I’ve never been the sort of photographer to walk great distances (by that I mean over 2 miles!) taking a shot here and another there. Unless I am after a specific subject I much prefer to “work” a small area. I still shoot in the same woods, downlands and marshes that I did when I first got interested in nature (a little later, photography) almost 30 years ago. I’m a firm believer in working your local patch. By visiting a site near to home in all seasons and weathers you uncover nature’s secrets. Where, at certain times of the year, you can, for example, expect to find a bee orchid, fox earth or rare fungi. By getting “under it’s skin” your images, I feel, will have greater feeling and depth. This is something, almost, impossible to do on a short or occasional visit. It also means, that when the weather is exceptional or if you just have a spare hour, there is always some place for you to visit. To remain, photographically, productive.
The images, below, were taken in one of South East England’s largest woodlands but all within an area no bigger than 900 m2. I could have walked and walked, looking for the finest specimens and views in which to capture autumn. Instead, for several days during October and November, I remained in a very compact area, often scrambling around on all fours or laying on damp leaf litter, searching for tiny mushrooms which, ultimately, gave me focus. More often than not I would, simply, just be led by the light.
I was taken by the relationship of the miniature with the gigantic. How the mature beech and minute fungi are as important as one another for their survival. With this in mind, I strove towards illustrating that as best I could.
With my reluctance to leave this wonderful place and with darkness closing in, I turned to using a flash-unit to illuminate spore release from a common puffball.
I must admit, I’m a little reluctant to give all the technical data for each image as I think we, so often, get so bogged down with the technicalities that we lose sight of the image we are trying to take. Yes, it’s important to know your f-stops and shutter speeds, differential focusing and depth of field and, given the time, all these things can be learnt. Spending time in the field and in all kinds of conditions is the best way to become farmiliar with your camera and, most important of all, to develop your “eye.”
But, in order to satisfy your curiosity, I used a nikon D300, 12-24, 28-105, 105 micro and 200mm. Occasionally, I would use extension tubes or a 2-element close-up filter and when working at ground level, a right-angle viewfinder. A Manfrotto carbon fibre 055 tripod was used much of the time with a Markins head and when I needed to get lower still, a small beanbag was employed.
Just under 2 weeks ago I returned from a week in the Peak District, more specifically, the Dark Peak (northern) region, leading 3 workshops. A 2-day residential and 2 one-day workshops. Over all, we had good weather in that, prolonged spells of rain were absent. You never know what Mother Nature will throw at you here and, I guess, that is what draws me, and others like me, back there time and again. Also, as a “Southerner” it makes a welcome change from the flatness of North Kent! Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely adore photographing the North Kent Marshes, but everyone needs a change, right?!
Arriving 3 days prior to the first workshop gave me time to explore new locations and reacquaint myself with the familiar.
Whenever I lead workshops I rarely take pictures for my own purpose. Clients, after all, have paid me to spend time with them and be on hand whenever they require advice. I am forever amazed when told storied by guests of workshops they have attended where the photographer shows them how to set up a picture then disappears, some distance away, to do their own photography or of a lottery system to decide who captures sunrise at the water’s edge and who stays in the minibus. Incredible!
Having led countless workshops over the last 20 years (with, and thank you all, a significant percentage returning) you do learn when to approach and when to leave alone. No-one wants someone looking over their shoulder all the time and as a tutor, it’s important you give the attendee time to explore and experiment and then for you to guide and advise. It is on these occasions that I keep my eyes open for an image that I can set up, leave to discuss something with a client and return again. More often than not, it will be a close-up or detail and the image, below, is a case in point.
On the final morning of the 2-day workshop we were fortunate to have a very nice sunrise.
That evening, with a relatively clear sky forecast, we headed to Higger Tor. Extremely strong winds forced us from our first-choice spot to the eastern end which provided a little more shelter. At least our tripods remained upright!
The morning after my final workshop, I arranged to meet one the guests for a sunrise shoot on Curbar Edge. It was a beautiful crisp morning and a great way to end a week in the Peaks.
I shall be doing the same again next autumn so should you be interested in attending, please contact me at email@example.com to register your interest.
Around 2 weeks ago I returned from a 7 day trip to Finnish and Norwegian Lapland where, along with Finnish photographer and guide, Antti Pietikäinen, I led a tour for 5 guests.
