Resolution

So 2018 has been and gone and 2019 is now well underway. Traditionally the New Year is a time for reflecting on the year gone by and making resolutions for the next 12 months. Personally I don’t  commit to any or the regular New Year resolutions such as diet, exercise or ‘finding the new me’. They simply don’t interest me. However, after looking back at the images I have captured (or rather haven’t captured) over the last couple of years, I have decided it is time to review the way I go about things. Like many other people, work and family commitments mean that time out with my camera is very limited (usually Sunday mornings and occasionally some evenings through the week), so getting the most out of that time is very important. When time is limited to a few hours per week the weather becomes a very critical part of the equation and waiting around for perfect light just isn’t an option. This makes location choice very important and can mean the difference between getting an image worth keeping or not. I am a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad weather (with the exception of wind and rain together), just a bad choice of location. For a landscape photographer there are always options for making images in any weather conditions. It is just a case of going to the right places and being creative.

This is where I have made some mistakes over the past few years and on some occasions returned home and deleted all of the images I took straight away after downloading them to the computer. There have been (quite a few) days when the weather forecast has proven to be inaccurate, resulting in flat grey skies when broken cloud and sunlight was predicted. This can not be helped but my own decisions have been equally to blame for failing to get a shot. I have been guilty of leaving the house without a plan and no idea of where I was going to end up which, on some occasions has resulted in some good images, but more often than not I returned home disappointed. 

Shown left is a selection of images taken in various weather conditions; Heavy rain, overcast, good light, windy, fog and snow with flat light (Click on any image to view large).

So this year my resolution is to spend more time researching photography locations with a list of options ready for whatever the time of year and weather conditions. I intend to take more time to find good compositions which I can return to when conditions are right for that location, and also make notes and take mobile phone shots as a reminder.  I have lost count of the times I have driven past some interesting woodland or a river promising myself that I would return to investigate further, only to forget all about it. Taking notes for future reference is definitely the way forward and having a list of options for all weather conditions will definitely improve my chances of getting a decent image every time I venture out.

In addition, I have a couple of ongoing projects which I intend to concentrate on and hopefully complete over the next 12 months based around coastal and woodland images. These are slightly more abstract than the regular ‘classic’ landscape scenes that I usually shoot and are still very much at the experimental stage. My plan is to create a series of up to 12 images in each project which are interesting on their own, but compliment each other when presented together.  So, a new year and new resolutions. Let’s see what 2019 has to offer 👍

I hope you all have a happy and productive new year. 

My favourite place

It has been a while since my last blog post so I thought I would share with you a bit of an insight into my favourite photography location, Wasdale.

Between the ages of 8 and 14 years I was very fortunate to be able to wake up every morning to the sight of the Wasdale fells from my bedroom window. A view that no-one could ever tire of, this ever changing scene was coloured green during the spring and summer, golden brown in autumn and with a dusting of white in winter. Needless to say, as an adult I find myself returning to this place more and more with my camera.

I have taken thousands of photographs of Wasdale over the past 9 years since buying my first camera, but every time I go there I find something slightly different. The view from the lake side looking down the valley towards Great Gable is one of the most photographed scenes in The Lake District. However, due to the ever changing (and often unpredictable) weather conditions that occur around this area, the same scene can look totally different in a matter of moments. As can be seen in the images below, this view looks completely different depending on the time of year and the weather conditions. (Click on any of the images to view large)

It is all too easy to settle for some shots at the lakeside, as it is only a few yards from the car, however Wasdale has far more to offer in terms of photography. Personally I like to head past the lake, up to the end of the valley where lies Wasdale Head. From there you can walk up some of the most iconic mountains in The Lake District, Great Gable, Scafell Pike etc. but I am just as happy following the many rivers and streams along the valleys that branch off in between the fells. Mosedale and Sty Head Pass are 2 of my favourites, especially following a rain storm when the water cascades from the fells and low lingering clouds cling to their sides. The rugged landscape broken up with ribbons of white water is perfect for some really atmospheric images.

The Pass

Treacherous

Over the past 2 weekends I have made 2 visits to this area, and on both occasions decided to follow Lingmell Beck up from Wasdale Head towards Sty Head Pass. On the first of these visits conditions were good when I arrived an hour or so before sunrise and there was a decent amount of water running off the fells following some rain the day before. As the morning light began to brighten I had to weigh up my options. Do I set up lower down the valley and hope for some sunrise colour looking down towards the lake, where the sky was breaking and clouds clearing, or push on further up the river and look for a composition facing the opposite direction. In the end I chose to carry on and was rewarded with a few moments of colour in the clouds as the sun rose behind the mountains.

