I’ve returned to Bucks as a photographer with a penchant for landscape & travel imagery, images that I’ll sell as prints and through the iStock image library, which is part of the vast Getty Images empire. What this all means in practice is I now live in an extremely photogenic area, which I’m fortunate enough to know pretty well, but have never really explored with a photographer’s head on. With such beautiful landscape right on the doorstep, it’s a good position to be in.
When it comes to landscape photography I’m a true believer in the Golden Hour. To a non-photographer this may sound like some ill-fated Doomsday cult (that or happy hour in one of the county’s better pubs), but in this particular instance it refers to a tantalising yet small window of opportunity around sunrise and sunset when the sun, low in the sky, bathes your subject in a warm, flattering light. It could be a landscape, it could be a portrait, it could be a rusty old Austin Allegro, but if you photograph it in the soft light of the Golden Hour it’ll look infinitely better than if you shot it in harsh midday sun.
Not only that, an impressive sunrise or sunset will improve any scene, and photographers the world over do get all in a flutter as these moments of photographic alchemy draw near. So from Uluru to the Taj Mahal all the way to the Chiltern Hills, you will see photographers (usually men, almost always sans spouse/partner) peering through the viewfinders of an assortment of cameras, an expression of expectant hope on their collective faces. Will this be the shot that gets onto the cover of National Geographic...
That was me last Wednesday afternoon, revisiting one of my old haunts from way back when. Coombe Hill and the Golden Pineapple (the Boer War Memorial, to give it its proper name), a properly splendid Chiltern Hills’ landscape. A scene which I hoped I would be able to do justice to. As it was, the sky the previous evening and that Wednesday morning had been glorious, a riotous panoply of pink, gold and blue, and whilst that’s no guarantee that Wednesday evening would be anything special you never get the shot by sitting at home peering out the window. So off I trot.
It had been many years since my last visit to Coombe Hill but it all felt reassuringly familiar. The same expanse of grass near the car park, an area sometimes populated by sheep but not today, and then a line of trees. Beyond the trees more grass then a wonderful moment when the hill drops away and the landscape just opens up. Ahead of you there is the elegant hill with the beautiful name (Cymbeline’s Castle) and fields and trees, there’s a golf course or two, farms, pylons and houses, and away in the distance the sprawl of Aylesbury.
And, in the near distance, overlooking this grand scene since 1904 sits the proud form of the Boer War Memorial. It’s a genuinely impressive location.
I had three quarters of an hour before the sun would eventually set but the omens were good. The horizon was a bit hazy, but with a scene like this that’s not necessarily a bad thing (and seeing as it was late Autumn it could certainly have been worse). As an added bonus there was some interesting high cloud, always handy when the sun gets lower. We might be in business.
As far as cameras are concerned, these days I travel light. For years I hauled around a magnificent yet hefty Canon EOS 5D mark II (plus a comprehensive line-up of lenses). It’s a fabulous camera which, over the years, has helped me capture some beautiful moments in some spectacular locations. I believe it also gave me tennis elbow, so last year I traded in some old kit and a bunch of lenses and got hold of a Fuji X-Pro 1. Weighing less than one of the lenses I traded it for, this 16MP marvel can all but match what the full-frame Canon can do, and it does it without destroying any body parts in the process. Which I find makes for a far more enjoyable photographic session.
Back on the hill the sun dropped lower, and the trees on top of Cymbeline’s Castle start to stand out and be silhouetted by a golden haze on the horizon. Part of me is wishing I had a longer range than the 18-55mm lens I’m using, but I’m sure if I had a longer lens I’d be wanting to go wider. Some people are never happy.
It’s getting colder, but the sky is doing wonderful things. We’ve had glorious golds as the sun drops to the horizon. The haze filters the light beautifully, and the sun itself is a bright white disk (though obviously never look directly into sun, that would be silly). Soon the golds are replaced by vivid pinks and orange, and the high cloud I’d noticed earlier really comes into its own.
I’ve been busy shooting, dashing down the hill a short way to get some shots from one angle, then clambering back up for another, then off to the Memorial to capture its heroic silhouette against that amazing sky. It’s frantic but it’s joyous at the same time, and as the light finally begins to fade for good I head back to the car. I’m again thankful that I’m back in Bucks. It really does feel like I’m home.