It was a Wednesday evening, two days before I was scheduled to travel up North and spend the weekend exploring the Western Lakes in the Lake District. I unzipped my camera bag to find the LCD screen of my beloved Fujifilm X-Pro1 had cracked behind the plastic. I was gutted to say the least, we'd just become good friends, myself and the X-Pro1. We'd just started to cement a tentative relationship, we were beginning to understand each others strengths and shortcomings. I was producing work that even my intensely critical eye was mildly pleased with and I was considering giving up my bulky DLSR for good. However, sometimes even good things come to an end, and within 24 hours, I was making moves on my new love; Fujifilm's flagship camera, the X-T1. Some might say that's fickle, but honestly, it's all about luck and compatibility.
The Lake District is a special place for me, somewhere I've forged more than just relationships with my cameras. On a winter's evening back in January 2012, as the snow fell softly across Windermere, and the silent streets quietly iced over, I walked with my love down to harbourside, and amongst the curious geese and swans, asked her to marry me. This has forever cemented my sentimental feelings towards a place already so beautiful. We return whenever we can, determined to explore as much of lakes and landscapes as possible.
Nestled on the western side of Honister Pass awaits the village of Buttermere, presiding over both Crummock Water and it's namesake, Buttermere. Often my biggest stipulation of accommodation is it's proximity to the great outdoors. Sunrise and morning is my favourite time of day to shoot, and in the summertime, when the sun is above the horizon before my clock hits 5am, the more I can reach in the shortest amount of time becomes a priority. The Bridge Hotel in Buttermere, which maintains it's airs and graces in an age of consumer power, fitted that profile, and they were happy to accommodate my early morning explorations.
The Lake District suffers from the same affliction as North Wales; the frequent proliferation of dense and impenetrable cloud that seemingly gets hung up on the fells, failing to properly move on. The first morning, I awoke at 4:30am to grey skies and drizzle, but rejoiced that I had the lake to myself. I left the hotel in the rain, but there was always a hopeful glow in the sky, as the sun tried desperately to burn off the cloud. Heading around the lake, I was kept company by the call of the cuckoo from the forest, echoing through the trees, and the scampering of red squirrels, surprised and alarmed by my presence. This was my first time out with the X-T1, and I was ready to make friends. When the cloud obscures the colours, long exposures are my default, and these we made distinctly more manageable by the X-T1's articulating screen. I never thought I would find such a feature at all useful, but I really enjoyed the differing viewing angles, it's intensely helpful and kind on my knees.
Returning for breakfast, the light began to change, dissolving from grey to blue, sunshine illuminating the fells with the warmth hitting my face. Avid walkers were out now, nodding a 'good morning' my way, pleased with the weather. I looked up and witnessed the clouds rolling over the hills above, like dry ice. The formations mirrored the peaks creating ghostly extensions to the landscape. The 35mm f/1.4 on the X-T1's cropped sensor makes it more or less at 50mm, a focal length I find rather endearing for landscapes, as it gives a sense of vastness and yet also a certain degree of intimacy. The clouds pictured above brought in the weather, and with it, our decision to spend the day exploring the intricacies of the local pub.
Buttermere is one of my favourite lakes. It's small enough to walk around and the variation in foliage adds a diversity to images. The layers are further enhanced by the clarity of the water and the fells that rise up in the distance, reflecting in the water on calm days. In autumn, the colours are rich and alluring, but summer also has it's appeal, drenched in greens and yellows. The second morning brought a false start. Too much wine the night before and less sleep than I would like rendered me unwilling to face the rain at 4:30am. I crawled back into my bed, deflated, and waited for sleep to reclaim me. Alas, when I'm awake, I'm awake, and after an hour rueing the weather, I decided to give it another try, and I'm glad I did.
The sky was folding in warm colours to the darker clouds, and the rain had ceased. There was little breeze, ensuring Buttermere's waters remained still and reflective. Again I was ready with the 18mm with an ND Filter attached, perching my X-T1 on my Manfrotto Pixi on one of the stones for a low angle and once more using that articulating screen to great effect. Sadly, I had not yet been able to invest in a shutter release cable, so I was limited to either 30 second exposures or holding down the shutter in bulb mode and keeping really, really still, so my results could have perhaps been better.
As the sun rose, it was clear it was going to be a beautiful morning, so I decided to take the streamside path towards Crummock Water. However, I found that a herd of cows and their calves were taking the same road and they were less than impressed with my presence. I'm not overly fond of cows, mainly because they're huge, and any mother protecting their child can be a force to be reckoned with. I was forced to clamber up the steep sides of the valley, wading through bracken and tripping over hidden branches, cursing like a sailor for my bruised and battered shins. Finally I was a safe distance from the herd and on the shoreline of Crummock, bathed in morning light, tumbling down the fells like liquid gold, with the stillness of the water acting like nature's mirror.
The light is everything. It changes the dynamic entirely. Half my job as a photographer is to learn the art of patience without getting frustrated and to read the light. Ultimately this is a distilled version of many life lessons that I've had to learn the hard way. You cannot force it, and you cannot bend it to your will. It is what it is, and if you're lucky, it will be everything you never knew you wanted, and some of what you hoped it would be. For me, photography is the art of preparation and the joy of being surprised.
I thought that my trip to the Lakes would be ruined by smashing my X-Pro1. On the contrary, that one incident changed the entire experience. I was offered the use of an X-E1 from a friend on Twitter who had no obligation to help me out, so in breaking one camera, I not only experienced an act of human kindness, I was able to push the boundaries of my practice, and (thanks to insurance) have fun with a new camera. The X-T1 sits much more naturally with a child of the digital age such as myself; I love the ergonomics and the dials, especially quick access to the ISO, metering and shooting modes. In my small hands, it feels right. In essence, it's becoming my favourite camera, although I haven't used it enough to give a decent overview.
For now, I'm grateful for the mornings where Crummock and Buttermere were bathed in light, reminding me that that every cloud has a golden lining.