I love to visit parts of the countryside that are in remote locations and far from home for my landscape photography. I particularly like the big vista landscapes typical of the North West Highlands of Scotland and have visited many of these during Garry’s workshops.
Such a separation from my “normal existence” at home encourages creative compositional thoughts and gives me an emotional connection with the countryside through my camera.
The downside is that I usually only manage to get the creative juices really flowing just before it’s time to return home. Plus the lengthy gaps in-between my trips means the process of “getting my eye in” takes just as long every time.
So I felt I needed an all-year project to get me out and about more often with my camera and to help speed up the process of tuning my eye in quicker.
Delamere Forest is a large area between the towns of Northwich and Frodsham in Cheshire. It is also only a ten-minute drive from my home in Sandiway.
The forest covers an area of approximately 10 square kilometres making it the largest area of woodland in Cheshire. Delamere, which means “forest of the lakes" is all that remains of the great Forests of Mara and Mondrem which covered over 160 square kilometres when they were established in the late 11th century as the hunting forests of the Norman Earls of Chester.
Order was maintained under forest law, which has limited the agricultural development of the area for centuries. In 1924 the woodland came under the responsibility of the Forestry Commission who are presently undertaking a long term project to restore the lost mosses and meres to create sustainable wetland areas to encourage diverse wildlife.
The area also includes Old Pale hill, the highest point of the Mid Cheshire Ridge, and Blakemere Moss, a lake around 1 kilometre in length, which was drained by Napoleonic War prisoners in 1815. Black Lake and Linmer Moss are rare examples of quaking bog or schwingmoor, and have been designated Sites of Special Scientific Interest.
Trees in Delamere include silver birch, beeches and various forms of evergreen. There are also several old wetland areas with a “prehistoric” atmosphere where ancient trees exist with strangely shaped fungi growing on them.
So far during the project I have taken photos in every season and all weather conditions. I’ve found the summer months difficult and get the most enjoyment from autumn and winter when the weather produces more atmosphere.
Unsurprisingly I am not the only photographer working in the forest. Colin Bell, Alan Novelli, Matt Lethbridge and Steve O’Nions are amongst others to have taken excellent photographs there and Colin’s picture of Dead Lake in Autumn, featured in LPOTY (Vol 11 p95 ) is superb.
I use NIKON D800E and D850 full frame cameras along with a D5500 cropped frame. As the forest is marshy with large amounts of sphagnum marshland, I use a NIKKOR 28-300mm long-range zoom lens to ensure I can safely keep out of the wettest areas, especially as I am often alone in the forest at very early hours of the day.
It’s important to me to represent the enclosed and dark feel of the forest, hence I avoid any sky in my pictures. Post processing is kept to a few minutes per picture using Aperture and Lightroom software.
Throughout the first year I have been cropping to a vertical 7 by 5 aspect ratio, but will be exploring other aspect ratios more in the future. The photographs look best when printed, preferably in large sizes. I like the matt surface finish of fine art papers and use Fuji PhotoRag at a picture size of 20 by 15 inches.
To maintain the feeling of being in the forest I avoid a glass frame on my prints as I feel this creates a visual barrier and have developed a method of creating a “3D effect frame” applied directly into the print itself using the BorderFx plug-in software. The print is then backed with 5 mm foam giving a stiff and lightweight solution for direct wall mounting. I use Glasgow-based Loxley to produce the prints.
So what of the results? Well, I certainly got out a lot more with the camera. I made 85 visits to the forest, walking 266 kilometres and spending 164 hours producing 40 photographs worthy of keeping. This equates to an average of four hours in the forest per picture! So maybe the phrase “shoot less and achieve more” is right?
I’ve really enjoyed having the project to work on and I’ll judge how quickly I “get my eye in” when I’m next out with Garry which will be when we meet up in Sutherland in April.