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Monday, 30 November 2015

A Lake District Holiday - landscape and weather

I've just got home from a lovely holiday in The English Lake DistrictFor the first time ever, I stayed in the Lake District for more than a week. It was great!

Panorama from the summit of Wansfell

Every year for more than 2 decades, some friends and I have spent a November week in The Lakes - always staying in the Ambleside area, and for the last few years in Troutbeck. This year, I decided to extend my week with my friends and book the same holiday cottage for myself for the preceding week. Of course, I invited them to join me whenever they could.

This post is all about the first week, which I specifically planned to be for landscape photography.

Sunday was dominated for me and everyone else in the area by Storm Abigail, which was passing over the north of Britain. This being my holiday, I wasn't paying attention to the news, so I didn't know that authorities were advising everyone not to travel in Cumbria.
I set out in the morning planning to do some photography in Borrowdale. I successfully passed through some shallow floods across the roads on the way to Grasmere, then it was pretty easy until I got to Borrowdale.
Finally, north of Grange, I came across a flood that was obviously too deep for my car to cross, so I turned back a little and ventured up toward Watendlath and stopped at the famous, and very well photographed, Ashness Bridge. 

Most images you see of Ashness Bridge view down the valley with Keswick and Skiddaw looking magnificent in the distance. All I could see looking that way was cloud, mist and rain, so with plenty of water flowing and falling down through the bridge, I pointed my camera up towards it.

Ashness Bridge
As you can see, it was still raining, so I was constantly fighting rain on the lens.

Ashness Bridge

My next intended subject in the area was Castlerigg Stone Circle. Sunrise over the circle was my ultimate target, but I thought that for now I'd take a look and recce the scene.

If anything the rain was harder when I got there, and the wind certainly was. Happily, the wind was blowing from behind me as I set up to try out the angles, but I still didn't manage to keep all the rainspots off my lens. I shot a panorama as best I could in the wind.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

I decided that as soon as the forecast looked good for sunrise, I'd come back.

My ignorance of the extent of flooding now started to become clear.
I had already decided that one of the floods I had successfully traversed heading north through Rydal would be impassable in the other direction (for my car), so I expected to go east on the A66 then around via the M6.
The A66 was closed. I decided to head south and try to get around Rydal via the roads over the back of Loughrigg. No luck. I got across to the Ambleside-Coniston road, but found half a metre of water heading to Ambleside and was told of a whole metre depth towards Coniston. Maybe Langdale would be clear. I met other travellers who clearly thought that I wouldn't get through.

Anyway, to cut this already too-long story short, I ended up getting "home" via Carlisle and the M6 - 4-and-a-half hours and 100 miles from Keswick to Troutbeck.

Call me weird, but I found this more an amusing adventure than anything else. I didn't feel in danger - I was confident that I wouldn't try any flood that would leave me stranded, and that if the worst came to the worst I could park up somewhere and sleep in the car.
I must admit, though, that my sense of humour had become a little strained by the time I reached Carlisle!

Monday was a lovely day! It was windy and a bit squally, but the sun shone and there was some blue sky so I walked up Wansfell straight from the cottage.
On the way up, I passed through a brief shower and saw this lovely rainbow.

Just as I reached the front summit, I was hit by a squall of sleet. The sleet stopped as soon as it had started, but the wind continued. I could stand up, but I wondered just how sharp my hand-held shots for this panorama would be.
Panorama from the summit of Wansfell

It worked out ok. This is a view of more than 180 degrees and includes a distant but great view of a lot of Lake District fells. The path down to Troutbeck goes off to the left of the picture, Windermere is obvious, Ambleside is in the centre with the Langdale Pikes beyond and the Scafell Pike ridge beyond them, and the ridge to the "other" Wansfell summit is on the right.

The first of my friends arrived on Tuesday afternoon, so on Wednesday morning we drove out in more rain up over to Ullswater to visit Aira Force. Floods seemed a possibility again, but proved to be no more difficult than very large puddles. When we got out of the car to walk to the Force, the word "rain" really didn't do justice to the conditions.
Photography conditions were " challenging". It was a real fight to keep water off the front of the lens. I took an umbrella and cloths, but eventually I only really got one decent shot of the Force. This was from the bridge at the top.
When we got down to the lower bridge, the dark, spray, wind and rain completely defeated me, but my friend managed a phone image of me to show the conditions.


One thing that images obviously cannot capture is the sound. I didn't have a sound recording equipment with me, but I can tell you that the sound was fantastic - loud, deep and constantly changing. I almost enjoyed the sound more than the view!

