I recently read Greg Whitton’s latest blog article with great interest on shooting during those cloudless all blue days, timely given my imminent trip to the Lakes and the pending ‘sapphire’ forecast. For once this weather prediction delivered exactly what the BBC said it would and there was more or less wall to wall sunshine for the three days I was there. Rejoice or challenge, that’s the question…
Now it’s fair to say I’ve been cursing the weather the whole winter and it often turned my mood as black as the clouds – the thing is once again the almost sub tropical environment of the district to the East of Birmingham delivered another non-winter and just endless semi-cold low contrast nothingness. Britain’s winters are definitely not what they used to be and it feels to me like we are moving towards a two season climate; it’s either summer or winter. This last weekend aptly proving this point as I stood on top of Hardknott Pass, over 1,000ft above sea level, it’s 17C, my arms and face are turning pink catching the unexpectedly hot spring sunshine but I’m also standing in snow. I don’t think many people knew how to compute that one that I spoke to.
I preyed for some cloud during the weekend but it just didn’t happen and once again I was about to be tested as a landscape photographer for the whole of my stay. Embrace it or throw in the towel and keep the camera in the bag? Well just as Greg explains in his approach to these conditions, you need to reset some of your expectations but also this is where your experience and skill to be able to continue to ‘tell the story’ comes to the fore. And I have some strategies and techniques in my back pocket to deal with that of course, some of it may even be worthy of sharing right here:
1. Backlit Subjects
One of my favourite approaches is to shoot for the backlights. Some of this may require careful planning, especially given the often limited opportunities of accidentally finding the right direction of light in the Lake District with it’s considerable and often very long shadows cast throughout the day by the steep fells. This particular image from Yew Tree Tarn near Ambleside takes advantage of strong sun which in this frame is just a little to the right, more or less directly in front of me. I had to provide additional shade to my already hooded lens because I was still getting flare in the frame – I carry a small black pocket umbrella for this purpose, perfect of course for the usual conditions in the Lakes which demand emergency shelter. Even without leaves on the trees I love the shimmer and highlights shooting this way delivers, and only full sun gives you opportunities like this.
2. Miles Of Minimalism
An empty sky certainly provides considerable opportunities for minimalism. I usually love a lot of detail in my landscapes these days but when the sky empties out the scenery can feel more peaceful, less cluttered certainly and perhaps simpler so finding small details to enhance that moment can be very rewarding. I love the mist line in this frame which draws your eye down away from the snow covered peaks to water level where in case you didn’t immediately see them you’ll find a lovely flock of what I think were geese – it was their rather noisy early morning calls to each other that alerted me to their presence despite the fact I was standing on the opposite bank of Windermere shooting this scene at 160mm just before sunrise. Anyway, something a little different maybe.
3. Deliver On Detail
If you spend more than three seconds looking at my photography you’ll soon see I’m not big on skies, regardless of whether they are big empty blue expanses or rain ladened storm fronts. I learned a long time ago to trust my eye to pick out scenery like this from from Rydal Water where I tighten the frame to remove almost any suggestion of what can be a bright distracting area of sky, instead focussing in on the gorgeous reed and marsh grass on the banks of the lake. For this particular frame I used my D500 to help extend the depth of field and shot it at 62mm (about 90mm full frame equivalence) to isolate and compress the scene from the bigger view. Personally I love the end result but once again I was thankful for the strong early morning side light which punched its way into the corners of the lake and illuminated the grass and read heads.
4. Going All In With Infrared
Honestly I am constantly and continually in awe of what Infrared can produce. I made the choice to convert my out of warranty Nikon D800 to 720nm at sensor level some years ago and I’ve never regretted it. It may not be used all year around by me but during the summer months it definitely comes into its own providing an option not usually available. So much so that in the end you might even be disappointed when it’s not wall to wall sunshine on your shooting days. Having at least a screw on infrared filter with you means that the disappointment of less than ‘ideal’ conditions for ‘conventional’ landscape photography is much reduced and you become free to tear up the usual play book and go for something which in my view is akin to pure alchemy (see my portfolio of the same name here).
5. Mirror Mirror
I don’t claim any of my approaches or methods are ground breaking but hopefully they do demonstrate the variety of images that might be possible during the summer months. Chasing near perfect glass like reflections is often near impossible on large expanses of water, but head for the smaller Tarns where breathless conditions might accompany blue skies and the combination can provide the sort of visual conundrum which at least means the viewers eye is entertained for more than a nano second. This shot with Blea Tarn in the foreground of the majestic Langdale Pikes shows what might be possible at first light in situations like this. It’s perhaps a bit of a ‘tourist’ shot for me but nonetheless it was easily worth the 5am alarm call for the pure tranquility alone.
So there we have it, five quick tips to maybe help with ‘Bluebird days’ – the next time the alarm goes off and you pull the curtain back to see pure blue, don’t curse the conditions, roll over and go back to sleep, you might just surprise yourself what’s possible on mornings like these. Side light, back light, reflections, infrared, minimalism, details, it’s all there for the taking; you just need to accept the conditions, be patient with yourself and your subject and focus on what’s in front of you.
As always it was good to put something down on a subject, first blog in 2017 and it’s just before April. I definitely need to pick up the pace again!