AUTUMN

Autumn can be a bittersweet time for landscape photography. The promise of trees in full Autumn colour, beautiful light, atmospheric mist and streams in full flow have me (and others) dashing around trying to make the most of these conditions in the short time that they last. But early Autumn storms, with strong winds and rain, can quickly strip trees of their leaves before the colours peak. Then there is the question of being in the right location when the colours peak. This is never easy to get right as colours peak at different time across the United Kingdom and there can be variations within relatively small areas caused by, amongst other things, local topographically and microclimates.

This Autumn I allocated the last two weeks of October and the first week of November to photograph locations in Cannock Chase near to my home in Staffordshire, The Peak District National Park and several waterfalls in Wales. As the Autumn colours usually peak in these three areas during this three week period, I hoped to get lucky at least once. This year the weather in these locations during this three week period was predominantly overcast with mist. Whilst not perfect for photographing large open vistas, the conditions were perfect for photographing within wooded areas.

Cannock Chase, Staffordshire

Cannock Chase is the smallest designated area of outstanding natural beauty (AONB) in the United Kingdom. It’s 26 square miles contain the largest area of lowland heathland in the Midlands, which is a nationally important habitat, and areas of native woodland and conifer plantations .

Brockton Coppice in Cannock Chase is an area of mixed native deciduous woodland with a relatively large number of ancient oaks. On my first visit the tree canopy was still very green with only the bracken showing any sign of the colours that were to come.

Ancient Oak

A subsequent visit on a misty day and the colours had developed in the coppice.

Ancient Oaks

Ancient Oaks

As well as ancient Oaks, Brockton Coppice has large areas of predominantly Silver Birch woodland. The misty conditions made for very atmospheric images of these woods.

Silver Birches

Silver Birches

Silver Birches

Silver Birches

Silver Birches

Silver Birches

Not far from Brockton Coppice around the Punch Bowl is another area of Silver Birch Woodland.

Silver Birches

Silver Birches

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Silver Birches

On the edge of Cannock Chase, on the Shrugborough Estate, is an area of native oak woodland.

Oak Woodland

Oak Woodland

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Near to this area of native oak woodland on the Shrugborough Estate is an area of woodland which has some spectacular Common Beech Trees.

Common Beech

Common Beech

Common Beech

Common Beech

Common Beech

Welsh Waterfalls

Pystyll Rhaeadr in Powys is the tallest waterfall in Wales. Having visited this waterfall before in the summer, I hoped to photograph it surrounded by woodland in full Autumn colour. However, on this occasion, given the distance I had to be away from the waterfall to make this image, the moisture in the air worked against me. I hope to return next Autumn on a crystal clear morning.

Pystyll Rhaeadr

After photographing Pystyll Rhaeadr, the next waterfall I visited was Furnace Falls in Dyfi Furnace. These falls are a bit of hidden gem lying just off the main road through Dyfi Furnace. As this was my first visit I mistakenly thought that the best way to approach the falls was to wade up the stream to the falls. With wet feet and trousers, I realised my mistake when I spotted a steep path coming down to the waters edge near to where I stood in the stream.

Furnace Falls

Furnace Falls

In the Brecon Beacons National Park is an area known as Waterfall Country. From Cwm Porth, the four fours trail takes in four of these waterfalls in one walk. I managed to photograph three of these falls in one long day, not a bad achievement given it was the school’s half term and very busy with families on holiday.

The first of the three waterfalls was Sgwd yr Eira. I managed to get set up and make a few images from different positions before it became too busy to photograph.

Waterfall Country

Waterfall Country

Waterfall Country

The second of the three waterfalla was Sgwd Isaf Clun-Gwyn. Just as I set up a school group of gorge walkers arrived and I watched as they threw themselves into the pools and down the waterfalls with varying levels of enthusiasm.

Waterfall Country

Waterfall Country

The third and final waterfall was Sgwd y Pannwr. After packing up it was an hour back to where I had parked my car. I was the last person to leave that evening, tired after a long day’s photography.

Waterfall Country

Peak District National Park

The Peak District National Park has some excellent examples of native woodland including areas of Common Beech trees.

Beech Woodland

Beech Woodland

Beech Woodland

Beech Woodland

Beech Woodland

Common Beech

Common Beech

Porter Clough

On a very misty day I drove through the Peak District to the outskirts of Sheffield to the Wyming Brook. The Wyming Brook is similar to but far less popular with photographers than Padley Gorge.

Wyming Brook

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Middle Black Clough is in a secluded location in the Peak District. On my first visit this Autumn the stream was in full spate and far too dangerous to cross. Returning a week later the stream was much lower and with great care I crossed the stream and climbed the path to the waterfall.

Middle Black Clough

Middle Black Clough

Middle Black Clough

After photographing the waterfall, I made this panoramic image of the lower stream by stitching three images together.

Black Clough

Padley Gorge with the Burbage Brook flowing through a narrow gorge lined with Oak, Common Beech and Larch trees is incredible popular with photographers. There is a wide range of subjects to photograph ranging from views of the stream flowing through the tree lined gorge, close ups and abstracts of water flowing over and around features to the trees themselves.

Padley Gorge

Burbage Brook

Burbage Brook

Burbage Brook

Padley Gorge

The images in this blog were all made using a Nikon D810 and Nikkor 14-24mm and Nikkor 24, 45 and 85mm PC-E lenses. Lee Filters SW150 and 100mm filter systems together with a B+W Circular polariser. Gitzo tripod, Arca Swiss ball head and Nikon cable release.

