1-2-1 Lake District Landscape Photography Workshop

I thought I’d write a little blog about my recent 1-2-1 landscape photography workshop in the Wasdale Valley Lake District, to give a little more insight into what you can expect when booking on one of my mountain landscape photography workshops.

Paul who was my client for the day had contacted me through Facebook to arrange a workshop in The Lake District. He couldn’t make any of the dates on my prearranged events, so we worked out a date he was available and I designed a bespoke 1-2-1 workshop for him. A keen photographer and wanting to learn more about landscape photography Paul had told me he would like help with composing images, focusing correctly, getting the correct exposure and exposure bracketing, he also wanted help with the post processing side of things. Paul Lives in West Cumbria just outside the national park, so I chose the Wasdale Valley as the location for the day, home to Wastwater the deepest lake in England at 258 feet, and Scafell Pike the tallest mountain 978m, 3,209 feet. Paul had also said that being a competent hill walker he would like to venture up into the fells to capture some mountain landscape images from high up, so I planned a route from Wasdale Head which would take us to the top of Lingmell looking down over Wastwater in the Wasdale Valley.

Looking down over Wastwater from Lingmell.

We met in the morning at 10:30 outside the Wasdale Head Inn, a great little pub and hotel located at the head of the valley, which is a haven for all outdoor folk after their day in the mountains. At the start of all my photography workshops I begin with a half hour theory lesson, talking about the exposure triangle, composition, focusing techniques, white balance and certain camera settings to use for certain situations. I also try and gauge how competent the client is at using their camera and changing settings such as aperture, shutter speed and ISO, Paul had a good grasp on this already and knew how to use his camera functions well.

We started with a short drive down onto the shores of Wastwater so we could go through some of the techniques learnt in the theory lesson before we headed up into the fells. There are some great spots along the shore line with interesting foreground features, but the main subject is the mountains in the background, including Yewbarrow, Great Gable, Lingmell and Scafell Pike.

We spent around 45 minutes here enabling Paul to get a few compositions using the rocks as foreground interest, and practicing the focusing techniques I had taught him. As we were going to be on the hill until around 6.30pm I had decided to include the post processing crash course over a drink at the Wasdale Head before we headed into the fells. Here Paul learnt a quick and easy workflow to naturally edit a Raw file using Lightroom, but this workflow will work on any other post processing software that can handle Raw files.

We headed off on our intended route following Lingmell Beck around to the start of Piers Gill, Just before heading up we stopped off at some nice little waterfalls to practice some long exposure photography.

I advised Paul how to stretch the shutter speed slightly to capture some movement in the water.

Now we started the steep climb up the side of Piers Gill, a steep sided gully leading up to Lingmell Coll at 740m which sits between Scafell Pike and Lingmell itself. With a couple of nice scrambles on the way up it’s also a quieter route up to the highest point in England. We stopped at a little plateau about three quarters of the way up to take some shots looking across to Great Gable and Kirk Fell.

Panorama of Great Gable, Kirk Fell and Sty Head Tarn.

Once at the top of Piers Gill we took some shots looking down into the deep ravine and beyond.

Looking down Piers Gill with Kirk Fell center and Great Gable on the right.

From here it’s a short easy walk to the col where we would head north up the last steep ascent to the 807 meter summit of Lingmell. From here you get some great panoramic views of the Lakeland fells and beyond, we ticked off the summit cairn as this is a Wainwright that Paul hadn’t done.

Paul at the summit cairn

From here we would set up at the last and arguably the best photographic view point of the day, looking down over Wastwater and the Wasdale Valley. We had some nice but tricky conditions to shoot in at this point with some moody skies, a weather system rapidly approaching and the sun trying to creep out between the cloud. I advised Paul that at this point he might want to try exposure bracketing to enable him to get the most dynamic range out of the highlights and shadows.

Paul setting up a composition looking down over Wastwater and the Wasdale valley.

Just after this shot was taken the weather system that had evaded us all day was now right over our heads and the heavens opened with huge hail stones, luckily Paul had got the shots he needed and we packed up and made our way down getting hammered by the hail.

So all in all we had a great day out on the hill with Paul coming away having learnt a lot and now more confident about capturing a great landscape image.

The Wild Camping Photographer

I’ve been meaning to write a post about wild camping photography for a while now. Hopefully this will help any budding photographer who is interested in getting out into the hills and trying wild camping. I’ll talk about the legality’s and ethics of wild camping and the logistics of carrying camera gear and overnight camping equipment into the hills and mountains. I’ll break down my kit list and hopefully give you some good tips for keeping your camera gear safe and dry, and also share some of my wild camping shots over the years.

