It had been 244 days since my last trip away for photography, 8 months to put it in more relatable terms which in turn is two thirds of 2020. This feels both a lifetime and no time at all, such is the effect of Covid-time. I don’t know about you but I have difficulty recalling the last few months events in a linear fashion, it all seems to be a ‘during lockdown’ blend of stuff. I do remember quite enjoying my highly restricted photography at the beginning of lockdown, having no choice but to shoot close to home. The travel restrictions took to pressure off as you had to play the cards you had been dealt.
Fast forward a couple of months and as the lockdown restrictions eased, I hit something of a wall creatively. I’m not entirely sure why if I’m honest. I do know I didn’t want to be part of the problems being experienced at the UK’s popular locations and the distances involved for me felt unnecessary. Being summer obviously didn’t help but coastal locations resembled the worst nightmares that Club 18-30 used to offer and our national parks were exposed to people that simply had no idea how to be in them. With that in mind I wrote off the summer months and started planning for Autumn, when things would surely have improved. Hmmmm, second wave anyone??
With a late October trip up to the Highlands of Scotland looking a little iffy and a trip to the Lakes with my wife the week after also in doubt I made a dash north west while I still could.
Not wanting to get tarred with the post lockdown problematic wild camping brush, and wanting to pay my dues to the area I love, I booked into a campsite on the western shore of Lake Windermere. Although this rooted me somewhat, I usually like to be more flexible to chase conditions, it did focus my attention on a smaller area.
If I had to choose a word to summarise my few days away solely for photography, it would be rusty. It was great to be back in the vast landscapes but at times it was a little overwhelming and I was unable to focus on any particular subject, no pun intended. I think part of the problem was I had spent so long planning the trip as a whole and watching the increasing amount of restrictions leading up to it, I didn’t actually give a lot of thought to what I would do once there. I think I had full on autumn colours in mind but it was clear very quickly that I was a week or so too early for that.
Arriving late Thursday afternoon, I just didn’t fancy the overnight drive, I spent the night holed up in my little home from home reflecting on the close brush with photo trip disaster that occurred earlier in the day when I’d travelled about 20 minutes down the road before a nagging thought made me check what I’d forgotten followed by a hasty return home for my camera gear! Once the ‘what could have been’s’ had all played out in my head I moved onto umming and ahing where to head in the morning. Fortunately my mate Chris Sale came to the rescue and suggested I meet him just down the road at High Wray Bay, on Lake Windermere.
It’s a funny thing the landscape photographer’s pursuit of perfect conditions, in fact most will tell you such conditions do not exist, there is always an ‘if only……’, and very often the conditions you have where you have parked up do not reflect what you are going to get at your chosen location. The word bland sprung to mind when I parked up 45 minutes before sunrise and I was already chalking the morning up as a recce for another time. What I’d forgotten was the topography of the Lake District causes very localised weather and as the lake came into view it was clear that we definitely had something to work with. It was actually far from clear in a literal sense as far shore was partly obscured by lovely low cloud and mist, the tree tops and far fells appearing where the mist thinned and resembling cut paper layers. For me, it was crying out for a longer focal length to isolate parts of the wider scene. Coupled with the predawn light and fairly calm conditions it made for a very compelling scene. It would have been nice had it been totally calm across the water’s surface but….. See, I did say there’s always something.
The predawn mood then promptly snuffed out the sunrise so we wandered over to the wooded area where the mist would work wonders, and promptly pointed our cameras away from the trees out over the water, very much pushing the boundaries of fine art minimalism. Portrait of a snowflake in a blizzard.
Returning close to our initial location, the sun rose and added some hazy light on a scene Chris had in mind. He did a more than decent job as it goes and I’ll freely admit to just not seeing the composition at the time. After further mooching about, the light starting to get a little harsh and the morning became more about two blokes having a chat while occasionally fiddling with a camera than anything that resembled world class creativity.
Chris headed off to do proper pro photographer things, also known as office stuff, and I went in search of some woodland to explore in preparation for what was forecast for Saturday and hopefully a decent sunset that evening. If I’m honest, I’m not sure my aimless walking around various woodland had any benefit other than it was nice to be there and sunset turned out a bit of bust also. I ended up overlooking Tarn Hows which I’ve never really had any joy with where I’d ended up. It is ever so beautiful but I don’t think there’s anything new to be had from the elevated locations and the light didn’t really happen either. The camera didn’t come out of the bag. I think I was caught in two minds between wanting to be creative but my rustiness craving something more obvious. Neither happened.
