SNAPP Pro Photographer, Phil Buckle, on Photographing the Lake District
Cumbria-based landscape photographer and author of one of SNAPP Guides’ smart destination guides to photographing the Lake District, Phil Buckle shares what draws him back to this gem of a UK National Park, how he plans for a landscape shoot and some of his favourite spots in the Lake District…
Hi Phil, can you tell us a bit about yourself and how long you’ve been ‘behind the lens’?
I’m what you might call a late-comer to photography and really only started seriously just under 6 years ago after my wife bought me a workshop day for Xmas in 2010. This gave me a better understanding and also the confidence to explore both the camera and the Lake District more.
I’ve been married for nearly 30 years and have one daughter (and a Westie pup), I’ve lived most of my life on the edge of the Lakes, apart from my time in the Royal Navy and a couple of years in Norwich. Living away also gave me more of an appreciation of the beauty the Lake District possesses especially after living in East Anglia, a region known for its flatlands and fens!
Tell us more about what you like to shoot and why…
I love what I call the Big View, an image that captures the enormity and drama of the Cumbrian Mountains, Lakes and even the tumbling becks after recent rains. I also love the challenge of dabbling with long exposures – you can create an image from nothing – from smoothing the ripples in a lake to creating movement in an otherwise bland sky. I can easily spend an hour taking the same shot just because each one has its own quirks and sometimes the decision of which one to process takes even longer.
How do you find new inspiration in a destination you’ve photographed time and time again?
I suppose I would answer that with another question, How couldn’t you? There’s a saying in the Lakes, “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute” – the weather here is so changeable that the scene in front of you can change in a matter of seconds and sometimes you can experience four seasons in one day. What colours will the sunrise bring? Will your chosen lake be covered in a layer of mist? Will it be calm? Or is it just the experience of a new day dawning with that glorious view and hardly a sound?
Then there’s the seasons themselves – autumn brings the changing colours in the trees and a more gentle light after the harsh light of the summer. Winter has the fells cloaked in bracken which has died back and takes on a golden hue in the morning light. Then comes the odd covering of snow, a frost and coupled with a calm lake in front of you, what’s not to like? Spring brings the bluebells, if only for a brief couple of weeks, along with the new growth turning everything green. Summer brings the tourists and fells covered in glorious purple from the heather.
What camera and gear do you tend to use?
I use a Canon 6D and my main lens is the Canon 16-35, f4, which enables me to capture those big views that we have in the Lakes. I also carry a Canon 24-105 and a Canon 70-200 IS f4, the latter is often used to zoom in on detail, such as the wonderful Herdwick sheep that we have in the Central Lakes.
I’m a Lee filter user and wouldn’t go anywhere without a set of Hard & Soft ND Grads as well as my Little & Big Stopper for the long exposures. Oh – and of course a sturdy tripod goes with me everywhere!
How do you plan for a day’s shoot in the Lakes?
If it’s a new location to me, I would start by checking out the time of sunrise using The Photographer’s Ephemeris and where the sun will rise at that time of year. I also find that Bing Maps is a really useful tool as you can bring up Ordnance Survey maps on there and check for any footpaths and the lay of the land. I would also check sites such as 500px & Flickr to see what the possibilities are. Obviously the usual stuff too; clean gear, charge up batteries etc.
More often than not I will have a couple of possibilities in mind depending on the weather forecast and will often stop at a lay-by on the A66 just before the turn off for Ullswater. From there I will look at the cloud cover and either instinct or luck will take over.
What advice would you give to a photographer visiting the Lake District for the first time?
Summer isn’t the best season to visit for photography if you have a choice, but you’ll still come back with some great shots whenever you go. Always bring wet weather gear, including Wellington boots – you never know when the weather will change – and pack some snacks and drinks to keep you going as there isn’t always a shop around every corner. Plan, plan & plan! Have an idea what you would like to shoot and take the time to explore those areas in detail instead of doing a SatNav drive by shoot – get to know the Lakes, you won’t be disappointed!
If you only had one day to spend in the Lake District with your camera, where would you head?
It has to be the North Lakes which for me has a more rugged beauty, I would start at Tewet Tarn with its views of Blencathra and Skiddaw for sunrise, depending on the light and conditions I could spend most of the morning there before dropping down to Derwent Water where Isthmus Bay is one of my new favourites. From there both Buttermere and Crummock Water are in easy reach, what more could a photographer want!
You recently created a SNAPP Guide to photographing the Lake District – what are your views on sharing great photography spots with other photographers?
One of the most frustrating thing as a photographer is locating that shot you’ve seen or pinpointing a new location. Often you find yourself in the dark with a head torch trying to find a spot with only minutes left before that epic sunrise! As photographers, we generally share those locations with each other when asked, so this is really no different – just more efficient and reliable.
Nobody “owns” a location, they’ve pretty much all been shot before, but we can still give it our own creative slant or have a go at capturing an image in ideal conditions .
This is a tool I hope will really help other photographers plan and get the best out of each day of their stay in the Lakes. I’ve already been using the SNAPP Guides App on recent workshops and 1-2-1 sessions to show photographers the possibilities for new locations to try. I’m also looking forward to trying out my colleagues’ guides when I next get the chance to travel to new destinations.
To try Phil’s guide to photographing the Lake District for yourself, download the SNAPP Guides App here or contact Phil directly to follow his work or for information about his photography workshops and individually tailored tours.