So to start with we’ve got to talk about what wild camping is? The term wild camping has only come about in recent years really, and it has different interpretations for most people. But mainly it’s about camping somewhere not on a site, away from amenities and the general population. Some people wild camp in their campervans, others hammock in the forest, there’s often lots of debate online as to what classes wild camping, which I try and stay away from. For me wild camping is up the hills and mountains of the UK. As an avid hill and mountain walker this is where it’s at for me, being high up in the mountains over night is where I’m at my most peaceful.

Saying all this wild camping in England and Wales is still generally illegal except for parts of Dartmoor. Strictly in England and Wales all the land is owned so you must get permission of the owner before camping. However in places like The Lake District and Snowdonia it’s tolerated as long as you adhere to a certain set of ethics. Camp up high, above the highest fell wall, away from paths, arrive and pitch late, leave early and leave no trace. The Lake district national park website actually gives guidelines to wild camping.

https://www.lakedistrict.gov.uk/visiting/where-to-stay/wild-camping

I can’t get enough of heading out into the hills with my camera and my chosen shelter for the night on my back, I’ve had some fantastic nights out under the stars but also some howling nights out in the elements which I find quite exciting as long as I’m well prepared. There’s been a couple of nights I’ve had to just bivvy on top of my tent due to it collapsing, I always carry my bivvy bag with me anyway as it takes up hardly any space at all and is great if I do need to just hunker down in the elements and keep my sleeping bag dry. I’ll go through my kit list a bit later.

As far as the planning goes for my trips, I’m usually scouting a location a week before using OS maps, Google Earth, Google images etc. There’s also a great tool called The Photographers Ephermeris, which helps you plan a shot and see where, when and how light will fall on the landscape at a particular location.

https://www.photoephemeris.com/

As well as the location I’ll be checking different weather apps in the week before, MWIS and Met Office are two of the sources I use. Both can give specific mountain weather information, with the Mountain Weather Information Service having great synoptic charts. The weather and especially wind direction and speed can have a big influence on where and how to pitch. When I’m looking for potential wild camping spots, I’m looking for a flat enough pitch close to where I want to be shooting for the night/morning. You really wan’t to be near a water source (although I’ll carry enough if I know I’m not camping near a stream etc) Pick a sheltered spot if the weather is demanding, but I generally try and find the spot with the best view from the tent., You may want to be on the lea side of the mountain really if strong wind is forecast, but even then you can get caught out. I was once camping in a little Cwm in Snowdonia on the lea side of the hill, so the opposite side to the incoming weather. I thought I’d be nice and sheltered, but the wind was coming down off the top of the hill and causing wild eddy currents in my said sheltered cwm, which eventually flattened my tent. This was one night I had to bivvy on top of the flattened tent, but it was all worth it.

Here’s a couple of shots from that night

The little nameless lake at 600m just below Allt Maederyn, on the west flank of Snowdon

The little nameless lake at 600m just below Allt Maederyn, on the west flank of Snowdon

Lucky to capture this meteor over Yr Aran

Lucky to capture this meteor over Yr Aran

For the kit I use as far as the actual camping goes I have 4 choices of shelter. The Vango Banshee, a Selewa semi geodesic mountain tent, the DD 3x3 tarp or just my bivi bag. Each has it’s own advantages depending on weather, time of year, weight etc. For instance in the summer months when the weather forecast is good, I’ll most likely just take the tarp and my bivi bag. The DD tarp can be set up in loads of different ways and is really tough and durable with strong anchor loops. I can set this up as an open shelter or a tent config if it starts raining.

The DD tarp weighs in at 830g (excluding pegs & guy lines)., but there is a super light version. The tarp folds up nice flat so can be placed or stuffed anywhere in my pack but usually lives on the outside, leaving more room for other equipment like camera, sleeping bag etc that need to stay dry.

The Vango Banshee 300 is great if I want that extra comfort of being inside a tent. It’s a good little all in one pitch back packing tent, weighing about 2.6kg all in with pegs. Really quick and easy to pitch and has a good tension band system for extra strength. Although not the best in high winds, if you pitch correctly with the low end into the wind it can withstand gusts up to about 40 mph.

For those nights when I know there’s going to be strong winds, I’ll go to my semi geodesic Selewa Litetrek 1. This is a fantastic little tent designed for alpine terrain, and has been wind tunnel tested to 55mph. It’s a tough little 1 man mountain tent with it’s cross pole design for extra stability and the ability to pick it up move it around and pitch pretty much anywhere. This weighs about 1.9kg all in with the poles and lightweight aluminium y pegs. It’s a tad cramp inside for me at 6 foot 1, but I can just sit up and in good conditions you can fold back the inner to make more room, or leave the inner at home altogether.