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A LOVE OF BADGERS

When my wife Jill and I moved into our current home in Staffordshire in 2004, one of the things that we did not realise was that the area of countryside surrounding our home had a high population of Badgers. This is not really that surprising as the status of the local Badger population had not featured on the pre-sale enquiries we had made of the builder who sold us the house (if we move again it may!). In fact, my first ever sighting of a live, wild Badger came one night shortly after we moved into our new home as the lights of my car picked up a Badger by the side of the single track lane that leads to the house. I later discovered that there is a Badger sett in the field less than 50 metres from this lane, that the Badgers living in it follow a well worn path across the field to the lane and across it to other fields where they forage for food.

Fast forward six years to 2010 and my combined passions for the natural world and photography had taken hold. I was out one afternoon looking for Brown Hares in the local fields when my eye was drawn to movement in a field of clover. To my surprise, what I had hoped was a Hare turned out to be a young Badger cub grubbing for worms. Not only was this cub out in daylight but it was out at just after 3pm in the afternoon!

Badger Cub

The next two afternoons and evenings were spent with this young cub photographing it in this field of clover grass. So tolerant was it of my presence, that it approached so close as to push its nose inside the hood of the lens that was attached to my camera, leaving it covered in its slabber. It also fell asleep in the clover with me close by. This turned out to be the last time I would spend with this cub as the next day we were away on holiday for two weeks and on my return there were no further sightings of it.

Badger Cub

Badger

Badger Cub

Badger Cub

Whilst short-lived, what this initial encounter with this young cub ignited was a love of Badgers and a passion for photographing them that has at times verged on being an obsession. I have now been working on photographing Badgers using natural light for the last six years. Now this may not sound that difficult but when you factor in that Badgers are at best typically crepuscular (i.e. active during twilight) and at worst nocturnal, you start to get an understanding of what is involved. Add in disturbance from people and other animals (cows in particular find photographers very interesting and have a habit of surrounding you just as the light gets good and the Badgers become active), and you start to understand how difficult this task is. Over these years, I have spent many long hours waiting in vain for the Badgers to put in an appearance, been chased out of fields by herds of delinquent bullocks and had to deal with other obstructions.

Whilst there have been many frustrations and numerous nights when I have come home without having seen a Badger let alone photographed one, there have been many occasions  when it has all come together and I have been fortunate to spend time with Badgers and to witness and photograph their behaviour.

Badgers

Badgers

Young Badgers

Young Badgers

I have been very fortunate in that one of my neighbours and his family have allowed me to have access to the land on their farm which has several Badger setts, including one particularly large sett. This sett has a very large family of Badgers that have at times been active in the early evening. Due to its size and location, the sett offers a variety of very different photographic opportunities.

Badger Sett

Badgers

Badgers

Badger

Badger

Badger Cubs

Badgers

Young Badger

Badgers

Whilst most of my time has been spent at this sett with just one family of Badgers, I have also worked at several other setts that have offered different photographic opportunities.

Badger

Badgers

Badger

Badger

Whilst I have been fortunate to find Badgers active late in the afternoon or in the early evening when the light levels are high, I have also spent a lot of time photographing at dusk as the light levels are dropping. My approach is to continue photographing until it becomes too dark to see the Badgers. The current generations of digital cameras allow images to be made in very low levels of light and at high iso settings, with autofocus working incredibly well in these conditions. Hopefully, future generations of cameras will have further improvements in these areas.

Badger

Badgers

Badger

Badger

With the light levels dropping at dusk, there comes a point when I deliberately start to underexpose the images in order to more accurately reflect what I am actually seeing. The amount of underexposure I apply varies. Two stops of underexpose (-2ev) is generally a good starting point but on occasions I will decrease this to up to three stops of underexposure (-3ev). As well as accurately reflecting the conditions as seen, by applying underexposure at a given aperture and iso, the shutter speed will increase allowing photography to continue as the light levels drop.

Badger

Badger

In light of the current problems with Bovine Tuberculosis (BVT) in cattle, the future of Badgers in England is uncertain. Despite the scientific evidence that culling the Badger population will not reduce the incidence of BVT in cattle, trial culls in Gloucestershire and Somerset nevertheless recently went ahead. Despite these trial culls fortunately failing to achieve their target numbers of Badgers to be culled and the cost per Badger shot being £3,350, there has been no statement from the current Government abandoning the culling of Badgers as a means of tackling BVT in cattle.

Living in a farming community and having friends and neighbours who are farmers, I am acutely aware of the problems posed by BVT in cattle. In light of the scientific evidence and the inhumanity of culling, I am vehemently opposed to culling Badgers as a means of dealing with BVT. The only scientific and humane solution for BVT in cattle is to develop, and permit the use of, an effective vaccine for BVT for cattle.

Badger

Working with and photographing wild Badgers is challenging but incredibly rewarding. Over the past six years I have been privileged to spend time with and to have been given an insight into the life of these beautiful and sentient animals. I have watched as: Badgers participated in family bonding after emerging from their setts; a young cub suckled from its mother; cubs played roughly with each other, rolling around the floor in a ball of fur; and have been approached by curious but unafraid Badgers. I hope to be able to continue working with wild Badgers over the coming years and to continue sharing the images I make of them.

Badger

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