The film photography & darkroom work of David Kirby

Side Pike, Blea Tarn and the Ongoing Pursuit of Refrigerated Goods

Monday morning was both good and bad.  It was good in that I had a day off work do with as I wished, but it was bad in that I had decided to head to the Lake District (Cumbria) for sunrise which meant a 6am start.  A day off without Jess is a very rare thing.  Normally we would take a day off together to get jobs done or have a day out, but as my day off was in recompense for some overtime I had done earlier in the month Jess couldn't get the time off.  But that's ok, we all need some alone time every now and then.

Over the weekend I was torn between planning a trip out to try out my new tripod (it's beautiful) or to stay in the darkroom and work on my Iceland prints now that my paper order has arrived (yay).  In the end I opted for the trip out as I can print in the evenings when Jess is (or should be) out at the gym.

I said it before and I will say it again - for some reason I really struggle taking photographs in the Lake District.  I think it is the terrain, I like my landscapes wide, open and barren whereas the Lake District is very "busy".  That's the only way I can describe it really.  Maybe I just haven't explored enough.  As such I decided to try a trip out to the Lakes as it is fairly close to where I live and would present a nice photographic challenge for me.  I did a bit of research on the internet for somewhere interesting to shoot and found a hill called Side Pike in the Langdale valley which seemed to provide good views of the surrounding mountains.  I checked up on the weather (cloudy for a refreshing change) and direction of sunrise and all seemed well. 

It is good not to fear the cloud.  A lot of landscape photographers will only go out when there is around 30% cloud cover so that they can photograph huge vistas of red morning light, blue skies and white puffy clouds.  Regular readers will know that this kind of photography is not really my style.  A forecast of total cloud cover was fine with me.  I decided to head up for sunrise so I could catch the soft morning light, so that meant getting into the mountains for 8am.  That worked out well as I needed to be back home for 1pm to take delivery of a new fridge-freezer.  Our freezer packed in a few months ago and we finally ordered a new one, at last I can freeze my BBQ'd pulled pork!

On Sunday evening I packed my camera bag and made a little packed lunch to share with Ellie (the dog) whilst out and about.

Monday morning came and upon hearing my alarm I immediately regretted my decision to rise so early.  After a great internal conflict my min won over my body and up I rose, loaded the car, put Ellie in the back and hit the road.  Once up and awake I really enjoy being out and about early in the morning, I find it most peaceful and relaxing.  Plus it's great knowing that the whole day is still lying ahead, rather than rising at 11 and the day is almost gone (or so it feels).

As I pulled off the motorway and headed into Cumbria I could see snow on the peaks of the mountains.  Passing by Windermere I could see a fog/mist (who really knows the difference) lying just above the water.  I was hopeful to get some nice moody shots.

I eventually reached Side Pike and parked up a convenient layby (take that National Trust car park), unloaded the car, grabbed the dog and commence the walk.  Walking up the hillside I had a lovely view of the surrounding mountains.  There was a nice band of cloud cutting across the slopes which I tried to setup and shoot, however by the time I was ready to meter the cloud had passed so I packed up and carried on up the hillside (with Ellie leaping and bounding ahead of course).

Alas it was not to be.  Another time perhaps.

After ending up around the back of Side Pike I double-checked my map and realised that I had missed a turn-off up the hill-side somewhere.  I double-backed, found the path and followed the steep slope upwards towards the summit.  The path here is very strange, it keeps disappearing over and around rocks and doubling-back on itself.  Eventually the ground began to even-out and I reached the first peak of Side Pike. 

Directly ahead I could see the back of the crag which I was aiming to get around the other side of to shoot.  I took a moment to take in the lovely scenery and consulted the map again.  Apparently there is a footpath somewhere from my location around the side of the crag.  Could I find it?  No I could not.  I ended up descending through the rocks and ferns to the south and meeting up with a footpath towards the base of the hill.  Whilst panting and cursing my calves I reassured myself of how thin I would absolutely definitely be by the time the walk was complete and pushed on. 

The new path I was on led directly to the base of the crags at the second peak of Side Pike where I knew I would be able to turn north and continue uphill to look back towards Side Pike.  The climb was steep and my ankles were killing me but eventually the ground began to ease a little and I reached the top of the hill.  After a short rest I pushed up, heading east and following a dry stone wall until I finally made it to the location I had planned on shooting at.

Finally made it!  From shooting location looking back towards the second peak of Side Pike.

Perfect, I thought.  When envisioning shooting at this location I was hoping to be able to see the mountains to the rear and sides (I promise there are mountains to the rear), however as you can see in the picture the weather was not playing nice.  Still, as I mentioned before, I am not afraid of grey skies and clouds.

It's glorious, GLORIOUS!

I unpacked my bag and had a little food (cheese sandwich and shortbread - power snacks) and setup my tripod for the first time outside.  I have to say that having a spirit level built into the tripod really really helped a lot, especially when setting up on a slope.  There wasn't too much of a wind on the hilltop thankfully and the tripod seemed to be doing a fantastic job of staying rock-solid - exactly what I wanted it to do!