One of the positives of being based at a campsite is you don’t have to think about where you’re going to overnight or worry about being moved on, as such you can have a beer or two. Another positive is a toilet block that is going to be far nicer than public loos rarely are, not to mention accessible 24hrs, which is useful following the afore mentioned beers. The other side of that particular coin though is the inevitable walk to said toilet facilities. In the dark. And on this occasion a mist that wouldn’t have been out of place in a James Herbert novel. I listen to a lot of audiobooks on my travels and quite often dark fantasy stuff which can fuel the imagination somewhat and leads the goblins in my head have a field day with such night-time trips across the campsite.
The following morning I met up with Chris again, this time at Holme Fell. I like Holme Fell a lot but generally speaking for me it needs interesting light. We had the promise of something pleasing on the climb up but it went from ohh this could be special to meh! in a heartbeat. And that, contrary to what Instagram would have you believe, is landscape photography. Most of the time you are making the best of what you’re dealt because if you don’t, you won’t be there the time the promise is fulfilled.
Strangely I bumped into another photographer I know, a very good one at that, who was also up for the weekend. I knew he’d be in the area, we’d spoke about it via Instagram but hadn’t actually arranged to meet, it was just purely coincidental that we happened to be at the very same place that morning. @tomblockley is well worth a follow.
Chris and I moved on to explore the area that is scattered with silver birch trees and has bags of potential in the right conditions. The light was better at this point but still not great and although we both had the cameras out on a couple of occasions it was definitely chalked up as an exploratory hike.
A quick trip into Windermere to get some food for the next couple of days was followed by a most welcome kip, I’d become a little soft over lockdown and clearly wasn’t as used to yomping over fells as I was not that long ago. I didn’t want anything to do with the weather I’d awoken to so I just chilled in the van, ate vegetable chilli and watched the first two Pitch Perfect movies. Manly.
I returned to Tarn Hows on Saturday as rain was forecast for much of the day, I’d not explored the woodland surrounding the tarn before and it seemed as good a place as any to spend the day getting wet. In short I had a fantastic day. Whether I captured any images worthy of the place is still debatable as conditions were tough. If nothing else it was a thorough test of my waterproof clothing, not to mention the weather sealing of my camera gear. My only regret is I didn’t have a polarizing filter with me, I need to replace it, and the wet foliage and running water I was around would have benefited greatly from being shot through one. Again, there’s always something.
I was convinced I had a puncture when I parked up initially, and made a beeline for Coniston to find a garage with an airline to check the pressure and buy time to figure out getting it sorted. Turned out it must have just been the uneven ground I was parked on as the pressure was fine. Funny how your mind works, on route to Coniston I was convinced it was pulling to the nearside and understeering right handers. Once reassured, I had no such issues driving back to my parking spot. No doubt I missed perfect conditions along with rainbows and unicorns while I was faffing about with phantom punctures.
There’s only so long you can be out in such filthy weather before you have to call it a day as it does sap your energy. I’d arrived a little before 9am and it was now mid afternoon and the rain had moved beyond atmospheric and become just plain unpleasant. A robin seemed intent on following me for about 30 mins or so, actually sitting on the camera at times. I appreciated the company while it lasted. Once back at the carpark I began the process of trying to dry stuff out whilst trying to fight the gravitation pull wet clothing in a camper van exerts upon anything that is already dry. Not particularly successfully I hasten to add.
I was heading home the following day but had time in the morning beforehand so that evening I studied all my different weather apps and the consensus of their collective opinion told me that the dreary morning would be best enjoyed from under a duvet. If landscape photography teaches you anything, it’s that you should never ever pay attention to regional weather forecasts. My forgetting this was the reason I watched a glorious sunrise present itself in my wing mirrors on route to my ‘no need to get up early’ location. I was heading slightly further north in search of Lodore Falls, which is at the south end of Derwent Water. I’m not sure why I’ve had trouble finding it on previous occasions as it was incredibly easy to find this time. After playing around with the lower falls, again more of a recce visit due to lack of polariser and distinct lack of clouds to soften the light. I tried to get to the upper falls but common sense prevailed. When my wife Emma suggests I not doing anything stupid on my trips away, the climb up the side of a moss covered ravine the day after heavy rain is exactly what she is talking about so I happily took the decision to bottle it and head home.
All in all it was a thoroughly enjoyable trip, and although I found myself making some silly mistakes, like not disabling the image stabilisation when the camera was on the tripod or the age old forgetting to check the ISO, it was good to get it out of my system before my Scotland trip, should it happen of course.