Sunday, 19 June 2011

Aira Force, Ullswater

Aira Force is a dramatic waterfall near the Glenridding end of Ullswater in the Lake District, England. Ullswater is more of a journey from where we live at the southern end of the Lakes, but even so, I still wonder why its taken me so long to visit the falls. They are managed by the National Trust with easy parking and a nearby cafe. A short steep walk (wet and slippery on places) from the carpark takes you to the bottom of the falls, and a further loop takes you to the bridge at the top. However, we walked there from Glenridding, misjudged the distance, and didn't have time to complete the circuit. Walking from Glenridding along the main road is not recommended. It is busy in both directions and although the first couple of miles is very pleasant if you walk along paths to the lakes edge the latter section is on the road itself, not pleasant, fast cars, too many blind bends.

The lake side walk is thoroughly recommended. Some pebbly beaches and dramatic rocky areas, lots of overhanging trees and wonderful views across the lake itself. I could have spent a day scouting the area for photos, but as we were walking as a four it was unfair to pause for too long. This old oak tree stood out as a subject worth revisiting. I took this quick snapshot, but I will return to make a more considered study when I have more time. I haven't spent much time processing this version.

Onward to Aira Force. We arrived with just 20 minutes to see the falls and get back to Glenridding to meet the rest of the family for a barbecue. No phone signal, no chance of sorting out a lift. I took photos of a Monkey Puzzle tree before catching up with the others at the base of the falls. Its quite a popular spot and not much choice over where you can set up a tripod, no wonder that all the shots you see are a similar composition. Lighting was tricky, it is inevitable that the light at the top of the falls would be many times brighter than deep in the gorge. Even with 5 stops of graduated ND filters the dynamic range of the scene was greater than I'd like. An initial exposure was made to check light levels and composition, then a follow up exposure with a 10 stop ND added to the grads. A 3 minute exposure had the sky right on the edge of blowing out, yet the shadows were still filling (though I didn't see that as a real problem). Click on the photograph to see a larger version.

Aira Force, Ullswater, The Lake District
The processing was quite involved. Although I had plenty of detail in the vegetation to either side of the waterfall I decided that I only wanted the shaft of water cascading through the image. The bridge is obviously an important element and what gives Aira force its unique character. I eventually forced the sky darker allowing the bridge to dominate the top section, then endless tweaks to get the balance between the three elements working together - the lower portion of the falls proving tricky. The final step was to repeat the whole process at higher resolution - I had batch processed a set of photographs for web use last week so changed the defaults on ACR in order to save time... and forgotten to return the settings to what I'm used to!

Now we have our camper van I aim to return to the falls before too long. I'd like to see them near to the ends of the day to see how the lighting changes, though I suspect the evening light will be far too dark down there to be of value. One of the main benefits of visiting this location in anti-social hours will be avoiding other visitors which will give more flexibility in viewpoints and compositions.

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