Ten years ago winter excited me. If there was snow, and I was free, I’d get up to the Lake District. I remember the point when I felt it was almost worth looking forward to but in the context of the summer walking I loved, it was a feeling of consolation, not joy, as such. I like the first snows with blue skies, a few days of snowy walking and photography, but now not much more than that. It’s hard in winter – cold, effort, slippery, unpleasant roads. It also means I don’t wild camp. I sometimes valley camp and indeed, one of my best walks ever was while camped at Buttermere.
Buttermere is probably my favourite Lake District area with the fine ridge of Red Pike, High Stile and High Crag; Fleetwith Pike too and the beautiful lake. I think the two best lakeside walks are around Buttermere and along one side of Ullswater.
I did get photographs on my Buttermere walk but not as many or as effectively as I got at Maiden Moor two years ago. On that occasion I stayed at a guest house in Keswick. Keswick is the first Lake District village I got to know well dating back to my very first trip. Apart from two day trips (with parents and girlfriend respectively) and one day trip with my bicycle on a train from Lancaster, my walk up Catbells was my initiation. We stayed at a guest house in Braithwaite. It was my planning, and I’d reasoned the North Lakes would be better because (I’d read) they were quieter. And so it lasted for a few years, Keswick and Borrowdale my place of choice.
There were Arctic winds two years ago and a forecast of minus fifteen chill. My plan was I’d climb up Maiden Moor for photographs, walk around a little, then come down after two or three hours. As it happened it was cold, but not windy, which meant a much easier temperature of minus five. I walk warm which means for some of the time I wore only a base layer and at the top, I used only a jacket but not a mid layer fleece. A hat, as I recall; hats are very good for general body temperature and that’s all I needed. Gaiters too as I climbed the slopes from Borrowdale and snow reached above my knees.
It was a superb photographic day. The light was wintry clear as you don’t get in summer. The snow, deep and drifts of it, but more importantly covering the views. Hindscarth, Robinson, Dale Head and Causey Pike were particularly fine. There was some snow the other side of Derwent Water but not much, and that outlook was nowhere near as photogenic.
Winter and snow photography is not very different compared to other seasons if you are attuned to what you might call photographic vocabulary. That is, you understand shape, line, balance, skies and how much to include of them and so forth: but the vocabulary is reduced. Some colour but mostly white. Flat expanses of snow not rocks and grass. In terms of equipment, I recommend a polarising filter, lens hood to shield out ambient brightness, and be aware that batteries can be a problem. Their performance is reduced and they can fail in the cold. The solution is take several, which you should anyway, and keep them in pockets close to your body.
You may need a tripod but with very bright light it’s quite likely you won’t. With sunshine you might use ISO 100, maybe 200, with a shutter speed of perhaps 250 at f16 or f19. Don’t use the smallest aperture for your lens because it’s usually slightly degraded quality. If you habitually use graduated filters (and I do see this sometimes) consider not using them. On a sunny day the winter sky is often a spectacular blue and ‘enhancing’ it is questionable. You can, anyway, replicate filter effects in Photoshop and if your image is clean you can make that decision at home.
My day was quite long and I came back down at late dusk. Remember – you have to start earlier than usual (if you are like me) and be prepared for darkness with a head torch. As regards footwear, that’s personal and depends on the day but I recommend you try micro spikes if you haven’t already. You need crampons for technical walking but for easy slopes of snow and occasional ice spikes do the job, are lighter and easier to use, and fit lighter boots or trail shoes if that’s what you like. Hats are good, gloves, gaiters maybe, and be prepared for deteriorating conditions the consequences of which can be serious.
The galleries above are from my Buttermere walk, Maiden Moor walk, and another at Kentmere.