What does it take to take a pic? Well, not just any pic, but one that is good enough to publish in a book of landscape photography, where the subject is right, the light is interesting and the setting is appealing. If you are photographing your neck of the woods this is relatively straightforward, as locations are close enough to visit on impulse, or when conditions are right, or simply by going for a walk (or run). This is how it was for my first two books, Chiltern Landscapes and An English Village Idyll as these are the places I spend my outdoor leisure time. I usually take my camera and as well as being alert for landscape shots, I also keep an eye out for plants, insects, birds or any other creature worth a photograph. I’m almost always on the move; on a ramble or a run through the hills, which is hopeless for capturing the amazing images that true wildlife photographers win by sitting for hours in hide tents at times when everyone else is still asleep or else sitting snug on the sofa watching evening TV. They camouflage everything, even their huge, very expensive lenses to minimise disturbance, and when the owl breaks from its barn, they will have everything set up to have a good chance of a dramatic wildlife photograph.
Even when the subject is a static landscape, getting a specific image can be very serendipitous, and many of my best shots have been just that: a chance result of frequent outings to the same location. The light is so transitory that a scene can be good for only a few minutes and then gone, more or less forever, as it will never be the quite the same again. One examples of that was during a recent weekend on the Longleat estate in Wiltshire. The weather was mostly foggy, but Longleat is somewhat elevated so appeared out of the fog intermittently and unpredictably. I was therefore delighted to awake on a bright sunny Sunday morning and got up immediately to see how the World looked through my camera lens. I walked the short distance to the south gate of Longleat Park where a long straight avenue leads directly to the big house, which sat shining in the distance over green lawns and bracketed by lovely autumnal trees. As I walked towards it, the blue sky behind the house became obscured with mist and the building began to look ephemeral: it was very beautiful so I took a couple of shots, one of which is below. Five minutes later, the house was hidden behind a wall of mist and the light was turning grey. The moment had gone, never to return.
There are a number of images in my books that turned out to be unrepeatable, either because the conditions were unique or there have been changes at the site. In Chiltern Landscapes, there is an image of the beech woods at Whiteleaf laden with golden leaves shining in the sun: it’s one of my favourites, and one that people tend to buy to put on their walls. I took that photo in 2010 and have been up there every autumn since but never seen it look the same, or as good.
So you have to get out there, and you have to grab the moment. I’ve also learned that it’s good to take several shots as insurance, checking and modifying each time; this was expensive in the days of film cameras but in the digital age its free and avoids you having to kick yourself when you get home and discover that the image isn’t quite right.
I am planning to do a series of blogs that tell stories about how I got some of the images for my books: the anti-social hours, the illusive English sunshine, the desperation to get the shot, the people who helped. This idea came to me when someone asked about one of the images in Norfolk Landscapes, and realised that the story was worth telling. I’ll also build in some information and advice about places to see, eat and stay. So I hope you find this appealing, and will look out for the next episode of What it takes to take a pic.
Longleat Park is in Wiltshire, near Frome, and as well as the park and lovely house, there is a lot to do there, including the famous wildlife park. Its web site is http://www.longleat.co.uk/
We stayed at the Bath Arms at Horningsham, which is owned by Longleat Estates (http://www.batharms.co.uk/) We had a good time there, but it is quirky and reviews are very mixed – you see mine and others on Tripadvisor.com.
Horningsham is a pretty place, spread out around a valley on the south side of the park.
The Golden Forest is in the Chiltern Hills at Whiteleaf. It’s wonderful Chiltern countryside, with great views south and west, a local nature reserve (managed by The Chiltern Society, http://chilternsociety.org.uk/) and you can walk forever along forest paths. It gets muddy though!