Winsford Hill, Somerset – location guide

Written on 1st November 2010 | No Comments

A windswept tree on Exmoor at sunrise

Planning an autumn visit to Exmoor, one of my main hopes was to convey the beauty of the bleakness of the moors. I thought a lone tree on a windswept hill might provide the perfect opportunity for this as I’ve often seen such trees when driving through the area.

Looking at my OS map of Exmoor I noticed that Winsford Hill had good road access and clear views to the south east. A bit more research on the web confirmed that the hill featured trees and grass covered land. So on a cold and windy November morning I set off at 5:30am to drive from my home in mid-Somerset to the heart of Exmoor in time for sunrise.

Arriving on Winsford Hill I was greeted by a strong wind and some ominous clouds. The glow in the sky to the east looked promising but with the cloud cover I wondered if I would see the sun very soon. After trudging through thick grass for a short while I crossed the brow of a hill and was suddenly hit by the colour of the impending sunrise. I knew that I needed to find a view that captured the feel of the area soon or I’d miss the first rays of sunlight.

After walking a bit further a weathered tree came into view. It was just on the edge of some grassland and growing separately from other trees which was important for the kind of picture I’d imagined. The sun was about to rise above the horizon and I instantly knew that this was going to be my first exposure. The bleakness of the landscape being blown by the wind seemed in complete contrast to the gorgeous colour emerging in the distance.

To emphasise the expanse of moorland and the isolation of the tree I decided to use my Nikon 14-24mm wideangle lens and position my camera quite close to it. Once I’d set up my tripod and mounted my Nikon D700 I composed my picture. When photographing stark landscapes in this way it is important that there are no distracting elements in the frame. In this case I moved around the tree to find a view that framed the tree but cut out any other distracting features from the edges of the picture.

At this point I’d have normally selected the appropriate graduated filter to balance the exposure of the sky with that of the foreground. However, the Nikon 14-24mm lens doesn’t have a lens thread to accept filters so I had to make two exposures – one for the sky and the other for the land – that I would blend together later in Photoshop. A stumbling block when taking this approach is if you are photographing a scene in which anything is moving; in my case a tree on a windy day! This makes it notoriously difficult to achieve a natural looking result because anything that’s changed position in the two exposures won’t line up when the exposures are blended together. So a tree’s branches can end up looking doubled if they are swaying around. Luckily my tree was pretty solid and, apart from a little movement in its thinnest branches, it wasn’t moving anywhere! After checking the D700’s meter readings for the sky and the foreground I made two exposures three and a half stops apart. A quick review of the histogram showed no blown highlights or shadows so I moved on, satisfied that my morning’s adventure had begun well.

After walking a bit further downhill I found an interesting clearing with views of unspoilt rolling hills. The golden sunlight now coming from higher in the sky allowed me to make some very pleasing pictures of patchwork fields and rolling hills. However, it was amazing to notice the difference in mood between the lone tree I’d just photographed and the green hills before me. Most of all it was proof that in amongst the brown leaves lies immense beauty.

This article featured in the viewpoints section of Outdoor Photography magazine in November 2010.

Leave a comment