The English Lake District is a favourite part of the British Isles for many people, the rolling countryside, rugged fells dotted with attractive mountain tarns, picturesque villages and of course lakes. Regardless of the time of year, or conditions it has a special appeal, but parking up in Ambleside with a heavy drizzle falling it didn’t seem too promising. As the primary aim was to photograph the tarns and fells, prospects appeared particularly bleak.
“Photography is often about being in the right place, at the right time”
Most visitors to a destination are seeking perfect weather, clear blue skies, a gentle breeze, possibly the odd fluffy cloud drifting across the sky. Conditions which are likely to provide an equally perfect sunset, enjoying the view as the sun sinks behind a distant horizon from a beachside bar, or slowly retreating below the rugged skyline of a mountain ridge. However, it’s not always possible to enjoy such conditions, at times the heavens open, and the rain hammers down, the wind can blow so strong it is difficult to remain standing, or the sky is just grey, dull and uninspiring.
‘Poor’ conditions however, can be favourable for photographers. Pure blue skies seem boring in images, and the harsh light of a midday sun is usually avoided. Rolling or low-lying mist can add drama to a scene, crashing waves are often spectacular, and of course a winter wonderland under several feet of pure white snow can be particularly stunning.
Photography is often about being in the right place, at the right time, capturing that instant which tells a story, portraying a scene perfectly. The best chance of achieving success is to live near the place, enabling the photographer to visit when suitable conditions occur. Those not fortunate enough to live within easy travelling distance will need to pay close attention to weather forecasts and be ready to travel when the conditions are right. Travelling photographers often just need good fortune, arrangements were probably made months in advance, and the weather will be down pure luck.
Sheltering from the rain in Ambleside’s famous “Apple Pie” café however, it did not appear that luck was on our side. I was visiting with fellow photographer and regular contributor to this site Alison Bailey, and the following day did not seem anymore promising either.
“like a spectral fog from a horror b-movie”
Starting out early at the iconic Pooley Bridge boat house on the shores of Ullswater, the sky was a flat, dull grey only punctuated by the occasional darker cloud. When the conditions aren’t exactly ideal for landscape photography, the challenge is to find landscapes which suit the prevailing weather, or something else of interest to point a lens at.
After concentrating on a lone tree in a misty valley for nearly an hour, we visited the much photographed jetty on Derwentwater before finally heading to Castlerigg Stone Circle to capture huge, dramatic, dark grey, almost black brooding clouds at dusk over the Neolithic stones. In the meantime, I’d managed to grab some images of a host of garden birds feasting on the feeders of a hotel, and some long exposures at a nearby set of waterfalls.
Finding some interesting images became an exciting challenge, some worked, some didn’t, but the search became fun in itself. Shooting the lone tree from every possible angle of interest, as a slow-moving mist flowed down from the surrounding fells looked especially moody. The low clouds slowly creeping, edging ever closer to the valley floor, swirling around the buildings of local stone, and around the isolated rocks, and trees, flowing over crumbling dry stone walls, and climbing over stiles like a spectral fog from a horror b-movie.
Close ups of fallen trees, concentrating on the patterns and texture of the bark, or patches of soft moss contrasting with the rough ridge like contours of the tree, nature; the ultimate designer.
This search meant a long day, and it was a couple of tired, and hungry photographers which returned to our secluded cottage at Hall Hills, near Dalston. There was plenty of animated conversation during dinner, while checking the images captured, and while researching potential locations before we retired, hoping for more favourable conditions the following day.
Waking up to a bright, clear morning with wispy clouds, it seems I might have greater favour with the weather gods than many might imagine. The clouds thickened but the favourable conditions and our research led us deep into the Langdales, soon standing next to the crystal clear, mirror-like waters of Blea Tarn. The surrounding fells reflected perfectly in the still water, almost like an oil painting, the bright sun occasionally breaking through the dark clouds turning the lower slopes of the fells a golden colour. In the calmest corner of the tarn a thin film of ice was still in place, despite the signs of spring everywhere, threatening it’s fragile, crystalline existence.
Meandering slowly through the Langdales, stopping when a suitable scene presented itself, often waiting for angry-looking clouds to part, or drift over the fells providing deep shadows, contrasting with the stark landscape of the rugged fells.
“nature mastering the many shades of grey”
Eventually arriving at Loughrigg Tarn as the sun began to sink behind the highest peaks, depriving the tarn of it’s life giving warmth, until the small, secluded lake almost seemed drained of any hues. The stark black silhouettes of leafless trees reflected in the still waters of the colourless water, while bulrushes waved slowly in the slightest breeze. It was a moody scene which contrasted perfectly with the scenes from earlier in the day, and was an ideal climax to our trip.
The film “Fifty Shades of Grey” was released the weekend we visited, tickets for the premier in Keswick had apparently sold out within minutes. It somehow seemed appropriate, as the Lake District had surely presented every possible hue during the last few days, nature mastering the many shades of grey far more effectively than anything portrayed in a film.
During the three days spent in the Lakes, we may not have experienced the National Park in all its moods, but we’d been treated to several sides of its character. It’s not merely about grabbing an image of a subject or destination at their best, or only taking picture postcard images. Stories are usually complex, many details telling a complicated story, capturing these details, and showing every facet of the character is part of the appeal of photography.