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Autumn Landscape Photography in the Lake District

I scampered up to The Lake District recently, to try and catch some autumn colour. To be honest I was hoping for some nice wide scenes of rolling fells, golden trees, and a spot of mist in the valleys. Obviously I got none of those. It's been a strange year, weather-wise, and although the long hot summer created some spectacular leaf colour, the dry heat combined with a few early autumn storms conspired to rid most of the trees of their leaves just a few days before we got to the Lakes. Some leaves this year were falling off at the end of august, before they'd even turned colour. And some had still not really turned colour at all. There were still trees in leaf, but only the strongest, or those in more sheltered positions. So we had to work to find some creative compositions.

The Lake District

The main barrier to achieving wider scenes, which has been apparent for a while but was amplified this autumn, is that I simply don't know how to use a wide angle lens. I can't get the best from it, no matter how much I try. Looking at the 50 photos I have on my Landscapes gallery, only 11 of them were taken at under 70mm in focal length, and most of those were taken over five years ago. Since 2013 I've taken a handful at 50mm, and the rest have all been 70mm and up. This could be the subject of a blog post in itself, but since it felt most noticeable in The Lakes, I thought I'd raise it here, as I have the photos to illustrate the point too.

I don't really want to share the wider landscape photos I took in The Lakes as they're a shambles, but as soon as I took a longer focal length shot, from the same location, looking in the same direction, I was able to find images that worked. This is Little Langdale Valley, at sunrise.

The hills of the Lake District, at sunrise. Focal length: 70mm.
Rolling Hills

Of course there are advantages to this situation. It meant that rather than coming back with the kind of 'point-and-shoot scenes' that could have been taken by anyone, at least what I've got feels like mine. And that's definitely a good thing. But it does mean that I still don't really feel that I've captured 'The Lakes' after 3 or 4 visits now. But let's focus on the positive; I came a way with a nice set of interesting 'treescapes', by keeping my lens on the trees which did look nice, the larch particularly so. These three, similar in tone, are all from Blea Tarn; a location very popular with photographers. Without the light on the wider scenes, I followed my instincts with a medium telephoto lens.

Woodland colour, on the shore of Blea Tarn, in the Lake District.
Blea Tarn Woodland #2
Woodland colour, on the shore of Blea Tarn, in the Lake District.
Blea Tarn Woodland #1
Woodland colour, on the shore of Blea Tarn, in the Lake District.
Blea Tarn Reflections

At another popular location below; Yew Tree Tarn. With harsh light and ripples on the water, I was forced into the woods, where I found some photos I doubt I'll ever see recreated. Not because they're so amazing, but because they're not prescribed views, and I had to work to find them. And that's nice, as I end up feeling an ownership of these compositions. This was my favourite photo from the trip. It reminds me of a stained glass window; back-lit as it is. It also has the feeling of a large mural. It's the sort of thing I'd want at home - bringing the outdoors inside.

Texture and shape of the trees.
Forest Mural
A portrait of one tree, using others in the background as extra texture.
Tree Portrait

I've spent years trying wide-angle landscapes, with very little success, but it might be that I start to ditch the wider shots, and concentrate on what I do best. While I do wonder if 'giving-up' is really the right attitude, there are only so many times I want to come home disappointed, and ultimately I do enjoy the perspective of longer focal lengths, and the photos I am able to take with them.

Two birch trees, lit by glowing sunrise light. Holme Fell, in the Lake District.
Golden Light on Birch Trees
A lone birch tree gets its first light of the day. Holme Fell, in the Lake District.
Birch in Spotlight

Drawing Conclusions

Learning from my trip to the Lake District, I took two points:

  1. My strengths, and preference of photos is for those taken at medium to telephoto focal lengths.

  2. There's not a lot of point in travelling 200 miles up north to photograph the Lake District if I'm not going to use the fells and open views there. I can get woodland shots much closer to home.

Based on these conclusions, part 2 of this post will follow next week, sharing photos from my local area, when I left the wide angle lens at home...

A panorama image, combining several photos into one wide-aspect view of the trees and in this woodland outside Ambleside
Forest Mural - Wide




Red Deer Roaring, photographed in black and white


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