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Guest Blog: How to take better pictures, by Mark Gilligan

We’ve been working with Mark for the past year on our seasonal photoshoots, and it is always a fun and lively day out.   As well as being productive of course,  providing us with a portfolio of unique images.

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Winter photo shoot at Elterwater

I set up the date and model for our shoot (usually a colleague who had been ‘persuaded’ to help out!)  and we head off for the day to various locations, aiming to capture the four seasons of this beautiful place we are lucky enough to be living and working in.  Coffee and cake are most definitely part of the criteria.

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I’ve personally known Mark for a few years now; admired his fantastic work, and realised we wanted some outstanding photography for Lake District Lodge Holidays, that summed up the Lakes, and also the experiences our guests can look forward to – walking, taking a boat trip, admiring the view, and just being here.

Mark shares his thoughts with us:

“Walking the fells regularly, you soon notice the trends that shape this pastime we enjoy. People quickly latch onto them.  Waterproof jackets are a case in point. They started off as garishly luminous as you can envisage. I remember my first ‘proper’ jacket, which saw me resembling a harlequin trundling up and down dale! My mum had bought it for me as a Christmas present so what could I do? It was the newly available must have, ‘Gore-Tex’.

Of course they have evolved and latterly becoming more subdued, dark even, due to the Urban market developing. Now I see there is a move back to the ‘louder, brighter’ colours.

Walking poles are another noticeable trend.

Instead of the old trusty branch that was whittled to perfection, giving us stability as we descended those slopes, we now have state of the art, ergonomically designed, carbon supports that can carry an Ox. Well they manage my bulk!

There are rucksacks that allow us to carry a weeks worth of kit without snapping our shoulders and boots with the feel of slippers that make you feel like your gliding on air.

You see it all out there every weekend and ‘they’ are the staple diet to the walker and adventurer who enjoys the pleasures of the outdoors.

For me, the most noticeable ‘add on’ and trend that has appeared over recent years is that of a camera. Virtually everyone you pass has one to hand or strapped to the belt.

The digital age has given rise to a confidence, a ‘comfortability’ with photography that allows us to capture a moment, that memory and we have all become ‘photographers’.

Yet how many of you reading this will still be baffled or disappointed at some of the results you achieve?

I receive some excellent amateur photographs via email from walkers who ask, ‘why couldn’t I take the same quality picture the next day? I couldn’t match it. Why did the camera do it one day and not the next?’

And there folks is the clue!   The camera is a great capture tool. That’s what it is.

That’s all it is.

It doesn’t actually see what you and I see. It just sees light and reacts to it.

Consequently, it needs ‘us’ to give it a steer, to control it.

YOU have to tell it what you want and how to get it.

All those buttons and menus are there for a reason.

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Students at Blea Tarn

You can of course get lucky. If you are in the ‘perfect position’, at the ‘perfect time’ it can deliver a nicely exposed image. By that I mean that the light is with you and not shooting against it.

How often are you blessed with being in that situation? Cameras are getting better but they don’t have the dynamic range that we possess as we look out and survey all before us.

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Chris on his workshop

So there are different approaches to Landscape Photography.

For me it can be a waiting game. A bit like carp fishing where the fishermen go to the right place, employ the right techniques and wait.

Landscape photography can be like that.

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Above The Duddon Valley

Of course we don’t always have the luxury of being able to hang around. If I am on a commission or a specific brief then I will.

However, when out on a walk with friends ‘we’ don’t want to be the one who is constantly holding everyone back to get ‘that shot.’

Occasionally, I go out with a group and work on ‘the hoof’. Knowing the location and when the light ‘should’ be at its best is helpful. I say ‘should’ because we live in the UK and how often can we be so sure that it ‘will play ball?’

Like those fisherman you have to know how to use the kit that you have in order to get the ‘bigger fish.’ Not all the time but more often than not. You have to have an understanding of what it can do for you. It makes no difference whether that’s a 10k full frame beast or a £200 point and shoot. There is a principal to photography and understanding the basics will help you tremendously.

I ran one of my 1-1 workshops recently with a person who had only ever used a phone to capture images. They had a good eye for composition and we progressed throughout the two days from a small compact camera camera to a professional, mirrorless, Fujifilm camera. Her photographs were excellent but her husband later emailed me to sayhow much she had enjoyed the experience but I had now cost him £1000 in buying her kit…..!

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Light and Shade near Troutbeck

I took this image, on the hoof, as I walked above Troutbeck. It was a windy, overcast but afternoon. Dark clouds were hurtling across overhead and bursts of sunlight would quickly grace the landscape, acting like an illuminated carwash. I call it the ‘godlight’.

It was fascinating to watch, all that light and shade contrasting to make a great view. How often have you been out and seen that type of light and marvelled at it?

After setting my camera, I just stood there literally for a few seconds and waited till the right moment presented itself to me. When it did I ‘clicked’, checked it and moved on. I like to think it delivers a balanced and true image of what I saw that afternoon. The key was to expose the camera for the brightest part of it. That way ‘burn’ out or over exposure didn’t occur. I also ensure I capture as much in camera so that processing in Lightroom literally takes seconds.

It also goes against the grain that landscape pictures have to be taken at f16 or f22. That is simply not the case, with the settings for this shot being f11, 1/50th @ 400 ISO. I used a No6 Lee soft grad for the sky too.

My regular news section and blog is on my own website 

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Please don’t hesitate to contact me at via email if you’re interested in anything that might help you get that elusive cracker of an image!   mgilligan@wastwaterphotography.co.uk

You’ll see some of Mark’s unique images for Lake District Lodge Holidays around our website, blogs and on social media.   Check out Mark’s own Gallery here.