Landscape Photography Blog, May 2020
Updated: Jul 30, 2020
May was going to be an uncertain month, we know at the moment that we will be locked down till the 7th at the least, but it was exceptionally likely that it would be till the end of the month before lockdown was lifted.
The 1st of May brought with it some very changeable weather, beautiful sunshine, rain, rainbows, thunder & lightning, basically everything a landscape photographer could ever dream of, the catch, well you all know it, we couldn't go out.
I went so far as to get my camera set up to shoot out of the upstairs window as the lightning went over but it was a brief weather system and sadly I didn't get anything but it did remind me just how good it felt to have the camera out again and gave me hope that maybe this month we might, just might see a relaxing of the lockdown rules so we could all finally get out and shoot something.
Sunday the 10th was finally here and there had been so much chatter in the news that there was going to be a relaxation of the rules which could possibly mean getting out with the camera again could be a very real possibility.
All week people had been talking about it and what the Prime Ministers speech might say, would it just be a light relaxation or a fairly hefty one ? the suspense was indeed brutal but also very exciting.
I had seen many landscape photographers who had ignored the lockdown rules and been out and this was very frustrating for me as I was desperate to get out.
It was a double edged sword though as I wanted to stay safe and keep others safe which meant not going out, but if the government said we could then I wanted to, but morally I wasn't sure if I could justify it.
On the one hand I knew if I went out I would be on my own, chances of seeing anyone in the very early hours would be extremely unlikely and if I were to see someone then I would actively avoid them and keep a distance, so I could actually justify it to myself IF we were given the green light.
The same could be said if I went out anyway, I could simply use it as my daily exercise but morally it wouldn't be right to do so and it didn't sit well with me.
The other question was if they would relax lockdown did it mean you could drive to a venue, if you couldn't then it would potentially be back to square one unless you lived somewhere close to a great location ?
Everything hinged on todays speech and I was tense, 7 pm couldn't come fast enough where all would be revealed.
7 pm finally arrived and landscape photographers everywhere sat with baited breath, you could feel the tension and then it happened, Boris said subject to the traffic light system being in the lower range we could drive and take unlimited exercise, I felt this was a green light for photography and after discussing it with many others we all shared the same view.
The date was set, Wednesday the 13th of May would see the chance to get out again finally come round as long as you observed the social distancing rules which wouldn't be a problem as I generally shoot on my own anyway.
The one thing that was very unclear was if there was a distance that was permitted for travel as an acceptable one ? I mean its one thing to nip down to your local hot spot but quite another to drive hundreds of miles to Scotland ?
Again I felt this was down to common sense and public interpretation to a degree, for me going outside of Dorset wasn't really acceptable.
I also felt that shooting sunrise was going to be the favoured tactic as you were going to be very unlikely to see anyone else provided you weren't going to the honey pot locations.
Sunset for me was going to remain off the cards for a while as I felt many more people would be out and about so social distancing would be much harder unless you went to places that weren't really known or saw heavy traffic.
My biggest concern was everyone would be treating this as a holiday and would go rushing off to the beaches as soon as they opened so again I decided I would be avoiding these where possible and sticking to inland areas that saw little or no traffic, with the possible exception of a sunrise beach shoot if they looked like being clear of people in the early hours.
I was just elated to have the chance to shoot again frankly and ideas were going through my head left, right and centre of where to go ?
Would there be a possibility of any bluebells left ? Would there be nice conditions ? Could I rescue the year ? All questions that would reveal the answer on the first trip out and frankly I didn't care what the outcome would be, I was going out and all of a sudden I was beyond happy again and looking forward to being in the great outdoors, hearing the early morning chorus of a thousand birds, seeing light streaking through woodland, mist rising over flood plains, all in wonderful isolation.
The buzz was real and everyone could feel it as plans were talked about between people the length and breadth of the country.
The gear had been cleaned and maintained to within an inch of its life but I decided to go over it all again just to be sure, I didn't want anything to ruin my first day out, three more sleeps needed to happen before the big day and I couldn't wait, but that was exactly what I had to do.
I told myself I've just waited nearly 2 months so I can wait three more sleeps easily, and it would give me a chance to plan everything with military precision.
