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Woodland Walking and Learning: the delights of Fingle Woods

I was really fortunate recently to go an on masterclass on woodland photography with Paul Mitchell, a professional landscape photographer. It was organised as part of the inspiring Responding to Light event at Make South West in Bovey Tracey, Devon, curated by Sue Brown FRPS. The usual mix of excitement of possible new learning and scare that I would not be good enough pervaded my thoughts as I arrived. The weather was a mix of sun and showers, with a chill in the wind signalling the change to autumn.

The workshop was based in Fingle Woods, on the northern edge of Dartmoor. It is a site jointly managed by the Woodland Trust and the National Trust, who are restoring this ancient woodland. It is estimated this will take 200 years!! We started at Fingle Bridge. and walked along the banks of the River Teign through Teign Gorge. The recent heavy rain meant the river was running high, a wonderful sound of gushing water filling the air.

Paul introduced a mindful activity, and I relaxed. I took in the scene and started to think of possibilities for photographs, based on my emotional and sensory response to this amazing ecosystem. There was an interesting mix of broad-leaf, native trees, still retaining their summer green. We sheltered under one as a shower passed through

while Paul talked us through ways of identifying a composition in the 'messiness' of an old woodland such as the one we were in. The learning had begun.

We found a place where the water tumbled over some stones, with autumn leaves adding splashes of colour. I was encouraged to use a tripod (something I usually avoid!) and I realised what possibilities it opened up. I was able to get the rocks and leaves sharp while smoothing out the water with a long shutter speed. Paul also showed us the difference that a polariser made to the light captured in an image.

Walking further on to where the river was deeper and flowing more slowly, we spent some time looking at the wonderful reflections of the trees in the still water. Paul talked about the way different size crop changes the impact of an image, which I played around with at the time and in post-processing.

I found it hard to resist trying out some more creative approaches, and used some ICM with different shutter speeds to capture the movement of the newly-fallen autumn leaves in the tumbling water. I love the splashes of colour that emerged:

For this image I held the camera quite still while the shutter was open and I really like the patterns and textures that I caught in the moment.

I was really pleased with my learning during the day. I tried out new techniques, really slowed down with my image creation, and was pleased with several of the resulting images.

But the proof of the learning can come later, when you try to apply it on your own in a different setting. I took the opportunity of a bit of sunshine to go for a walk in my local wood - another National Trust site, Bradley Woods, just 5 minutes from home. The River Lemon runs through it and it is a place I have photographed many times. I played around with different crops and viewpoints to create simpler compositions.

I spent a long time by the weir, watching the way that the water was moving and where is was still. I slowed down and thought about what I wanted to capture before I even turned on the camera.

I noticed the yellow leaf on the surface and composed the image around it, contrasting the rapid gush of water by the weir with the calm stillness nearer the bank and the reflections of the trees. Maybe a tripod does have some uses after all!

And here by using a tripod I could get the wall in sharp focus while having a long enough shutter speed to slightly blur the water. I like the way that the light is sparkling on the ripples as they go over the weir and the contrast with the darkness of the trees.

and it is interesting how changing from landscape to portrait alters the whole feel of the scene:

Finally, as walked back home, I used ICM to catch the light on the green leaves, thinking that soon they will be changing and falling as Autumn comes.

Many thanks again to Paul Mitchell for his advice and guidance during the workshop. I will carry it with me as I continue on my photographic journeys.

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