Adam Burton Photography

Fernworthy Reservoir, Dartmoor

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As much as I enjoy photographing wintry weather, it's the getting to the location that I struggle with.  Surrounded by hilly country lanes, my home in rural mid Devon can be extremely challenging to venture far from on a snowy winters day. 

A couple of winters back, with the South West held in the grip of icy and snowy conditions a friend suggested we venture to Dartmoor for sunrise.  My initial hesitations about driving along snow covered roads were beaten down by a desire to photograph Dartmoor layered with snow.  So, well before dawn on a freezing February morning we found ourselves driving along snowy Dartmoor lanes, heading for a sunrise shoot on Fernworthy Reservoir.

As my car climbed ever higher up onto the moor, our first challenge presented itself.  The small lane approaching Fernworthy had clearly not seen any traffic on this day, and appeared as an unbroken white runway, heading straight up a hill.  I slowed, thinking about turning round and heading back but my friend was not entertaining any thoughts of retreat.  He encouraged me to accelerate up the hill, and with the reservoir tantalisingly close I decided to go for it.

I pushed on up the hill, the car slowing as the gradient increased.  We were so close to the top when my car decided enough was enough, its wheels spinning, and then it started to slide backwards.  I scowled at my friend, our relationship now at crisis point.  Back down the hill we went, sliding most of the way. Two attempts later, the car mustered its last reserves of strength and we just about conquered the hill.  Unfortunately the pink sky above offered a cruel reminder of the sunrise this delay had caused us to miss, but at least we were nearing our destination and the conditions still looked very promising for photography. 

Soon afterwards we reached Fernworthy Reservoir car park, lying somewhere beneath thick unbroken snow.  Deciding against making matters worse, I parked on the road and we set off on foot for the lake side, now fully focused on capturing some atmospheric wintry Dartmoor photographs.

With footpaths pretty much all around the shore, Fernworthy provides many opportunities to get close to the water.  Starting on the south shore, we walked around the lake until we reached a small inlet on the northern edge.  The sheltered water here was mostly frozen, and was partially covered with beautiful white snow in great splodgy shapes. These snowy shapes, together with the icy surface grabbed my attention immediately so I began scouring the shore looking for something to use as foreground.  No obvious foreground rocks presented themselves, but I soon spotted some beautiful snow covered trees, partially submerged and frozen in ice.

I quickly set up my gear, and after some fiddling around with tripod height, position and focal length I soon found a composition that appealed to me.  The only downside was that I was looking directly into the sun, something I try to avoid as much as possible, certainly when the sun is this far above the horizon.  Luckily, the sun's intensity was diminished behind clouds, which with the help of a Lee 0.9 ND Graduated filter would mean I could shoot directly into the scene without too much over exposure. 

I fired off several exposures in both landscape and portrait orientation.  But with the sun rising higher I knew our options were running out; the clouds were thinning and the temperature slowly rising meant that the snowy blobs on the water's surface were reducing in size before our eyes.  Fortunately by now I had captured several images so feeling satisfied we headed off into the snowy pine woods that border the reservoir to photograph something different.

Later, as we headed back to the car my thoughts returned to a worrying drive home down snowy lanes.  There is no better feeling than returning home with a memory card loaded with atmospheric landscapes, but I felt sure that this feeling would be tempered somewhat if I skidded into a hedge!  Luckily, the drive went without mishap and I arrived home with some special Dartmoor pictures to savour.

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