22 August 2012

Landscape Photography at Malham Cove

I love photographing wildlife. But I also enjoy my landscapes too... and it's actually been fairly lucrative in terms of image sales. Malham Cove is undeniably one of my favourite places in the Yorkshire Dales, but it's anything but easy to photograph well. Here is a diary from a day spent at Malham Cove a couple of weeks ago...

"This weather is just stunning. A few clouds around but that's o.k.; I'm confident it's going to stay clear enough with plenty of blue skies. It was 50/50 whether to trust the forecast today, but I'm glad I did. Perfect weather! Only thing is, it's crawling with people - they're absolutely everywhere..! Guess I can't expect much else - it is a Sunday in July after all... The base of the cove is so difficult to photograph well. I've taken countless pictures here, and seen some absolute crackers too. But I know that I never quite do it justice, so today I'm taking my time; I'm here with plenty of it before the light starts to soften, so let's get scouting...
I stop at each vantage point, checking the compositions, assessing the light; thinking who will buy these images. Must remember to really nail a Dalesman front cover one... oh, and try to use that stream as a really strong foreground. I carry on towards the base of the cliff. I 've now selected about three main spots from which to shoot from. There's still loads of people about. Oh, god.. maybe they're just never going to leave.! Not to worry - I can still hide them to some extent... and then maybe clone a few out if I have to..?? The light starts to drop and I begin taking pictures. I know it's not perfect light yet, but if it does cloud over more later then at least I'll have something in the bag. It's a form of safety net really. I've arrived with around four hours of shooting time; it seems a lot, but it's amazing how much time you need when the extra elements of people and changable weather are factored in. With these extra difficulties - double, or even triple the time you think you will need!

I'm finding some nice shots - they look like decent compositions - but still, I'm just not completely happy. Once again I feel there's something missing - and  I don't quite know what. I think it's just that this place is a really tough one, where everything needs to be perfect. I carry on, knowing that I'm doing the best I can and hope that instinct tells me where to make those little tweeks. The light is quite good - I'm getting cracking blue skies above the cove, but the moving cloud is also changing the light and casting variable degrees of shadow. I experiment with this... firing the shutter as the sun disappears and reappears again. I'm really pleased with the results..!

I'm now into the golden period of light, and I'm re-visiting the compositions I did earlier. Nothing wrong with that; I've been guilty in the past of not paying enough attention to detail at this location, so it's definitely worth it. I'm taking great care over the exposure, and my focusing point too... must get as much as I can from this camera and lens. The people are actually beginning to drift off - finally!! It's great to have this place to yourself. There's a few couples around and a family, but not enough to cause me problems. I'm now shooting in wonderful light - beautiful clarity, and blue skies too. Just stunning!

As the sun begins to drop below the hillside, the cove gradually becomes shadow. This is great - I love shooting in this type of 'half and half' light. I carry on shooting with a polariser as normal, then, as the shadow increases, I add a graduated ND filter to even up the contrast. I notice a shot I've never really seen before, a little up the hill. How have I not spotted this before..?? From this spot I can use some rocks in the foreground - and the overall effect is great - a classic image of Malham Cove. The light continues to drop and I realise I'm not going to improve on anything now. Back to the car to gulp down a sandwich and then it's off to the top of the cove for sunset.
I arrive on top of the cove at about 8.30pm, looking at the wonderful view of the valley below. I can't believe it - there's actually someone else up here too! Must be as crazy as me I reckon. We acknowledge each other but never really speak, content to create our own images as the sun sets. By 9pm, the sky is now a classic twilight hue, with lovely pinks above the limestone pavement. I take a few shots, moaning once again that something's just not right...

The pics look o.k. but nothing special. It starts to get darker. It's time to go home. I return to the car at 9.30pm, knowing that the 10.30 ETA I've given my girlfriend is not really going to be true."

It was an exhausting but enjoyable day and at least I felt I'd done the best I could on this session. But, anyone who tells you Malham Cove is easy to photograph, is lying... or just not doing it that well.!!


  1. Hmm, the quest for perfection... Is a photograph less appealing if it is not "perfect"? What about the pure fun of shooting, when the outcome of the technical side of things is not hampering us...
    I wonder if your quest for the perfect shot and the results make a difference as in you are selling and I am not selling... ;o)))
    well, I am selling but not as much as I would want to... But then I am mostly shooting for my pleasure... being happy when something comes out better then I had anticipated. Which happens now and then...
    I like this blog piece! Well done. Nice to hear how a true photographer plans the day and composition and all other little bits.

    1. Thank you for some thoughtful comments Catherine. I agree, photography should ideally be something where we are free to create and that's what it is ultimately about. For me, I think it is sometimes true that the quest for saleable pictures does take away from the enjoyment of creating images. That said, the challenge of producing an image for the market is enjoyable, but in a slightly different way. This is sometimes the case for landscape shooting, but as for wildlife.. that's pretty much always great fun.!!

  2. Thanks to all those people who emailed me with feedback on this post. I value it all.

    For me, this type of writing is something I enjoy, so I will probably do it now and again. The main thing I want to do more is to give tips and advice on nature photography - both in specific techniques and wildlife knowledge.