Wednesday the 13th of May.
The alarm sounded at 4 am, and for once I wasn't dragged out of a peaceful slumber and annoyed, I was ecstatic ! After weeks of lockdown I was finally getting out again with the camera and I couldn't be happier.
I had made a decision to go to Sturminster Newton Mill for many reasons, top of the list was the fact I thought no one would be there as the sun was coming up in front of it rather than behind it which people rarely seem to shoot but it was exactly what I was after.
I had watched the forecast like a hawk for days and there was a reasonable chance of mist on the water so it made it even more attractive, the forecast was however fairly clear, normally not what we would be looking for but for this shot it was exactly what I wanted so everything looked perfect.
I got dressed and raced down to the car, my camera bag seemed strangely heavier than I remembered, come to think of it, so did I, dam you lockdown !
It was an odd feeling to be out driving again, especially so early in the morning and the lack of traffic made me wonder if I was actually doing something wrong ? I half expected to get pulled over any second but the reality was I wasn't doing anything wrong at all, the government said it was ok and I was going to make the most of it.
I was a wreck all the way there as I pondered what conditions would greet me, would the mist be there ? Would the light hit the mill like I wanted it too ? Would anyone else have had the same idea and be there ?
These thoughts kept me busy until I pulled into the mill and big plumes of mist were rising from the weir and floating down the river, It was all coming together !
Originally I wanted to get this shot about 4 weeks ago for the light to be in the right place but lockdown had put those plan on hold and I worried the sun would be rising slightly to far round for me to effectively get the shot I wanted.
As I walked down the familiar steps and looked down the river I didn't care if the sun even rose, I was out and what I had in front of me was enough to make all my cares fade away.
I watched the mist rolling down the river and listened to the birds excitedly greeting each other with a song that sounded even sweeter than normal, I was in heaven.
It was fairly light but the sunrise was abut 20 minutes away and I decided I would check out a couple of compositions in order to be ready for when the sun rise started.
The sun was going to come up directly behind me so this was going to cause a shadow on the foreground which wasn't acceptable but there wasn't an angle that would allow me to avoid this, what I would need to do is shoot very fast and nail the shot I was after when the light hit the mill itself and before it rose high enough to hit the foreground.
I found the composition I wanted and while I was waiting I took a picture from slightly further down stream as the mist was looking exceptionally good from this angle and I exposed for slightly longer just to give some movement and softness to the mist.
The shot came out better than I thought it would and I liked the softness of it, it just seemed to fit the mood so much better.
I was super happy, I was out, I was at a beautiful place and I was taking photos and I had nailed the first one, result.
I patiently waited for the light to strike the mill, I watched it inching its way down the trees and along the bank, it seemed to take forever as it creeped along the river bank, I knew I wouldn't get time to mess up the shot, it was an all or nothing moment for sure.
As I composed the shot ready for the light I suddenly changed my mind from shooting the normal 3:2 shot and quickly switched in order to do a panorama, I knew I could do this with enough time before the light caught my shadow in the picture but I would only get one go at it so it had to be perfect, If I messed it up I wouldn't get a chance to reset.
The light finally started to hit the mill and it turned a beautiful golden orange colour as the old weathered brickwork came to life and danced like sparkling fire in the warm glow of the sun.
I darted into action and shot my panorama, I was fairly sure I had got it but shot a standard 3:2 after just to be sure, then the light creeped down far enough to get my shadow in the shot and it was game over.
I reviewed the image and I knew I had got what I had come for.
The shot was originally intended to be a 3:1 panorama but after much fiddling around with it I settled on a 16:9 ratio instead, It just sat better with me for some reason, I was slightly bothered by the distracting blue sky but if I had cropped it out the mill would sit too high in the frame which bothered me even more so I decided to live with it, again ultimately I was pleased with the shot.
I sat back and watched the light unfold onto the landscape, it was sublime and the feeling of absolute contentment washed over me, I had to stop to remind myself that there was actually a serious pandemic on as it was so easy to forget when your alone and surrounded by such a beautiful scene.