Lingmell Beck 09/12/18

After sunrise I spent a couple of hours looking for different compositions and also looking for other possible opportunities for a different day. I made my way along the river checking out the various pools and cascades, also looking further up the mountains as the clouds briefly rolled in before disappearing again. There was so much going on around me with the clouds and occasional patches of sunlight I didn’t know where to look. It is all too easy to try and shoot every possible composition but I have found that it is better to focus on 1 or 2 ideas and try to perfect those first. I have been guilty in the past of rushing around trying to get a load of different images but instead of returning home with 3 or 4 really good images that I am happy with, I have ended up with 100 or more that are all no good. It is very disappointing when you get home after shooting in excellent conditions to find that you aren’t happy with any of your images and they all get deleted! In short, slow down, take your time and get the shot!

I could have spent all day wandering around that area, but time was limited so I had to bite the bullet and head off back down into the valley. I did however make a few stops on the way, to capture some of the wonderful light that was breaking through the clouds, temporarily lighting up parts of the landscape. The image below left was taken looking across to Mosedale with sunlight on the side of Red Pike, and below right is Great Gable with it’s summit shrouded in mist. With conditions like that I just had to stop :-)

The following Sunday morning I returned to the same area, along with Damian (https://flic.kr/ps/L44uU), hoping to explore slightly further upstream on Lingmell Beck. Conditions were very similar to my previous visit when we arrived although sunrise offered an even better red glow in the sky for a while. We had set up in roughly the same area to where I was shooting last time in anticipation of sunrise. The rocky river with its many cascades offered several different options for a good composition. Once the sunrise colour had dissipated we moved on further up the river to see what we could find. Before too long we stopped again to get some more images when we spotted a couple of good compositions. However, as we were setting up, the skies darkened and the rain started to fall. We quickly grabbed a few shots but struggled to keep the raindrops off our filters. The forecast was for further showers later that morning so we weighed up our options before deciding to pack up and head back down the valley for a well earned coffee.

As you can see, Wasdale is a magical place and I hope this blog helps to show why it is my favourite place for photography. There are so many different options depending on the weather and whether you want to stay near the lake or wander further afield. However, it can also be very a hostile place. It is very easy to get caught out as the weather can change in an instant. I have been caught out myself when a sudden and very intense rain storm moved up the valley accompanied by gale force winds. Fortunately I was prepared with waterproof clothing and the sense to turn back. I have seen so many idiots who think it is ok to walk up a mountain in T-shirt and trainers with no other equipment. It really isn’t! It only takes a moment for the cloud to close in and visibility is reduced to zero. Combine that with wind, rain, snow or ice and you can get into trouble very quickly. The mountain rescue teams are called out far too many times to people like this who have got into trouble when the weather changes, or have simply underestimated their ability and not turned back until it is too late. I know my limits and due to bad knees (which in everyday life don’t effect me), I can no longer risk walking up mountains as I suffer pain when walking back down again. That is why 90% of my photographs are taken from valleys, lake side or at the coast. If you do want to go up into the mountains, make sure you are prepared for all weathers and make sure you know what to do if you get into trouble. Stay safe :-)

Below are a few other images from around Wasdale that I have taken over the past few years.

Persistence

I was sitting at my computer last Sunday evening when I heard a rumble of Thunder. I had been watching the weather closely all afternoon following a warning for potential thunderstorms, but wasn't expecting anything for at least another hour. I grabbed my camera gear and headed off down to a place on the harbour which I thought might be good for photographing lightning. As I walked down the Quay the sky behind me was black and another rumble of Thunder gave me hope that I might get a result. Unfortunately after 20 minutes or so it wasn't to be as the storm passed by and didn't produce any lightning. I checked the weather Apps on my phone again to see if there might be more on the way but it didn't look good so I packed up my gear and headed up to the top of Harras Moor (the highest point in Whitehaven), to see what conditions looked like further inland. 

