What is your favourite season for photography?
13/11/12What is your favourite season? My wife Julia yearns for the warmth of early summer. After a dawn shoot in the hills of Provence, returning with a bag of still warm croissant to be eaten outside our tent, pitched among pine trees overlooking the Luberon, I do see the attraction – especially as I now look out of my rain spattered office window to a dreary mid grey flat sky! Overall though, for landscape photography, the summer season is at the bottom of my list. For me, that’s why I adjourn to the water during summer months and put myself through the changing skill set of photographing the sailing action.
Of course, we have just passed probably the most colourful of seasons, autumn. Living where I do, metres from the open heathland and forest of William the Conqueror’s ‘Nova Foresta', I am well attuned to the flora transformation from summer to winter in this part of the world. As ever, the best colours occur the longer you can leave them. The downside of that is the more chance there is of the leaves being blown off the trees. Remember 1987? Not only were the leaves blown off trees but the trees were blown off the land and that was the middle of October!
The different species of trees change at different times and the leaves change according to their exposure to wind, sun, altitude and traffic. Thus, picking the best time to photograph the autumn colours requires some foresight, exploration and research. The only element of luck is the dates that the weather fronts move into the area bring the wind with them. Obviously again, the further into the season, the weaker the leaves and more propensity it is for them to fall to the ground. I rely on experience therefore to determine the date for my autumn workshops – 2013 dates are live on the website by the way, and in the lead up to them, I regularly check the areas to find out which trees are turning colour, which have lost their leaves already and at what state of change they are at.
Autumn and its equinoctial equivalent spring, usually provides good opportunities for the ethereal qualities of mist to present themselves for the photographer. Research, in the form of scouring over a cartographers art helps here. Knowledge of where water lies, which areas remain in the shadow of an emerging sun and of the predicted sky covering, or should I say lack of it will ably assist in being prophetic to the probability of mist forming. Take Tuscany as a paradigm of this phenomenon. On this year’s Tuscany workshop we had misty dawn experiences on five of the six mornings and even on that sixth morning it was there, just not prolific enough to call it a true misty dawn. Here, in the UNESCO World Heritage bestowed area of stunning rolling beauty, the undulations of the hills hold the moisture and preclude the low angled sun as it initially rises. Clear night skies lower the temperature reducing the dew point enabling the mist to form until it is burnt off later as the sun rise heat increases. You’ve got to add it all together with the azimuth of the sun and the composition of the shot of course, but that’s all part and parcel of being a landscape photographer. And what better place is there to be one than Tuscany at the beginning of May. You’ll find me there again next year, keyed up in the best places with a select group of photographers on my workshop as I tutor how to make the most of the opportunity, before we all go for a well-earned Italian breakfast.
Out of all the seasons, winter provides me with the best photographic opportunities, variety and interest. It’s not for everyone I know, but there are certain benefits. If you’ve ever dragged yourself up from your slumber to attack a dawn shoot in the middle of June you will understand my meaning here – 3.00am starts are not required during the winter as a rule! So, with a supine position being retained until at least 6:30am, a more sanguine approach could be delivered maybe? Of course, this is tempered by the fact that it is invariably much colder and here of course, good clothing is a must. Thermal base layers, including long John’s, mid layers, hat, and waterproof outer layers, gloves and boots are the norm. Even if you don’t want to look like a Michelin man, at least take the clothing in preparation. A head torch helps for the pre-dawn or post dusk time and, important for the photography stage, make sure you know your camera. This may sound basic advice but you would be astounded how many photographers become totally disorientated to their camera’s functions when they try to operate it in the dark – you know who you are…
Winter storms bring heavy seas and crashing waves onto our coasts, dramatic in their own right usually in conjunction with stormy clouds skudding overhead. These conditions require judicious handling of the camera, whether on a tripod or not, to prevent camera shake and the ruination of a dramatic image. Places like Cornwall and the stunning Isle of Skye, both areas where I’m running workshops next year, provide superb opportunities to release the shutter at the right time and record these atmospheric conditions,.(Cornwall is full by the away and there is availability only on some days on Skye.)
On the south coast of England, sunrise and sunset only occur out to sea, south of a line east to west, during the time from October to March, hence this is the time I run my workshop at Kimmeridge Bay on the Dorset coast – another UNESCO World heritage area for information. Here, on a low tide, usually during a period of high atmospheric pressure and no wind, mirror like seas occur to produce beautiful colour and comparison to the hard, grey satanic fingers of rock jutting out to the bay.
Clear starry winter nights, away from extraneous urban light, offers photographic challenges and rewards in equal measure. This same clear night may bring on the aforementioned mists as well, especially if it follows a period of damp or wet weather. Alternatively, from a longer period of cold clear skies, frost or better still, hoar frost may form. Juxtaposed against the bright blue of a winter dawn, hoar frost covered trees take on a beauty all of their own. Delve down more into the detail and even innocuous subject matter such as a fern frond or puddle may be transformed into a photographer’s abstract. Even without the frost, a majestic oak or tall flimsy silver birch, provide exquisite form devoid as they are at this time of year of their leaf.
Then, as if by magical spell, all is transcended into a higher yet parallel world by the addition of crystalline water ice otherwise known as snow. Whatever we knew of an area photographically takes on a completely different selection of tones, texture and compositional elements. An all new world into which to thrust our tripod legs. Visualisation of the finished image is of paramount importance as ever prior to the event, otherwise you may be sorely disappointed with the results. Looking and seeing what you want in the image and of equal weight, what you don’t want in the image helps immensely to capture the evocative nature of these physical changes to the landscape. Playing with these textures augmented maybe with dashes of colour, or by sticking strictly to the monochrome, can work wonders with the cards you have been dealt to put your own stamp on the land or seascape.
At this time of year, the changes can be immense. Even the addition of heavy rainfall adds new dimensions. The water saturates colours into rich browns, deep oranges and reds. New vistas can open up with extra waterways being created providing reflections where none exist normally. Should these waterways freeze, yet further detail emerges as the haphazard pattern of the ice stretches out across the surface, contorting the reflections into abstract mania.
Yep. Winter is my favourite season with its diverse opportunities, challenges and rewards. As usual, I will be running a number of programmed and ad hoc photography workshop forays into the surrounding areas of Hampshire, Dorset and maybe the Isle of Wight over this winter. Details of these, the trip to Tuscany and next years’ autumn colours workshops can be found on the website here: Ian Badley Photography Workshops