mikegreenimages

Mike Green's thoughts on landscape photography

Project: The Howgill Fells

I’ve written, both on this web journal and in a couple of magazine articles, that I’ve started what is, arguably, my first ‘photographic project’. I say ‘arguably’ since I’d really have to insert the adjective ‘serious’ in there somewhere to make it absolutely true.

Non-serious projects include putting together a couple of Blurb books of images from my first two years making landscape photographs, as well as ‘ghost-writing’ a Blurb book for a certain poodle of note, a project which has itself led to a yet-to-be-written, follow-on book documenting the very same poodle’s remarkable Munro-bagging efforts in Scotland.

Ignoring these writing services for small, but über-fit, dogs, however, this page contains my work-in-progress on a project which came into being as the result of a short walk on some hills local to where I live. The Howgill Fells are a distinct, and distinctive, little range immediately to the east of the M6 motorway between junctions 37 and 38, and named after the hamlet of Howgill, to their south-west, rather than the small, very pretty town of Sedbergh, which sits at their southern tip.

A brief description of the Howgill Fells

Without going into the detailed geomorphology of the range, suffice it to say that they are effectively older than the Yorkshire Dales and have an entirely different character; they also differ from the Lake District hills to their west. Whereas the Dales are mostly defined by rolling, pretty limestone landscapes, and the Lakeland peaks are sharp and craggy, the dominant appearance of the Howgills is of a series of smoothly rounded hills covered in scrubby grass and heather. They perhaps don’t sound too exciting, but they’re certainly interesting and different.

Critically, at least in terms of this project, the Howgills are, once you venture above the immediate surroundings of the villages which encircle them, entirely devoid of walls and agricultural buildings. It’s relatively difficult to photograph anything resembling a wide view in either the Dales or the Lakes without featuring a wall, or even a barn; in the Howgills, they rarely intrude, making the landscape at least appear to be far less cultivated than that of the better-known, farming-formed areas surrounding them.

My motivation: what is the point of doing a ‘photographic project’?

‘Photographic projects’ are a concept I’ve been reading about in photography articles in recent months. The idea is essentially to define a unifying theme to bind a set of photographs together, whether that be:

  1. a particular type of photograph,
  2. a particular type of subject,
  3. a specific area,
  4. or any other feature you can think of which constitutes a common theme, including something as apparently simple as photographing the same subject over a defined period of time.

The benefits of this may be numerous, but for me the principle ones I hope to achieve are:

  • I think it will be good to have something with a defined scope on which to focus my attention. I sometimes find that, whilst I want to go out and make photographs, the wide choice of where to go and what type of thing to do leads to indecision, prevarication, and lack of direction. It seems to me that setting out with an objective to make a certain number of images, based on a theme, should help in cutting out this repeated lack of direction. If I’m wondering “where shall I go today, and what shall I use as a subject” I can now fall back on making new images of my chosen theme.
  • Laying out a time-based project, with an end-point, should provide actual motivation, in that I will need to get on with it!
  • At the end of the project, assuming that all goes well, I will have a collection of images which should stand together as something which can be used in a book, an exhibition, or simply as a portfolio. This seems to me to constitute a real end result, rather than simply making individually interesting photographs. It’s nice to complete things – well, it is for me – and if something starts off with a defined set of criteria for completion, there’s more chance of actually getting to the “it’s finished; now what next?” point

Why choose the Howgils?

So, having, read about the idea and thought that it could help my development as a photographer, I was looking for something to call a project, something on which to concentrate my attention and provide the motivation for repeated visits and thorough exploration, and this relatively quiet and under-appreciated set of hills, with their long valleys and interlocking spurs seemed an ideal choice.

I’d walked on these hills before. Over a decade ago, I spent a long weekend at a holiday cottage in Sedbergh, celebrating my ’33 1/3 birthday’ with some friends, and we did one walk to the small top directly above the town. Since then, despite having moved to live less than half an hour’s drive from Sedbergh soon after that first walk, I’d not been back.

Then, on a walk in April 2011 to revisit the area, I immediately noticed how different this tiny massif is, and it struck me as a good candidate for a project. Perhaps the Three Peaks area of the Dales, would have been a more obvious subject – in fact, it definitely would have been! – but, to put a deliberately fine point on it, that’s been done a few times already! A shame, since Ingleborough, Pen-y-ghent and Whernside would have provided a project I could do entirely on foot; unfortunately, I just hadn’t felt inspired to choose that option.

