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UK Landscapes - Lake District

Pillar Rock

Pillar Rock, Lake District

The view up to Pillar Rock from Ennerdale.
(click on the image for an enlarged view)
Photo ref. MG_5333-213845


Technical Details: -

Canon EOS 5D MkII
Canon TS-E 24mm f/3.5L II - ~1 degree forward tilt
2-stop ND grad filter (I think?)
1 sec @ f/16, ISO50

May 2012

It's been well over a year since I last hiked with my camping gear for an overnight stay in the mountains, preferring these days to travel light(er) and walk to my planned destination before dawn or dusk. This view though, requires little more than 300 metres of ascent, half of which is spread over a 4½ mile stretch of forest track, which makes carrying a 50lb backpack a lot less strenuous than carting it all the way up the side of a mountain. Another plus point is the short nights at this time of year meaning I wouldn't have to spend too long in the tent killing time in the dark. I knew roughly where I needed to be to get the view I was after following research using maps and web resources beforehand (other peoples photos), but I didn't know the area very well having only seen it from a distance from the mountain ridges above. The plan then, was to walk in on the Saturday evening, pitch the tent as near to the base of Pillar Rock as possible, then spend some time scouting the area for the best viewpoints, returning on Sunday morning after a good nights sleep to take advantage of the oblique angle of the sun as it rises above the horizon. The weather was forecast to be clear as it had been for the few days previous, so I shouldn't have any problems with clouds blocking out first light.

So, I set off on foot from the car park at Ennerdale Water at around 6pm, following the River Liza. There wasn't a cloud in the sky, the sun was out and there was a light breeze...perfect for a night out. After nearly two hours I arrived at a narrow wooden footbridge which crosses the river directly below Pillar Rock. This is where I'd hoped to pitch my tent so I wouldn't have far to walk in the morning. I spent nearly an hour scouting around for a nice spot where I wouldn't be disturbed by passers by or the sound of the river, which can be surprisingly loud in the dead of night. Everywhere I looked though, the ground was either too rough, covered in trees or on a steep slope, meaning I'd end up in a heap at one end of the tent...bugger. I eventually came to the realisation that I wasn't going to find anywhere nearby, so started walking back along the track on the opposite side of the river towards the car park. Luckily, after about half a mile I found a patch of grass big enough for my tent just off the track. It wasn't ideal, but I figured at this time of night, this far from civilisation, it was unlikely I'd be bothered by other walkers. By the time I'd set up the tent I was completely drained, so I broke out the stove and sat watching the sun go down over a bowl of noodles and a caramel latte. I turned in at about 10:00pm falling asleep almost instantly, even though it was still light outside.

My alarm managed to wake me up first time at 3:30am, which gave me just enough time to have breakfast and find my mark ready for sunrise at 4:46am. While I was looking for somewhere to pitch the tent the night before, I'd managed to find the start of the path up to where I wanted to start shooting from, marked by a small pile of stones at the side of the track, so it wasn't completely wasted time.  I estimated from studying the map it'd take me about three quarters of an hour to get into the vicinity of the small waterfalls below Pillar Rock, which I wanted as the foreground of my composition. I would then have a little time trying different viewpoints and taking test shots while waiting for the sun to rise and illuminate the main subject, Pillar Rock.

I spent well over an hour photographing this scene from varying angles and viewpoints as the sun rose, all using the 24mm tilt/shift lens which was perfect for getting both the close foreground and distant background in focus at the same time. I added a neutral density graduated filter to balance the exposure of the sunlit Pillar Rock with the foreground which was still in shadow. I can't be sure of the exact filter used due to having a short term memory similar to that of a house brick, but I'm pretty sure it was a 2-stop filter with a soft transition.

By 6:00am, the sun had risen enough to illuminate the whole scene and due to it's angle with the mountainside, had lost most of it's modelling properties. I spent the next half hour just sitting on a rock in the warm sunshine taking it all in. Dressed in shorts and a T-shirt the temperature was perfect...not bad for 6:00am in May in the Lake District!

I'm mostly happy with the resulting image above (hence I'm showing it to you), but I think there are definite improvements to be made, notably in the amount of water trickling down the rock, the angle and hence modelling effect of the sun and the lack of interest in the sky by way of clouds. Maybe I'll pencil in another visit in early September, just before all the green turns to brown, and when the sun rises further round to the east, revealing more of the texture in the rock.  I expect there'll be more rainfall between now and then as well, considering this was the hottest May for a few years...not that I'm complaining!