I don’t really go in for self-indulgence with my images at all. I love to try and capture lovely conditions and landscapes, and although I share my images that I am proud of, I tend not to share them again. The commercial side to it has always been a secondary benefit, and one which I have not pushed until now, with developing my Dartmoor Workshops and selling images via my shop.
Quite often, I look back at an image I once thought was good, only to find fault in it (I am not sure I am alone there). However, there are occasional images that mean something a lot to me, bringing back the emotions of the shoot, perhaps a certain sense of achievement and ones where I am at least satisfied with the result.
Over the last year, I have become much more used to disappointment. I think that, although I study the weather and locations much more than I used to (which increases your chance of capturing some nice conditions), at least 50% of my visits are failures. The beauty of it is you know at some point your luck will be in from previous experience, and experience in all walks of life is so valuable. I think that also having an open mind when visiting a location and having a Plan B and C increases your enjoyment and pushes your creativity (not wanting to sound cheesy). I do have a soft spot for Dartmoor, turning to her when the colours are lost on the lowlands, when the light is at it’s best, outside of British summer time. Dartmoor has so much to offer, and although we all need a break from the norm, with different locations, countries and genres, it’s something I always come back to again and again, even if it is for a cycle ride, hike or wild camp.
The following images, I feel, are my personal photographic highlights of 2015, ones that I have enjoyed not just capturing, but first and foremost, being there and absorbing the scene, not just on my own but with other friends. As they say, beauty is in the eye of the beholder! The waffle below are my memories that I will keep with me.
This was the result of a hopeful sunrise on Staple Tor, Dartmoor. Neil Porter and I visited in the wee small hours to find a small dusting of snow. However, we were faced with thick cloud cover, high winds and a seriously bad chill factor. We had several thermal layers on, and faces covered and stood on the rocks for 30 mins. All of a sudden, the skies turned pink. We couldn’t believe our luck and managed to get a shot where the sun should have been but pink clouds instead, which reflected off the snow. As soon as it started it had finished and we were back to grey clouds, the winds advanced and forced us off the tor back to the car and then to the Fox Tor cafe for a cuppa and a hot breakfast.
Neil and I had visited Belstone Tor for the sunrise and met up with Guy Richardson. The conditions were very changeable with snow flurries and breaking light. Again the wind chill and wind speeds were quite uninviting, but landscape photographers are masters of standing still while their core temperatures drop. As the sun rose, the light became more harsh so we decided spontaneously that we should grab a shot of the Nine Maiden’s in the snow. Luckily the snow was virginal with no signs of life and the early light was still cresting the distant Yes Tor, giving some needed shadows and relief. In the shadow of Belstone, we were out of the wind and the sunlight soon warmed us up.
I think that this year has been one of great mists and temperature inversions. Perhaps this is a genre that I have fallen in love with much more, like many photographers I know, bringing some subtly into images, breaking up contours and giving the feeling of being there perhaps. Most of this year I have been watching the forecasts for falling overnight temperatures, clear skies after rainfall, dropping winds. I’ve had a lot of failures where I have expected radiation fog to form in the valleys and it hasn’t. But I have also been finding that they form in runs where conditions are similar day to day, sometimes a week of lovely mists, and finding myself going out before work day after day. My favourite conditions have happened a few times this year with temperature inversions. The mists and fog (saturated air) is held close to the ground giving a blanket of cloud at around 200-300m with only the tops of the highest peaks popping out. I find the subtle gold and reds of the rising sun just clipping the mists exhilarating and beautiful. With the Bovey Valley being a great mist trap, I didn’t have to go far to capture this inversion.
One of my best trips in 2015 was the partial solar eclipse. If I remember correctly, I had taken the day off specifically to shoot it. I got up about 5.30am and looked out of the window. The forecast was correct – it was cloudy to the east but the satellite suggested clearing from the west. I had a couple of potential places to shoot from on Dartmoor, but as I passed through Tavistock the clouds were clearing, so Plan A to shoot from Staple Tor was on. I got there in plenty of time and my 70-300mm lens, Sony A6000 crop sensor, 1.4x and 2x teleconvertors, 10stop ND filter and 3 stops from the circular polariser magnified it nicely (was a first for me). The winds were bitter but soon warmed as the sun broke through. The clouds soon drifted in after the eclipse had been and gone, and with the temperatures dropping again, I made my way home. After returning home, I found I had captured an eclipse sun halo which I could not see with the naked eye. A great thing to witness from Dartmoor, I have to say.