As always I dug out my cable release and fitted to the camera and then began taking initial notes in my field notebook.  I record the roll number for the film I am currently shooting, the date, where I am, who I am with, weather conditions, the film I am using and the iso I am rating it at.  This all helps me call the trip back to mind at a future date, plus i'm really OCD about taking notes!

Once done I began to compose through my viewfinder.  As the surrounding mountains were totally shrouded in mist and cloud I decided to shoot in 6x6 format rather than the initially planned 6x4.5.  This would make Side Pike the central focus of my image without a sea of dead grey surrounding it.  As I write this I am a little regretful that I did not take a few 6x4.5 images with a similar composition to the second image in this post where you can see the mountain to the right.  But, no use dwelling upon mistakes of the past is it?!

View of the composition I settled on.  Remember this isn't going through a prism so the image you see here is flipped.

I eventually settled upon a composition with Side Pike in the centre and the dry stone wall I was shooting next to acting as a leading line into the centre of the frame.  My 80mm lens fit the crag in nicely and left a little room around for the clouds and adjacent landscape.

I dug out my spot meter and began metering.  I decided to place the dark area of rock to the right and left of centre on Zone II.  Normally I would place areas where I want shadow detail on Zone III however I knew that Zone II is what I wanted the dark rocky areas to fall onto so I metered straight from it.  After metering the clouds and the surrounding land it became apparent that I would need to develop this frame N+1 to get a full range of tonality.  If none of the above paragraph makes any sense to you it may be worthwhile referring this tutorial which I wrote about the zone system.

As with most of my landscapes I set my aperture to f16 and focused using the hyperfocal method.  I haven't mentioned the hyperfocal method in my blog much, controlling depth of field is something which I may write a tutorial on.  For now for those of you unaware of hyperfocal focusing it is a method which lets you use depth of field to your advantage to ensure that both the background foreground of your image are as in focus as possible for your preferred aperture.

Mist rolling over the base of the crag.

As I was preparing to shoot some mist began to roll across the base of the crag so I quickly double-checked my light meter, set my shutter speed to 1/8 second and exposed a frame.

You will probably note that the picture of the mist rolling over the hill is out of focus.  This is due to the hyperfocal focusing method briefly outlined above.  You have to trust that your camera is in focus!

After exposing I watched the mist roll away leaving the hillside clear.  I decided to shoot another frame at the same settings so that I would have one without any mist in the foreground.

For my third frame I decided the add an orange filter as some of the landscape to the front of the crag was dead ferns which had a nice orange colour.  Filtration is also something which I haven't discussed much on this site, perhaps I should do a tutorial on it.  For those of you who don't know, colour filters play a key role in black and white photography.  The colour filter you use will lighten tones of that colour within an image, in this case lightening anything orange coloured in the frame.  Most often inlandscape photography a yellow, orange or red filter is used to darken blue skies to varying degrees.

As I had added a filter I needed to compensate for loss of light through the camera aperture, in this case an additional 2 stops of light would be required.  I left my aperture at f16, set my shutter speed to 1/2 second and exposed.

For my fourth frame I decided to be adventurous and dig out my 10 stop filter.  10 stop filters are wonderful things for blurring water and clouds and I highly recommend you get yourself one at some point.  I added 10 stops to my shutter speed and came p with an exposure time of 128 seconds.  This time is not including film reciprocity.  Unlike digital cameras, film requires slightly more exposure the longer you let light hit it.  As such I knew I would need to add a little time to my exposure to compensate for this effect.  I double-checked my focus and composition again, screwed on the filter and began my exposure.  I had to keep calling Ellie back so that she didn't run into the frame or knock my tripod.  In the middle of the exposure a a big misty cloud came rolling over the hilltop but there is nothing I could do about that.

After completing my exposure I started another one but realised I had messed up my cameras settings so aborted it.  I love my Bronica SQ-A but it does have its annoyances, the biggest of which is doing long exposures.  For anything over 8 seconds you have to unscrew or pull out a little metal toggle at the base of the lens and move over a little plastic slider.  Then to stop the exposure you need to slide it back.  It's a bit of a pain and when you are in a rush to expose something always goes wrong.

For frame number 6 I tried another 10 stop filter exposure and once again the mist came rolling in, even thicker than before!  After this frame the cloud began rolling in thicker so I packed up my gear and began walking back t the crag of Side pike.  I managed to pickup the higher footpath which I had lost earlier and so the walk back to the car was much easier.  Ellie spotted a big pool on the way back and decided to dive into it.  She took a run and a jump but alas the pool was frozen so she just skidded along it before breaking the ice at the centre of the pool and crashing through.  Most amusing indeed!

Eventually we got back to the car, had a little snack and enjoyed putting our feet up for a few minutes.  After a little rest I head down the winding road towards Little Langdale.  I pulled into the National Trust car park at Blea Tarn and considered hopping out for some shots but decided to head on instead.  Ellie began whining so I pulled over in a layby (for free - have that National Trust), unloaded again and walked to the shore of the tarn.