More friends arrived on Thursday evening, and Friday proved to be another lovely bright day. We kept the walking very simple and took a stroll around Tarn Howes. The place was popular (it always is), so landscape photography opportunities were scarce, but this bench makes an interesting pattern.

A seat at Tarn Hows

At last - The weather forecast for Saturday suggested that skies would be clear. A Castlerigg sunrise was on!
We (four of us now) arrived at the stone circle 30 minutes before the published sunrise time. There was already one other photographer there who was concentrating so hard on his shot that when I walked up and spoke the poor chap jumped out of his skin!
It was a beautiful morning, and the previous night's snow looked amazing on the tops as the sun's light slowly extended across them.
News of the possibility of a nice sunrise had obviously got around because as the next 45 minutes passed, more and more photographers arrived. Though we were all intent on capturing the view to the east, I swung my camera round to look towards Blencathra and capture the more general scene.

The circle is surrounded by fells, of course, so the horizon is higher and sunrise over the fells is later.
While I waited, I shot several panoramas. This one was just a few minutes before the sun finally appeared. The cloud has lost a little of it's orange. but you can see the rays of the sun shining across just beneath it.

Sunrise at Castlerigg Stone Circle

Finally, at around 8:45, the sun rose. It was worth the wait, and with quite a small aperture, my camera captured a lovely "starburst" effect for my final shot of the morning.

Sunrise at Castlerigg Stone Circle

Monday, 2 November 2015

Fungi fun near Milton Keynes!

Yesterday was a lovely sunny day - so I spent a lot of it kneeling in damp leaf litter taking images of fungi!

I was with a small group on a fungi photography workshop led by photographer Bob Brind-Surch and the mycologist Justin Long. Bob runs a number of UK workshops on various aspects of wildlife photography and also leads photographic safaris in Africa. He works with experts on the particular subject of the workshop, so not only does Bob help with techniques from his extensive wildlife photography experience, but the subject expert provides insight, ID and other fascinating information on whatever you are photographing.
Please take a look at Bob's website if you are interested in joining any of his workshops. 
(I don't want to put you off, but I am the "expert" that works with Bob on the dragonfly photography workshops at Wicken Fen)

I'll admit straight away that I know little about fungal biology and even less about identifying them. So - thanks to Justin for ID-ing everything. Some of these are from memory though so, if I've got anything wrong, don't blame Justin.

My first subject was this Amethyst Deceiver (Laccaria amethystina). There were several around in the leaf litter, but this one was the richest colour. The others were larger, but older, so they had faded a bit. This one was about 5cm tall.

Amethyst Deceiver - Laccaria amethystina

I spotted these Oak Pins (Cudoniella acicularis) just below head height up the trunk of (you've guessed it) an Oak tree. There were a lot more of them, but these four formed a nice little group in this crack in the bark. Each one of them is less than a centimetre tall. I struggled for a while to work out how to get my tripod close enough with the trunk "in the way", but got it right eventually and was able to focus close in to the group.

Oak Pin - Cudoniella acicularis

In between finding and identifying fungi for us to photograph, Justin was away foraging and collecting some lovely extra specimens for us. In particular, I liked this White Saddle fungus (Helvella crispa), which he had collected with the soil that it was growing from. This, he set up on a fallen tree trunk in a convenient place for photography - no kneeling for this one!
In the darkness of woodland, natural light is not always great for photography. One of the techniques that Bob recommends is the use of simple (and cheap!) LED video lights. For this image, the highlight from behind the fungus is direct sunshine, but the right-hand side of the fungus is lit by an LED light.
For me, this give a wonderful sculptural feel to the image.

White Saddle fungus - Helvella crispa

This next one is a rather weird but wonderful fungus. Actually, I think they're all weird and wonderful, but it seems to me that this one is different from many others, as it grows on pine cones, has the stalk offset from the centre and has spines rather than the "usual" straight gills.
I didn't get the name from Justin, but I think it's Auriscalpium vulgare. This is another quite small fungus - the cap is less that a centimetre across. The stark image against a black background was created simply by lighting with a flashgun from below and to the right.

Auriscalpium vulgare (I think)

My last picture for today was more for fun than anything. I finally got out a wide-angle lens to show a bit more of the background, and here's a Fly Agaric (Amanita muscara) and Bob demonstrating some of the finer points of photography to one of the others in the group.

Fungi are a great subject for close-up or macro photography. I'm not sure that I'll ever learn a lot about identifying them, but they're certainly a colourful, varied, fascinating and beautiful group of organisms.
Many thanks to Bob and Justin for a great day!