No one was around still and I decided I would call time on it and get away before anyone else showed up even though the sun had only just come up but as I was walking back I couldn't resist another shot from between a couple of trees that framed the mill just perfectly.
I used a 1:1 square crop to frame the shot better and to be a bit more balanced, I had shot three shots all of which were different ratios but all completely suited to the scene and I was pleased I was thinking about these things before taking the pictures and making the most of what was in front of me.
I left the mill and decided I would go home via a couple of bluebell forests I knew on the way just on the off chance that they were still looking ok but confidence was low on that thought.
As suspected every forest I tried the bluebells were way past their best and most had gone over, I was gutted to have missed them this year as it really is one of my favourite things to shoot but it was a small price to pay to stay safe and there's always next year.
Over the next few mornings the forecast was looking pretty clear which was a shame but there was odd few days where sunset looked like it might have more cloud but I was keen to avoid it as many more people would be about at that time.
As suspected the coast had seen a huge influx in visitors on the first day lockdown had been lifted and to me it just wasn't worth the risk of going out and bumping into people so I decided to stay in land with the possibility of a sunrise shoot on the coast when no one else was around.
Friday the 15th of May
The morning forecast looked grim, completely clear and it was the last thing I wanted to see, there was however one glimpse of hope on the horizon, there was very low wind of around 3 mph.
I decided it would make a pretty good chance for some mist rolling along the river although the humidity wasn't high enough to have a decent covering of the fields surrounding it.
I would head for the Dorset Stour and see what I could find, The alarm screamed into life at 4 am much to the annoyance of myself.
I peered outside and as suspected it was 100% clear but I decided to trust my gut feeling and head out anyway.
As I headed towards the Stour I could see there was indeed mist present on the river and I headed for White Mill bridge, I went past Eyebridge and it looked good but carried on to the better looking White Mill Bridge.
I arrived and while there was some mist it was a little disappointing so I decided to race back to Eyebridge instead where the mist had looked a lot better.
As I got there it looked pretty good and a picture was absolutely on the cards, that was until I got to the bridge and found someone already on it ready to take a picture, my heart sank as I didn't want to be close to anyone else plus having one other on the wooden bridge always caused vibration which made shooting testing to say the least.
I hurried back to White Mill and tried a few shots but it just wasn't what I was after I knew it was pointless to be there so I packed up and came home dejected.
I was elated to be out again but that all too familiar feeling of being kicked firmly in the unmentionables by Mother Nature had crept back in and burst the bubble a little bit.
Saturday the 16th of May
The weather forecast said it was going to be cloudy with no sun on Saturday morning but I set an alarm just in case.
I looked outside and there was altocumulus clouds directly above me, and as we all know these go off big time, there was one problem, a large bank of cloud where the sun was going to come up.
It was going to be a complete gamble but I decided I would risk it as I really didn't want to miss an epic sunrise so I rushed out to Horton Tower in order to stay fairly local.
I got there and it was pretty much the same situation, epic clouds above but the sunrise was blocked by the bank of cloud.
I had half an hour to wait before sunrise and it looked pretty grim but I decided to stay just in case but it proved futile as the light just never got through.
I went home feeling fairly dejected and absolutely shattered, the 4am starts were seriously painful and even more so when you come home empty handed.
Sunset was looking interesting, there was a lot of high level cloud about so I raced off to Horton Tower again in order to get some revenge and hopefully a decent image.
True to form as I got there the high level cloud seemed to disappear and it went clear one direction and the other now had a huge bank of sun blocking cloud there, frustrating.
I waited around just in case and there was a brief moment when the light came through onto the tower but it was fast & fleeting and in truth wasn't very special.
My only hope was the light would still come through the odd few gaps and light up the clouds at sunset, but it just didn't happen.
Again I drove home dejected but not beaten, I would return to the tower and get my revenge eventually.
Sunday forecast looked very interesting, there was almost zero wind and high humidity, there could be a chance at my favourite thing to shoot, mist.
Sunday the 17th of May
I had to set a 3.30 am alarm as I intended to head to North Dorset to some high hills in order to get above the mist if it was there.
