Meandering on the Moors

Earlier this month I took a trip down to Exmoor and Dartmoor, two landscapes that I've often wanted to explore, both are uniquely different and yet share a certain wildness and beauty. Exmoor is the master of variety with its hills, heather and the moorland sweeping towards a pebbled coastline beyond. Dartmoor is rugged, with it's tors and sparse, expansive terrain. Both have wild ponies roaming the moorland, adding to the mystery and atmosphere, but my images of them I'm saving for a separate post. 

This photo set is all about the landscapes, captured on my Fujifilm X-T1 with my newly acquired 10-24mm. I hadn't realised how much I missed an ultra wide until I buckled and purchased this lens, and I'm so glad I did. The 14mm was sharp and beautiful, a prime to it's very soul, but the 10-24mm has a versatility that cannot be denied, and I really need that when I'm in the field. The weather was ideal, with the autumnal combination of mist and sunshine in the mornings at sunrise with the transitional colours of the moorland turning purple to orange. The evenings brought great light, but really, for me it's always about the mornings. I hope you enjoy.

Long Exposure on Porlock Hill, Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 10mm. f/22. 20 Sec. 

The Road up Porlock Hill at sunrise. Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 10mm. f/22. 1/18.

Sunset or Porlock Hill looking out towards the sea. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ f/22. 1/3.

Wind Weathered Tree. Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ f/22. 1/10.

Sun breaking through the morning mist. Exmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 13.2mm. f/22. 1/8.

Diffused mist on the hills of Exmoor at sunrise. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 15.9mm. f/22. 1/40.

Mist and light across Dartmoor. Fujifilm X-T1 + 10-24mm @ 10mm. f/18. 1/320.


Lakes and Mistakes

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.

Rachel, my love, after a walk around the Buttermere. Fujifilm X-T1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/1.8. ISO 200. 1/200.

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.

Buttermere in Black and White. Fujifilm X-T1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/11. ISO 250. B+W ND Filter. 28 Second Exposure.

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.

The fells over Crummock and Buttermere as the weather rolls in. Fujifilm X-T1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/11. ISO 200. 1/140.

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.

First light over Buttermere. Fujifilm X-T1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/13. ISO 200. B+W ND Filter. 30 Second Exposure.

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. 

Crummock reflections.  Fujifilm X-T1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/16. ISO200. 1/25.

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.

Crummock Water bathed in morning light. Fujifilm X-T1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/16. ISO200. 1/250.

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.

Streamside in Buttermere village.  Fujifilm X-T1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/9. ISO200. B+W ND Filter. 20 Second Exposure.

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. 

Sunset over St Bees on the Cumbrian coast. Fujifilm X-T1 + 18mm f/2 @ f/10. ISO250. B+W ND Filter. 28 Second Exposure.

Seasons and Sight: Photographing Bluebells

The older, and the more invested in photography I've become, the more I've noticed the turning of the seasons. The world has a rhythm; it flows from birth to death in a continuum, and for me, everything is intrinsically linked to this cycle.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/10. ISO800. 1/50.

It was three years ago that my eyes began to open, notably after I'd partially lost my sight. On my 28th birthday I painfully lost vision in my left eye and it took three months, nights of agony and several misdiagnosis to regain my sight.

Losing my vision, as a photographer, was one heck of a wake up call. When I regained full vision, it was springtime, and after the fear of permanent damage, I felt like I'd be given a gift; a chance to perceive the world in it's full glory. 

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2.5. ISO200. 1/40.

I became aware of the blossom, the fresh spring smell and the vivid greens that began to cover the bleak branches of the wintering trees. Life was awakening after a frosty sleep, the world was welcoming me back into it's abundant array of colour, scent and scene. The planted seed of wonderment grew in me as the daffodils and snowdrops grew against the green. Ever since I can sense the changing weather, I can see the blue of the sky dip from deep to crystal clear. It's my honour to witness the glorious march of nature, always in the moment, indifferent to the frivolity and occasional ridiculousness of human struggle.

Fujfilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/10. ISO800. 1/60

For me, the seasons are signified through colour and the lack thereof. In spring, living in the UK, it's evident in the rich, ethereal hues of the bluebells as they cover the forest floors, creating scenes straight from enchanted fairytales. This year, they were on time, even a touch early than anticipated, compared to last year's late show. And this year, I wanted to explore...

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/2. ISO200. 1/90.

Much like the partial loss and return of my sight, and erring on the ever positive side of this existence, I believe that the best of things can be found at the end of long journeys. The images of Bluebells you can see came through both luck, perseverance and a desire to see where difficult roads might lead. This woodland is a proverbial pot of gold at the end of a rainbow, except the rainbow was an uphill struggle through sloppy, slippery mud. One might have been inclined to stop upon sight of the first batch of bluebells, nestled amongst the ancient woodland; but to keep marching on, to believe that there's something special at the top of the hill, that's where the reward is.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/13. ISO200. 1/8.

This place, near Wotton Wawen in Warwickshire, is magical. Just standing amongst the bluebells we witnessed a tawny owl, deer, rabbits, but mostly the eerie quiet created by the stillness of nature. My trusty X-Pro1, with the gorgeous Fujifilm tones, accompanied me to capture this magical quiet, this brief display of beauty. I deployed both of my lenses, the 35mm f/1.4 and 18mm f/2, but mostly the 35mm covered everything, from the vast expanse of forest floor to the details in the individual flowers against a background of beautiful bokeh. Not once did I yearn for my bigger DLSR, although I should really invest in some Seven5 filters, as I did miss the flexibility of my Lee Filters.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 35mm f/1.4 @ f/8. ISO800. 1/50.

The low light lay across the sea of blue, purple and occasional white. Rich warmth mixed with cool tones, the sun splitting through the trees, long lengths of sunlight drenching swathes of the scene and ignoring others. The conditions were perfect; a spring evening that felt more like early summer with little cloud cover. We stayed until the light faded and the comfort of fish & chips spurred us back down the hill towards home.

I am graciously part of this continuum. I will happily take the long, muddy road if I can witness such glorious scenes of nature's best. I'm grateful to be part of collaborative community where I can share these shots, my methods, my locations and hope to engage with others. Mostly, I feel lucky that I was reset into the seasons, that they are my sundial, that I can see the beauty in each of them.

Fujifilm X-Pro1 + 18mm f/2 @ 14mm. ISO200. 1/3.