Wild camping (pt2) – the Lake District and photography

Three of my favourite things…

This is barely worth repeating once more, particularly as most readers will have a passing interest in photography, but the best and most dramatic light for landscape photography occurs at the extreme ends of the day. With mountain photography, even in an area as compact as the Lake District (more on this aspect of the Lakes shortly), choice of location can often mean a 2 or 3 hour walk to your chosen location.

This can mean very unsociable hours depending on your chosen viewpoint and the time of year. On a mountain summit in the Lake District in summer, colour can appear in the sky as early as 2.30 am, even if the sun isn’t due to show its face for another couple of hours.

I’ve sometimes considered changing to night shifts in summer, although this isn’t really feasible when trying to hold a part time day job down as well. Therefore I’d argue that (for me) wild camping is essential to my photography in summer. Usually I head up in the evening laden with minimal camping gear. I usually just stick to my lightweight tent and sleeping bag and minimal food and water. Add this to camera, lenses and tripod and you soon have a heavy load to haul up the hillside.

Depending on the weather, changeable as ever in the Lake District, I may be lucky enough to get two bites at the photographic cherry from one night’s camping. The dying dusky light in the evening, a cosy 4 hours or so in the sleeping bag, before emerging bleary eyed to grab the dawn colours and the first rays of sunlight raking across the peaks and valleys the next morning.

With light coming from opposite directions at dawn and dusk, summits are great places to camp; the unbroken views meaning two completely different scenes can be shot from one viewpoint. The only downside is obviously the greater exposure to the elements. I’ve had some interesting evenings, most definitely putting the wild into wild camping.

Even on a good morning, 20 mins after sunrise in summer the light can be washed out, so I often get my photos then jump back into the tent for another sleep, before reawakening at a more reasonable hour and heading back down or on to the next vantage point.

Conversely, winter with its late sunrises and early sunsets mean the light is often good all day long, and it’s easy enough to head up into the mountains to catch the early light without having to get out of bed two hours after you’ve got into it. Also, the weather can be at its most extreme in winter, and this often leads to the most dramatic shots – lifting cloud, clearing, skies, a sudden burst of sunlight, these are the moments a landscape photographer lives for.

With this in mind, I certainly don’t need to wild camp in winter, and with long hours of darkness and usual mountain temperatures of -10c to 15c, I rarely feel the urge!

If you want to give it a go, the Lake District is a great place to try it. It’s such a compact area that it doesn’t involve an endless trek to reach the heights, you can still get a sense of wilderness and escape, and it’s not too far to retreat to the nearest valley if things do get a bit hairy. Just make sure you have a decent tent (mine’s a Vango Helium 200 if you’re interested) and a warm enough sleeping bag. The shot below was a spring wild camp on Great Gable and despite being a warm day, night time temperatures touched -10c.

Mountain forecast is hinting at better weather by this time next week, so hopefully my next post will be a new walk with new photos…

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