Sunrise was at 5.17 am but it would take me a while to drive there then there was about a 30 minute trek to get to the hill I wanted to be on, this was going to be painful but if the weather played ball I would get a decent reward out of it or so I hoped.
The alarm went off and I must admit it suddenly didn't seem like such a good idea but I dragged myself out of bed and set off on the journey and early signs looked good, I went through several misty areas so confidence was high.
When I finally arrived at my location I was bitterly disappointed with it, there was mist but it wasn't the big sea of mist I had hoped for, more like isolated pockets, I wasn't close to any other locations so I decided to go for it, I walked halfway there and then disaster struck, There were cows in the field and I don't mind admitting I'm scared to death of them, I have been chased by them several times previously and had really scary experiences with them so I bottled it and turned back, most would have walked on through them but I just seem to attract them and its a risk I don't like to take.
I raced back to the car and headed to Blandford in the hope the river would have some mist rolling over it, but it didn't and he sun was starting to come up and there was some nice colour in the sky, I rushed down to Eyebridge where I knew there was mist as I had gone past it on the way to North Dorset.
I arrived to see three other photographers and a drone buzzing around, I got strait back in the car in a fowl mood and decided I could shoot the lay-by shot of Wimborne Minster instead, as I drove down there I knew I had missed a decent opportunity but could still rescue it just about, well I could have if the lay-by hadn't been closed off, you just couldn't make it up this trip had been an absolute disaster so I tried one final role of the dice and headed to some nearby heathland where I knew mist would be, I got there just in time to see it clearing and that was it I was frustrated and fed up and decided to head home, but managed to find an interesting area which could prove fruitful for another morning.
Sunset looked like it could all go off so I decided on yet another return to Horton Tower and as soon as I got there the light went and a cloud front moved in covering the sun, it was exactly the same as the previous day and I started to wonder who I had upset to have such a run of bad luck, I really wasn't enjoying it especially when there was so much effort put in with early starts which ruin you for the rest of the day.
There was potential for mist tomorrow so once again the alarm was set and I was going to check out the heathland and see if I could get some nice trees poking through the mist as the light hit, surely my luck would change.
Monday the 18th of May
Again the alarm clock went off at unnatural time and pulled me back to reality, I peered out and it didn't inspire me with confidence but I pulled myself out of bed with the thought that my run of bad luck must end sometime.
As I travelled down the short distance to the heathland there was certainly some mist about so there was a good chance of getting something.
I walked down the path that overlooked the heath and there was certainly mist, but the area just didn't look that interesting, I had a different vision for it in my mind but it just wasn't it.
The sun was coming up just behind me and I wanted to get the first light on the trees but meanwhile behind me where there was no decent compositions the sunset was actually looking quite nice but I couldn't do anything with it as if I had walked further into the scene I would be stuck in bog and really didn't fancy that so I just had to let it go and wait for the light to hit.
There was some nice colour in the clouds and out in front of me was seeing the first signs of change as the sky went a beautiful peach colour while the mist rolled around.
I opted for a panorama but it just didn't seem right, it was really a bit boring.
I could hear cows mooing in the distance which didn't help my nerves settle as they were defiantly getting closer but I waited for decent light to hit but once again it was getting blocked by cloud.
Just as the cloud was about to clear to let the sun through a herd of cattle came into view, that was my cue to pack up and get out of there, Once again foiled by pesky cows or more to the point, my irrational fear of these beasts.
I had a look at my pictures when I got back and I had a seriously wide 4:1 ratio panorama which looked quite nice but the right hand side of it just made it feel a little unbalanced as the trees were either smaller or further away so in the end I opted to cut it right down to a 2:1 ratio.
Im still on the fence with this image as it has some nice atmosphere and colour but I just felt it was a little too boring, but would decide over time if I would keep it or not, right now I needed sleep and the pictures could wait, dam these 4 am starts.
Sunset was set to be full of high level cloud so yet again I was back down to Horton tower trying to get my shot, the low and mid cloud certainly wasn't present today so I was full of hope.
While waiting for the cloud to colour up I did a quick pano just as the light was creeping up the tower and I have to say I quite liked it so it would be a keeper.
