Day three – A day of sunshine, sheep and showers

It is true that those first few hours of any day are special, and that special quality is easy to convey to the viewers of your prints. The public don’t get up early except to let the dog out or burp the baby, so when you show them what first-thing-in-the-morning looks like they are amazed. And first-thing-in-the-morning is actually amazing enough that it is well worth getting up for every day.

When I arrive at the Borrowdale shoreline it is clear that I am late. Not late for the spectacle of the morning light, but late by the standards of some of the readers who appear to have been in position since 4am. There’s a wonderful mist on the water’s surface, like steam on a cup of cooling tea on a spring day. It lifts and glides, and lights up in cyan and blue to complement the sky. A long thin and wispy cloud has floated down from its heavenly habitat to investigate the strange beings dotting the water’s edge, and provides a wonderful focal point between the lens and distant mountains.

We are blessed with peaches and faint tints of blood orange as the sun climbs slowly to our right and hauls itself up the other side of the gigantic stony crags that encircle three sides of the flat boggy plain we are standing in.

Some of us crouch low in the clear waters of the stream that feeds the main lake, while others position themselves high on the banks and others again in the short reeds where the water and the earth squelch under foot. We all aim in much the same direction, looking for the light that will eventually lift the distant rock and trees from their low-contrast existence.

The sun does arrive, and throws is golden cloak over the trees and mountains, giving us the warm yellows that the photographers’ colour wheel demands when faced with a morning sky. With no wind the surface of the water mirrors, in dappled paint from an Impressionist’s brush, an inverted version of what we can see on the sloping ground of the opposite banks. We compose these reflected wonders with more land and then more reflection, landscape and portrait, and explore how the eye can be led and the brain confused, or enlighten, according to the angle.

We then turn and face the on-coming rush of sunlight streaking at full pelt across the wet field, and with a low viewpoint capture glowing heads of grasses and the luminous leafy globes of the trees set against the imposing shafts of black and grey rock in the background.

After haddock poached in milk we climb aboard the buses and head away through Ambledale to the lake at Loughrigg Tarn and the gentle sloping sheep-filled valley – that famous white farmhouse soaking up the sunshine between the ancient, elegant and majestic trees. And the sun shines, and the waterproofs, hats and double thickness jackets come off and we bask like grapes ripening on the vine. Charlie holds a group at the top of one side of the valley and they weigh up the positioning of the gigantic wreck of a fallen tree, that reclines like a dried and bleached mammoth fossil, with the neat stone wall that plays from left to right across the frame. Beyond the wall more sheep and a multitude of tree shapes to provide hand holds for the eyes as they climb the incline to the focal point of the scene. Tripods move left and right, up and down, as the perfect angle is sought, discovered and captured, and zooms inch in and out as tree-tops trim and appear again at the top of the pictures.

Down at the lake we look for reflections and filling the foreground with reeds. There are loads of old twisted trees and protruding roots that make great frames for the beautiful view across the water.
We head then to Hodge Close. I know, it sounds like a housing estate, but it is actually an old slate mine. After lunching on the warm rocks, we launch into action. The light is as flat as it could be, which makes structural pictures hard work. It does though mean that the light gets right down inside the quarry and fills the caves and pits that would otherwise appear jet black.

Jamie and I head to the woods to look for some dappled light – the tree tops creating the only shadows around and the spaces between them little spots of brightness. We find a delightful hillock covered in mosses and angular stones, and we explore multiple angles, exposures and focal lengths.

Some great pictures emerge from this stop – the white trunked beech trees set against the hard black rock, the famous lone beech twisting itself in a balletic pose on the edge of the cliff, and the vibrant greens of the forest floor.

We load up and head for tea as the rain starts. Coffees and beers warm and energise the creative brains of the party, but Jamie feels the need for something more. The most enormous plate of trifle arrives, much the astonishment of everyone in the room. As the three waiters who carried it disappear back to the kitchen the cameras come out again for a mountain of a different kind – pink, creamy and with almonds on top. Pink turns to green though as the plate is scrapped clean, and I get worried we’ll see that trifle again, in the back of the mini-bus.

At the next stop I sense the party needs something to get them going. It’s drizzling persistently and the sky’s flat surface is scribed with the words ‘this rain ain’t gonna stop soon’. Charlie and I have discussed this stop and whether or not we should make it. We’re at Castlerigg stone circle on a great height, but the conditions are rotten. We conclued that the stop is an important one, and that even without taking a picture there are lots of things we can learn just by looking at the scene and working out how best to capture it. Estelle from the AP office secreted some wonderful Macallan ten year old single malt miniatures in amoung the magazines and reflectors sent up to give out to the readers – and this seems the right moment for a stiffener. Corks pop and the air fills with the warm round smell of triple case matured whisky. I contemplate having one myself and try to work out how long it would take for the party to walk back to the hotel.

We troop into the field and inspect the wondrous stones and feel, even with the wind whipping the rain into our face, the magic and mystic powers of these carefully positioned boulders and the majesty of their surroundings.

The coloured waterproof are on again, and flapping red and blue plastic litters the scene as they blow from stone to stone and get caught in the whirling breeze. Once the general excitement has died down and everyone has made their close-up shot I scoop everyone up and rake them back to a far corner of the field. From a distance and with a longer lens it is so much easier to see the stones as a circle, and at the right height they can be lifted from their grassy beds and made to stand proud against the misty mountains in the distance. We chat about angles and viewpoints, upright or landscape, looking up or looking straight.

It was a stop well worth making, and sometimes even with the camera in the bag your can learn important things just by looking. We took pictures of course, and passed the hotel face cloths between us to shield front elements and dry wet bodies, but the best images were made in our heads not on memory cards, and the principles saved for another, sunnier, day.

See the gallery of reader pictures from this trip here