Having visited this region twice before, in autumn, I was keen to run a tour to this beautiful region. Autumn or Ruska, as the Finns call it, occurs approximately 5 weeks before ours and there is no better place to witness it than in Lapland! The unending landscape of fells, bogs, mountains, fjords, streams and waterfalls are ablaze with yellows, browns and reds. A photographer’s paradise! The season also marks the beginning of the Northern Lights when they start to become more frequent and 2012/13 will be the best in over 10 years when solar activity reaches it’s peak.
For the first part of the trip we were to be based in the municipality of Muonio which lies around 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle (just over an hours drive from Kittila airport) and lays claim to having the longest snow season in Finland! Our days were spent shooting autumn colour, waterfalls and forests and reindeer.
As Antti prepared lunch around an outdoor fire-place and shelter, a pair of Siberian jays arrived, obviously waiting for a tit-bit or two! They are a common feature of such places, taking advantage of food thrown by people and a species I had yet to photograph. Although not shy, it never quite perched in the “perfect” position.
As the day rolled on the prospect of a good sunset started to waiver. Instead, we had dramatic, ever-changing storm clouds which was far more interesting.
After dinner and with clearing skies, we headed out for our first northern lights foray. Antti is a northern lights nut! He understands their science, reads aurora forecasts, photographs them constantly throughout the winter, leads watching and photography tours and has produced a short film using moving, stills and time-lapse images to show the legend behind them. We drove a short distance and there they were, straight ahead of us. We jumped out of the minibus, set up tripods and shot what we could of the fading phenomenon. It was wasn’t the brightest display but if left everyone wanting more!
From here, Antti, took us to a small beach on the edge of a lake where we stayed for the next hour, or so, running lengthy exposures and simply taking in the night sky. Coming from South East England there is an enormous amount of light pollution and to see the stars so big and bright and to clearly make out the milky-way was just awesome!
Exposures to record the northern lights is entirely dependent on the speed of your lens, iso setting and their brightness. A good starting point, if you want to record it as you see it and without too much movement is to start with iso 1600, f4 (my widest setting on the 12-24mm) at 30 seconds. Do a test and go from there.
With the prospect of a clear morning we got our heads down for a few hours then reconvened at 6am where Antti took us to a viewpoint which gave us wonderful views of the landscape and ruska. Full credit to the group for making the effort to get up so early after a long night. All had the same opinion that you never know if it will be our one and only sunrise opportunity. After a few hours of shooting silhouettes and landscapes we headed back for breakfast and a well earned sleep.
Later that afternoon, Antti drove us to Pallas-Yllastunturi National Park, Finland’s 3rd largest, where a remarkably tame herd of reindeer was photographed against the backdrop of the autumn colour of the fells. Reindeer are synonymous with Lapland and we a common sight as we drove from one location to another.
For this and others of the reindeer, I used a 70-200mm f2.8 with a 1.4x tele-converter which I find a very useful combination when travelling where wildlife photography is secondary to landscapes.
On our way back we stopped at an old-growth forest. Unfortunately the persistent rain had us packing up earlier than we would have liked but I had just long enough to shoot a few compositions.
Temperatures were typical for Lapland at that time. 10-15 degrees C during the day, dropping to around zero at night. It’s certainly not uncommon, however, for temperatures, at night, to drop to -5 and below.
The following day we headed to our second destination, Kilpisjarvi, where we would stay for a further 3 nights. Kilpisjarvi was a drive of around 4 hours further north towards Norway but with the road hugging the river and with so many opportunities to stop and take photos, the time just flew by! Plus, there was a souvenir shop on the way where we could all buy gifts and buy a cup of coffee and doughnut for 1 Euro! As we headed north and our elevation increased, you could clearly see a noticeable change in the terrain. There was distinct feel of being on the tundra. Birches were shorter, less upright and more dispersed. It was colder, too!
After a long day’s travelling and as our cabins were in such a photogenic spot with streams and a lake just steps away from our doors, we decided to stay in the vicinity and shoot scenes. The forecast was for a clear night and, according to Antti, strong possibilities of a good northern lights showing.
As the sun set and twilight cast it’s blue glow across the lake and nearby birch forest, I headed into the tangle and ran time exposures. Really, just savouring a northern forest at night.
So that we may enjoy the experience well into the night, Antti lit a fire in the small kota-like building where we would sit on reindeer skins, talking, drinking and snacking. Could it be more perfect?!
