Adam Burton Photography

Watersmeet, Exmoor

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Lying literally around the corner from the North Devon coastline, Watersmeet is one of Exmoor National Park’s most well known beauty spots.  And for good reason; the two rocky rivers that pass through this steep sided wooded valley are accompanied by a whole network of footpaths, perfect for sunny weekend strolls. 

The East Lyn River joins with Hoar Oak Water at the aptly named Watersmeet, and all walking trails seem to come together at this point, beside a 19th Century former Fishing Lodge, now a National Trust teashop and information centre (Watersmeet House).

I had visited Watersmeet on a couple of occasions before this trip, and learned a couple of fundamental considerations to make when shooting this beautiful location to its best potential.  Firstly, to show off the thick wooded slopes to best effect I needed to return in the Spring, when the new foliage would be fresh and verdant.  My second consideration was to avoid bright sunlight which would create unsavoury contrast on the tree leaves and water. Therefore I needed either an overcast day or an early morning/late evening trip. So, I arrived early one May morning and descended one of the footpaths to arrive on the banks of the East Lyn River. 

Usually when looking for photographic subjects I purposefully stay away from buildings as much as possible, but the old fishing lodge at Watersmeet was to be an exception.  Its secluded location, hidden away at the base of the wooded valley gives it a mysterious and enchanted feel, almost like a home of some forest dwelling character from Middle Earth.  Having said that, nothing can destroy an atmospheric image of secrecy and solitude more than the presence of people.  And unless you time your trip well, the garden next to the lodge will be bustling with ramblers, families, cream teas, and dogs.  Luckily for me it was still too early for any such activity; in fact not another soul wandered any of the footpaths the entire time I was there.  Just the way I like it!

After moving down to the water’s edge I attached my Canon 1DSMk3 to my tripod, and fitted a polarising filter to the lens.  Although the early morning sun was not yet high enough to penetrate the valley with bright sunshine, there would still be light reflecting on both the water’s surface and the leaves of the trees.  A carefully rotated polariser would not only reduce any reflections, but in doing so would additionally increase the saturation throughout the image.

I zoomed in to around 50mm on my 24-70mm lens, purposefully cropping tight to exclude any bright sky from the image, which would destroy the impression of being hidden away in a secret woodland.  The long’ish exposure of 1.5 seconds gave a somewhat smooth feel to the running water which contrasts well against the hard moss covered boulders in the stream.  I would have preferred an even longer exposure, but light levels wouldn’t allow anything slower without setting a smaller aperture.  I tend to keep my aperture no smaller than F16, as any less and diffraction will make the resulting image noticeably softer.

After capturing the main image, I moved along the river bank, looking for interesting foreground to provide a variation on this woodland shot.  Feeling satisfied that I had captured the old fishing lodge successfully in its surroundings I packed up and explored the area some more.  Luckily, with footpaths either side of both rivers and a series of connecting bridges, Watersmeet provides ideal access for photographers searching out alternative viewpoints.  There are several large waterfalls on Hoar Oak Water which are easily reached, or alternatively a stroll further up the East Lyn River provides many moss covered boulders dotted throughout the stream.  


Nice shot Adam. Just been there myself. I chose to visit late afternoon to avoid the people too…

by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) on 02nd July 2011

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