Sunrise on Mam Tor

Peak District-4.jpg

Sometimes you get great conditions, sometimes you get incredible conditions. My trip to the Peak District National Park provided me with the latter. I didn't know it beforehand, but I was to be treated to something more than I had bargained for.

September is a great month for many reasons, but specifically because it is the month that contains both mine and my wife's birthdays. As such we had decided to treat ourselves to a few nights in a cottage in Hayfields, just outside the Peak District National Park.

It was a family holiday but it had been pre-agreed that I could go out and indulge in a little landscape photography which I had planned with gusto. Studying the OS Explorer maps of the region I couldn't initially settle on a location, or locations, that would suffice, and so I did a little more research on popular photography locations, and Mam Tor and the Great Ridge stood out.

The Great Ridge tapers off to the east finishing with Lose Hill, which meant that it would make a perfect spot for sunrise. Now, I'm all for beautiful morning light, but I sometimes feel that sunrise shots are too heavily done, and can sometimes look a bit generic no matter what the landscape laid out beneath it is. I also find exposing them tricky, even with filters and bracketing, and so I usually opt for capturing the morning light being cast on my subject rather than shooting directly into the sun.

Because of this I thought I would experiment a little with a range of lights on the same image, so that if I failed to expose the sunrise properly I could at least come away with something. Therefore I decided that to start with I would aim to capture a blue hour image. Then this got me thinking that I could produce a YouTube video for my channel that would follow me on this little experiment, as what I tend to like including on these videos are experiments and times when I am practicing something new as I figure that my subscribers can benefit from seeing the results too.

So my planning continued, and I roughly storyboarded the video, and at 5am I set off on the short drive to Mam Tor.

I had no idea how long it would take me reach my intended location (a small gate that opens out onto the Great Ridge that has probably been photographed more times than the queen!), so I had set off earlier than I had really needed to, and also marched up the path to make sure I had enough time to find the exact spot. I made it with plenty of time, as the path to the top of Mam Tor is pretty short, albeit a little steep. This early and enthusiastic start meant that I was to be the first of many photographers arriving at the scene, which in turn meant that I managed to bag a spot that many others were perhaps hoping for.

Blue Hour

Blue Hour

So I took my time composing my image and then had to slightly recompose when another photographer appeared further along the ridge directly in my view... and I realise I'm not really sure what Landscape photography etiquette is, or if it even exists?! Fortunately it's easy enough to exclude the photographer behind the fence with a very small adjustment. Checking the time, and seeing that blue hour will end in 10 minutes I released the shutter.

There is a period of about 10 minutes, according to the app on my phone, where blue hour ends and the sun rises, so after the blue ended, I poured some coffee and just watched the scene in front of me waiting for the sun to come up. It's an incredible sight. There is a magnificent temperature inversion resulting in the Eden and Hope valleys being filled with dense cloud. As the temperature slowly climbed up the scale it was forcing the clouds up and over the ridge in a hypnotic wave, it really was one of mother natures spectacular treats, and I felt quite humbled to be one of the few people witnessing this very moment. It was beautiful.



The sun began to peek over the horizon, and I adjusted the exposure to compensate for the change in dynamic range. The fiery warm orange light cast on the ground at my feet was so pleasing, and I fired off a few shots to get a different arrangements of the veil of cloud on the ridge.

My final image was going to be within golden hour after the sun had risen higher in the sky, but before that happened, I couldn't resist breaking my plan and capturing some other longer compositions of the ridge and a lone tree silhouetted by the light and the cloud, and I am glad that did...

The Great Ridge

The Great Ridge

Golden Hour

Golden Hour

The light really had changed significantly, and now the light was certainly more golden, so I reframed back to my original composition and captured my final image.

I set off back down the hill and marvelled at the landscape ahead of me as I toyed with the idea of staying out taking photos all day...

Since posting some of the images on Instagram, and the video on YouTube, I have been asked if it had taken several attempts to get the right conditions, the truthful answer is 'no', I had been on the receiving end of some good fortune and and a catalog of coincidences which you could call fateful. We'd decided to holiday to the Peak District for the first time in the month where the days are still warm, and evenings are cool, the rain had stopped the day before opening up to clear weather, I'd chosen Mam Tor rather than the closer Kinder Scout, and not knowing how long it would take me to reach the location I had left extra early and was first to the location where I captured my images.

What kind of light do you favour for a morning shoot?


The YouTube video where I capture these images is below - give it a watch and considering subscribing to my channel to see more of my adventures.

I visit Mam Tor before the sun rise and capture three variations of a classic view on one of the best mornings I have ever experienced! There are of course many elements of photography, composition, depth of field, focal point, to name but a few...