I have two sleeping bags, one for summer and one for the winter months, my Mountain Warehouse microlite 700 is a cheap but great bag, I’ve had mine for about 6 years and it’s still going fine now with only slight signs of wear on the collar. It has a comfort rating of 2 - 7 degrees and an extreme temp of a whopping -13 (which I wouldn’t like to test out) but it is a really nice warm bag for the majority of the year. My other bag is a Mountain Equipment Starlite, now this is a seriously warm and comfy bag, but at the cost of weight and bulk. Here’s Mountain Equipment’s temperature ratings for it.

  • Extreme:-31°C/-24°F

  • Comfort Limit:-12°C/10°F

  • Comfort:-5°C/23°F

  • Good Nights Sleep:-15°C/-5°F

mountain-equipment-starlight-iv-synthetics-sleeping-bag-detail-2.jpg
Alpkit Cloudbase

As far as sleeping mats go I have been through many over the years, but at the moment I’m using an Alpkit Cloudbase (clever name) This blow up mat is really lightweight and rolls up nice and small. It’s great for the warmer months but during the colder periods I’ll add a foam mat for extra insulation underneath the mat.

My main go to cooking set is the lightweight Vango folding stove and the Alpkit Brewpot. The Vango stove is a great little sturdy setup with a boil time of 6 minutes for 1 litre of water, together with the Brew pot makes a great lightweight setup for easy cooking and boiling when out on the hill.

I have two packs to carry all my gear in, one 33l day pack and a 65:15 bag for those colder months with more gear. The Osprey Talon 33 is a nice lightweight pack big enough to fit my summer camping gear into. Osprey are known for their high quality gear and in my opinion definitely worth the extra money. The Lowe Alpine bag is another great bag, heavier than others of the same size but that extra weight is put into the comfort and fitting. This bag sits lovely on your hips with the big padded hip belt you can hardly feel the weight when its on. It’s also got a great back ventilation system.

That’s all my main kit outlined, obviously there’s all the small bits like head torches, first aid kit etc. I use dry bags to store my gear inside the rucksack and also to keep my photography equipment in, usually wrapped up in socks, spare clothing or a microfibre towel. The spare batteries especially, I like to keep warm inside extra socks as they do drain quickly in the cold The camera gear is usually kept to a minimum, my small wide angle lens, extra batteries, shutter release cable and tripod. The shutter release cable is essential when working at night with long exposures or for time lapse work, enabling you to set a delay so you don’t get any camera shake, shooting with exposures longer than 30 seconds in bulb mode and also for setting the interval between shots on a time lapse.

One of the problems encountered when first shooting time lapses at night was the lens fogging up due to humidity levels or just moisture in the air. You can buy many different expensive lens warmers for this purpose but I came across a nice cheap solution, the hand warmers you can buy from any pound shop, I strap two of these around the lens, they’re usually sticky but I have a Velcro strap I use to hold them in place. These do exactly what the lens warmers do and keep any moisture off the lens element.

I shoot with a Nikon D7100 at the moment, but I’m soon going to upgrade to a mirrorless Sony Alpa 7r. The D7100 has been a great camera to hone my photography skills over the last several years, but it’s about time I wen’t full frame and the Sony’s are so much lighter and smaller than a big DSLR for taking out on the hill. Also the low light sensitivity on the 36.4mp sensor will give me much more quality in the shadows for my landscape astrophotography, producing much less noise than the Nikon’s crop sensor.

So anyway hope this helps any budding wild camping photographers out there, happy camping folks.

Helvellyn Winter Photography Walk Report

Thursday 31st Jan 2019

Winter has arrived in the Lake District even though a little later than usual this year, with an abundance of snow on the fells and having a week off from my day job I’d planned an outing on the Helvellyn range. With the forecast looking good for an early morning start on the Thursday, the night before I dug out my ice axe and crampons for the first time this year from my walking/camping closet, charged all my camera batteries and made sure I had my memory cards (I’m sure everyone’s done it but there’s nothing worse than realising your memory cards are still in your PC at home. Doh) and packed all my winter walking gear ready to go.

My initial plan was to catch the sunrise from the top of Helvellyn but checking the conditions from various sites and reading the fell top assessors report, I knew that it would be hard going and it would probably take me twice as long as usual to reach the the top in time, which meant that I’d need to start walking around 4am! So I scrapped that idea and aimed for a 7am start. I knew if I could get up high enough I would still get a good chance facing west to catch some early light on the fell tops as the sun rises.

My alarm woke me up at 5:30am, now I’m not a morning person at all so in my groggy state I made a coffee, had breakfast and heated up my soup for the thermos. Quick check on the weather again and it was still looking like it should be a blue sky day. Grabbed my pack and out the door into a dark, freezing cold clear night sky. It’s very rural where I live in the northern lakes so the stars where popping out of the sky and instantly a smile came on my face, I’m wide awake now and I knew I was in for a good day in the mountains.

