Often we see beautiful views when travelling at speed in our vehicles. As someone who loves to capture scenes with a camera, a fleeting glimpse of a passing gorgeous landscape with the most the perfect lighting is frustrating to say the least. Sometimes the lighting is so momentary or so unique that you just know that it unlikely to be repeated in exactly the same way in the same location again. Frustrating enough to know that you are stuck behind the wheel on a motorway or fast road and unable to photograph it, even worse when you can't even stop to enjoy it.
When you know an area, however, you become familiar with the seasons, the climate and the position of the sun at certain times of year. You are also able to pre-visit or scout out a site to size up the likely best positions and times of day/year to be there. In a country such as the U.K., we are fortunate enough to be blessed with changing seasons which afford us many varied opportunities to capture the beauty of nature as it changes the landscape throughout the year, and certain slices of British life lend themselves to become icons of certain seasons. We all have our own interpretations of what these might be.
Pulling out of winter, certain flowers are most representative of spring and early summer for me. Particularly snowdrops, daffodils, snakes head fritillaries, bluebells and poppies which as they commence their blooming cycle commonly take us from February through to June in the south of England.
Iconic views of late summer and the early suggestion that autumn is not that far away have always been - for me - the changes wrought upon the landscape by man. Fields being stripped of hay and tied up in bales has long been a sign that summer is slowly coming to an end. Formerly only tied in rectangular bales, which used to be man-handled, these gradually got larger and many British farms and farmers now commonly use the far larger round bales.
Capturing the harvesting of theses bales has been something which I have yet to achieve. The perfect blue-sky day with a tractor trundling across dry fields in late summer kicking up dust in its wake is something which I have only seen from the car or when I have been somewhere without the camera. Happened the other day, in fact. I was so annoyed with myself for missing this yet again, that I determined that I must at least get back to the location the following day to get some images of the harvested bales.
Of course, if there's one thing that you absolutely can't rely upon in the U.K., it's the weather! Sometimes this can play to your advantage, but often it seems to do its best to frustrate your efforts. I turned up at the location - a tricky spot on a main road - only to have the sun disappear on me just as I arrived. I had allowed myself plenty of time before sunset in order to size up the sort of images I wanted and would be able to capture, but the clouds rolled in thick and fast and despite hanging around for a couple of hours, the sun just peeked through the clouds for about 90 seconds in all that time. I'd also decided that the parking spot I'd chosen wasn't the most safe of locations from which to venture out on foot!
I rattled off a few shots of which the above is fairly typical. While giving a nice idea of the field and the bales, the texture of the stubble and compressing the bales together using a longer focal-length lens, the image just doesn't capture summer at all for me. Despite some post-processing work in Lightroom, the sky remains fairly bland and boring, there are limited shadows (of course) and the colours just cannot punch through with the natural brightness that reminds us of a summer's day.
So, I had to go back and as soon as possible before either the British weather conspired against me - or the farmer decided to remove them from the fields or (even worse) wrap them in some unsightly black plastic!
The forecast for the next few days remained good, so the next day I returned with an idea of what I wanted to do, a better day with a glorious sky and a setting sun, and a far safer parking place!
Having sold images as editorial stock for some time now, I can't help but think in terms of what a client might be looking for in an image, as well as what I want to capture as an attractive landscape or pictorial photo. So I'll always shoot some variety to account for different types of usage and while I will often crop tight in camera to get the image I want, I'll also retake the same image with some space left to crop for the client's purposes or with a decent amount of copy space for a magazine cover, for example.
A general view of the field (below) gives an idea of the quantity of bales in the field. Shooting against the sun allows us to concentrate more on the actual scene rather than any particular attractiveness it may have. Crop volume for size of field; stubble left; contours of field; the fact that it's clearly a recent harvest etc., all be can be interpreted from the image. (f9 @ 1/60s)
Turning round 90° and getting a low viewpoint on a slight rise enabled me to isolate an individual bale against that lovely late sky. Far more pictorial in nature, this image. Careful framing allowed me to include two other bales in the distance for a nice balance. f6.3 @ 1/100s at a wide angle removed tight focus from a lot of the background while allowing the stubble on the plane of the bale to add some nice foreground texture.
20 minutes later and the sun is getting low enough to give some lovely long shadows, so let's take advantage of that! I flipped around another 90° and crouched down to keep on eye-level with the bale and now pointed the camera slightly upwards to fill 2/3rds of the frame with that lovely deep blue copy space! Again allowing the bale to dissect the horizon, lets it stand out as the obvious subject. Keep the full shadow in frame this time and shoot almost flat-on for a bit more of a starkly graphic result. Keep the aperture open again at f5.6 @ 1/500s to focus on the front of the bale itself and that much more contrasty stubble caused by the low sun and long shadows.