Falling Rain at Falling Foss, an RPS Landscape Group Workshop with Mark Banks by Ken Bladen
John Updike wrote the following “Rain is grace; rain is the sky descending to the earth; without rain there would be no life”. Well, on a workshop led by Mark Banks at Falling Foss in the North York Moors National Park on Saturday 30th October, we were graced with rain for most of the morning and the early part of the afternoon. The autumn colours would have been a joy to behold anyway but the rain brought them to life in spectacular fashion. After brief introductions and a chance to express what we were hoping to learn from the day we went to the viewpoint overlooking the waterfall. Nature had obliged, according to Mark, by providing just the right quantity of water descending to Little Beck below to produce the best images. Goldilocks would have approved. By the simple but very effective expediency of holding his camera up so we could all see the LCD screen we were shown how to consider the scene as a cast of characters that had a part to play in the final composition. We were encouraged to avoid the “so what” image where the waterfall is the sole character and seek to include supporting characters.
By slowing down and following the prescribed routine, the last and equally important stage of which was to check the lens and, as frequently necessary, wipe off the raindrops, I began to really appreciate the merits of this thought process and methodology.
As we walked back up to the cars to retrieve what we had brought for lunch the, by now, heavy rain made the most of the opportunity to catch us away from the shelter of the trees. After lunch, determined but still moist, we ventured into the woodland area adjacent to the waterfall. Here our characters were the trees and we were looking for the interaction between them whilst trying to generate a feeling of depth to the image. To do this required control of the aperture to render the background slightly soft (with apologies to club competition judges who prefer everything to be pin or even tack sharp. Which is the sharpest of those two?) and deployment of accurate focussing on the relevant foreground character. Timely help was always at hand from Mark along with explanations and encouragement. At this point things began to click, apart from just the shutter, and I could pick out the characters and refine the composition to produce images I felt to be worthy of this fantastic woodland scene.
On the way to the final location, only a short distance away, we crossed the packhorse bridge and beheld the golden light reflected off the water leading towards Midge Hall (midge free I am pleased to report). By the way the café does the best bacon buns in North Yorkshire. A frantic scrabbling for kit and jockeying for position ensued as we sought to make the most of nature’s reward for our perseverance in the preceding rain. My Olympus OM-D E-M1 Mark 3 has built in ND filter simulation so I was able to smooth the surface of the water and shallow rapids in the foreground.
For the final session we were shown how to take high key woodland images in black and white. Setting the LCD screen to display in black and white and in a chosen aspect ratio was key in being able to get it right in camera. Here, as before when shooting in colour, it was still important to wrest control of white balance from the camera and choose whichever maximised the opportunity to get the desired effect there and then. This is so much better than having to rely on post processing and being able to remember what it felt like to be there. Either shooting in manual or using positive exposure compensation, depending on personal preference, allowed control over the extent of the high key effect. To me this was a revelation as I have never considered doing it but found it to be very satisfying and intriguing. It definitely separated the wood from the trees for me which was exactly the outcome I was trying to achieve from the day.
What a great day of photography, I was going to say, despite the weather, but I must acknowledge the contribution the rain made in enhancing those already glorious autumn colours. I learnt such a lot in a short space of time thanks to Mark’s expert guidance and encouragement. I will be back in those woods very soon come rain or shine, with a just discovered preference for rain, to practice my new found skills.
All images © Ken Bladen