Eskdale and Stanley Ghyll Force

I’ve recently been forced (willingly) to spend some time in Eskdale as I’ve been running photography courses from the Camping and Caravanning Club campsite.

As most of my photography is generally practised from a higher altitude, I’ve not really spent that much serious camera time in the valley before, lovely though it is.

I’m not really tired of any of those Lake District locations I frequent more often, but it does often feel fresher to be shooting new locations. At some point there is a happy medium between familiarity and connection to a place, and overexposure and almost tired mechanical response to it.

I’m not saying I’ve got to the latter stage with anywhere yet, but I fear one day I might, unless I keep moving in new directions. Dead shark photography syndrome. Maybe.

It does take time to familiarise yourself with a new location though, in order to produce a considered photographic response to it. The first images I produce of a new scene are rarely the most pleasing, and can seem detached and dispassionate simply because I have no connection to the place at that point.

So I’m probably still getting to grips with Eskdale, but I’ve gathered together a few images which I didn’t want to bin straight away, so I may as well share them here 😉

Generally when leading the courses the first day has been spent by the River Esk, starting by Trough House Bridge and then following the beautiful little ravine up to the impressive plunge of Stanley Ghyll Force.

Autumn is just about at its best in the Lake District right now, which is very good news for those with plans to spend the day photographing wooded river banks.

I spent the day after the course had finished shooting a few things I’d noticed in the previous couple of days. Conditions were probably better two days previously when everything was wet – autumn colours really do shine then.

I started with these wider shots of the River Esk, using Trough House Bridge as the main focal point to take the eye to in the background, and the fallen branch reaching in. I wouldn’t normally have the focal point as central as in this shot, but it seemed to work at the time.

I then moved progressively closer. The rocks around the bridge are wonderful -smoothed, rippled and water – worn yet full of spidery striations that leave endless compositional possibilities.

What I really wanted to do though was make use of an autumn display in motion. Leaves were falling at a fast enough rate to leave a constant stream of them meandering under the bridge and along the course of the river.

I knew that if I could manipulate a slow enough shutter speed I could get streaks of orange and yellow whispering along the surface of deep green.

On an overcast day in shade with a polarising filter on, speeds were coming out slow enough at around 15 seconds. However the river and far bank were in deeper shadow than the close rocks, and I could barely see the flow of the leaves.

I could lift the shadows in post production, but there was a lot to lift, and image quality would suffer.

I then realised that with the nice simple diagonal line of the rocks on the near river bank, I could probably get away with placing a graduated filter along this line, thus reducing the tonal difference between the lighter and darker areas.

And… it just about worked.

Again, I’ve been forced into a composition I wouldn’t normally choose, but including the whole bridge meant having a large patch of blown out brightness at the top which ruined the image completely.

The walk up to Stanley Ghyll feels more like being in tropical north Queensland than West Cumbria, particularly towards the top as it narrows to a damp lush green ravine.

This final image of the 60ft high Stanley Ghyll Force itself was taken the previous month after heavy rain.

I didn’t bother repeating the shot this time, as there wasn’t much in the way of autumn colour in this secluded plunge pool, and the heavier flow added some brightness to the dark emptiness of the pool.

The 20 second exposure was longer than I would normally use, but with the falls being in such heavy spate it did smooth out some of the surging mess.

Those with a head for heights can take a more aerial view of the falls by taking the path off to the right just before the final footbridge. It leads up through more diverse sections of woodland, before the reason for the climb is revealed at this sign.

There’s no fence, so you’re free to dangle your legs over the edge  should you wish, and the view is obstructed only by trees. It makes for a fine picnic spot, though small children and large animals should maybe be kept on leads.

Though overcast conditions are ideal for these types of woodland and water shots, with no harsh highlights and shadows to contend with, I did get some sunlight to play with the previous evening, leading to two very simple shots.

The first this lone tree and barn with Scafell in the background:

And the second of Harter Fell bathed in autumn evening sunshine:

To see any of these images larger, feel free to have a browse of the Wasdale and Eskdale gallery.


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One Response to Eskdale and Stanley Ghyll Force

  1. tearose68 says:

    I am not a photographer so the technicalities mean nothing to me. However, I am in awe of your ability to produce such amazing photographs. They are truly beautiful……. And you are a great writer too !

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