This is something I have never witnessed before. I was out at Mel Tor (image below) with a fellow photographer Adam Barnes, who was down for a short break, and I had suggested shooting there as it was close by. We were lucky enough to get a nice sunrise through incoming hill fog rolling in from Princetown. The skies turned orange but then the cloud parted as it cleared. Adam had left as the next fog bank rolled in, but as it was a day off I decided to stay and see what happened. The fog then broke again and lined the Dart valley with lovely mists, and the sunlight when it broke though was crisp and golden. As I turned westward, I noticed, with the sun behind me, that there was my shadow but as the sun reached it’s peak a circular ‘fog bow’ formed in front of me. The spectre being my shadow and the brocken being the circular ‘fog bow’. Was nice to capture with Sharp Tor in the background.
As the second fog bank broke, Rowbrook House was revealed, lit by some stunning light. It was one of those eventful mornings you don’t forget in a hurry.
I don’t have to say much about this inversion, the title says it all really, but another wonderful temperature inversion from Haytor Down area looking east. This time I tried to capture the first golden light hitting the distant hillside and fog, with some crepuscular rays coming through the hillside, shot with at 300mm with a 2x teleconvertor. Keeping the shot still was tricky but I managed to get a still panorama.
I’d been up Meldon hill a few times, mostly unsuccessfully, but this morning Clinton, Neil and I went there after abandoning another location, but we were running late as I think Clint overslept. The fog was rolling in over Wild Tor and Haytor, but luckily the skies cleared south and we were treated to some lovely subtle light. Loads of compositions were had from Meldon with it’s 360 degree views, but this one I liked the most with the iconic Haytor in the distance, the fog rolling over.
It was a bit of an obsession this year with this under-rated and beautiful plant, in which all parts can be eaten, and were eaten in aplenty. Wild garlic (Allium ursinum – known as ramsons, buckrams, wild garlic, broad-leaved garlic, wood garlic, bear leek or bear’s garlic) is common in Devon with a line running along from Teignmouth to Moretonhampstead and Dunsford along wet river valleys. I discovered that it can be confused with the the 3 Cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum) which look like giant white blue bells (but still can be eaten) and is not native to the UK. I’d scouted several locations and had to wait for the flowers to pop. Trying to get good light and a nice composition in that 2 week window was harder than I thought, but I was satisfied with this shot taken up the Teign Valley. The smell is a bit like Marmite but I personally love it and in curries it’s lovely.
A dream of mine came true this year. Using the excuse of a 40th birthday, my wife and I booked a trip to the USA. The long car journeys and ‘truck-stop-style’ food were quite arduous. However, the conditions made it worthwhile. The storm clouds, lightning, hail the size of tennis balls, supercells and finally the tornadoes were out of this world. Many people thought we were nuts but we never found it scary, always exciting even when we drove under a lifting meso. This image was rushed, given the strong winds and giant hailstones ringing down on us (stung like hell), but seeing and capturing this double anti-cyclonic tornado was the highlight of the year for me.
An example of a spontaneous evening on Dartmoor. Neil and I were driving around as the sun was setting, with no idea where to go, when I thought about Buckland church. As we arrived, the grass had been cut and turned, the sun turning golden, the clock chiming 9pm on the dot, and you would have thought it was planned. I love these kind of Idyllic countryside scenes on Dartmoor giving you an insight into it’s history. I also love spontaneous shoots which seem to pan out for the best, almost like a lucky dip when I was a child at a school fate.