At around 11 o clock I stepped outside to see if the lights had started as between 11 and 2am are the most likely times for them to show. And, low and behold, they had begun!
This was far brighter that what we had seen a few days earlier, in Muonio. It just got stronger and stronger. At times, it would form a complete arc above our heads and, occasionally, sway like a lace curtain. It’s little wonder seeing this is on so many’s wish-list.
At one point a strong 180° arc formed over our heads.
The display lasted for an hour and a half, finishing Sunday morning at 12.40! It was particularly special as it was one of our guest’s, Wendy, birthday on Sunday and so spending the night witnessing this aurora made a wonderful birthday gift.
That afternoon, Antti took us to a very photogenic spot, close to the Norwegian border, which had a fantastic waterfall and view of the distant mountains.
I found it hard to do the scene justice as a vista so spent my time concentrating on details and aspects of the area that I felt conveyed the colour and beauty of Lapland in autumn.
After we had our fill, we returned to the cabins. Some decided to rest while myself, Wendy and Chris thought it’d be nice to walk part of the way up Saana Fell. Boardwalks leading though old birch forest soon give away to 100s of steps leading to the summit. As we walked higher and cleared the tree line we had the most spectacular view across Finnish and Norwegian Lapland. We didn’t bother with walking all the way to the top. We had more than enough to keep us occupied and anyway, this wasn’t a “bagging” trip!
Our following day was to be spent in Norway. More precisely, Lingen Fjord, about 90 minutes from our base. The forecast was for a bright morning so, once again, an early start was in order. I had visited this area a few years ago and wanted to take the group to a very picturesque fishing village at it’s south end, called Skibotn. When I was there last, the conditions were far from ideal. Cloud and continuous drizzle. This was to be completely different. Due to the height of the surrounding mountains we enjoyed quite a considerable while, shooting sunlit mountain tops until, eventually, the sun appeared above the peaks and flooded the scene with crisp, warm sunlight.
With the tide out we ventured onto the shore shooting mirror-like reflections. We couldn’t believe how warm it was! It stayed like that for the next few hours.
As we drove along the fjord, waterfalls, one after another, cascaded down the mountain sides. It was hard for us to resist pulling over every few hundred yards. To top it off, as we photographed this very waterfall one of our guests, Mike, spotted a pod of dolphins. A couple of us, myself included, were fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of them as they hugged the edge of the fjord.
Antti and I will be running the exact same tour next year so if this has whetted your appetite and you would like to enquire or book a place, then do get in touch.
Click HERE to take you to the tour page
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Tel: 01795 428481 Mobile: 07939 117570
I’ve been on several photographic holidays and workshops, and I can honestly say I have not enjoyed a trip as much as I enjoyed this one. From the start, Bob’s arrangements were problem free. Travelling, the hotel rooms, the cabin, catering – I can’t fault them. And our small and companionable group was an absolute delight to be part of.
From the start it was evident we were going to be kept busy, and no problem with that either, because the photographic opportunities were almost overwhelming. Bob and our Finnish guide – driver and Cook In Charge, Antti – knew just where to go for the best pictures, and we didn’t waste a moment. Lakes and waterfalls, fast running streams, fjord and tundra, ancient woodland, mountains. The whole 6 days were full of colour and variety. A couple of days we were up at dawn, out all day, back for sunset and then out into the small hours for the Northern Lights. One or two hours of sleep, then back out for the next dawn. It was worth every yawn and bleary eye!
We were fortunate to have two glorious displays of Northern Lights. It is something you feel humbled to have been part of. I remember the suspense, staring at star filled skies wondering – will they, won’t they come tonight? And then a shout from Rob: “There they are!” and the joy of capturing for all time those fleeting colours dancing across the sky.
I am left with the overwhelming memory of some truly stunning landscape, and autumn colours and skies to die for. Wildlife? Lots of deer, including a herd that obligingly walked in and out of shot, an elk, a mink, but not so many birds as I had expected. And we only brushed the tip of the iceberg, coming home with still so much unseen, and well worth going back for.
Thanks Antii. Thanks Bob. And thanks everyone else who made the trip so memorable.
As one of the guests on the recent Lapland tour, there is not much more I can add that Denise has not already so eloquently said.
This was truly a trip of a lifetime, for the colours in the North were spectacular, as were the Northern Lights dancing in the sky above us.
