Exploring the scene – Langstrath Waterfall

One of the less frequented valleys in the Lake District, Langstrath (like a lot of the valleys, and indeed the mountains in the Lakes) has it’s own character and is completely different from its neighbours.

There’s ‘nothing’ there, it’s long, not surrounded by any noticeably dramatic peaks, there’s no road, no lake, and certainly no pub at the far end – though there is the Langstrath Inn right at the very start at Stonethwaite.

Consequently it has a much more wild, less cultivated feel than most other valleys in the Lakes and is more reminiscent of a Scottish Glen.

Walking route wise you can either begin at the bottom of the valley at Stonethwaite in Borrowdale and follow the path beside the river; or alternatively from the southern Lake District there’s a nice straightforward a to b walk from Great Langdale, along Mickleden and then a simple climb over Stake Pass before dropping down into Langstrath.

All this is slightly dull preamble to a small waterfall I’ve been meaning to go back and shoot for a couple of years now.

Towards the far end of the valley, where Stake Beck meets Langstrath Beck, there are a series of small cascades which I’d shot before, but not in the best lighting conditions for waterfall photography.

For the expansive fell top vistas which are the mainstay of my photographic portfolio, I’m normally after a burst of fleeting and dramatic sunlight.

However, ideal conditions for some slow speed waterfall shots are grey and overcast. We can usually manage a bit of that in the Lakes.

I took the shot below as an overview of the scene I was working with:

I wanted the falls and the lone tree to dominate the scene and not be lost too far in the background.

The first couple of very simple shots I took actually worked out quite well, with the radiating white flow of the water contrasting well with the colours of the beck.

Despite the vibrant colours I also processed a black and white version later on which still has sufficient impact.

Though I like these images, they’re not quite what I wanted from the location. They’re a little too simplistic. What I really wanted was to try and make something simple from that messy looking jumble of glossy wet foreground rocks.

As usual, I was going to have to get my feet wet. (Though not as wet as the hardy local kids I met jumping into Black Moss Pot on the way back – October not the warmest of months for a little wild swimming!)

I could see pretty much exactly where I wanted to be – about two thirds of the way into the first shot above, using the mini waterfall raking it’s way over one of the rocks as added foreground interest.

But that was right in the middle of a fast flowing river and the tripod legs would have to be in there too. Never great for sharpness and camera shake.

With a little bit of river bed gardening I managed to get a sturdy set up. Without this it would have been pointless to even start shooting.

There was also a little bit of a challenge with the light. Despite being a grey day the pesky sun was trying to come out! But don’t worry, it was also trying to rain at the same time.

Which isn’t normally a massive problem, you just wait until it clears.

However. I couldn’t get into one frame what I wanted to so was going to have to start stitching and needed even light across all the exposures.

With a polariser, a neutral density filter to further slow down the shutter speed, and a 3 stop graduated neutral density filter to hold in detail in the sky all on the front of the lens, going as wide as I wanted to just ended up with serious vignetting.

So the only option was to zoom in slightly to lose this from the corners of the shot, and then stitch several shots together to get the coverage I wanted. And wipe the spray and rain off the filters after each one. And hope the light wouldn’t change too much from one to the next.

In the end I miraculously came away with all the shots sharp and just about matching in terms of light. There were 14 of them.

It took a bit of work in post production to iron out some of the creases between the individual shots, but eventually I managed to clean it up successfully.

So here’s my final 14 shot stitch of a waterfall.

(click to buy/view larger)

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2 Responses to Exploring the scene – Langstrath Waterfall

  1. Lovely shots, Stewart… looks like they were worth all the effort. Someone I was speaking to was suggest ND8 filters for waterfalls. Is that right? Or, in this situation, would that have just cast too much darkness on the image given that it was an already overcast day?

    • Stewart says:

      Thanks 🙂 The idea of the ND8 filter is to cut out some of the light hitting the camera sensor, so that you need to use a longer shutter speed to compensate and let more light in, which is what gives the milky effect you see in the water.

      So it doesn’t darken the image, it just allows you to select a slower shutter speed.

      How slow you need to go depends on the speed of the water really. On a dull overcast day with fast moving water you’d probably be able to get enough of the effect with resorting to a filter.

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