Photographing the Lake District - A Review

01st October 2014
The first book from the new publishing company Fotovue; Photographing the Lake District is basically a guide to many of the most accessible landscape photography spots in the Lakes. This book is authored by Stuart Holmes, one of the two directors of Fotovue, the other being Mick Ryan. For a long time I’ve been impressed with the work Stuart continues to produce, so I was delighted when I got sent a review copy of this tome.

Now, call me a traditionalist, but I’m not really a fan of the phonetic spelling of Fotovue, to me it just seems a little unprofessional. However, why should a name impact on a great product? If it’s a good product filling a hole in the market, then it’ll do well regardless of what it’s called. I’m sure there are many products in other markets that prove this point, cars spring to mind – after all look at the Mazda Bongo. A ludicrous name for a campervan if ever I heard one, but I see a fair few of them around!

The book itself is laid out nicely and is a good format/size, meaning it’s big enough to be able to cram loads of information in, whilst still being relatively easy to carry around. The very first thing that struck me were the simple but effective infographics on the front cover flap. One to tell you what direction the sun will rise and set at certain times of year, and another to tell you how high in the sky it will get. As well as a sunrise/set timetable.

Interestingly, the introduction contains almost no information or guidance on the actual photographic techniques, more just a brief word about the weather and getting around the Lakes. To me that suggests this book is aimed at the casual amateur photographer, rather than the out and out beginner. It’s worth noting, however, that there is an appendix with various technical sections in. the main body of the book is split into six chapters by geographical location, and then a seventh chapter with cultural events in.

Each chapter has a full page map at the front, with the locations marked and numbered, and then a double page spread on each location in the chapter. Each spread contains on overview, a very detailed description of the viewpoints on offer and then exactly how your photograph should be framed. There is also a section on how to get to the car park (including a grid reference, and rather worryingly, a postcode!). A quick note on the best time of day/year, wheelchair access and a suggestion for page numbers for the relevant techniques in the appendix. All of this is regularly interspersed with some photos, ranging from double page spreads to small thumbnails to ‘set the scene’ of the page. Many of these photographs are wonderful, though a feel that some a more of a filler, I sort of get the feeling that a couple more months should have been spent collecting the photos to produce a truly wonderful piece, but as it as, it certainly does what it’s meant to do very well.

I do, however, have a few reservations. If you’re after a book that with shepherd you into taking the same old photos as everyone else, then this is certainly a good bet. Don’t get me wrong, many of the locations described will produce stunning images, and images to be proud of, but they won’t be unique. What really worries me is the inclusion of postcodes in the access descriptions. To me, and many others, much of the joy of photography comes from the journey to get to the location. This decision will take that joy away from a huge number of people who’ll simply follow their satnav, jump out, take a quick shot, and then move on to the next set of tripod holes and do the same.

That brings me only the next point nicely. The Lakes has a few particularly popular clichés, the view from Catbells being a good example. A good friend of mine coined the term ‘tripod holes’ as a good way to describe the standard clichés in the world of photography. In my opinion, this book could send tripod holes one of two ways. The first being to deepen the existing tripod holes, as people now have even more information to get to the sought after classics and go in search of them, rather than all of the other wonderful but less well known spots in the book. Or (hopefully) the inclusion of lots of previously less well known spots in this book will draw some of the traffic away from the major tripod holes and spread it over lots of minor tripod holes.

I do wonder, though, if the first option would be all that bad? After all, a good analogy is the popularity of Snowdon and it’s impact on the rest of Snowdonia. Snowdon draws all of the tourism towards it, making it very busy, and a frankly unpleasant place in summer. Luckily this has the knock on effect of keeping the rest of Snowdonia quiet, with the odd exception. Maybe deepening of the old classic tripod holes wouldn’t be all that bad, maybe it’d keep the rest of the National Park quieter for those more adventurous souls to enjoy. Who knows? I guess we’ll find out in due course.

One other thing that jumped out at me was on the ‘mountain photography’ page (p306). In the very first sentence of the page Stuart makes the point that this book has deliberately avoided inclusion of any mountain photography, in favour of easily accessible low-lying venues. I have to applaud this, as I know Stuart is a huge advocate of mountain photography from the highest most remote points of the Lakes, it’s one of the things he’s best at. It’s not only his self-restraint that I’m applauding though, I feel it was a great decision to avoid the high mountain areas. The whole point of mountain photography is that it’s a challenge: physically, mentally and logistically. I really enjoy poring over maps for hours on end looking for good viewpoints off my own back, or walking around the mountains on poor weather days as reconnaissance missions to find the places to come back to. In my opinion it would be a huge mistake to put any of that in a book for all to see. It’d take the special and unique challenges away from the specific mountain genre.

In conclusion, this book certainly knows what it wants to be and what it wants to achieve and I think it does that very well. If you’re looking for a book that does what this does and guides you around many of the top photography spots of the area (either this area, or the forthcoming books to other areas) then I’d 100% recommend buying it. If you’re looking to simply go out and take some nice photographs for your own pleasure, put my (possibly unfounded) concerns to one side, ignore them and go and buy a copy of this book. You won’t be disappointed.

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