10 things I’ve learnt whilst photographing the Lake District

Holehird

With all the planning in the world, sometimes the light is down to a bit of luck at the right time…

I first got the inspiration to write this post when I’d been working from home for nearly a week solid (…the glamorous side of self-employment!). By that time I’d almost lost the ability to hold a conversation with another human being, so I took some time out to frequent myself with the outside world again and add to my photo library, heading to various places and ending up on the Glebe in Bowness-on-Windermere.

Still in a bit of a world of my own, I was surprised to look up from my camera to spot a tourist pointing a camera right at me – basically photographing me photographing the lake. That wasn’t the only strange thing to happen that afternoon, which got me thinking about the perils (but also the positives) of photography, possibly anywhere, but especially in the Lakes. Cue lots of Room 101-style grumbling…

1. There’s never a right camera bag!

The toploader camera bag

Perhaps Lowepro could give me a job modelling their camera bags. No, maybe not then.

I like to carry my camera in a toploader bag, but that does leave the question of what to do with the rest of my gadgets and all the stuff we ladies need to take around with us!

The options:

  1. Take another cross-body bag and wear them on opposite sides of the body so that when you also have the camera around your neck you begin to feel a bit like a donkey. Eey-ore…!
  2. Squeeze all the essentials under the padding at the bottom of the toploader bag and then realise you have to get the camera out for the 10th time to reach said essentials!
  3. Wear a waterproof jacket and stash things in every pocket you have, Michelin (wo)man style – not really practical on a hot summer’s day, but I think it will be some months now before that problem presents itself again!
  4. Get a rucksack. It’s taken me nearly two years of blogging about the Lake District to finally get my act together and choose a rucksack (I haven’t owned one since I was at school), and even then I’ve gone for a camera backpack. It does however take a while for the brain to adjust when giving a piggyback to something that resembles a rather large beetle, and negotiating small spaces such as the public loos of Coniston suddenly becomes an almighty challenge…

2. Three legs are better than two

Camera with tripod overlooking Windermere from Brockhole

This is the nearest I’ve ever been to taking a selfie…

Once you introduce a tripod to your work, everyone around you thinks you know what you’re doing… even if you haven’t the foggiest why you brought it along! I rarely use a tripod, as it’s usually impractical in the situations I find myself in, but it always attracts lots of attention when I do.

3. Some people use their camera as a weapon

I have noticed that occasionally people seem to use their cameras as a weapon of self-defence. On wandering along the Glebe in Bowness-on-Windermere, I decided to take a few shots of one of the boats, which was steadily filling up with passengers. I wasn’t really concentrating on the people as it was a photo of the boat I was after, and those on it would only show up as tiny anonymous figures by the time the image was published. As I lifted the camera viewfinder to my eye however, I began to notice that the people on the boat were raising their cameras in my direction and smiling – and there really wasn’t much of interest to photograph behind me! Perhaps it’s my imagination, but those smiles may just have been saying something along the lines of: ‘put the camera down, or we’ll shoot too!’

4. Many are incredibly polite… but not all!

A sheep with plenty of character on Queen Adelaide's Hill

And then, of course, there are the animals – and nobody can tell them what to do! About five seconds after this photo was taken, my camera lens received a good old slobbery lick!

When people need to walk in front of me while I’m taking a picture, they usually fall into one of two camps: 1) those who rapidly take a step back, apologising profusely, even if I’ve smiled and told them not to worry about wandering in front of me, and 2) those who, when they see you poised in position ready to take the photo, know that they shouldn’t and probably don’t need to move into shot, but that just makes it all the more… tempting!

Luckily for me, I find the latter situation more funny than annoying, and it hasn’t always turned out to be a bad thing – waiting for people forces me to slow down and think more carefully about what I’m shooting. On the odd occasion led to a more creative photograph than I would otherwise have taken.

Cake at the Lingholm Kitchen

Get in the way of my photo and I’ll politely wait, but get between me and a good slice of cake and we may have an issue…

5. A lot of people assume I work for a local newspaper

It’s surprising, given the number of people these days who own an SLR (and given that mine isn’t a particularly advanced model), that I get asked on a regular basis, ‘do you work for a newspaper?’. It’s nice that people ask, because conversation flows from there and I learn about their time in the Lakes – and if they’re interested, I’ll offer them a card with a web address for the blog. Occasionally, people have even been sure I work for the local newspaper, the Westmorland Gazette. Well, if I do, nobody’s told me, and the Gazette’s payroll clearly isn’t aware of it either! 🙂

6. Multi-tasking is sometimes a stretch too far

Steps on a tour of Wray Castle

Keep listening, keep taking the photos… and keep walking up that spiral staircase!

Whether or not it’s the right approach, I always shoot photographs in my camera’s Manual mode. This means that I have full control over all the settings – something I need in the extreme conditions I sometimes shoot in – and I think that over time this has made me more ‘aware’ as a photographer.

