Focus on Derwent Water, the Lake District

With its dramatic mountain scenery and tranquil lakes, it's hardly surprising that it's a big draw for landscape photographers who come not only to improve their technique but also to immerse themselves in its delightful surroundings. With plenty of varied subject matter on offer, from the picturesque lakes and majestic mountains to the lovely countryside and fascinating woodlands. you really don’t have to go far to be in with a chance of capturing some wonderful images. It might be known for its inclement weather, but this is part of its appeal, as, whatever the conditions, there is always something here to photograph with the frequently changeable light adding further interest.

So, to tie in with our next workshop, I wanted to focus on one of my favourite lakes; Derwent Water, which presents, in my mind, some of the best viewpoints and opportunities for photography. Located just outside of Keswick, it’s easily accessible which makes getting up at the crack of dawn to capture the sunrise not quite the hardship it might otherwise be. The below image of the iconic rowing boats was taken early one morning on our workshop last November. These provide for wonderful foreground interest and present some good possibilities for composition. Rather than just ‘taking a photograph’, try to capture the prevailing mood and consider the feeling you are trying to create in the viewer - in this case the soft light of early morning was ideal for what I was looking for - a calm restful image.

Refine your composition

It is vitally important to take time to refine your composition, and the viewfinder, combined with a tripod, are two of the best aids we have as landscape photographers to do this. The beauty of the viewfinder verses Live View, is that it excludes everything else and enables the viewer to completely concentrate on what they are looking at. The two images you see below of the remains of a jetty illustrate well how a very simple change in composition can have a big impact on the end result. The image to the left shows the central post of the jetty rising above the mountain in the distance, whilst in the image to the right, it sits nicely below it, making it far easier on the eye. In order to achieve this composition it was necessary to gain extra height - extending the tripod not only to full height, but also climbing on top of a nearby boulder. In doing so, I lost some of the foreground pebbles, but that for me, was not important. A simple adjustment, but a far more pleasing result.

Rise early and reap the rewards

It’s worth remembering that if visiting the Lake District during the months of October and November, there is a good chance of finding some mist on the lakes first thing in the morning. So, even if the sunrise doesn’t look promising, try to go out with your camera regardless, as your efforts may well reap rewards of a different nature. That’s exactly what happened when I took the above image of Derwent Water one grey March morning. I didn’t get the sunrise I was hoping for, but instead found myself looking at the most perfect mirror like reflection of the distant hills with a wonderful atmospheric mist hanging just above the water. It didn’t last long so I had to work quickly at finding my composition and decided to go for something simple without the distraction of a foreground, to give a feeling of tranquility and hopefully capture the mood of the moment.

Continuing on around Derwent Water, we reach Friars Crag, looking out towards St Herberts Island, from where some wonderful views can be seen. To the left of Friars Crag there are some good opportunities from the foreshore, especially with the inclusion of the wire fence which, although it seems rather ugly, actually works very well as a strong lead in line. A long exposure is worth trying here, as per my image below which helped reveal the movement in the clouds, and therefore it's an ideal opportunity to make use of the Little Stopper; a 6 stop Neutral Density filter, made by Lee. Although it was a dull day, the texture in the cloud and reflections worked nicely in monochrome.

Taking a small detour from the waters edge, just up the road, lies Ashness bridge, a small pack-horse bridge which has one of the Lake District's most famous views, looking north to Derwentwater, Whinlatter and Skiddaw. As with any location, a little prior planning with the use of LightTrac is useful to ensure you are here at the right time of day in terms of light direction. On a compositional note, Including some foreground interest will not only add depth to the image but also allow you to show more of the flow of water in the stream. This also provides the chance to experiment with shutter speeds and Neutral Density filters to record motion. A polariser can also be useful here to remove any reflection on the waters surface, and saturate the colour in the foliage.

Returning to the lake shore, our next point of interest is Ashness jetty - a popular spot for photography with Skiddaw, Barrow Fell and Catbells providing a magnificent backdrop. Composition is key here as there are many ways in which to capture the jetty, whether it be a side on view, or looking straight down, as a portrait or a landscape. Separation of the elements is important, so take care not only to ensure the top of the jetty doesn’t break through the horizon, but also that the various posts are separated where possible. Again, a tripod proves invaluable.

Experiment with long exposures

A still day can reveal superb reflections in the lake but when there is a breeze, it’s still possible to achieve stillness with the use of a long enough exposure. That was exactly what I did in this image with the aid of a Lee Big Stopper (10 stop ND filter) to give me an 8 second exposure. Amazingly the seagull remained still!

Taking a walk around the western side of the lake, we cross to the ‘Chinese bridge' and boardwalk which takes you over the marshy wetlands. From all along here there are good views across the stretch of the lake towards Keswick and numerous places which offer some good foreground for inclusion. As with any big view, changeable light and a interesting sky with some good cloud formations go a long way towards creating a sucessful photograph.

Lead the eye in

The use of a relatively wide angle lens, and inclusion of the boardwalk itself to provide the lead in line, worked nicely in the image below. One thing I always try to remember is to look behind, as quite often the image is there staring you in the face as it was in this example, looking back towards Castle Cragg in the distance.

Moving futher around the lake to capture this lovely reflection, the small foreground rocks play an important part in leading the viewers eye into the image and helping to fill an otherwise empty expanse of water.

Look for detail, texture and colour

Just before entering Manesty Woods, there are a number of lovely silver birch trees. The colours and textures have frequently caught my eye, so much so that I often find myself spending a while here. There is often no need to include any sky with compositions such as this, as it would serve only to distract the eye.

Manesty Woods itself is a delight to explore, especially so in the autumn when the colours of the bracken and changing foliage are at their best. Remember to eliminate the sky if it doesn’t add to the image, and allow the viewers eye to take in the fabulous tones and textures.

Take things to extremes

Here, a 13 second exposure, enabled by the Big Stopper, has created the exaggerated movement seen in the clouds below. Remember to set your white balance to auto or 10,000 degrees Kelvin to help eliminate the blue colour cast which is a side effect from long exposures of this nature. In this case, I chose to convert the image to monochrome - it’s worth setting your camera to RAW plus jpeg to get an idea of how the end result will look in black and white, as this can be hard to visualise.

The variety and opportunities presented by Derwent Water will satisfy even the most discerning photographer so, if you’d like to join me on our next Lake District workshop, please take a look at the website for more details.