I liked the vibrant tower painted in gold, so I was happy I had at least got something. The cloud went fairly heavy against the sun which was a pain so no real colour and I took myself home wondering if I would ever get the shot I wanted from here ?
Tomorrows forecast was looking good, a high chance of mist and high cloud, I was actually starting to hope for a bad forecast so I could stay in bed and avoid the relentless early starts!
Tuesday the 19th of May
I had already decided where to go, I was visiting a garlic forest for the first time after a good friend gave me a tip off about it, and even better, it was still in bloom, the thought of mist in there was too much to take so I was all in for it.
The alarm cut through me like a knife and I really had to force myself to get up as I had done five 4 am or earlier starts in a row, punishing.
Looking outside it seemed the weather forecast had got it very wrong again, there was little of no signs of mist and the cloud was a low bank that was pretty thick, no signs of the high level cloud that was forecast.
I decided to go anyway as I was up and on the drive there I hoped that the cloud would break up but there was zero signs of colour or light.
I arrived at my destination and walked down the footpath and the smell of wild garlic hit me like a train and really woke me up, as I surveyed the woodland in front of me I spotted several compositions that looked good, I just needed some decent light.
There was a gap in the canopy above which would allow light in should it come out and as luck would have it there was a small gap forming in the thick cloud so I got myself in position and waited, and waited for what seemed like an age then golden light poured through in just a few spots and I worked quickly to get some shots, It was there for no more than 2 minutes and I managed to get a shot that I was really happy with.
I got several other shots from this session but this was the pick of the bunch for me and I was super happy to have managed it at a time that most of the garlic forests had gone way past their best and I didn't think id be able to get this shot this season, thanks for the heads up (you know who you are).
I decided to give sunset a miss as it didn't look great on the forecast and frankly I was super tired from all the trips recently, as it turned out I really didn't miss much anyway and enjoyed the rest which was much needed as tomorrow was going to be mist, and I wanted some of that !.
Wednesday the 20th of May
The alarm sounded at 3.40 am and I was up like a shot as I was super keen to look outside and see if the forecast mist had come, like a child waking up and excitedly rushing down stairs on Christmas morning waiting to see if Santa had been, He had and the gifts he left looked amazing, blankets of fine low mist ! Amazing.
I rushed out to get to a high point in the Dorset countryside, it was a really out the way location that never seems to get shot by anyone probably cause its not a landmark but I just knew it would command a good view over the Dorset countryside and potentially around 250 degree views in order to get mist at sunrise and then sunlight on the surrounding hills, it was a really good place for adapting to any given conditions.
As I arrived at the top of the hill the view that greeted me was simply breathtaking, I had to stop and just look in awe at what was in front of me.
A complete cloud inversion with trees poking through it, hills rising above it and the colour of the sun coming up turning the sky gold, I couldn't get the camera out fast enough.
This location isn't as photogenic as a lot of places but it showed an area of Dorset that doesn't really get photographed often and for the life of me I can't see why.
I took a 7 shot panorama of the hills, East hill & West hill as they are known.
Most photographers would be headed to West hill to shoot Corfe Castle as it poked out of the mist, and it is an epic shot but it's been done to death, including by myself so I wanted to avoid it and try and get something different.
I liked the shot a lot but wondered if it was actually too wide and lost the detail of the hills themselves so I cropped it down to a 2:1 panorama to see losing most of the right hand side but I couldn't decide which I liked better so I decided to keep both in the end as they offered something different on each one.
I scanned around for some interesting options with the 100-400 mm lens and there was a small church which looked nice with a blanket of mist behind it, It was just as the sunrise was still reflecting the light and the sky had a beautiful pink tone to it but the distance made it quite hard to frame it the way I really wanted so again I was ultimately undecided with the shot but it had something, just not sure if ill keep it or not.
The mist started to rise and the tops of the trees started to disappear and it was just a blanket of white which didn't really make for an appealing photograph to be honest but every so often the light breeze moved a little of the mist revealing something on the landscape so the 100-400 mm lens stayed on with the hope of picking out some nice detail.
I waited for what seemed like an age and then the top of West hill started to clear just slightly revealing some cows and deer grazing as the sun lit up the small area they were standing on.