It was amazing how the landscape changed as we moved, from Muonio, farther north to Kilpisjarvi. Fewer trees, and the pines dwindled and disappeared, giving way to the reds, greens, yellows and browns of the undergrowth, with dark coloured berries in between. Wonderful! And the climb up Saana Fell was well worth the effort for the wonderful view.
As always, Rob never seemed to tire of giving help and advice when asked, he has the patience of a saint!
Our Finnish guide, Antti, kept us more than well fed and watered, we wanted for nothing.
It was a nice group of people, and with Rob’s and Antti’s senses of humour, there were plenty of laughs along the way!
All in all, it was an unforgettable, truly enjoyable, experience, one that will remain with me for a very long time, and I would thoroughly recommend participation to anyone who is keen on landscape and wildlife photography.
I would also like to thank Rob and Antti for putting this tour together so well. All their hard work in finding accommodation, places to eat and refresh, and, most importantly, the locations, has paid off.
A wonderful experience, thank you both so much.
With autumn now past I thought I would share a few images I took over that period, in particular, during a walk around a nature reserve near Canterbury in Kent. The conditions were (as any photographer could wish for when shooting autumn colour in the woods) still, overcast and ever so slightly misty. Aside from the vegetation remaining perfectly still the soft light muted the colours and give it more of an autumn feel. The first subjects I came across were these fly agarics. Autumn came incredibly late this year and ordinarily these would have been showing at least a month earlier. As it turned out, it worked in my favour as the woodland colours were at their peak the same time as the mushrooms themselves! I have dozens of images in my library of this species but the two together were irresistible. I like to work in a methodical fashion when shooting plants, especially when encountering a new species as I then feel I have covered all the bases. I’ll start with one of two straight record shots then, possibly, a wide-angle and finally I’ll look for something unusual. An angle that had, perhaps, initially elluded me. Anyone that shoots these subjects will appreciate how time consuming it can be, especially the “gardening.” Taking out bright leaves and the like that detract from the subject.
Even though my tripod goes to ground level, it still wasn’t low enough to create the vantage point I wanted. Ordinarily I would have used a beanbag but Ididn’t have one with me on this occasion so I used what I had. Gloves, hat, filter case and a lens cap!
A little further on I came across this attractive little area of birch and bracken and spent the next while shooting a panoramic which consisted of 5 upright images stitched using PTgui software. One of the biggest problems encountered when doing this work is parallex error and unless you have a head which corrects this you will be restricted to the closest you can be be to the nearest point of focua. The one I use is made by Nodal Ninja. Beautifully engineered, lightweight and compact, it makes the whole process that much more enjoyable.
I ventured deeper into the woodland, off the beaten track, and there were pictures all around. The colours were breathtaking. The task was not as simple as I first thought, to make sense out of nature’s chaos!
The sun threatened to burn through the mist but it never did. Sometimes, it would clear marginally, but mostly it remained so.
Another panoramic. Sometimes, there is no other format that will do the scene justice. In order to gain the perspective I was after (telephoto “stacking” effect) shooting with a wide-angle then trimming the top and bottom wouldn’t have achieved this so, several upright images stitched was the only answer. Quite a simple composition yet, typically me, I still managed to make a mountain out of a mole hill and spend close to an hour taking it. It’s a good job I work alone!
The two below were taken in woodland in a nearby village. A break from the computer was in order and fortunately I live near such places. As the previous image, the panoramic format lent itself to the two scenes, especially the last one when mist becomes more pronounced the more you shoot through.
With the marshes being but a short distance away, they are never far from my mind. Such a dry autumn resulted in dry marshes and the result is there were few birds within photographable range. That doesn’t stop me from going over there however and on a morning such as this, who can blame me!
Once again I found myself in the Peak District ready to give a landscape photography workshop. This was my fifth in the last 18 months concentrating primarily on 3 Edges. Stanage, Curbar and Baslow. Although, on previous occasions, I had explored much of the Dark Peak (North) area, there was still a number of places I wanted to visit, not least as I am planning on holding a two day workshop in the autumn of 2012.
I arrived at the campsite late in the afternoon, 2 days before the workshop. It was raining. That incessant, drizzle where you can see no end in sight. I got out of my car and surveyed the site looking for a suitable place to pitch my tent. The site was on a slope so clearly the lower fields were out of the question since these would become progressively waterlogged and, of course, somewhere flat! Most importantly of all was not to be too near to other tents but there was no fear of this as on the whole site there could have been only around half a dozen. I found where I wanted to pitch, got back inside the car and again, waited. It wasn’t going to stop so, with a sigh, I got on with it. There is no fun putting up a tent in the rain especially when you have one where the inner has to go up first! Who, in their right minds, designs a tent where you put up the inside first?!
