Unexpected Creativity from a Dreary Dartmoor

A Quick Happy Birthday

Just before I tell you about my Dartmoor adventure, I just want to announce that this post comes on the day that this very blog celebrates its 2nd birthday!  Two years ago today I decided to start documenting my photographic adventures.

As with any creative process, the writing has sometimes been easy and sometimes it's been hard.   However, most of all it has been fun and its really helped me with my photography.  I wrote a lot about the benefits last year when I wrote a post about the blog's first birthday.

Over the last 24 months, I've written a new blog post every week, and I see no reason why this won't continue into the future.  Thanks to all the support and comments I get from everyone on this blog, and other social media channels, I feel inspired and motivated to keep this blog going.  So thanks to everyone who has and continues to show support of my work.  It is very much appreciated.

And now….

Landscape Photography is Hard

I love landscape photography.  I have a real passion for it and there are few things as good as heading out into the wilderness with the camera to capture some landscape photographs.  Sometimes the process of capturing those photographs is hard.  The weather can be challenging or you can simply lack the imagination or creative energy to produce a good photograph.

For me, there is an additional factor that makes landscape photography hard, and that is time.  I think most photographers, pro or amateur, suffer at the hands of the old enemy of time.   The amount of time I can commit to my art is limited and more often than not I have to go out when the conditions aren't ideal.

Devon's Dreary Dartmoor

My most recent to Dartmoor is a great example of when I decided to head out with the camera when really I should have stayed at home.  The weather forecast for most of the south-west was overcast and rain showers.  The trouble was that if I didn't out that evening, it was going to be several days before my next window of opportunity and I had a real need to scratch that creative itch.

I wanted to go and shoot somewhere on the Cornish coast but I saw little point in committing to 3 to 4 hours of driving with the predicted weather conditions.  I thought the best thing to do was to keep in local and head up to Dartmoor.  The weather forecast for Haytor was looking poor, but it did predict a small break in the clouds that might yield some nice results.  To be honest, I think I was being rather optimistic but I grabbed my camera and went out anyway.

Finding Something Out of Nothing

As I drove up the hill from Bovey Tracey to Haytor, things did not look great.  While the clouds were at least above the hills, it all looked rather uninspiring.  I decided to drive a little further on and park up for Emsworthy Tor. 

As I wasn't in a particular hurry I decided to make the walk to Emsworthy Tor at a slower pace.  As I walked I made sure I took the time to look for compositions.  Occasionally I would hold my eye up to the camera to see what an image would look like, but nothing seemed to capture my imagination.


When I reached Emsworthy Tor I just stood there and wondered why on earth I even bothered coming out.  Don't get me wrong.  I love Dartmoor.  It can look spectacular in many different ways, and it's rare that I can't find something to appreciate.  The view in front of me was indeed impressive but that doesn't mean it was going to translate into a good photograph.

It soon dawned on me that the viewpoint I wanted to photograph wasn't going to work in these conditions.  As I sat there looking at the great expanse that is Dartmoor, I thought about going home.  In the distance was a large dark cloud that was sure to bring a heavy shower.  Perhaps it was time for an early exit and a glass of wine.

Just as I was about to pack up and go I had a moment of inspiration.  As I looked east there was a small break in the cloud, and from the north was that stormy looking cloud.  I know from previous experience that approaching storm clouds can look dramatic when shot with a wide angle lens.  So I quickly got the camera out and shot this image:

Approaching Storm on Dartmoor, Devon - Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 at 16 mm, 0.5 seconds at ISO 64, f/11, Lee Filters ND Grad.

I had to work fast to get the image because the cloud was rolling in fast.  While the image would have greatly benefited from some scattered light on the distant tors, it does show Dartmoor as it was that evening, and perhaps reflects my mood a little.

I then wanted to fine tune my composition a little.  I like the rocky tors in the foreground of the first image, but I felt that they were a too close to the bottom of the frame.  I also felt that the clouds were a more important element of the photograph, so I decided to point the camera up more to give me this composition.

Storm Clouds over Dartmoor, Devon - Nikon D850, Nikkor 16-35 mm f/4 at 18 mm, 0.6 seconds at ISO 64, f/11, Lee Filters ND Grad.

I'm not sure which image I prefer.  The sky in the first image is more appealing as the dark cloud hasn't covered all of the skies yet, but I prefer the overall composition of the 2nd image.  To be honest, I'm just really happy to have captured anything.  I was sure I was going to go home empty-handed and a little unhappy (creatively speaking).  

It was a challenging evening but aside from the pleasing images, I can always take away two positives.  Firstly, it's always great to be outdoors.  Even if I took no photographs, spending the evening on beautiful Dartmoor is rarely a bad thing.  Secondly, it was good to be out with the camera.  That time out with the camera gave me more photographic experience and practice that I can put to good use when I really need it.  You can be in the most amazing location with the most amazing light, but if you don't how to use your camera properly or know how to read a scene, you might come away with nothing.

Have you ever been out with the camera on a seemingly pointless adventure?  Which of my two images did you prefer?  Let me know in the comments below.