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The Best Time To Be Outside

Our guest blog this month comes from Mick Ryan, a director of the photo-location guidebook company fotoVUE, alongside Stuart Holmes. They publish guidebooks that show you the best places to take photographs in the most beautiful places on Earth. They currently have four books published, with another 20 in preparation. www.fotovue.com

A few weeks ago I was parking at a lay-by on the Snake Pass road in the Peak District. It was around 4pm and my plan was to take advantage of the changing weather – a mix of clouds, rain and sunny spells, with hopefully some rainbows – and take photographs on the way up Blackden Clough, a steep ravine that leads to the Kinder Plateau, and then head over to the 60ft waterfall of the Kinder Downfall for sunset photography.

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A stormy late-afternoon above the villages of Eyam and Stoney Middleton, Peak District. 2016.

After a day on the hill a group of walkers arrived at their cars and greeted me with, “You’re setting off late? You’ve missed the best part of the day.”

When many people are walking off the hill, I’m heading up; when most people are hiking up, I am skipping down. After being obsessed with rock climbing for most of my life, I’m now addicted to landscape photography – just another excuse to be outside. The best times for landscape photography, and I would argue, going out for a country walk or a stomp up a hill, is at dawn and around sunset, and when the weather is changeable. These times are when you get the best light, not just for photography but for enjoying the land at its most splendid.

Watching the sky and clouds turn red and orange as the glowing sun creeps up to the horizon and then watching it bathe the slopes of hill and the crags in golden light feels like a religious experience. It’s even better if there is a morning temperature inversion, when cold air near the ground is trapped by warm air above. If this occurs in a valley you look down on layers of mist swirling around just above the valley floor. When the clouds are rushing in from the west and squalls of rain drench you, crepuscular rays light up patches of the land and rainbows are common, you may get wet, but by jolly it’s worth being out there.

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Looking toward Manchester from the top of the Kinder Downfall, Peak District. 2016.

It’s hard to think of words to describe how you feel when conditions are good: celestial, spiritual, uplifting, awe-inspiring, energised, other-wordly – although it’s not, it is of this world, but one that most don’t experience. It gives you a new perspective to see such beauty, it becomes addictive and though it may be hard to believe, the early starts become pleasurable, the walk downs in the dark mesmerising.

Summer is the most brutal time with the sun rising just after 4am and setting close to 10am. My strategy is either to camp at the trailhead and get an early start or wild camp up high. Wild camping or bivouacking has the advantage that you can catch both sunset and sunrise from up high. After a siesta set off late afternoon, pitch camp and witness the sunset, then up early for sunrise. Even when at home working I now rise before the dawn and head out, then back for breakfast and work; the evening sees me head out a few hours before sunset to catch the best of the day.

Good conditions are not always guaranteed at daybreak and the day’s end. You find yourself becoming a weather geek constantly checking the Met Office and BBC weather websites, monitoring where the sun is rising and setting on the compass at suncalc.org, and studying maps for the best places to be.

The hours may be unsociable to many, but once you take the plunge, there is no turning back. I highly recommend, at least now and again, getting out before sunrise and a few hours before dark to watch the sun set or when the forecast is for sunny spells with scattered showers. You’ll see the world in a new light.

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January snow and sunset at the Wool Packs, Kinder, Peak District. Winter sunrises and sunsets are more sociable than summer. 2016.

Some tips
What camera?
The sensors on modern compact cameras can get results as good as larger and more expensive DSLRs and are light to carry.

If you want to get serious recommended are a Panasonic Lumix LX100 or a Sony RX100, both compact robust cameras with a wide-angle zoom lens or my choice at the moment the mirrorless Sony A6000 with interchangeable lenses. For low light photography a tripod is a good idea, although don’t be scared to use a high ISO and hand-hold your camera. Some use filters, I usually don’t, finding that modern cameras can cope with a wide dynamic range of light. Shoot in RAW rather than jpg and post-process in Adobe Lightroom.

Check List

  • Check sunset and sunrise times and get into position 3 hours before sunset and an hour before sunrise.
  • Become a habitual user of suncalc.org, metoffice.gov.uk and bbc.co.uk/weather and their mobile apps.
  • Wrap up well, it’s colder at either end of the day.
  • Take a head torch, spare batteries for both your torch and camera, lens cleaning cloths and spare memory cards.
  • A hot drink, and ham and cheese sandwiches are essential to pack.

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The Benefits of Using Nikwax Polar Proof

When it comes to looking after my kit, I always treat clothing as I would my photography gear; to keep items in prime condition, it’s essential to use recommended cleaning products and follow suggested guidelines. By doing this, I can be sure that they’ll last longer and perform better, even with regular (dare I say, unforgiving) use. 

When it comes to caring for fleeces, it’s a two-part process that I use. First, I clean them using Tech Wash, following Nikwax’s recommendations alongside those outlined on the fleeces’ care labels. You might ask why I don’t simply use regular detergent; well, the quick answer is that with this approach, I know the garments will have the best head start when treating them with Polar Proof.

Polar Proof washing machine

It’s true what they say – Tech Wash really does revitalise garments, and I’m sure this is also part of the reason why they feel so much softer when pulled out of the washing machine after applying Polar Proof. For example, when I’ve compared like-for-like with an untreated fleece, it is noticeable just how much physically ‘flatter’ the untreated one is. Thanks to Nikwax, the fabric is given renewed volume; this equates to improved insulating and breathability qualities. With more air trapped between their fibres, my fleeces feel great when worn next to the skin as base layers.

In terms of how much solution I use, I’ve always followed the recommendation of 1 full cap (50ml) of Polar Proof for 1 item and 2 full caps (100ml) for 2-3 items. The temptation is to think that maybe this isn’t going to be enough, but actually it is plenty. In all the years I’ve used the solution, I’ve never known it to leave any form of residue or fail to deliver on its promise. 

Polar Proof drying naturally

My preference is always to allow garments to dry naturally outdoors. Yes, tumble drying them works very well, too, but why not take the most environmentally-sympathetic route where possible? Besides, on a fine day, they’ll dry in no time at all!

So, what about water repellency?

In my experience, the beauty of wearing a Polar Proof-treated fleece is two-fold. When I’m dashing around, I can be sure that perspiration won’t be unnecessarily absorbed directly into the garment, which would otherwise make me cold and uncomfortable when I finally stop. With added water repellency, the time I can take going about my business in the rain without having to grab a waterproof jacket is considerably extended, too. Oh, and I also get to feel just a little bit smug as I watch the water beading off whilst colleagues suffer in their sponge-like garments!

polar proof nikwax beading

Don’t get me wrong, my treated fleeces are never going to do the same job as a full-on Gore-Tex shell, but they certainly do a fine job of keeping drizzle and sudden downpours at bay until I have the opportunity to reach into my bag for complete wet-weather protection.

 

Giles Babbidge is a commercial and editorial photographer & writer specialising in the outdoor markets. You can find out more about what he does over at his website – www.gilesbabbidge.co.uk – or catch up with him on Twitter – @gilesbabbidge.