This evening was again a Plan B, actually a plan C. Neil and I met up with another photographer, Richard Davy, and we had an idea that we’d shoot some Fox Gloves that Neil had seen on his delivery route that day. We arrived and had a scout around. The sun was in the wrong place, the composition difficult and the feeling was just not there (not sure any of us processed any images there). We were driving around when Richard wondered if the poppies near Dittisham were still viable. Quite a few local photographers had been out and shot them and they were kind of on their way out. Respecting the crops (barley I think) and poppies, we made it to a suitable viewpoint, near the footpath, where we bumped into Chris Marshall. The four of us enjoyed standing there watching the sun going down on a hazy summer’s evening and having a chinwag.
An evening of changeable conditions. I remember watching the weather that afternoon and decided to venture out, again without much of a plan, when I decided to stop at Coombestone Tor. It’s not somewhere I like to shoot for two reasons. The last and first light are obscured by hills east and west. Secondly, it’s very close to a car park meaning that it gets busy and getting a shot without people in it can be tricky. This evening was the same – 2 ladies drinking wine from deck chairs, 2 other photographers, one from outside Devon were also there. Although it was nice having a chat, I ended up walking around these people, both trying not to get in their way but also trying to get a shot. In the end, I had to politely say ‘excuse me’ and grab a shot. I’ve photographed these two famous hawthorns before, but this time the lead-in with the granite slabs seems to work with the bracken and sunlight.
Some of the best golden light I think I have seen on Dartmoor. Neil and I had looked at the satellite images for most of the day and there was a stationary cloud bank hovering over west Dartmoor. It was really weird as it hadn’t moved much in about 4 hours. I guess the upper winds were fairly still but when we arrived at Leeden Tor the gap in the clouds at the horizon was suitably narrow. As the sun dropped it started to shine through the gap – one of a landscapers favourite conditions, that I/we like to call ‘letter boxing’. The light was golden but behind the storm front was passing through, with even a hint of a shelf cloud and also some lightning to the west. Unknown to me this composition was not original (to be honest, what is original these days!) but it does show how a photographer often seeks out a similar composition in similar conditions.
I’ll remember this trip for a long time. I don’t do a lot of wild camping. It’s something I would like to do more of but never seem to get around to it. I made a concerted effort this time to pack up my gear and walk the 90 odd minutes to Wild Tor. The forecast was clear overnight and when I arrived there was almost no cloud. I spent 30 mins shooting and scouting, and then drank my bottle of beer I had taken with me, then made a hot drink to warm myself back up again as the temperature dropped. As it got dark, I re-emerged to find the Milky Way looking stunning and proceeded to do a multi-capture/stack of a tor and the milky way. I became aware that there were meteors that night, some of which I captured on camera. As the night drew on, the advancing cloud bank covered the sky and I went to bed thinking this could look pretty special in the morning as it was moving fairly slowly east. I set my alarm for sunrise, but didn’t get much sleep as it was quite windy.
As I rose, I noticed a big gap about 70 or so miles away, and it was turning red, I got ready and just as the sun popped through, a fog bank approached from the west, breaking over the tor, and the light turned it crimson. One of the most breathtaking things I think I have seen. It was soon gone and the fog advanced to cover the whole area as I packed up. However, typical Dartmoor, the sun broke though giving more lovely light mixed with mist and fog and then cleared for the final walk home.
Another unexpected trip out one evening. Neil wanted to use his new tele lens and I wanted to trial out a second hand time-lapse dolly I bought from a friend, so we decided we’d pop to Widdecombe church to see if we’d get some light breaks, as it had been quite a rainy but broken day. We didn’t expect rain crepusculars. As the sun broke through the clouds, a rain shower passed over, making the crepuscular rays even more intense and glittery. I manged to shoot handheld on my other camera body at 50mm while the time-lapse (see footnote) was running so managed to get stills and a time-lapse – great to see, even if we did get a bit wet. One of those evenings where we were stood in the same place but got completely different shots (which is often the case).
I have to admit this is a totally unoriginal scene, The Old Man of Storr, on the Isle of Skye. We (Neil, Andy and I) spent a week here earlier this year and made a great holiday of it. We were treated to some great weather, stunning red skies at sunrise and sunset, but the pinnacle for me was getting up the Old Man in 30 mins, rushing to capture the first light (with 5 mins to spare as it happens) looking out to a massive inversion. The only clear area was beneath us. I think on this occasion, although we shot many different compositions that morning, all decided a panorama was our favourite of our trip. Breath taking to see and enjoy.
