Early Morning Mist Lifts from Buttermere

Photographing Buttermere

At the end of September, the beginning of October I began to cast my net further afield when it comes to seeking out new locations to photograph. After a couple of years of photographing in around North Yorkshire and County Durham I am starting to feel like I have ‘done to death’ some of the more accessible locations near my home, and while this are obviously still more locations in this area for me to shoot (plenty of stunning ones at that), I am finding that the travel time is almost the same as a quick scoot across the Pennines to the Photography Mecca that is the Lake District, in Cumbria.

So, when looking for somewhere to go on a Saturday afternoon I noticed that the weather forecast indicated that the country would be firmly in the grip of a high pressure system which, in theory, would mean light winds and calm days – where better to take advantage of conditions like that than beside a Lake, calm as a mill-pond and casting reflections to die for. Sub-consciously the decision was made for me before I even realised it and I dug out my copy of The Photographers Guide to the Lake District and, after a spot of googling, settled on an early morning visit to Buttermere, at the foot of Honister Pass and surrounded on three sides by high fells – Robinson, Fleetwith Pike, and Haystacks.

How to Get There.

I set off at 4am, with sunrise scheduled for around 6:15am on Sunday Morning. The roads were quiet, as you would expect, but a closure of the A66 at Darlington meant a detour along the A67 before joining the A1 just before a two of mile stretch of 50mph average speed cameras which seem to have been there forever, it still wasn’t long before I had Scotch Corner in my headlights and I was heading West across the Pennines towards Keswick. I had programmed the Sat Nav to head to the post code nearest to the Gatesgarth Farm Car Park. If you search that on google it comes up with CA13 9XA, which is actually at the what the Photographers Guide calls the ‘Foot of the Lake’, near to the village, but it seems more like the Head of the Lake to me, but what do I know? Regardless it’s actually at the opposite end of the lake to the Car Park I was aiming for. Fortunately, once I descended Honister Pass (very carefully I might add, the road is steep and winding, and I almost hit a deer before it darted back into the under growth), the car park is clearly marked on the right hand side and when I arrived there were already two other cars there before me. It is a pay and display car park, £4 was the charge when I went, (but truth be told the machine was actually out of order so….)

Buttermere Mist

Scouting the Location.

The walk from the Car Park to the lake is a short one, but with no marked path you are walking on the side of the road and, at that time of day its obviously quite dark, so best to pay attention to your surroundings. Access to the lake from the Roadside is relatively easy. Having done my homework before setting out the previous day I knew roughly what to look for. There is a classic view of a row of trees on the shoreline and as I approached the lake I could just about make them out from where I was stood, in the pre-dawn light. For a while I had the place to myself, barring the odd flashing of a torch from up on the fells – another photographer I assumed, seeking an elevated view-point. I set up and was pleased to see how calm the lake was, but without any light I fired off a few shots of the fells which I stitched together into a panorama.

Buttermere Panorama

The official sunrise time may have been 6:15 but, it transpires that the sun itself doesn’t clear the fells until 45 minutes later. In which time the place began to fill up. Photographers with obviously more experience of this location began to arrive, parking by the side of the road, which I didn’t know was an option. A couple of them came over for a chat and advised me that I would get a better view of the trees by standing on the peninsular which jutted out into the lake about 50 metres from my present position. I thanked them, but was reluctant to move initially, since I had a composition I was happy with – until someone decided to park their car in my shot. As the sky began to brighten I could see the wisdom of their words as mist began to swirl around the peninsular and for the next 60 minutes I was like a kid in sweet shop moving from one location to another trying to capture the reflections, swirling mist, sunlight as it touched the tops of the fells, the works. The only other people around the lake that morning were photographers.

Buttermere Fells - Mono

Too soon the sun was up and the best of the light was gone, but I was reluctant to pack up and leave. So, camera in hand I set off on a walk around the lake. There was one other iconic shot I wanted to capture – a lone birch tree at the opposite end of the lake and I had been reliably informed that the walk was relatively easy. And so it turned out to be, but nevertheless, when combined with a 4am start I was blowing a bit by the time I found the tree. The sun was well up at this point and my chosen composition meant I was shoot directly into it. So I activated auto-bracketing and fired off a few shots to combine in lightroom later. I did however make a mistake I would not normally make and forgot to take another series of shot with the sun blocked out so that I could eliminate and lens flare in post.

Buttermere Birch Tree

I decided to complete a circuit of the lake after that, a fantastic walk that took around an hour to complete – although I was regretting leaving my flask in the car by the time I arrived back. There was something faintly satisfying about passing folk just starting out on their walks as the clock approached 10am, knowing that I had completed mine and would be home in a couple of hours enjoying a Sunday roast and all the trimmings….

Note: if you want to photograph the row of trees then you’ll need at least a 70mm focal length, otherwise you end up with the kind of shots I’m presenting here, with the trees very small in the frame. #gearfail

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