI won't be putting any Cornish photographers out of business this year!

All images were created using OpenAI's DALL·E3 model.


Penzance - AI generated image
Penzance, Cornwall

My first experiment was to see how good a job the AI could do on creating an image of Penzance. I typed "Penzance, Cornwall" into the prompt and the image above is what came out.

It looks like somewhere I'd love to go. Sadly it looks nothing like Penzance! It does seem to have a few features that could have been inspired by Penzance. At a guess I would say the picture is based on the view up from the harbour and Abbey Slip (see here). There is a steeple on the back of Chapel Street, but it isn't a church. The shops at the bottom may have been extrapolated from the row of warehouses, but you won't find any boats along this stretch.

Penzance - AI generated image

Looking at my original attempt at generating a Penzance image it occurred to me that maybe the "Cornwall" part of the prompt had influenced the AI. The picture seems to show hints of other Cornish locations - maybe hints of Falmouth or Padstow.

Given Penzance is a fairly unique place name I tried recreating the image using just "Penzance" as the cue. Unfortunately the results were far, far worse! Whilst it does possibly show hints of the Newlyn School of painting that seems to be about as close as it gets. Yes, it's definitely Cornwall, but those cliffs look more like the Lizard and nothing in this picture is recognisably Penzance.


Padstow - AI generated image
Padstow, Cornwall

I really like this AI picture of Padstow. It is wildly inaccurate but it does convey a feeling of the town and has some almost identifiable features. The row of shops along the harbour front for instance; these are about the right size and shape. On the other side is what appears to be a slate building, which is definitely in keeping with the town.

What I find most interesting though is the island in the middle of the picture. This looks similar to Brea Hill just across the Camel estuary from Padstow. In reality the hill doesn't have a lighthouse on top, but as we will see, the AI is quite liberal with its placing of lighthouses. And to be fair this one does pass a fleeting resemblance of the nearby Trevose Head light.


Newquay - AI generated image
Newquay, Cornwall

The AI rendition of Newquay is another case where a certain amount of the gist of the place seems to have been captured, although that is where it ends. 

This view feels like it could be from Fistral beach as the second headland looks somewhat like Towan Head. However, in reality there should be miles of beach beyond this point, instead of just the one.

The beach in the foreground also has elements of Towan beach with perhaps the island with a lighthouse representing the island here with its bridge and house atop. The arch linking the island to the beach could be a nod to one of the arches in the town's old harbour.

Land's End

Land's End, Cornwall - AI generated image
Land's End, Cornwall

How the AI has interpreted Land's End makes me wonder how it works. It seems like a list of ingredients are identified and then thrown together in what is not necessarily the correct order!

The cliffs and rocks do look geologically similar to the rugged granite of the real Land's End. The rock in the foreground does very much resemble the "Armed Knight" while the headland behind has some similarities with "Enys Dodnan", albeit sans arch. 

What is presumably Land's End Hotel is not positioned too badly but then things start to go a little awry. Whether the AI "thought" - "it's Cornwall so there must be a lighthouse", or it knew there was a lighthouse near Land's End, I couldn't say. However, the Seven Stones Lighthouse lies about a mile off the coast.


Mevagissey - AI generated image

Another one where the overall impression isn't too bad. In fact even on closer scrutiny this AI version of Mevagissey has a fair few things in the right places.

The inner harbour is about the right size and shape (let's just forget about the outer harbour for now!) and the row of colourful three-storey houses along the northern side of the harbour are there. Shops line the harbourfront, which is also correct and the view is taken from what is presumably Polkirt Hill.

The backdrop of St Austell Bay isn't too bad either. Where things start to fall apart is with the artistic license. With its penchant for lighthouses the AI has gone overboard and provided us with a towering red and white striped one as opposed to the rather diminutive white one that sits at the end of the outer south arm.

Porthcurno Beach

Porthcurno beach - AI generated image
Porthcurno Beach

Possibly the worst of the whole bunch. There really is very little in common with this AI generation and the real Porthcurno beach.

The genuine article is set in an amphitheatre of rugged golden granite with lifeguard hut being pretty much the only sign of humankind. There are certainly no beach huts and I don't think many living people will remember when working boats have been pulled up on the beach.

The rocks just offshore are quite an interesting feature. They very much look like Gull Rocks off Holywell Bay. This makes me wonder if when the AI was scraping information off the internet it didn't find results for Cornwall's best beaches alongside each other, causing it to get confused.

There is one part of the image that is pretty accurate though. The cliffs on the second part of the bay are a dead ringer for the real thing.


Boscastle - AI generated image

I thought Boscastle, with its unique setting, would make an interesting subject for the AI to have a go at. The actual North Cornwall village is set at the head of a steep-sided valley which forms an narrow inlet where the River Valency runs into the sea. This dramatic backdrop provides one of the few harbours along this stretch of coast.