In contrast, the Howgill Fells have some wonderful surface textures and very pleasing, geometric features; they seemed to me to offer the opportunity to attempt to be creative. They’re also, it seems, relatively un-photographed, lack the Dales’ abundance of brightly coloured walkers, and consist of what I think is an unusual set of shapes.


The project: definition and scope

My objective in this project is to produce images of the primary features of the range and to give an impression of its nature and character, both in the form of ‘intimate landscapes’ and using broader images. My time criterion is to cover the hills over approximately a year – certainly, I intend to produce images across all four seasons and select those which best show the changing nature of the hills. (This assumes that they have a changing nature, of course; needless to say, I’m hoping for some snow this winter!).

Originally I thought that I’d do this in precisely twelve images, but I may relax that self-imposed rule when putting together the final set of photographs for the project. I already have several which I’m pleased with, and I suspect that, once I’ve photographed the fells across all four seasons, twelve may not be enough. Then again, it’s a small area with much repetition, so perhaps the ‘final cut’ can be restricted to the dozen I envisaged. At the moment, I still have autumn and winter to go, so I don’t yet know how many potential images I’ll eventually have.

The images so far

No doubt I shall attempt to link the final selection of images together in a narrative when I complete the project. For the time being, the following are those I’ve made to date which I consider to be candidates for inclusion. They’re in no particular order as yet, but I shall progressively update this page as new photographs are added to the short-list, prior to the final edit and possible creation of something physical and book-like.

‘Zip’

An early morning view towards the Lake District fells (commended in the Landscape Photographer of the Year, 2011 competition and displayed as a print at the National Theatre exhition.)

'Zip'

‘Trio’

A detail of the upper part of Cautley Spout.

'Trio'

‘Sweep’

Cautley Spout – top to bottom: the whole 198m. of England’s highest cascade waterfall.

'Sweep'

‘In miniature’

A fell side resembling the whole Howgills range, but on a dramatically smaller scale.

'In miniature'

‘Ampersand’

A section of the upper cascades of Cautley Spout

'Ampersand'

‘Hidden valley’

The northerly, central valley, which cannot be seen from any road that I’m aware of.

'Hidden valley'

‘Early autumn’

This was very much still summer, in terms of the date, but unseasonal dampness had led to much water and to the ferns beginning to turn.

'Early autumn'

‘Curve’

The upper end of the Cautley Spout valley, showing Cautley Crags, the only significant, glacially-formed feature in the range.

'Curve'

Location references

I’ve described some of my experiences photographing the Howgill Fells in earlier posts. In order of relevance…

For more information on what makes the Howgills geologically distinct, the Yorkshire Dales National Park web site has an excellent article about their geological and cultural history (the southern third of the range is still within the national park, the Howgills having been partly in the West Riding of Yorkshire and partly in Westmorland until the county boundary changes consigned them to the new county of Cumbria in 1974).

A couple of requests for advice…

  • A long shot, this one, but if you happen to know of any interesting bits of the Howgills which I may not have found – especially any small or hidden features – and are willing to share the knowledge, I’d be delighted to hear from you!
  • Also, what do you think is a suitable number of images to include in a ‘project’ of this sort? As I said above, I originally thought twelve, but the range has, I believe, the potential for more than that. Is there an ideal size, from the perspective of a viewer?

I’m new to this, so any guidance or opinion will be gratefully received and much appreciated. Thanks!

13 Responses to “Project: The Howgill Fells”

  1. Tim Smalley

    Hi Mike,

    There’s a lovely selection of images so far and I look forward to seeing more.

    I tend to believe a project requires as many images as it needs to tell the story of the place through your eyes, but in general if you were thinking of exhibiting the project I’d limit it to between 12 and 20 images in total. Any more and you are likely to overwhelm the viewer.

    In terms of a book, there’s scope for more to be included, but as is the case with virtually all aspects of landscape photography: less is more. At the same time though, you want to make people feel like there’s enough substance if you were thinking of selling it. For reference, I’m aiming for about 30 images in my Ashridge series and of those I suspect 15 will be printed for exhibition.

    Tim

    Reply
  2. Mike Green

    Hi Tim,

    Thanks for the input (that was quick!)