Ellie, as always when near water, went charging in for a swim so I wandered along the shore looking for a shot to take.  There were some large cobbles along the shore which I thought could provide some foreground interest for as hot looking back towards the mountains so I setup my tripod (check out the super-low profile).

Lower than low!  And that isn't even as low as it can go!  In this shot you can see where I have just been climbing, the peak in the centre is peak 1 of Side Pike, with the larger crag to the right peak 2.  I was shooting partway up the hill to the right of this looking back towards the left.

Looking back towards the mountains from the camera position.

I decided to stick with 6x6 format again and began to compose.  The foreground rocks which I had initially planned to use as part of the composition ended up being somewhat of a distraction, not really adding anything to the frame.  I knew I needed to get my camera higher but to do so meant raising the central column which is something I never like doing as it leaves your camera open to more vibration.  However I thought I would be ok in this instance as there was no wind at all and I was in a nice sheltered spot.  I moved my central column up until the distracting rocks were out of the picture.

Looking through the camera viewfinder at the final composition.

My 150mm lens provided the composition most pleasing to the eye, which I so often find to be the case.  It seems lots of landscape photographers always reach for the wide angle lens to fit as much landscape in as they can.  I always seem to find myself cropping in using a telephoto lens for some reason.

I began to meter.  This was one of those tricky situations where just picking a shadow area and metering it didn't work as there wasn't really anything in the frame which I wanted to place onto Zone III.  In the end I decided to place the orange grass at the base of the mid-ground hills onto Zone V, this gave me plenty of tonality open for the sky and I could burn in any darker areas as required at the printing stage.

Whilst metering I noted that there were some swans at the far end of the tarn.  I knew that their movement would effect any long exposures I would do and so made a mental note to keep an eye on their movements.

I decided to start with a 10 stop filter shot because, why not?!  At f16 I was once again given a shutter speed of 128 seconds so I accounted for reciprocity and began my exposure (after focusing of course).  As with most of my exposures I used the next frame to do a redo, just in case any problems arose with the first exposure.  The great thing about 10 stop exposures is that the same shot can change dramatically from frame to frame as cloud shape and water movement changes and evolves throughout the exposure.

For frames 9 and 10 I removed the 10 stop filter and slotted in an orange one for the same reasons as when I was up on Side Pike.  I also added a +2 neutral density filter do that I could slow shutter down a little and smooth out some of the water movement.  This gave me an exposure time of 2 seconds at f16.

After that I packed up my bag, forced Ellie to go for another swim to wash off all the mud form the bog around the tarn then headed to the car.  I loaded up and began the drive home (via Lakeland to pick up a gift for Jess of course), satisfied with my morning out.  I got home in just enough time to unload the car before the fridge-freezer showed up.

Later that afternoon I used the last 2 shots to shoot Jess being a giddy idiot before developing my film using Rodinal diluted 1:50 for 21 minutes (my N+1 development time) and left it to dry.  From an initial look at the negative it seemed most of the shots had come out, but I could see that some of the 10 stop exposures on Side Pike were lacking in density making for a dark print.

The next day I was back at work alas, but as soon as I finished I ran into the darkroom to make a contact sheet.  After leaving the contact sheet to dry I took some time out to inspect the frames. 

Contact sheet from roll shot.  Frames numbered from top right to bottom left.  You will have to forgive the scratches and bands of lighter areas - I salvaged a sheet of glass from my old fridge but it turned out to be a "little" scratched.

Some of the frames were write-offs like frames 5, 11 and 12, but that's ok because I knew they would be.  As expected there was not a great deal of contrast across the frames, but that is something I can add in the darkroom at the printing stage.

Frame 1 looked ok but the foot of the mountain to the right of Side Pike seemed to be throwing the shot off balance a little.  Frame 2 has potential, as does frame 3.  Not the difference in tonality between frames 2 and 3, that's the effect of the orange filter at work, lightening the grassy areas.  Frame 4 I like the sky but the mist is imbalanced and throws the composition off.  Frame 6 is just way too dark, it may be salvageable but I am not too hopeful.  Between frames 7 to 10 I am probably going to try printing number 7 as it appears to have the smoothest water and has slightly more contrast than the other frames, I want to accent those trees to the left of the frame and get them dark, with the landscape behind getting progressively lighter to give a sense of depth.

All that remains now is to head into the darkroom and start working the negatives.  When I will get to do that I don't know as now that my paper order has arrived it is time to start printing my Iceland negatives.  As I write this post (feels like I have been sat at my computer for days) Jess has nipped into town with a friend so now is the time to act and head to the dark!

I hope this post has been enjoyable to read, sorry if it was a bit long-winded.  I know some of you requested more detail about my decision-making when out shooting and my process so I have tried to include more of that in this article.  I will keep you updated with how the printing of these negatives go.  As always feel free to comment about anything this article has made you think of and I promise I will get back to you.

Until next time friends, happy printing!