The picture above certainly fits the description. It even has a few houses that look like they may be made of the local Delabole slate. However, beyond the overall description of Boscastle the details are a little lacking.

My main gripe is the image doesn't really capture the drama of the place. TIn reality the inlet is somewhat narrower and snakes its way towards a pair of imposing headlands before reaching the sea. Also the harbour looks a little generic, pretty much like you would expect a Cornish harbour to look whereas Boscastle's is quite recognisable with it's staggered harbour walls.

St Michael's Mount

St Michael's Mount- AI generated image
St Michael's Mount, Cornwall

Well this one is pretty unmistakable. Mind you, given the number of photographs of St Michael's Mount online the AI would have quite a lot to work with here.

If I'm going to nitpick about this picture I could point out there are more pine trees on the eastern slope than in reality and the harbour isn't really there. But beyond that this is pretty good.

The castle has the right bumps in the right places, the outline of the island is spot on and the houses around the bottom pretty good, if not a little large.

St Ives

St Ives - AI generated image
St Ives, Cornwall

I'm actually a little disappointed with what the AI came up with for St Ives. It does certainly have a number of recognisable features, however I think it is a little odd that it doesn't really capture the colours of St Ives. I mean practically every photo of the place online has beautiful aquamarine water, golden-white sand and (whether representative or not) blue skies. So why the AI generated four images with rather muted colours and overcast skies is a little bizarre.

Anyway, on to the overall accuracy of the image. The beach in the foreground seems to be a mixture of two of St Ives' most popular beaches; Porthmeor and the Harbour beach. The picture is similar to the well known view from on top of the island down over Porthmeor beach, however what appears to be Smeaton's Pier makes and appearance at the far end. Also missing from the view, if it were Porthmeor is the Tate which would be front and centre.

The landscape beyond is a little more puzzling. To me it is reminiscent of the Camel Estuary and certainly not the rugged moorland which lies to the west of St Ives.


Looe - AI generated image

This may well be my favourite AI image of Cornwall on the list. Whilst it is a fairly unrealistic representation of Looe, it has all the ingredients but feels more like a sort of caricature. 

It's a little difficult to figure out which way the picture is looking along the East Looe River. I'd say it is looking downstream, towards the sea, which raises the question of how the fishing boats got under the bridge!

Talking of the bridge, it is a fairly good likeness of the real thing, albeit a slightly condensed version of the stone-arched original. The harbour walls are also pretty good and are complete with the wooden mooring posts that are a feature of Looe's riverfront.

The location of the buildings isn't quite right as they should mostly be after the bridge. I'm guessing the steeple is  a nod to St Nicholas' Church on the West Looe side, although it could equally be the Guildhall on the other.

Eden Project

The Eden Project - AI generated image
The Eden Project

It would be pretty difficult to not recognise this AI rendition of the Eden Project. In terms of details it is actually quite bad, but taken as a whole it is unmistakable.

The structure of the biomes has been faithfully recreated with plastic hexagons forming appropriately sized domes. However, the order of the biomes is a little off and there seem to be a few bonus domes thrown in for good measure.

The landscaping is a bit out too - again it seems very much a gist thing with a random collection of exotic plants thrown in, including the giant cacti. The central sculpture is interesting; whilst completely fictitious, it is very much in keeping with the Eden Project aesthetic.

One other quibble with the image is the backdrop. Yes, the Eden Project is about a mile from the sea but you won't have much chance of seeing it as the site is an old quarry.


Falmouth - AI generated image
Falmouth, Cornwall

Not a bad job at creating an AI Falmouth. If I was presented with this and had to guess what Cornish town it was supposed to be I don't think I'd have too much trouble. Of course it is geographically incorrect, but then River Fal is quite complicated - although it does connect with the sea, unlike in the picture!

What the AI got right is the overall feel of the town. The docks and marinas are of about the right scale, as is the density of the housing in the town. On the other hand the docks don't spill over to the other side of the river and whilst Falmouth does have some sandy beaches, they are around the headland and not on the river.

This wasn't the only AI image of Falmouth generated. The one below is a perfect example of all the right ingredients, but somehow the final product didn't come out quite right!

Falmouth AI error
Falmouth - Something not quite right

Port Isaac

Port Isaac - AI generated image
Port Isaac

For our final image I chose the home of Doc Martin and Fishermen's Friends - Port Isaac. The AI rendition of the village was yet another example of all the right ingredients but the wrong recipe! Yes it's a village with a harbour but it certainly isn't recognisable.

There are a few details that are in keeping with Port Isaac. For example there are a handful of Delabole slate style houses above the harbour and Fore Street does take a similar course to that in the image. On the other hand the two church spires are a little odd as Port Isaac doesn't have any.

So overall, AI in 2024 isn't going to be stealing any local photographers' jobs. What it can do is hugely impressive and it makes some lovely, if somewhat inaccurate, pictures that might even look better than the real thing in some cases.