BY GUEST WRITER, AUTHOR AND PHOTOGRAPHER DOUG KENNEDY
Cover image © Doug Kennedy
I have now produced photo books of the Chiltern Hills, the North Downs which stretch from West Surrey to the Kent coast at Dover, Norfolk, and Yorkshire so have covered much of the south-east, east and north of England. Images in these books cover every season and, although I look out for days when a good quality of light is promised, I often have to make the best of conditions that are less than ideal. We often bemoan the lack of sunshine in our maritime British climate and countless outdoor events (and photoshoots!) are spoiled by rain, but our cloudy skies are full of beauty and interest, and endlessly changing. Since light is the single most important influence on a photographer’s work, the type and density of cloud, along with the position and intensity of the sun are critical. As the light can change from minute to minute, you have to be ready to grasp the opportunity, and seldom more so than in Yorkshire.
Yorkshire lies about half-way up the eastern side of the island of Britain, bordered by the stormy North Sea to the East, and the Pennine Hills, which form the backbone of England, to the west. The prevailing westerly winds dump much of their rain on the Atlantic side of the hills, but the cloud spills over the Pennine ridge and meets northerly airs off the North Sea, all of which means that weather is seldom static for long and can be very local.
The character of the light is northern, which means that the sun strikes at an angle so shadows are long, and even in good weather, the sky is seldom completely clear of cloud. This can create dramatic effects, particularly when the sun gets underneath thick cloud or when beams suddenly penetrate a big cloud mass. In the Yorkshire Dales, the exposed limestone is light grey in colour, harmonising beautifully with the bright green turf and the clouds, whilst at the opposite side of the county, the grey choppy waters of the North Sea cool the light and often introduce a haze which mutes colours.
Summers are not reliable and one challenge that the weather presents stands out in my memory, when in 2015 I needed a photograph of a cricket match which was recognisably in Yorkshire. I had been on the lookout for the right setup for over a year and as the end of the cricket season approached, I was getting a bit desperate so I made a special trip up the M1 to take advantage of a sunny Saturday. You can read the whole story on my main blog page, but suffice to say that after a morning of touring the cricket grounds of south-east Yorkshire, at 3pm I found myself chasing a scrap of blue sky. This turned out to be above Wakefield Cricket Ground, where the sun briefly shone, bringing the colours to life and joy to the scene with the Wakefield skyline in the background.
Another day, I had driven from Buckinghamshire to Glasgow for my cousin’s funeral on a beautiful spring day when fine, settled weather was forecast for the whole country. At about 4pm I decided to head back south, aiming for Tan Hill in the most northerly part of the Yorkshire Dales. This amounted to about 600 miles of driving in the day, but you simply can’t afford to waste such an opportunity, and close to the Tan Hill Inn, I bagged a wonderful series of shots, one of which is on the cover of my Yorkshire Landscapes book.
This is real ‘golden hour’ light, when the sun is low, the air clear and there is just enough light cloud to add interest. I don’t touch up my photographs to create dramatic lighting, so when an image comes out with this degree of warmth and wild beauty, I give my thanks to the northern Yorkshire light and realise that, actually, I enjoy the challenge.