Book Review – Photographing the Lake district by Stuart Holmes

Reviewing 'Photographing the Lake District' by Stuart Holmes

If you were to go outside and shake the nearest tree then I would be surprised if several landscape photographers didn’t fall out of it, such is the increasing popularity of the hobby. It seems as though everyone and their dogs are at it. Aside from the inevitable dross there is some fantastic work on show with the gap in quality between amateurs and professionals practically non-existent.

Every day we are bombarded by landscape images on social media and sites like ‘Flickr’; most are dreadful, others are technically excellent and a few exhibit everything that makes a great photograph. Sadly, the majority are of classic viewpoints which of course are classic for very good reasons but have become somewhat clichéd.

The ‘tick-list’ mentality is endemic in the ‘enthusiast togger’ community and it’s not unusual to see threads in photographic forums asking for lists of great locations. It would appear that the masses take a different approach to their image making these days, collecting ‘locations’ like someone who collects stamps or the numbers of trains and buses. Exploratory instinct and an urge to express how a landscape makes one feel through the photographic medium have largely been replaced with an acquisitional bent. If only someone could come up with a definitive guide to where all the best tripod holes are. Well, you can all sleep easy now; the wait is over!

Enter ‘fotoVUE’, a concept so glaringly obvious that I’m amazed no one has thought of it before. The brain-child of Michael Ryan and Stuart Holmes, fotoVUE are publishing a series of books which guide the photographer around various areas of the UK, both rural and urban. I first heard about this project last year but was sworn to secrecy so had to keep shtum, but I’ve been awaiting the results with bated breath until this morning when a review copy of ‘Photographing the Lake District’ landed on my doormat.

The aforementioned Mr Holmes is the author and needs little in the way of introduction to anyone who has enjoyed his wonderful mountain and aerial photography on ukclimbing.com, where he wowed all and sundry under the name of Ice Nine. Stuart’s credentials as one of the top outdoor photographers are evident, but has he got what it takes to pull off a book which weighs in at over 300 pages? Let’s have a look shall we?

After a preliminary flick through, my first impression is that for £25 you’re getting a lot of book for your money. A closer inspection reinforces that view and I felt relieved that I hadn’t been commissioned to write the North Wales volume which is due out next year. Indeed, the amount of work and man hours which must have gone into producing this book is frankly mind boggling. It’s clear that ‘Photographing the Lake District’ is a labour of love and the culmination of years of dogged research. In those terms alone it is worth every one of those 25 pounds, but what of the content?

After the usual intro and acknowledgments there is a raft of handy information in the form of notes on weather, seasonal variations and even driving tips for those not used to narrow mountain roads.

The real ‘meat’ of the book however, is in the locations themselves which are divided into seven sections covering the entire national park and this is where Stuart’s diligence and dedication to the project really shines through. I know the Lake District as well as most avid walkers and climbers but as the book mostly concentrates on valleys and lower fells I was amazed at how little I really knew the place. Stuart’s extensive local knowledge has unlocked the district’s lesser known jewels as well as covering honey-pot locations such as Tarn Hows and Wast Water.

Each location guide starts with some well written introductory blurb followed by information on the logistics of getting there, accessibility and on the best time of day/year to shoot. In addition to a map giving an over view of the area there are tips on composition and useful techniques before moving onto specific viewpoints. It would appear that nothing has been left to chance and each chapter arms the would-be Lakeland photographer with everything they need in the field to stack the odds in their favour of capturing good images. I’m sure if Stuart had mastery over the weather he would have included that too!

Later in the book there is an extensive technique section to help those still taking baby steps in their photographic journey which I’m sure will inspire and provide plenty of motivation to try different approaches to their image making.

The photography throughout ‘Photographing the Lake District’ is never less than excellent, often exceptional and at times truly inspirational and if I was starting out on my photographic career I would be devouring this tome at every opportunity.

I would recommend this book to any photographer who wants to take advantage of Stuart’s knowledge of the district and landscape photography without investing years of independent exploration and wasted trips. When pondering on this project I was worried that it would perpetuate the lack of imagination and ‘tick-list’ thinking but having read the book those fears may prove unfounded. The range of locations is so extensive that it might actually have the opposite effect and introduce folk to new places, while spreading the load on the honey pots.

I’m now looking forward to the other guides in the series and especially the North Wales edition. Stuart has set the bar at a very high level so it will be interesting to see if they measure up to this outstanding book.

Bravo, Mr Holmes…

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~ by nicklivesey on August 30, 2014.

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