Thoughts On Landscape

15th June 2014
This blog post was motivated by the following panoramic image of Sheffield after it did the rounds on Twitter. It's a good topic to write a blog post on as the story behind it pretty much sums up my photographic life in its entirety... so here goes. It was originally written for the Storying Sheffield blog - which I've copied across to here - so apologies if some of it is a bit too much about my background.

Huge stitched panorama as Sheffield is side lit by the setting sun - so many pixels it could be printed the size of a door - this small size doesn't really do it justice!

My actual 'job' is as a PhD student in cosmology, but rather than spending my time wondering about the universe I tend to find myself somewhat distracted - wondering about everything else instead. Wondering what the weather will be doing this evening - checking the satellite imagery, the radar, the Peak District webcams - trying to second guess one of the most complex systems in existence, hoping to stack the odds in my favour of getting the shot I want. Wondering how the timing of sunrise/set relates to train times this week. Wondering if I have time to reach a location and wondering which location will work best in whatever conditions I've already tried to second guess. Wondering if today would really give me the best chance at getting the shots or should I wait until tomorrow? And, finally, back to wondering if I should be doing something more constructive... like actual work again.

I wonder, is a 4.30am start, a 6am train ride and a climb up the hill in the dark going to be worth it? Will the conditions be as good as this or should I stay in bed? - Millstone Edge, above Hathersage.

Last Saturday was no different. After this endlessly miserable spring that we've had the decisions of when to get out have been made increasingly forced and difficult - with it being necessary to take more chances on the light. So despite it supposedly being a day to relax, I couldn't help but find myself in that usual routine of checking the weather and mentally planning my options. The forecast was borderline worthwhile for the evening - which can often be the best thing us landscape 
photographers can hope for. There's no better feeling than when you've trudged up a hill with endless grey skies, wind and rain - the only one to take the chance - and you end up being rewarded with a brief but spectacular show of light as the sun bursts beneath the leaden skies as it touches the horizon. Maybe Saturday evening could be one of those - so my mind was, belatedly, made up. I decided to head to the peace and tranquility of the northern edge of Kinder Scout, somewhere near Seal Edge, as there is no better place to escape the constant buzz of real life, the endless wondering and, more importantly, all the tourists who overrun the Peak District on weekends. I shot a location very nearby, about a km to the east, around this time last year - so I was long overdue a visit. Being the other side of the peat bogs (which need crossing in the dark on the way back), it's very much a location for the summer when they're partially dried. 

Blackden Edge sunset, Kinder Scout.

So... everything packed (even enough food/drink to last me through to sunrise if I thought it looked worth it!)... get to the station... buy my tickets... get to the platform... find out that the train staff have been assaulted and my train isn't going anywhere. Of all the details I'd tried to plan, all the unpredictable things that could have happened... this certainly was not something I had foreseen. So a miserable walk back to the flat ensued where I sat at my desk watching the light unfold out of my second floor window.

The view from my desk - it's no wonder I'm constantly distracted.

After an hour sat watching the skies, mentally doing the walk in my head, imagining where I should have been at each moment (you soon come to know the timings of every walk surprisingly precisely when it comes to either getting the last train back or spending a night wandering aimlessly in the dark) I couldn't take it anymore. I knew a lovely location 20 minutes up the hill from my flat - above the old Ski Village - so I made a last minute dash with the photo I started the article with in mind. Luckily, this time, almost everything worked out and I got the shot. It was a shame that the light wasn't actually as strong as I'd hoped for and the clouds had almost completely cleared to leave a featureless sky - but as I'm hopefully demonstrating here, you soon come to appreciate what you've got. Landscape photography would be easy if the light always did what you hoped for - the skill, as I see it, is in teasing out a pleasing image when everything seems to be working against you. So as I stood looking over Sheffield, camera mounted on the tripod and shutter release in hand, all those uncertainties, complexities and decisions of earlier in the day were left safely down below as possibility turned to certainty in the form of the image captured safely on my sensor.

This photo sums this feeling up more than any other. Years of waiting, years of failed attempts to catch the elusive inversion at Mam Tor. When I rose above the mist at 4.30am, completely alone, and saw this view before me - it quite literally took my breath away. A moment never to be forgotten.

It is this that makes landscape photography one of the most interesting genres. Few others have so much uncertainty as such a key aspect of the process - which in turn makes few others anywhere near as rewarding when everything works. To me, landscape photography is a way of escaping the real world and a motivation - when you really can't otherwise find the energy - to get out into the beautiful countryside that we're lucky to have right on our doorstep. It soon becomes an obsession as the friendly competition of the many other great photographers around here pushes you to improve - and checking Flickr each morning becomes increasingly torturous as you almost dare not look for fear of what may have missed at sunset the night before.  

To finish, I'll go right back to where it all started for me - beautiful Swaledale. Originally from Richmond, with this a short drive away it's no wonder I caught the photography bug and felt the need to share our amazing quiet places with those who rarely venture out of the bustling, noisy urban landscape. If there's one thing that I'd like this post to do it's to hopefully lure a few of you out to explore beyond the limits of our (admittedly lovely) city - few other cities have a National Park 10 minutes (£3 return) away by train - so there's no excuse!

Muker hay meadows, Yorkshire Dales National Park

 If you'd like to keep up to date with my photos you can follow me on Facebook (www.facebook.com/matrobinsonphoto) where I post a new one every day, Twitter (@matrobinson88) where I'm always sharing otherwise unseen pics or get in touch at my website - www.matrobinsonphoto.co.uk.