Lifting.jpg

I looked toward Ennerdale and there was a blanket of low lying mist clinging to the fells which had been left behind as the raincloud moved away in the distance. I thought that there would be some possible photo opportunities so I drove to Kirkland, a small village near Ennerdale to see what I could find. 

By the time I got there conditions were changing very quickly and I struggled to find a decent composition. What looked to be a good opportunity for some atmospheric images was quickly turning into a dull flat landscape as the mist cleared away. I managed to grab a couple of shots although the results were not what I would call great, more a record of the conditions as I saw them. I decided to hang around that area to see what would develop as according to the weather Apps on my phone, there was another potential storm heading my way . However, after a few moments the clouds started to break behind me and some nice colour and light began to appear in the sky.

Determined that I was going to get something out of the trip, I jumped back in the car and headed half a mile or so up the road to a location where I thought I might get some better shots. There are some really nice gnarly trees lined up through the middle of a field that I have photographed on a couple of occasions before, thinking I could use them as a subject against the colourful sky. 

After a frantic few minutes looking at various options with the different trees and hoping that the colour would hold on, I found a composition I was happy with and finally got a shot. It was not the photograph I had been looking for when I left the house, nor is it an image that will win any awards, but it highlights how persistence pays off with landscape photography.

We always rely on the weather to play ball when taking taking photographs of the landscape and it pays to utilise modern technology to put yourself in the right place at the right time. However, on some occasions you just have to see what develops and take what you can from a given situation. The results may not be as good as a well planned composition taken in perfect conditions, but for me it is better to go home with something in the bag after making the effort to go out in the first place. In addition, I now have another location which I know I can return to at sunset, when I can give myself more time to compose a better shot. There were a few other options here which I didn't have time to explore due to the short time I was there. I will definitely be back soon when the weather looks right.

Plan B

The weather forecast for this morning suggested that there was a chance of thunderstorms. So I set off to work an hour early, just on the off-chance that there might be an opportunity to get some lightning shots. It turned out to be rather foggy instead so I was forced to revert to plan B.

Irton Park III

Irton Park III

I headed up to an area of woodland which I am very familiar with (having spent many nights camping there when I was younger), safe in the knowledge that I could get some decent compositions without having to venture too far. By the time I arrived I only had around 30 minutes before I needed to head off to work, so I took my tripod and camera with 70-200mm lens and set off down the track into the woods. 

Woodland photography is not easy to get right and I have struggled to get many decent images over the years. However, in the short time I had this morning I managed to get a few images that I am really happy with, in particular the one shown here. The misty conditions with no wind were perfect for this location.

The Forestry Commission have cleared out a lot of the trees in this area which has left sections of open spaces, dotted with solitary trees and newly grown ferns. These open spaces allowed me to compose my shots from further away, keeping the composition simple without too many other distractions such as branches etc. It can be very difficult to compose a shot in amongst the trees as there is usually a branch or tree that gets in the way and just doesn't make the image work. The other benefit of shooting trees from distance is that it is easier to keep them vertical. Had I been standing closer with a wider angle lens, I would have needed to tilt the camera up which results in converging verticals (everything appears to be leaning backward). 

Overall this morning turned out well, despite being very short of time. It is always worth keeping places in mind for different conditions and ALWAYS have a plan B!

Raw Power

My first blog entry will be a relatively short one. I just wanted to demonstrate just how much you can push a RAW file in Photoshop or Lightroom. The 2 images seen here are actually the same shot, before and after processing. 

IMG_0151.JPG

The dark (almost completely black) image is one that I took accidentally at Ennerdale in The Lake District. I was shooting long exposures using a remote shutter release and accidentally closed the shutter a few seconds into what should have been a 2 minute exposure. I decided to have a play with the file just to see what I could do with it and the result was quite surprising. As you can see, the second image is somewhat different to the first and while the results aren’t perfect, it is a useable image. Had I taken the image in jpeg it would have been completely unusable as you can’t push the processing anywhere near as much as with RAW files. 

Obviously when using your camera it is far better to get the correct exposure at the time of capture, but I think this clearly demonstrates how much you can recover from a RAW file which is underexposed. The same cannot be said for an overexposed image however. If the highlights are blown, there is no recovering them and your image will be unusable. Recovering shadow details in high contrast scenes is one example of where you might need more extreme processing. Shooting in RAW will allow you to correctly expose for the highlights, knowing that you can easily pull back details from underexposed shadow areas.