August turned out to be a surprisingly good month for photography. When I committed to converting my D800 into a full time 720nm infrared option, I envisaged that the long summer days of July and August would provide all of necessary ingredients to produce some great mono opportunities. Indeed, when I decided to head up to the Peak District during the latter part of August it was to take a closer look at Bolehill Quarry and the potential afforded by the Silver Birch woodland there. Birch makes for spectacular black and white subject matter and I was hoping to find a mix of my favourite trees perhaps with some long dry grasses for good measure. But what really started out as nothing more than a autumnal reconnaissance mission turned into an unexpected full colour landscape quest. I was told that there would be ‘some heather’ but what greeted me was an incredible purple display covering every one of the hills in the whole of the Hathersage area, a very special sight, the likes of which I genuinely hadn’t witnessed before.

Because I wasn’t expecting these wonderful views on my first trip, I definitely didn’t make the best of the early light. Not knowing anything about the potential in the local area, I just followed my instincts but struggled to find what I thought was a compelling composition and eventually settled on the Birch which reflected the light beautifully off its wonderfully textured polar white bark. I promised myself I would return as soon as I could and less than a week later I headed back up the M1 to the area again where I knew I’d be in with a shout of creating a better representation of these views. Sure enough after a short climb onto the top of one of the peaks I was rewarded with some really wonderful early low side light on the scene below which had caught my attention…

Hathersage Hills Heather

Hathersage Hills Heather

What Really Makes The Photograph Work For Me?

There are a number of important elements in this particular composition that I’m very happy indeed with. I’ve already printed this up on A2 and it’s probably my favourite image of the year so far. The blend of colours, textures and light makes this a very attractive scene, it’s already won Wex Photographic’s image of the week, hopefully indicating that this is indeed as strong photographically as I think it is.

This is what I saw when I constructed Hathersage Hills Heather:

  • Firstly and probably most importantly is the impact of the undulating wall from the bottom left corner into the middle of the frame. It’s a patently obvious lead in line but because it catches the light so well in contrast to the heather around it, it provides what I consider a very strong point of interest in the scene.
  • The line of the wall leads us to a natural peak on the hill. This works really well for me and delivers a natural focal point which the trees to the left lead up to as well. Having a deliberate and commanding focal point is often really important in wide angle photography as the photograph is in danger of getting lost in a sea of nothingness and have no particular purpose or obvious point of interest.
  • Next and most obviously is the incredible mix of purples, pinks and burnt oranges of the heather to the right. The low sun creates some lovely tonal contrast here and ensures there is a lot of detail to the heather. I’ve seen a lot of images of heather since I took this and many are a mush of colour and the detail in the plants is somewhat lost because the light was higher in the sky, but not so here.
  • The channel which runs from the bottom right hand corner to the distant hills on the left of the photograph provides a journey of real depth and shows us how big the landscape here really is. I find myself peering into that valley almost as if it were a secondary image all of its own. If I’m doing this it hopefully means that there is plenty to hold the interest of the viewer here.
  • I got very lucky with the cloud on this morning, in many ways it reflects the patchiness of the landscape below and in doing so feels like the whole photograph enjoys a feeling of continuity – there isn’t anything here which jars or causes the eye to lurch in any way.
  • The small fence and gate centre right together with the background silhouetted details provide further points of interest in a relatively busy frame, but nonetheless I think these really do add value rather than anything that might be considered to be distracting.
The Technical Setup
  • Taken with the Nikon D800E
  • Nikon 14-24mm f/2.8G @ 16mm
  • f/11, ISO100, 1/40 in bright low morning sun not long after sunrise at 06:44hrs.
  • Shot in 14bit RAW, manual white balance
  • Finished with Nik Color Efex Pro 3 and Adobe Photoshop CS6
  • No sharpening

All in all, a composition that probably makes this my shot of the 2014 summer and an absolute must to return to the area this time next year. Of course, I’ll also be making this area one of my primary autumnal targets this year, this part of the Peak District really does have a huge amount of potential.