For roughly three weeks of the year, every summer starting around mid-August the Peak District comes to life with raging purple heather transforming otherwise dark, brown moors into something that looks like it could be from a child's painting.
Heather can be found mainly in the Dark Peak although there's the random bits scattered in area's like Stanton Moor. It's a frantic 3 weeks for any photographer, running about trying to capture it in all it's glory mainly around sunset and even sunrise if your an early bird. The golden hours are great for shooting heather, creating a nice colour in the heather especially when side lit creating some lovely texture.
Obviously being Britain though, the weather is the main challenge. A three week gap isn't a great deal to shoot a lot of locations and if it's raining you can often find yourself going home without a shot. The first week of September see's the moors starting to turn brown again and feeling rather like Autumn way before the leaves start turning brown. However, sticking with the weather come rain or shine can pay its dividends as a brightly lit foreground with vibrant heather in front and a storm laden sky behind is a shot that really appeals.
Below are this years attempts of mine, in order of date taken:
Over Owler Tor - 14/08/11:
Perhaps one of the best places I know in the Peak District for heather is Over Owler Tor, Millstone Edge and Hathersage Moor (all joined together in a relatively small area) and is covered in a carpet of the purple stuff and with easy access from Surprise View there's no wonder it's a popular place for photographers. I had drove by a couple of times in the coming weeks watching the heather slowly spring to life and when it really started to flourish decided to make a go at sunset. All day it was overcast and dull and didn't look set to clear. However, about 2 hours before sunset the clouds broke up a little too much for my liking (you can never satisfy a photographer!) but I decided to make a go of it anyway. Stood at Over Owler Tor the rock formation on the right had always interested me and I knew from when I first visited it I would save it for a sunset in heather season. I have to admit I found composition here quite hard and made even harder by no discernible light while composing I had to hope I had it right by the time it came, because it didn't last long at all. I tried to have the first rock in the foreground pointing the rock on the right which eventually lead you off to Higger Tor in the distance.
Sony A700, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 @ 11mm, f/11, 1/6sec, ISO160, tripod mounted, 0.9 Reverse GND.
Higger Tor - 21/08/11:
After a day out shooting in dull conditions at Fairbrook Naze waiting 2 and a half hours for a bit of light which never came (more on that later) and having a quick brew at fellow photographers Stephen Elliott's in Hathersage I noticed the clouds starting to break up which was quite the surprise. Already quite late I made a desicion to go up to Higger Tor as quickly as I could and see if I could make anything of it. I don't run often, but knowing my window would be short lived it saw me trying to run up Higger Tor literally with a pack weighing as much as a small kid. Fleeting light was breaking down in the Hope Valley near Win Hill and once the cloud shifted a little I made a VERY quick composition with these two sheep in looking over towards Stanage while the heather was side lit. Perhaps not the best shot, but I do like how much heather there is and the quality of lighting.
Sony A700, Sony 16-105mm f3.5-5.6 @ 16mm, f/11, 1/8 sec, IS0160, tripod mounted, 0.6 reverse GND.
Shelter Rock 21/08/11 -
On the same evening as the shot above I decided to head a little further on to Shelter Rock, the light had disappeared but decided to hang around anyway and ended up staying about 20 minutes after sunset. I had set up a composition early on (no rushing this time) which I was pleased with. I had Shelter Rock roughly on a third and loved the heather at the front how it seemed to wrap around pointing you to Shelter Rock. I really liked how there was the contrast of the bright vivid heather against the lush green fern. Sometimes shooting after dusk can bring an ethereal quality to an image and it was no different in this shot. A camera's sensor picks up a lot more than our eyes do at this time. All I had to do was wait a little while for the cloud to move in filling the empty sky and actually very luckily framing Shelter Rock.
Sony A700, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 @ 11mm, f/11 1/2 sec, ISO 160, tripod mounted, 0.9 GND.
26/08/11 - Curbar Edge
Curbar Edge lies right on the border of the White Peak where gritstone abruptly changes into limestone. Never the less a fantastic location especially for sunset and a good carpet of heather on the moor. This shot was taken after actually questioning myself a few times whether the effort to go out would be rewarded having rained all day. I am glad I went out because I was in for a light spectacle with storm laden skies in the distance looking almost like a watercolour painting with great light on the foreground. The emphasis of this shot wasn't really the heather as there wasn't much to see on the edge's, but the great stormy side lighting with the Pinnacle stone in the foreground.
Sony A700, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 @ 11mm, f/11, 1/20sec, ISO 160, tripod mounted, 0.9 reverse GND.
27/08/11 - Fairbrook Naze
Fairbrook Naze was one of two images of my MUST SHOOT list for 2011 in heather season. A classic view with a fantastic waterfall leading up to the rather big looking Kinder Scout behind. It is located on the north side of Kinder Scout just off the Snake Pass. The North Side of Kinder Scout this year was actually very purple and an amazing sight. If you asked a child to draw a mountain and they returned you a picture of one coloured in purple you wouldn't believe it, but it really was like that. This was actually my third attempt in two weeks to get this shot and three times I managed to get down to the waterfall without falling in as it really isn't a place you would want to be on your own as it's very precarious. The first attempt saw no pictures come back at all after passing rain and no light what so ever, attempt two saw a nice image with lots of colour but grey skies and third time lucky saw this. It just shows you can't turn up on location and expect to get the shot and you have to perceiver sometime's, especially if you really want it.
Sony A700, Sony 16-105mm f3.5-5.6 @ 24mm, f/11, 1/4 sec, ISO 160, tripod mounted, 0.9 ND and 1.2 GND.
Salt Cellar, Derwent Edge - 04/09/11:
This was my second image on my must shoot list for heather this year. A classic and iconic Peak District location up on Derwent Edge overlooking Ladybower Reservoir that actually takes quite a bit of effort to get to, around 1 hour or so away from the car. I had to leave the shot the week before when I had planned it due to grey skies and strong winds and admit I was getting worried I wouldn't get the shot for another year. The following week I woke up on the Sunday morning to heavy rain and felt quite disappointed I wouldn't get the shot as I knew full well the heather was past it's best already. It started to clear in the afternoon and actually turned out really nice, so I headed out to Ladybower, my starting point and got there fairly early not quite sure how long it'd take me to walk to Salt Cellar with all my gear. I am glad I arrived early as I actually got on location about 40 minutes before "Golden Hour" and gave me time to set up and take my time. Pleased to see the heather was actually in a decent state here was also a relief. I found a composition I liked actually thanking plane contrail's for once adding some detail to the sky, seemingly pointing to Salt Cellar itself and managed to get a lot of heather in with some nice side lighting. It didn't last long and the sun disappeared behind a low bank of cloud just as golden hour struck. I was worried I may not have brought back a shot with the lighting I had envisioned but was pleased when I saw it on the PC screen.
Sony A700, Tokina 11-16mm f2.8 @ 11mm, f/11, 1/30 sec, 0.3 exposure, ISO 160, tripod mounted, 0.9 GND.
As you can see a very busy 3 weeks and a variety of shots, I hope you enjoyed and inspired you to go out and enjoy the heather next year!
James' exhibition "A Breath Of Fresh Air" is on until the end of the week (30th September) at the Castleton Visitor Centre so grab your last chance to see it.
This blog was brought to you by James Grant