If you have read my bio in the About section, then you will recall that I talked about how and why I got into photography and what gives me the motivation for being outdoors, especially in the mountains. It gives me a sense of peace and calm when the world around seems to be stuck on fast forward, a time to switch off. For me, that's why I enjoy it as much as I do, and it is unfortunate that I don't get out as much as I would like to.
According to the NHS choices website, being more aware of the present moment can help us enjoy the world around us more and understand ourselves better. Mindfulness seems to be a catching trend over recent years, with it now being taught in schools and work places to help people overcome stress. It is a practical way to notice your thoughts, sensations, sights, sounds and smells. It is about being in the moment, not regretting the past or worrying about the future.
For anyone who has been in the mountains, they will tell yo it is very much the same as, in that your mind focusses on the here and now, usually putting one foot in front of the other. Enjoying what nature throws your way. Add photography into the mix and you now have the perfect set of circumstances to be really in the moment as photography makes you really stop and take account of your surroundings. When I stop to get an image, I will often just sit and wait, watch the weather change and let nature be in control. Its just me, the camera and what ever happens. The planning I might have done before setting off will be the best I can do in controlling the circumstances I am in. More often than not, it is likely that I will come away from a hike, or trip without any photographs if the weather is too harsh. Sometimes I like to be out in the rain or overcast conditions as u just don't know what moments you might catch in-between. One of the occasions was this seasons winter...
One of my favourite images of winter 2017/18, taken on 21st January 2018. Its been a fantastic season this year, which seems to be going on still as I write.
This image of Sprinkling Tarn has taken me somewhere near three years to perfect, already visiting here over a dozen times I have taken a number of images in different conditions. Having initially scouted the image on a walk, I then got to work to figure out where the light would be at key times of the year. For this image I knew that I wanted it to be in winter, as the area often gets some of the best snow and coldest conditions, as well as it being one of my favourite times of the year. Winter seems to transform the landscapes with the simplicity of snow and ice and winter skies being vibrant. Great End, just to the left of where I am standing, gets some excellent winter climbing conditions for the Lake District and is very popular for winter climbing so I knew the area would normally get fantastic winter conditions. Maximising your own success on locations can be greatly improved with a bit of thought and planning, especially with technology being so accessible. It is now possible to track conditions and weather to reduce the chances of failure that once might have involved a lot of guess work. To improve chances of success the following simple steps can be taken, there are many other ways too but I find this quite simple and enjoyable.
Scouting the location
Admittedly I have not always done this, but I have begun to see the long game more recently in understanding the areas I visit. It is all well and good going out for days photography and scouting at the same time, as long as you plan to re-visit and get familiar with the area as doing so will greatly improve your chances of coming away with better shots. Having scouted this location several times, with overnight camping, I have been able to wander around at different times of the day finding other view points higher up on Great End and on Allen Crags for a wider perspective. But it was this spot that I liked when considering the element of composition and what will work with foreground interest and how the light might interact with the scene.
Researching Sun direction
I usually use Photographers Ephemeris to look ahead of time in different months to plan the sun direction now that I have scouted my location. When Im on location I use the Photo Pills App, which shows me in real time where the sun will set and at what time, you can use a compass equally as well if you know the time and direction of sunset. So now I can relax somewhat and do other things, such as set up camp. On this occasion January through to March seemed to be ideal as sunset drops so the light hits between the mountains as you can see in the image. Having hiked up early I was able to get to my location and set up my tent, as you can see the conditions were extremely cold and having the right gear is important.
Watching the weather
So doing all this planning would be no good if I just turned up on location, hoping for the best. Although I do think that sometimes when time does not allow, its better to be out than not and sometimes the unexpected images can be the best. There are some good satellite weather apps that show incoming weather systems. Long range weather usually will be hit and miss, but some conditions such as snow and sudden changes in temperature can be a bit more reliable. Know the weather, and be aware that it can change on a sixpence in the hills, or be completely different. If you are heading into the hills in winter, ensure you have the right equipment and know how to use it.
Planning the hike
Usually on shoots such as this one, I will hike in and stay overnight. It allows me to relax a bit more on locations and get the best out of Sunrise and Sunset without having to do two hikes into the mountains. Depending on where I am, it is possible to do one location and then to move on to a different place in the morning without having to carry all my overnight gear. If time is limited then hiking up or down in the dark is an option, and lighter, now this is where the first point will help you out. Having scouted the locations thoroughly and knowing the areas and different routes it is easier to do this. Often dropping a pin on View Ranger, a OS map for my phone means I can get to the exact location I have planned. If for any reason I get in to trouble, I can usually be out of the hills and down to safety without needing a map except in conditions such as a whiteout or fog.
The image above was taken with some precarious planning, I knew the conditions should be perfect for sunset, with clear still night predicted to early hours. The weather predicted strong 50-60 mph winds the next day, it didn't however predict the snow till much later. So I woke to a whiteout. Luckily I had all the correct winter gear and I slowly made my way down where it begun to ease off.
Plan to fail
I always plan to fail when I head off on my own, the mountains will always be there for another day without pushing my luck. The first time I went to the location above it began to snow and I ended up in a total whiteout, not knowing exactly where I needed to be for my campsite and being on my own I turned around and waited for the next day and moved on to my next planned location. At that time I wasn't as confident in the mountains on my own in winter, but having spent a bit more time in familiar locations my confidence has grown, and with the acquired skills I probably would have continued to my campsite. The next morning was stunning, and all the fresh snow and -0 conditions I would have probably got an amazing photo.
So before I head off into the hills on my own I would usually follow this process in some form or have already got family so much with the place that I can second guess, but with many an added amount of hours sitting reading, researching and planning locations to supplement this.
It would be completely irresponsible of me not to talk about risk if I am encouraging anyone to go one their won to take photos in the mountains. As beautiful and enjoyable as they are, there are of course risks. Being isolated on your own being one of them and being many hours away from help if anything goes wrong, and they do. If you plan to head into the hills, especially in winter then make sure you have the right kit, warm clothing is essential as is waterproof outer layers. Always have winter equipment such as Crampons and Ice Axes if the mountains are in winter condition, know how to use them and never do routes you are not skilled in doing. Know how to use a map and compass, don't relay on electronics that can fail in the extreme cold. Easy walking routes without sudden drops, slopes or cliffs would give you the safest routes as any falls on ice and snow can result in slides, if you have a run off into a danger zone then you are on your own and out of sight. Remember people have and will die in the English mountains each year, it would be even better if you got some training in winter skills. I have, and it was the best thing I did to give me more confidence.
Then the next part after getting on location safely, is taking great panoramic images... I will write about that another time. For now a few more photographs of how the shoot went.
The light fades into a calm clear night
The tent I used is a Vango Banshee 200, it held up pretty well in the 50-60 mph winds that were hitting me directly funnelled through the mountain pass. I have upgraded the tent pegs though which make a great difference to anchor it in strong winds. Appkit do some amazing titanium pegs and stakes.
The journey down the next morning, it was only when I was over half way down that I could see enough to consider getting the camera out. The wall providing some reference that I was getting closer to civilisation and the sheep line. Even they weren't daft enough to be out I think.
The previous years shoot, although it looks relatively warmer don't let the picture fool you. Last year it was -15 in February on the mountain and the tarn froze solid overnight. It was one of the first times I have been really cold in my tent, which saw the purchase of some lovely new kit this year. Mainly a new sleeping bag and down jacket to keep me warm at night.
The first sight I saw when opening the tent in the morning. A very frozen tarn and absolutely freezing conditions.