That said, when you’re on a tour, ideally you need to listen, take notes and photograph (again, often in extremes of light) all at the same time, and that’s very mentally challenging! My complete nightmare is when I need to note photograph numbers so that I can remember the specifics of each image when I get home – fine when you’re doing it at your own pace, but not when you’re on a public tour and scribbling away!

7. The only photograph you regret is the one you didn’t take…

Blank picture

“I knew I should have taken a photo of that…”

People are sometimes surprised by how many photographs I take, but if you don’t like a photograph you’ve taken, you can always delete it. You can never however get back the photograph you didn’t take! And it’s bad enough if what you wanted is just down the road, but when you’d need to travel 35 miles again…

8. Forgetfulness is the photographer’s worst enemy

In the gardens at Brantwood

Having made it up the hill at the end of a hot afternoon at Brantwood I wasn’t going back for the spare camera cards – time to delete some of those duplicates…

Earlier in the summer I visited Brantwood and carried two bags around with me all day. On leaving the empty camera bag in the car so that I could finish off in the top garden, I then ran out of camera card only to remember the spares were now in the car at the bottom of the hill. It was one of the hottest days of the year too!

Other really daft things I’ve done? Leaving the camera on manual focus when I think it’s on automatic, losing the attachment that fixes the camera onto the tripod, forgetting the remote control, and in the days before digital, not putting a film in the camera at all…

9. Finding the right light is a bit like storm chasing

Any photographer will identify with this. You wait and wait for the right light and then decide to go for it as things just aren’t going to get any better. You then walk away, start the car, pull out of the parking space you so painstakingly found during peak season, and all of a sudden the scene is bathed in a golden glow that quite literally came from nowhere. How does it know?!

Another of my common frustrations is seeing a perfect scene when I’m driving, but knowing there’s nowhere nearby to stop – and if there is, that the light won’t hold out that long! It can also be disappointing when you drive quite a way on the strength of a weather forecast, and things aren’t what they were predicted to be – but sometimes you have to make the best of it and get creative with what you’re given, and that can lead to some great, if unexpected, results too.

10. The unpredictable can be the most rewarding…

Steam Yacht Gondola and Brantwood

Great timing! Steam Yacht Gondola sails into view just as I leave the front door at Brantwood

Many of photography’s problems are also what make the special moments special and worth all the effort – they’re what keep us going out there for more, and make photography so completely addictive! A cloud suddenly breaks and the photograph comes alive, something hilarious happens when you’re stood there ready to capture it, or an animal saunters into shot when you didn’t even know it was there…

Two real herons and a plastic one!

I thought I was photographing one real heron and one plastic one – so when a second real one stepped into the picture, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing through the viewfinder!

Whether you’re a professional, enthusiast or a beginner, what are your frustrations as a photographer, and are there any specific quirks you come across when photographing in the Lakes? Banish those little irritations to my ‘Room 101’ of photography by leaving a comment below!

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5 Responses to 10 things I’ve learnt whilst photographing the Lake District

  1. Janine John 23/11/2016 at 8:43 pm #

    Looking back at what I’ve written here, I’m surprised I haven’t mentioned cameras in the rain – perhaps I’ll save that particular moan for another day! 🙂

  2. Anne Farmer 26/11/2016 at 11:26 am #

    Enjoyed this, Janine! I take photographs mainly to help with painting, and you can never take too many.I tend to keep to automatic as it’s often basic information I need. Then I can take liberties with lighting, composition and so on. But I enjoy ‘proper photos’ like yours!

    • Janine John 26/11/2016 at 4:44 pm #

      Thank you Anne – I’m so glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, it’s quite different to when we used film cameras as well, isn’t it? Much more flexible – and cheaper too! I take a lot of very rough shots of signs and information panels to help me write up the blog posts accurately, so I agree that cameras are great for documenting too.

  3. peter massam 04/03/2017 at 9:51 pm #

    Hi Janine, being a enthusiastic walker l get to every nook and cranny out in the countryside. I always carry a small but good digital camera, however my reaction time to what would be an award winning shot is rather slow. The times l have missed that Kingfisher or the sheep crossing the top of a dam in line, or that very brief moment when everything looks perfect! My trouble is l am to keen to accomplish my walk instead of just waiting for that view to develop and for me to be ready with camera in hand. You must have the patience of a saint to get your fabulous photos. Keep up the good work.

    • Janine John 05/03/2017 at 2:40 pm #

      Thank you for leaving a comment Peter – I must confess that those who live with me might not describe me as particularly patient all of the time!! 🙂 Yes, wildlife is a particularly tricky one – I have at last learnt to leave a zoom lens on the camera when at home, as we sometimes get deer passing through the garden, and they just don’t wait! Thinking about it, I guess I don’t tend to wait around for long for landscape shots either – it’s very much luck, and for every shot I put on the blog there are many, many more that will be deleted!

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