Adam Burton Photography

Porlock Common, Exmoor

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Porlock Common is a beautiful location in Exmoor National Park where the open moorland stretches almost to the clifftops.  It’s elevated coastal position provides far reaching views over the Bristol Channel towards the south coast of Wales.  For this visit, no such visibility was available, but luckily there is plenty more on offer at this location than distant viewpoints.

I made the trip right at the beginning of 2009 during a particularly cold snap.  I drove up onto Exmoor for dawn in pursuit of frosted countryside scenes.  Unfortunately there was no frost to be found, and not a lot of good light either.  After what seemed to be an aimless drive around I arrived at Porlock Common and was suddenly presented with a scene of complete whiteness.  Not the frost I was seeking, but something better – snow! 

For us down in the south snow is quite a rare treat (especially before last February!) and you need to make the most of it as it melts all too quickly.  It was good fortune that this snow had fallen on Porlock Common, an area of which I was quite familiar.  After parking my car, I headed directly for an area which offered gnarled hawthorn trees (or blackthorn trees – I can never tell the difference!).  As a bonus a sloping area of boggy marsh had frozen over completely leaving a silvery carpet of ice stretching down the hill.

I decided to feature the ice as a primary element in my composition but had one big challenge.  Being on a hillside the ice was not only slippery but sloping, making it virtually impossible to stand upon without losing my footing and sliding unceremoniously down the hillside!

After several minutes of carefully manoeuvring myself I found a composition which enabled me to include not only an icy foreground (admittedly from standing on the edge!) but also a shapely hawthorn tree as the main focal point.  I found a solid footing for the tripod and attached my camera and wide angle lens. 

There was to be no shafts of golden light on this day; as the snow had only recently fallen the sky was a blanket of dark grey, but this seemed to fit in perfectly with the snowy and icy landscape.  The flat light would also make it much easier to expose for, reducing the contrast between the sky and land to a level easily captured with the use of a 0.3 graduated ND filter.

Knowing that snow can be problematic to expose accurately, I took a test shot and reviewed the image on the camera’s LCD display.  The instant feedback of digital can be extremely helpful in such circumstances to enable you to check your exposure.  As expected the image was slightly underexposed so I adjusted my shutter speed accordingly and re-shot the frame.

Happy with the results I moved around the area looking for more opportunities to photograph the snowy moorland.  The white blanket of unexpected snow had completely transformed the entire area into a photographer’s playground, but surprisingly this had the adverse affect of making it difficult to know where to shoot.

Soon it began to snow again so I retreated back to my car to take solace from the freezing temperatures for a few minutes.  I drove a little further along the common, stopping occasionally to photograph more of the white landscape.  But with the snow now falling heavier I decided to pack up and head for home and warm radiators!  

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