Adam Burton Photography

Blea Tarn, Lake District

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The time is 0745. After a week in the Lake District I've arrived on the shores of Blea Tarn just as deep red sunlight illuminates the mountains.  As a landscape photographer I know I should have been here, camera set up on tripod half an hour ago, waiting for this moment.  And I had very good intentions, but with beautiful mist hanging over Little Langdale I couldn't resist a small detour on the way up.

Luckily for me it paid off; with a cloudless sky there wouldn't have been much benefit being here any earlier.   Unfortunately, that didn't stop the photographer wandering towards me from boasting that it was beautiful at 0615.  Thanks for that, beautiful and dark I would imagine!  As he walked back to the car park I was left wondering why it is that photographers often feel the need to be competitive; if they aren't boasting about the size of their lenses, then they are saying how you should have been here last night / week / year / whatever as the conditions were much better then.

Blea Tarn is one of those locations where you will meet other photographers, and for good reason.  It is an absolutely iconic location, one of THE places to visit on any Lake District trip.  There are a hat full of vistas to shoot the lake from, both high and low, but the most popular view is always from the shore, looking towards the Langdale Pikes. 

On this still November morning, the classic view from the South side of the lake completely took my breath away.  The beautiful rich glow from the early morning light set fire to the mountain tops and reflected perfectly in the mirror like water.  Recognising this was a popular viewpoint I considered not photographing it for all of 1 second before rushing down to the water's edge, slipping up on the boggy ground twice in my eagerness to get to the shore.  There would be time later for less photographed compositions, but for now all the elements were exactly right for this viewpoint and I was hooked; there could be no walking away! 

As I set up my gear, I scanned the water's edge to identify the best place to shoot from.  There were plenty of small rocks poking above the surface of the water, offering good potential for foreground interest in a wide angle composition.  I soon noticed a collection of three prominent rocks, surrounded by a scattering of smaller stones and decided they would work well.  I set up my tripod at a low position and carefully composed my picture so that the rocks would not interfere with the mountain's reflections.

Once I was happy with the composition, I metered for the scene and decided that I would need to use two ND Grad filters.  The first, a 0.6 grad would cover the sky, and the second, a 0.3 grad would be pulled down further to cover both the sky and its reflection in the lake.   

Although the sky was much clearer than I usually hope for, I was really pleased with how it added to the tranquility of the scene by playing a background role and not competing for attention with the sunlit mountains.  Never-the-less, in the 3-2 standard picture ratio there was a little too much empty sky for my liking.  I tried zooming in a little, but I didn't like how the left hand side trees were chopped out of the frame.  Next I considered tilting the camera downwards to reduce the sky, but I knew that would place too much empty space at the bottom of the frame which would reduce the impact of the foreground rocks.  In the end, I decided the best option would be to crop the picture to a slightly more letterbox format in post production.  With this in mind, I captured several images at the shore before moving position.

As the sun rose higher, the deep glow on the mountains gradually faded, and the reflections disappeared in rippled water.  I felt fortunate to have witnessed the iconic Blea Tarn in moments of magic, now hidden until the next special morning.

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