Getting to Know Colmer's Hill

Third Time Lucky?

On paper Colmer's Hill is a relatively straightforward location to shoot.  Its conical shape makes it stand out from the rest of the landscape luring the photographer into some obvious but pleasing compositions.  However, as I've just learnt the most obvious composition isn't always the best.

My most recent visit to Colmer's Hill is my third this year. The previous two visits had largely been unsuccessful but I was putting both those visits down as exploratory shoots while I looked for the optimal position.  On my third visit, I decided that I would opt to shoot the hill from a less elevated viewpoint so that the top of the hill would be above the horizon. On my previous visits, I had adopted a position on top of the hill opposite Colmer's Hill. This drops the top of the hill below the horizon which, based on the images I've seen, work best when mist surrounds the hill leaving just the peak visible, similar to this image I took on my first visit in January of 2017.

The weather forecast for my most recent visit wasn't for any mist but it did show signs that the high-level cloud could be well illuminated by the rising sun. These predicted conditions together with the plan but of shooting from a lower elevation I thought would provide me with the best chance of getting a good photo.  With my plan decided I set the alarm for 04:30!

On my arrival at Quarr Lane at 05:45 the conditions were already looking promising so I quickly headed to my chosen spot. Sure enough, the top of Colmer's Hill was placed nicely above the horizon and I was sure I know had the best spot.  So I started to set up my camera and waited for the cloud and light show to start.  And start it did. Just not where I wanted it to be. Sure there was sufficient cloud above the top of the hill but the real action was happening just 45 degrees to my right. 

Not Quite the Right Spot 

The most glorious show of pink clouds was happening just above the spot where the rising sun was. As a personal preference, I don't shoot straight into the sun so I had positioned myself so that it would be excluded from the frame. It seemed like a good plan at the time, after all, the good colour in the sky is not often limited to a single spot.   However if I had selected a more northerly position, so the sun was rising directly behind the hill, I would have been able to include the dramatic clouds in my composition.

However, landscape photography is a combination of luck, planning and experience. I had done my planning and luck I can't really control but having little more experience at the location may have allowed me to assess the conditions more effectively and possibly change the spot I was shooting from.  It would have been a bit of a walk and might have needed a brisk run but it probably would have been worth it.

However the morning wasn't wasted as I still got out with the camera, enjoyed a lovely sunrise and managed to get this pleasing image.

Nikon D750, Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8 @ 70mm, f/11, 1/13 sec, ISO 100, Lee Filters ND 0.9 soft grad.

Understanding Your Location

So what did I learn from this trip out with the camera?  Well, despite the experience of my previous two visits, and planning for the third, I found that I still had plenty to learn about shooting Colmer's Hill.  As I described in my previous blog article, Perseverance - Photographing Bowerman's Nose, it can take many, many trips to a location before you really get to know it and get an image that is worthy of the location.  In some cases, you might never really know a location and it will continue to throw you a surprise or two.  To be honest, that's probably a good thing though.  

Even though I've been there three times I will certainly be going back again.  Each time I go though I will understand the location a bit better and I will be able to make the necessary adjustments to increase the likely hood of success.

My Top 3 Tips for Colmer's Hill

So if you fancy a trip to Colmer's Hill, and why wouldn't you, here are my three top tips:

  1. Take a long lens.  You'll want something in the range of 24-70mm, but if you have it take a 70-200mm (or something can reach past 100mm).
  2. Explore.  You can shoot Colmer's Hill from a number of spots, covering a range of elevations and distance.  You might need to go a few times to understand which spots work best and when.
  3. Check Weather and Direction of Light. Colmer's Hill is both a sunrise and sunset location, and it works in a variety of weathers.  Choose your spot(s) based on the conditions, but be prepared to change them.  

If you'd like to see more of Colmer's Hill why not check out my 5 Minute Photo Adventure video that I shot while I was there.  You can see how I created the images above and give you an idea of what it's like to shoot there.

So have you shot Colmer's Hill before?  Do you have a favourite spot to shoot it from?  Do you have a favourite location that you've visited many times but you still feel you are getting to know it?  Let me know in the comments below.