I don’t camp often, perhaps only a few times a year (mainly in the early spring and autumn, when campsite’s are most quiet and the countryside is at its most photogenic) and, although it may seem like a cold, inconvenient way to spend 6 days, I am always glad I did. You not only save yourself a fair bit of money but you can eat as and when you please and not endure finding somewhere to eat after you’ve had a long day shooting. Instead, I can return to my tent, prepare dinner and put on the radio or read a book. The best part, if you have chosen your campsite well, is that you can just lay there and listen to nature. I always choose those sites with the most basic of amenities and far from shops etc. This invariably stops families with children, barking dogs and teenagers and attracts hardened hill walkers with a respect for their fellow campers. I may sound like an old misery but really, who wants to spend the night in the tent in earshot of chattering families or hoots of laughter at 2 in the morning! Instead, I had a pair of vocal tawnies and pheasant in the adjacent woodland.
On my first morning, I headed for Curbar Edge in the hope of shooting a misty sunrise. I arrived at dawn and spotted a stag and hind just 50m away. It was still too dark to take pictures but wonderful to see, all the same. The sun did appear, at intervals, and the mist/fog cleared and thickened for the next hour or so.
I scouted a couple of other locations and that evening walked up to Higger Tor. It was a relatively clear evening and shot until dusk. I also bumped into a couple of other photographers and chatted about the kind of things photographers talk about, cameras and the weather!
The following day’s workshop went very well with, unfortunately, periods of more cloud than sun! As we met, we were greeted with the sight of a lenticular cloud overhead. It was a great day and the group were really good fun.
The morning after, I returned to Higger Tor in the hope of a decent sunrise but the fog put pay to any landscape work. Places such as this, in this kind of weather, take on an otherworldly character and as I wandered amongst the heather and boulders, I took this image of a carrion crow.
The fog didn’t look as though it was going to budge so waterfall and woodland photography it was going to be! I drove to the north east of the Dark Peak region where, earlier in the year, I stumbled upon an incredibly photogenic area where, it seemed, not too many others were aware of and this is where I stayed for the next 3 hours. I was looking for something different other than the usual waterfall shots so I turned my attention to this pool which had “captured” fallen leaves that slowly swirled within. It was barely visible to the eye but with the aid of an ND filter and resulting shutter speed of 8 seconds, the motion was exaggerated. With images such as this, it really is a matter of trial and error to get the desired effect. How time flies when you are immersed in photography as I spent close to an hour and half shooting these three compositions.
I rarely change the WB, preferring to do this in the post-processing stage but, on this occasion, I tweaked the setting in cloudy to accurately replicate the colour of this dark, peat-stained water.
Wanting to reach another site some distance away, in time for sunset, I slowly walked back to the car and noticed the play of light on the rocks and water produced by the late afternoon sunlight on a distant hill side.
I then drove to Curbar edge and enjoyed an hour of glorious red light.
Once the sun had set, I laid on a soft patch of heather, with not a soul to be seen, and took in the silence. The sound punctuated, only, by a Train of Jackdaws flying overhead.
The following day was forecast as being cloudy so once again, into the woods I headed. This time it was to be Padley Gorge. The colours of the beech were amazing and I spent an enjoyable few hours shooting foliage and waterfalls.
On my final morning, with clear skies forecast, I visited Mam Tor which has wonderful views across the Hope Valley. I arrived in the dark, stars overhead and walked to the summit full of optimism. But, as dawn broke, I breathed a heavy sigh as the landscape was clothed in heavy fog. I stayed an hour in the hope it would clear but alas, it never did completely.
I headed back to the car and began the drive to the campsite to pack up when I noticed this view. I was drawn to it by the graphic lines of the stone walls and subtle shades of autumn colour. A nice end to a thoroughly enjoyable and productive trip.
I will be leading a 2 day workshop in Autumn next year to the Dark Peak region, taking in some of the places mentioned here. If you would like to attend, please register your interest by contacting me at email@example.com or tel: 07939 117570. Numbers will be limited to just 6 participants.
About Robert Canis
Robert Canis is a professional photographer specialising in the natural world.
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