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Step into a stormy spring

Blog Posted on 21 Mar 2012

Now we are well and truly into March winter has started to lose its grip and we are moving into a proper spring. Day by day the weather is being more predictable and getting hotter.
I have to say that the winter just gone has disappointed me somewhat, there has been barely any snow and those crisp clear days we dream of were few and far between. I am one for loving a stormy sky and changeable weather and endeavour to go out when it doesn’t look promising, but this winter took the Michael. I spent hours upon hours on hillsides waiting for the light that never came, often in battering winds where at times it was hard to stand. I don’t mind to an extent, it’s all part of the fun of being a landscape photographer but when you go a month without an image you’re happy with it starts to get frustrating.
The weather hasn’t completely settled yet, one day it can be 0 degrees and a couple of days later it can be 17 degrees, you just can’t win but we’re really starting to get weather that you can rely on a little more allowing you to edge your bets when to go out and where.
The last weekend has been a fantastically productive weekend and despite what the forecast said it wasn’t half bad in the end. It actually produced some of the best light I have seen in a while with passing stormy skies, my favourite time to photograph.
On Saturday I went up Stanage Edge having previously avoided it just the week before due to it being too busy. There was a particular shot I wanted of a rock near Stanage Plantation. It has been done to death many many times but as I had not looked out for it before I decided it was about time I had it in my collection and put my own spin on it.  On arrival it didn’t look promising, quite dull and not much wind, this usually means it won’t play out. I could also see rain in the distance.  However after a fair bit of waiting around the clouds started to break a little and the sun broke through, lighting up the rain in the valley near Castleton so I decided to set up my camera with a standard zoom lens and compose a scene to show this drama.

Hope Valley
After having waited around for ages, the light played out in moments, meaning I had to work quickly. I changed my composition to capture an image of the rock I had initially set out to get. The light was dancing on the hillsides and lighting up the rock and Stanage Edge a treat, it was almost too perfect. I snapped a few shots and the bank of the rain approached from the left very quickly, you can just see it edging in this picture giving it a bit more atmosphere.

Stanage Edge 
The next thing I knew, and I really have never witnessed anything like this it was so surreal was that the rain that had approached me had lit up so bright that I could no longer see into the valley and all we could see was the really was like being blinded....the only way I could describe it was when you see in Hollywood movies where someone is about to pass away and they “see the light” is like that.  I had to turn around at this point because the camera was gathering quite a lot of rain on the filter but turning around allowed me to witness one of the best rainbows I have ever seen.  The ends of the rainbow literally looked feet away from me, almost as if I could touch it. I knew I had to work quickly again to change lenses, in the rain, keeping everything dry just to capture it at its best. I was joined by two climbers at this point who were lovely and shown a genuine interest in photography, unfortunately and I want to apologise now if they’re reading for being ignorant as I made sure I got the image over being polite and chatting to them.

Feeling pretty pleased with Saturday’s results I still decided to head out on the Sunday as the weather again was a lot better than predicted. I had no plans where to go and decided with the big clouds that were floating about to head to Baslow Edge as it would be the perfect location for these conditions. I had been here many times before but never managed to catch a good day weather wise.
I started off and set up near a rock formation which has had part of it carved out, I believe it is a grouse feed. I got the composition I was happy with and waited around for the light, this is my usual method of working rather than jumping around scene to scene. It is better in my opinion to pre-visualise an image, set up, wait and get one image from your shoot rather than rushing around like a headless chicken trying to get lots and not really being happy with any of them when you review them later on. It doesn’t always happen like this because sometimes the light and weather takes a turn and plays out differently and you have to react to these changes but the more you go out the more you learn the weather and where the light will fall. You start to see images way before they are ready to take.
I opted not to go for a super wide angle lens at this point and used a standard zoom, I wanted to try and make sure I didn’t fall into the trap of shooting the scene as would be expected. I put a polarising filter on my set up and adjusted to get the puddles to reflect the sky rather than cut the reflections, a 0.9 reverse GND was also used to hold the sky. It was just a case of waiting for a big cloud to move for any golden light to hit the rocks, which turned out to be a while as there was no wind to move the clouds, though I even endured hail while waiting. However once it played out it was well worth it.

Baslow Edge - Grouse Feed
Next I did something that I don’t usually do or get chance to do and that was move positions and shoot some different compositions because I felt I already captured the shot I intended to. The next image was a shoot along the edge down into the Derwent Valley.

Baslow Edge - Derwent Valley
I then moved on to a rock formation that was very interesting and characteristic, it also had great light cast on it under moody skies. I don’t usually like taking pictures of rocks and objects that don’t have much significance and don’t really say where it was taken, after all it’s “just a rock” but I couldn’t resist temptation this time and was pleased with the result.
My final image would be something I can’t say wasn’t inspired by Andy Hemingway. It is an image of the Anvil Stone that Andy had published on the front cover of the Visit Peak District brochure in 2011. I really don’t like “copying” images and using the same ideas but this stone is very distinctive head on and needs to be shot from this position. I decided then I would shoot with the sun just touching the edge of the rock to make it that bit different and I think the overall image looks very different to Andy’s including the colours in the image. I shot this at f/18 to give the starburst effect and also metered off the rock to hold the exposure.

Baslow Edge - The Anvil
So, as you can see I had a super productive weekend and you can really see the warmth and colours of spring coming through in each image.
I also just wanted to note I processed these images using Lightroom 4. It is the first time I have used this new version and there was a certain learning curve. However it has become much more powerful and allows a lot greater control over highlights and shadows. One place the highlights and shadows are really useful is in the ND grad function in Lightroom, allowing you to recover the burnt highlights of the sun while maintaining integrity in the clouds rather than making them too dark.

This blog was brought to you by James Grant


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