Photographer takes solace from pandemic in wintery Dales landscapes

Semmerwater in Raydale. Photo: Richard Walls.

Richard Walls, photographer and owner of the Old School Muker Art Gallery & Craft Centre, which has temporarily closed because of the pandemic, has taken comfort during the lockdown in the beauty of the upper Dales landscapes. He writes:

This year the first heavy snow fell in the upper Dales on December 3; it seems like it’s continued to fall ever since.

Upper Swaledale and Wensleydale, and their many side dales, provide some of the best winter scenery for photography in the whole UK.

From the high fell tops, to the frost pockets in the bottoms, there’s a huge variety on offer and with a myriad of superb roadside viewpoints it’s accessible to all.

While it’s true that heavy snowfall can, from time to time, block the high passes that link Swaledale and Wensleydale, the gritters and snowploughs do a brilliant job of keeping the main arteries open for the local communities, and the high routes are quickly cleared. For those who love photography having a winter wonderland on your doorstep just shouldn’t be missed.

Above Crackpot. Photo: Richard Walls.
Kisdon Force in Swaledale. Photo: Richard Walls.

On a personal level, being out in the winter landscape, rather than stuck inside, leaves me feeling refreshed, both physically and mentally. A focus on photography helps me tune out of everyday worries and instead I return home inspired, spirits raised, and wanting to share the adventure. In these strange and challenging times of the epidemic and lock down, unable to visit friend and family, or go for a pint at the pub, to be out in the landscape is a release that I’d find difficult to be without.

Snow is a magic ingredient for landscape photography. It remoulds and transforms the landscape, turning the ordinary – a wall, a fence, a sheet of glass – into something extraordinary. Different weather conditions – sub-zero temperatures, blue skies, mist, heavy snow fall – all increase the variety of photographic styles on offer and the weather can pass quickly; peaceful and serine one minute, exhilarating the next. Though it’s easy just to be dazzled by the landscape and to snap away, there’s a view hints and tips below that may help you make the most what’s on offer.

Buttertubs Pass Photo: Richard Walls.
  • Look for new shapes and patterns that are often revealed when snow blankets the ground. Snow drifts are a prime example.
  • Search out the small intricacies as well as the large snowy vistas; ice patterns can be incredibly beautiful.
  • Find strong, simple compositions as the snow dampens the normal complexity of the landscape down to its bare bones.
  • Play with scale; in snow and mist perspective becomes malleable.
  • Many snow scenes are mono-chromatic, so try black and white or seek out a strong colour in the landscape (e.g. a red barn door) to create a contrast.
  • Experiment with different shutter speeds to freeze or blur the snow as it falls; each will create a different mood and atmosphere.
  • Get out there and practice! Photography is like any other hobby; the more you practice the better you’ll become.
  • Remember that winter conditions can be harsh, so dress appropriately; warm hat and gloves, good outdoor footwear, waterproofs, etc; stick to familiar paths and tracks; and ensure someone knows where you are or better still visit with a friend or partner.

Though this winter the Upper Dales are off limits to many people, the fells will still be here next year, and the year after that, usually with snow on the tops, so hopefully we’ll see you then, camera in hand!

Ice flows in Sleddale. Photo: Richard Walls.
Duerley Beck in Sleddale. Photo: Richard Walls.

Richard is a landscape photographer who lives in upper Wensleydale and works in upper Swaledale. Together with his wife Polly, he runs The Old School Muker Art Gallery & Craft Centre.