In Search of Winter (2023-24)

In Search of Winter (2023-2024)

photographing the winter that wasn't

Hey everyone! How's it going?

I had high hopes for Winter.

After a successful Autumn that brought a riot of colour and contrasting conditions, Winter hit the ground running with a couple of days that saw an inch or two of soft powder dropped across Northumberland. Nothing too dramatic, but enough for a few successful days of shooting.

a disappointing season

After that though, winter devolved into one of the most disappointing seasons I can remember as the mostly mild and wet conditions that have dominated much of 2023’s weather permeated through into 2024.

This, coupled with a punishing workload, has resulted in few photographic opportunities. This was as frustrating as you can imagine given there was some strong snowfall over the Grampians and Highlands of Scotland.

Join me then for a brief recap of the Winter that wasn’t.

I’ve covered much of my early winter photography in my 2023 round up which you can read here and in my Castles in the Snow article which you can read here.

frozen opportunity

That wintry spell was sufficient enough for me to later return to one of my favourite spots at Bolam Lake where once again the lake had completely frozen over.

On this occasion, the evening sun cast a wonderful soft light which felt as fragile as the frost it fell upon. This, for me, epitomises the look and feel of winter. The two photos below were taken just moments apart as the evening slipped from golden hour into blue hour as a faint mist descended. The following day, rain fell again, the ice thawed and winter wouldn’t return for me until late January.

winter returns

When winter did return, I headed west to Cawfield Crags on a bitterly cold morning in search of a sunrise over an inversion. The UKV model however failed to get a handle on the strength and timing of the wind so instead of the calm conditions I was expecting, a stiff offshore breeze had pushed its way inland earlier than forecast, bringing a rack of cloud with it.

Temperatures had risen slightly but a hard frost was still in place, covering the crags of Cawfield in a thick rime that resembled a bleak covering of snow. I was actually grateful for the excess cloud as well as it helped accentuate the sunrise.

This is where prior reccies paid dividends.

scouting success

Having scouted out these hills several times before, I knew at this time of year their rugged crags and outcrops would perfectly capture glancing highlights as the sun rose. It was just a case of waiting for the right conditions to align and hoping for the best.

A proper dusting of snow may have rendered a better result in terms of colour and feel, but the frost projects a keener, tighter relationship with the landscape that lends a sense of hardy, bleak wilderness which a covering of snow would soften.

About a quarter mile west of the crags is Cawfield Quarry where the lake there was partially frozen. The pre-dawn light looked fantastic reflected on its frozen surface and it was difficult to tear myself away to make sure I caught the photos of the hills above.

The theme that had come to dominate much of my photography throughout 2023 - i.e. photography of a more localised, intimate scope - presses on into 2024 as circumstance keeps me reigned in somewhat.

birkey boom... and bust

In that vein, and mindful of making the most of the current cold weather, I paid a visit to one of my favourite waterfalls shortly after in the hope of seeing a shallow Birkey Burn flow through a landscape of frost and icicles.

However, as the burn sits in a hollow of trees that trap what little latent warmth there was, no frost was present and only a few small pockets of icicles hung around the falls.

spring shoots

At time of writing, another SSW has been forecast but a repeat of last year’s amazing snowfall event across the north Pennines - or anywhere for that matter - appears increasingly unlikely.

And so it is then, a forgettable season with little in the way of opportunity comes and goes. With overcast and gloomy weather continuing to persist into the early days of Spring, I feel that rather than be downcast about the state of the weather, I will instead plan and prepare for upcoming shoots so that when those small, brief opportunities do arise, I'll be there to make the most of them.

And of course, there is a certain trip Stateside to prepare for...

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