This evening in Iceland was very unexpected. My wife and I were on holiday, a fly-drive of Iceland. This wasn’t supposed to be a pure photography trip, I was supposed to be on my best behavior and not obsess about imagery. Hard I know, but the weather was pretty foul and this scuppered more attempts at getting a decent shot (I did try my hardest in 60 mile winds). I also nearly drowned on Vik beach; a massive freak wave took me down and under the water for a while (I was standing well away from the surf) and one of my lenses and main camera was destroyed. I usually take a backup camera and this came in handy on the penultimate evening. I had a warning of a Kp level 4 aurora that evening. The small hotel we were staying at did not make a stir when my wife and I ventured outside to have a peek. Suddenly the days’ thick cloud cover parted to reveal a stunning array of auroral streams above an adjacent dwelling. They were moving very fast and snaking and twisting around. The lack of light pollution was great and although I would have preferred to get a composition of a nice mountain or coastline, it was a privilege to see it and capture it.
All I can say on this one is it took me a long time, and many visits to Bonehill Rocks, to capture some mist over my favorite church. I had seen a few years ago a shot by Adam Burton of mists here and it stuck in my mind. I didn’t want the same image, of course, but I did want to capture a similar scene, in the autumn, with the trees golden and the mists softening the first light of day. It doesn’t seem that common to get radiation fog down there (well not when I have visited on misty days). You either get nothing or thick fog. This morning, before work, I was in two minds, but decided to drive past some cracking mist at Haytor Down, and chance it. The sun was coming up, I didn’t have much time. I arrived at Bonehill, walked over to the edge and was pleasantly surprised. There were pink skies above (a shot I still haven’t processed yet). I waited for the fist light to hit the church and fired away.
The result of another trip out with Neil and Clint. We started shooting above Moretonhampstead as it was a misty and foggy sunrise. Alas no sunlight, even though south of us it was a lovely one, but that’s par for the course for Dartmoor. We had a list of locations we wanted to shoot while the autumn leaves were still on their respective trees. We arrived at a very quiet Fingle Bridge to find a little mist and lovely colourings. Although not a very original location, it’s one of the finest on Dartmoor I feel and one we enjoyed capturing in soft subdued diffused light.
The result of another auroral warning on my phone. A few friends in Surrey were going out as they had a warning and I looked on my phone with the map suggesting it could be seen from northern France. It was hard to prise myself out of the house after work and a meal into the cold and dark of Dartmoor. It was a bitter wind and I thought that the frequent rain showers would scupper my chances of a view. With squinted eyes, you could just make out a faint glow on the horizon, and you could see it better on the back LCD, so I waited and luckily the clouds cleared. This was actually my last shot before I had to warm up back at the car but it was worth seeing and capturing it on home turf.
I have to admit a totally rushed trip to Sharpe Tor. We spent too long near Princetown shooting another location. We arrived and decided to shoot a rainbow towards Vixen Tor, but the light got better and better and we decided we were in the wrong place and had to sprint from one side to the other and up the Tor. My heart was racing and I struggled getting to the top as I had a bad case of manflu (it’s amazing what nice conditions can help spur you on!). I would have loved to play around with the composition more, maybe try to get a more original shot, but we had about one minute to get a shot before the light vanished. This evening reminded me of the Leeden Tor outing as this was also stormy, similar golden letterbox light and a similar shelf cloud-like formation. As we left, it hammered down and there was a lightning strike on Princetown mast.
One highlight of my year, with a bit of help from Guy and Alex, was to try and capture some time-lapse footage of Dartmoor. Now I know this isn’t the best but for me it was an achievement to decipher the dolly, rig, intervals, rendering and editing one for myself. I chose mostly diffuse lighting, less changeable conditions on some of my days off to practice and get my head around it. I was happy with what I had produced, but of course a lot more work is needed to get close to what I am totally happy with, but it’s a start for more in 2016. It’s a great challenge to get your teeth into and makes you think in a very different way about photography.
I hope, if anyone has read all of my ramblings, that they are not asleep and thanks for stopping by. Hope to see some of you in 2016.