    It’s actually looking more promising, so far, than I envisioned at first, hence the question about number of images. That said, I shall try to avoid too much repetition… I’ve not decided on format yet; very much open-ended in that respect, so your various suggestions all help to confirm my general feeling. I certainly hope to have both words and pictures in the final ‘thing’, whatever it is.

    Mike

    Reply
    • Tim Smalley

      Haha, I saw the link on Twitter and decided to click and have a read at the time, rather than saving it for later. I was wondering how long it’d take you to reply… 15 minutes isn’t bad ;o)

      Exhibiting can depend on many factors with the biggest of all being space available. I feel each image deserves its own space so in that respect fewer images works better, but it also depends on pricing structures, target market (are you targeting collectors, locals or impulse buyers?) and much more. For the impulse buying market, you would likely favour more smaller prints than fewer larger prints.

      Books are another thing entirely and can be inherently complicated to put together. I’m still deciding between a heavily visual book and one with more words than just a foreword/introduction with a story behind each image.

      Tim

      Reply
      • Mike Green

        I think all of this decision-making around publicity in all its forms is inherently complex – so many decisions to make, and also a remarkably large amount of ‘work’ involved in just about any of the alternatives. I’m hopeful that some way to ‘use’ the project will present itself as my ideas and images for it develop….. that may be optimistic of course!

        Mike

        Reply
  3. Seung Kye Lee

    Dear Mike,
    I enjoyed looking at the Howgill Fell photographs very much.

    To some extent, the round, bold shapes of the landscape reminds me of Rondane Nat. Park, in Norway. Though, the flora is quite different and there seems to be many repetetive patterns of cirque-like valleys in Howgill Fells, it was the soft lines that made me think of Rondane highlands.
    Fascinating landscape, Mike, and I am sure that it must be very challenging to photograph.
    I presume that a mid/tele-lens is essential in this project.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts and photographs.
    Looking forward to see more from Howgill Fells, my friend.

    Best Wishes
    Seung Kye

    Reply
  4. Mike Green

    Hello Seung Kye,
    Thanks for looking and for your comments. I’ve been to the Rondane Park ( a /long/ time ago now) and I see the similarity. It’s certainly tricky to photograph and make it interesting, but that’s part of the challenge I think – at least, that’s what I’m telling myself!

    Yes, most of those images are take with a 55-200 lens (on DX, so equivalent to about 70-300 on full-frame 35mm), and I imagine I’ll be using it some more. That said, there are some small features I’ve found to photograph much closer, when the conditions are right for those shots.

    Thanks again for your interest and best wishes,

    Mike

    Reply
  5. Anonymous

    Mike. I’ve very much enjoyed viewing this series of images. Most of them are distinctive in terms of both the geography portrayed and your own style. The two waterfall close-ups, “Trio” and “Ampersand” are, in contrast, both attractive images which I would have been happy to make myself, but they are more generic and could come from other locations and be taken by other photographers. If your aim is to be distinctive, they may be less probable candidates for a final exhibition selection; if your aim is to sell as many prints as possible they may be good choices !

    Reply
    • Mike Green

      I’m not sure to whom I’m replying here…. but thanks very much; I’m glad you enjoyed the images. There will be more to add fairly soon, especially if we actually get some snow!

      My aims are as yet ill-defined, being narrowed down only as far as ‘produce a body of work featuring the Howgill Fells’, at their most precise! That’s a very good observation though: those two shots could certainly be anywhere, so they’re certainly candidates for exclusion if I go with the something along the lines of ‘show the Howgill Fells as a distinct range’. So, thanks very much for that feedback, much appreciated.

      Reply
  6. Babak

    Hi Mike,

    Great idea this. the Photos are wonderful but I would fully agree with Kevin regarding the style and character of the shots for this project. I understand that this is a broad collection of shots at the moment, but narrowing it down to shots that really describe the place for you, in your style of photography, I think is the essense of this project, and what interests me as an observer.

    Reply
    • Mike Green

      Hi Babak, Thanks for taking the time to comment. You’re right: I shall winnow these down (and add to them) and the waterfall images – at least one of them – will probably go. I may keep ‘Ampersand’, since it does show the real nature of the most prominent cascade in the range; then again, I may not!

      Mike

      Reply

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