Landscape photography for me, as it did for most, came to a shuddering halt on 24th March 2020 when the COVID-19 lockdown of the UK came into force. I’d also been scratching an itch and trying to improve my street photography which the lockdown put the kibosh on, probably more so than my landscape work which is the largely solitary. The bottom line was a decision had to be made, put the camera away for bit or roll with the punches and find something else to point it at.
I’ve always struggled with motivation to shoot locally and with the guidelines being clear regarding exercise my bubble of opportunity would be even more restrictive. I am very fortunate to live a couple of minutes walk from a largish area of woodland, albeit a little too well maintained and well trodden for my taste. Beggars however, cannot be choosers.
Initially it was frustrating, primarily because woodland is really not my forte, secondly, it’s not what I wanted to shoot and thirdly the conditions were not really suitable even if I did. The thing is, if I’m in the Lake District or at the coast I know how to adapt better and can usually get an image to work with, if not my best work, at least good enough to feed the Instagram machine. Woodland on the other hand is far less forgiving, and for the most part we seemed to be enjoying the worst possible conditions for woodland photography, for me anyway.
Once I’d given myself a ‘suck it up dude’ talk I quite enjoyed exploring and trying to find compositions where I’d never usually consider them. It was like there was government instructed freedom to fail and not beat yourself up over it. I should clarify that any pressure that exists is purely in my head, as photography is not my main income and it really won’t affect my ability to put food on the table right now should I come home with a memory card full of dross.
The positive of being limited to where I could go meant I did get to build up some location knowledge for certain parts of the woodland that I felt might produce something half decent in the right conditions, so much so that waking one morning with the distant sound of a Thames Estuary fog horn had me up and out of the door as quick as any other location would.
Up till that image I’d been shooting handheld as I felt setting up a tripod went against the spirit of exercise but in my haste that morning, rather than just take the camera, I’d instinctively grabbed my bag which had my travel tripod on the side. So by my own self imposed no tripod rule, I was a naughty boy. Sorry your Honour, but I was shooting woodland and it was foggy, what else could I do? Anyway, as my woodland images go I was quite pleased with it regardless of circumstances.
I have also been very fortunate that my main living is in data communications and has been afforded key worker status, something I’m a little embarrassed about if I’m honest as although I get the reason, I don’t feel at all comfortable putting my job alongside the NHS. I have had work to do in hospitals during this pandemic and there are heroics going on inside those buildings. Anyhow, I digress, the point being I am in and out of some unoccupied buildings which presented some interesting photo opportunities. If nothing else it confirms I never missed my calling to be a model.
Trying to put a positive spin on things I think it helped being a fair way from the more dramatic landscapes of the Britain as they were so far out of bounds there was no temptation. A mate of mine, Chris Sale, lives right on the boundary of the Lake District and he has recently become a full time photographer, something I was a little envious of up till the 24th March, and hopefully will be again soon. It must be tremendously tough being so close. He has done some very nice work close to home though which can be seen on his website and YouTube channel. Chris’ website
I think the biggest lift to my spirits was what promised to be a repeat of last years garden entertainment provided by a family of young foxes. This year we were able to confirm four but I think there may have been five cubs and having them crashing around for a couple of months was a much better prospect than fighting with the local woodland in harsh light. Wildlife, albeit urban, was new to me last year and even though I got a couple of nice images, one of which got me a little recognition as noted in a previous blog, I don’t think I paid enough attention to composition and relied on it being a cute subject too much.
This year I was going to be more deliberate and patient. I had some creative ideas and an outline for a series of images was born. The final piece in the plan slotted in place when, bucking the trend of everyone else shooting macro, a 500mm f4 lens I’d hired for a few days arrived. A shame then that something had spooked the mum and she had relocated the cubs a week earlier. We’re not entirely sure what happened but both my wife and I felt a weird sense of loss and betrayal, like they had left ours for a younger garden.
It was a real pity because that 500mm Sigma lens was a lovely piece of glass. It was heavy and unwieldy to hold plus the focal length bordered on overkill for the size of our garden, in fact it rendered the first couple of meters a no go area for anything to be in focus. That speaks entirely of me asking it to do something it wasn’t designed to rather than a flaw. Once used to it, it was a top bit of kit, quick and accurate to focus, razor sharp wide open and buttery gorgeous bokeh. Pity it was pointing a rat that had seemed to have replaced the foxes. It was somewhat fortuitous for little Scabbers that I was far more accommodating to him given the lack of larger mammals to point the optical bazooka at.
I did get some nice images of the foxes during their short stay which had prompted the idea of hiring something longer, but it was before they got playful. They were still pretty skittish and getting freaked out by everything from flies to what appeared to be nothing more than fast moving clouds.
In and amongst all this I did some experimenting with shallow depth of field and slight movement to get some detail images in the garden, not to mention a couple of inevitable blowing a dandelion shots. So what turned out to be a frustrating start turned out to be a rewarding time photography wise.
Now, as I write we are a few days from the lockdown having been eased and there is now no legal or instructed reason why I cannot visit the Lakes, Peaks, or even the beautiful south coast but I won’t, as for me, it doesn’t currently feel right. Although the restrictions have been lifted, the communities themselves are not really geared up for vast amounts of visitors just yet and actively asking people to be considerate. How many people heed that remains to be seen but I don’t want to be anyone’s problem so I shall hold off for a while, the countryside isn’t going anywhere. Maybe I’ll throw caution to the wind and go out locally with the tripod and more than one lens, although I must admit I can feel the motivation to shoot locally already starting to ebb.