on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

In praise of Summer

Colin Bell on the Making the Most of ...

Colin Bell

Ex video game maker, now a company advisor in the digital & creative sector and landscape photographer.


Let’s be honest, summer gets a raw deal from us photographers. Of the seasons, summer is the one that has for us, on the face of it, fewest qualities and the greatest number of perceived down sides. Up until this last season, and I shouldn’t be quite so rash to talk in the past tense as we are still in August, I would be one more voice proclaiming “everything is just green”, “sunrise is too early”, “there are too many people about”, “the visibility is just too hazy”, “twilight lasts only a few minutes” amongst other oft repeated missives. Basically the problem with summer is that, well, it just isn’t autumn is it? Green isn’t gold! Come to think of it, it is not winter either, with its hoar frost, blankets of minimalistic friendly snow and ice, preferably cracked, in the foreground. And of course we shouldn’t leave out spring with its fresh, zingy enthusiasm, the delicate awakening of the foliage and not forgetting the photographers’ favourite, the bluebells. No, summer is none of those. Summer is just summer. We go on holiday, metaphorically too whilst we wait for the mist and the copper carpets of the fall. Like the first signs of Christmas, garden centres are already stocking cards and crackers in early August, the plaintive cries of “looking forward to autumn” come earlier each year.


So there we have it, summer isn’t any of the other seasons and apart from maybe a splash of colour from poppies or the moorland heather we are mainly looking through green tinted spectacles and as we all know, they are just not as good as the proverbial rose tints or those special misty versions. Don’t get me wrong; I love mist just as much as the next man! So long as the next man goes all giddy at 5AM when a peek through the curtains reveals a thick fog, which later he realizes was just the net curtains or condensation on the windows. Not that I’ve ever done that. Oh no. I love autumn too, the dramatic change, the vibrancy of the colour, the revealing of the vista behind the leaf canopy and of course, the mist too; simplifying.


But what of summer? Maybe with a different outlook, spending time getting to know it a little and focusing on what summer offers I could begin to see. Like spending time in a darkened room, eventually the subtleties become more noticeable, greens become hues and change becomes more evident as the sensitivity increases.

This year I’ve been focusing my photography efforts around Thirlmere in the Lake District. Not exclusively so, but enough to enjoy the interludes at other locations with fresh verve. Tapestries of Thirlmere, as it is tentatively named, is my first photography project and focuses on locations around the reservoir created in the 1890s to serve the good people of Manchester. The project will last around a year or so and was started in March 2014. With that as impetus I looked to embrace and use as positives the long days afforded by these months. Not unlike a lot (most, even) of landscape photographers I am generally a morning person. Out before sunrise, back before breakfast type of chap and the day goes downhill from there. Early spring saw me splashing trough the overflowed reservoir as a winter of rain and more rain left it brim full. Either that or the folks of Manchester were eschewing their baths and showers in a bid to leave water for their hosepipes in summer. Either way, the unusual nature of trees submerged, uncharacteristically, in water presented some memorable mornings as the sun rose sedately at an angle with a nip in the air. Contrast that with a sunrise in the current months which, with three lunatic dogs that use the maxim of ‘One up, all up – time for a walk and breakfast’, is just the wrong side of early for a harmonious family life, since they (the family) prefer the maxim ‘get back to bed you big idiot, its too early’. With that in mind I have claimed the evenings as my own. I say ‘claimed’; in retrospect my better half has been a little bit too eager to see me disappear tripod, waterproofs and camera in hand. I now wonder who exactly was claiming the evenings as their own?


Be that as it may, the fact remained that I was now enjoying 3-5 hours of walking and photography on each evening expedition. To be fair ‘expedition’ is too grandiose a term but my evenings typically took the form of a 3-4 mile walk, sometimes up one of the surrounding fells of my project location and other times a more leisurely waterside affair. Often I would revisit a route time and again, noticing new aspects, like the eyes getting use to the light in the darkened room. Sunset became the time that I needed to be back at the car, rather than a raison d'être. Rarely did I have any shots in mind before starting out, maybe a rough idea but nothing more than that. I also paid little attention to the weather, save for avoiding two wet evenings in a row simply due to the practicality of my waterproofs and boots drying out. The photographic results may not be anything spectacular, that was never the intention, but they do represent the journey, both literally and metaphorically. They represent time, contemplation and most of all their effect on dilated vision.

Like everyone else, I’m looking forward to autumn, when change manifests itself in the most visible of ways. But for now, I’m enjoying summer, I’m seeing the subtleties of the season and I’m not wishing it away.

You can see more of Colin Bell's Thirlmere work at the dedicated gallery on his website.

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