Bradgate Deer Park

1P7A8045-2To get up to Bradgate Park in Linton near Loughborough in Leicestershire, meant a fairly early start.  So, at 4.45 am my alarm sounded and I fell out of bed, hastily showered, dressed and hit the road.  My first stop would be to pick up friend and fellow photographer, Matthew, from Raunds and then we would head across the A14 and then up the M1 for a couple of junctions.

Looking up at the sky as I packed my camera gear in the car, I noticed that there was not one star visible in the sky, in fact the sky was just plain black and there was a dampness in the air.  Something that almost had me heading back to bed.  However, with a planned photo shoot already decided, I left the house and headed over to Raunds.

The drive up to the park was good, cruise control all of the way and thankfully the windscreen wipers remained off.  Before too long and still in darkness, we found ourselves looking for parking close to the park.  The park gates were closed owing to recent problems with trouble in the park overnight and all around the entrance and exit are double yellow lines.  To make life easier and a little more pleasant for the local residents, the double yellow lines even extend up the side roads, making life a little more difficult for Matthew and I.  Thankfully, we managed to park out on the main road, gathered our gear and we headed down into the park.

1P7A8024It is rutting season in the park and as we made our way through the car park and into the park itself, we were heartened to hear stags bellowing and several deer very close to the path along the small river that runs through the park and divides the public area with the deer sanctuary.

As we headed into the park, we saw a young deer up high on the side of the small valley and silhouetted against the early morning sky.  If it had been a stag with the classic antlers, we’d have pulled out our cameras quickly.  On this occasion, the opportunity passed and we headed deeper into the park.   A short way in and we decided to leave the main path which was now becoming very busy with photographers in the gathering light of the morning.

As we headed up and over one of the rocky outcrops and up the side of the valley the morning light grew brighter but my spirits dropped.  The air was now once again beginning to feel damp and the sky was very heavily overcast.  There would be no sunrise this morning and for the next four hours we would not even see the slightest glimpse of the sun, not even the usual round white glow of the sun trying to break through the low dense cloud, nothing, nada.

As we headed up over the hills towards one of the ruins, a tower set high above the park, we saw a pair of deer fighting on the large clearing in the valley floor.  Off to the right, a large group of photographers moved in for a better view.  It would have been nice to capture two deer going head to head, antlers locked in battle, but the image would have been fairly plain with no decent sky, no decent light and nothing of interest in the foreground or the background.  I felt that this was not an opportunity missed, but a sign that the timing of this trip was right.

As we headed higher, we rounded a corner and found an old deer taking shelter.  Remarkably calm, the stag allowed Matthew and I to take images from just 20-30 feet away and it only finally moved when a couple of dogs came bounding passed off their leads.  With the deer now spooked and alert to the dogs, we moved off leaving him in peace.

Climbing higher in the hope of finding some deer on the upper clearings, we felt the air getting more moist and I noticed the odd drop of mist on my camera and tripod.  The air was definitely getting heavier and the clearing blow us was becoming more and more obscured by the hazy mist.  The walk to be fruitless though and it quickly became clear that the deer were taking shelter in the valley floor and the deer sanctuary which is out of bounds to the public.

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We headed back down and captured a few images along the river, but the light never improved and all of the images were flat and lacking in contrast.  Shots from any distance we compromised by the heavy air and then the damp misty air turned to light drizzle and it neared time to head off home.

Matthew and I plan to return in a couple of weeks time.  the river area gives some nice opportunities but one of the park wardens confirmed that most of the rutting deer remain in the deer sanctuary and well away from the public.  As we walked back to the exit of the car park, we noticed that the deer that had been along the river’s edge and above us on the ridge overlooking the path, had all moved on and there was now just a steady stream of people out for a Sunday walk, a R/C car off-rounding club who were having great fun driving their model cars over the rocks and through the river and a growing number of excitable and noisy children having fun.

Our next visit will therefore be mid-week and we’ll do a sunrise to sunset session all being well.  Let’s just hope for better weather and more photographic opportunities in this wonderful and very picturesque country park.

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Big rocks and little trees

DAY 8 – Wednesday 20th

Half Dome over Merced River - Yosemite National Park, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Half Dome over Merced River – Yosemite National Park, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo


I welcomed a later than usual start this morning, We headed into the valley once more and straight to the river bend that we wanted to capture without people and boats. We also wanted to try for a better sky than the previous session. People were still an issue but the sky was definitely better. Otherwise, it was business as usual with the big stopper to smooth the water, a grad for the sky and I also dropped on the polariser for the water. Having the benefit of three filters (as per Paul’s pre road trip suggestion) was really beginning to pay dividends.

With the best possible shot in the bag and a road trip to Lake Tahoe, we hit the road and time to get some supplies and to catch up with the blog.

We hoped to capture two shots on the lake. The first was a scene that Paul had sent us an image of during the trip planning phase. The Bonsai Rock is a fairly large rock with an interesting shape with some small trees that somehow have managed to survive in the most unusual location. I had deliberately not researched the sites that we were to visit because I did not want to arrive with preconceived composition ideas. With the car parked at the side of the road above the slop down to the lake, we waited for the rain to stop and for the clouds to clear a little.

Bonsai - Bonsai Rock, Lake Tahoe, CA, USA - Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Bonsai – Bonsai Rock, Lake Tahoe, CA, USA – Copyright 2015 Martyn Phillips, M4Photo

Thankfully the weather cleared and we scrambled down the sandy slop, using roots and rocks to stop slipping on the steep sides. At the bottom we were presented with a lake side covered with boulders and I quickly located one with a composition that I liked. The rock had a horrible slop, so I braced my tripod between two rocks and set up the camera.   I decided to initially set up with a graduated filter to balance the sky and to bounce between F8 and F14. F14 was to gain a slightly longer exposure to smooth the water because the sun flare was not going to happen.

Annoyingly, I did not try the big stopper at this location for a milky smooth water around the rocks. However, anything that was dropped would be gone because of the gaps between the rocks. I therefore decided to play safe and learned that in landscape photography, playing it safe usually results in a compromised shot and a missed money shot. This trip is all about great locations, great tuition and lessons to be learned, and I’m learning very, very fast.

Our images from the lake were not great out of the camera and we had to use the histogram to ensure that the shots could be processed later. This was a tip that Paul had shared with us on day two and which really came into its own at this location.

Mark later processed his Bonsai Tree image and uploaded it to his Facebook profile. One of his mates then ran it through one of the software based filters that are readily available to photographers but the image became over processed and very HDR looking. Paul later told us about the various types of software filters that are available and he demonstrated how a nice image can be made very nice, or very fake. He also offered to show us how to better process the image for a more realistic look.

With another early morning start, we headed off for a few short hours of sleep.