My starting point was from the Thirlmere side at Thirlspot farm, which is only a 40 minute drive from my house. There was a crescent moon rising above the fells with Venus and Jupiter in close conjunction either side, it was a beautiful sight, I almost stopped to get some shots, but decided to stick to the plan. I parked in the Kings Head pub car park as the lay by was shut and I knew I’d be going in for a pint afterwards. I set off walking at 7:00am, my route would take me under White Crags to Stanah Gill and then ascending from there up to the col between Stybarrow Dodd and Raise.

As I was trudging through the knee deep snow in places and it was getting lighter I could see these big fog banks forming in the valleys and one was heading my way. Dense morning fog was forecast and I knew if I could make it above them in time I’d have a great chance at a nice fog inversion. It was getting lighter so I ploughed on (crampons not needed at this point as the snow was deep and soft) i reached a point above the fog where the tips of Skiddaw and Blencathra were just starting to poke out with some nice red light cast on them from the rising sun. This is where I dug my self a little snow hole and set myself in for some shots.

I’m really happy that I didn’t get up early to catch the sunrise from the top now. As photographers we sometimes just want to shoot the actual sunrise or sunset, but sometimes it’s about looking behind you! I was once shooting a sunrise from Snowdon when I just happened to turn around and there behind me was a massive double rainbow arcing over the Snowdon horseshoe (unfortunately can’t find the pic at the mo)

I’m pretty pleased with the shots I took over the fog banks, it was pretty easy conditions to shoot in other than being cold, these were shot handheld due to the changing nature of the fog banks. With my Tamron zoom lens on, camera set to aperture priority with exposure compensation dialed down by about a stop, I could shoot at around ISO 500 (lower as it got lighter) and still have a fast enough shutter speed at f/8 - f/11 to get sharp shots with no camera shake. The sweet spot for my Tamron 17-300 is at around f/8 depending on focal length, but I’ll always try and shoot at a mid focal length and mid aperture to ensure the sharpest, best quality shots.

Having a bite to eat and some soup from the flask I watched as the fog banks slowly dispersed around the valleys and it became clear that this was going to be an alpine-esque day in the Lake District. I carried on up to the col below Raise which was my next objective, it was really hard going in places with the snow so soft I just kept falling in big holes up to my thighs in places, I was on the the lea side to the weather so all this fresh snow had been blown over and pilled up in huge soft banks.

From the col at about 750m you can see down towards Ullswater which was still draped in a thick layer of fog. The wind was really picking up now and the wind chill was around -13, I donned the snow goggles as the sun was now in my eyes and there was lots of spin drift and gusting up to around 30mph in places. I also put the crampons on to head up and over Raise. It was really tricky going finding solid ground without a leg disappearing into the snow, whilst getting blasted by spin drift. Once up and over Raise it was easier going to get over Whiteside and onto Lower Man, but this is where the wind and snow drifts really were howling across the col

DSC_6150.jpg

From the top of Lower Man it’s a nice stroll to the summit plateau of Helvellyn, where strangely the wind had suddenly disappeared and it was beautifully calm with amazing alpine-esque blue skies. I had arranged to meet up with two friends on Nethermost Pike who were heading up from Grisedale tarn, but I knew they were running late so had plenty of time to have lunch at Helvellyn summit shelter and chat to the numerous other walkers and climbers, all commenting on how it was such an amazing day to be out in the mountains but also how unstable the snow base still was. My friend had updated his Viewranger app so he could access the Buddy Beacon feature, which I already had. It’s a great little feature on an already brilliant mapping app, that lets you track, locate and send out a locator beacon to your friends. I was using this to check on their progress as he had his set to send a beacon every 15 mins or so. I could see they were on their way up Dollywaggon Pike so started to set off in that direction over Nethermost Pike. Without wanting to loose too much height because we’d be doubling back, I set my self up somewhere I knew I’d see them coming around the corner.

Not a bad pit stop

Not a bad pit stop

I sat and took a few shots of hikers descending from Nethermost Pike then spotted my friends coming over the hill

Hikers Descending from Nethermost Pike

Hikers Descending from Nethermost Pike

Better late than never

Better late than never

After a quick catch up we headed back over to Helvellyn as we decided to descend via Browncove Crags and back down to the pub. Again on the way down the snow was thigh deep in places and we all had a few stumbles.

All in all a great winter day day out on the hill and some good images taken from the day. But I think this is my favorite

Skiddaw sunrise

Trip Specs

19.5km

1350m of ascent

9.5 hours out on the hill

Full winter conditions, ice axe and crampons essential