Overlooking the northern flanks of Dartmoor, Belstone Tor shares a plateau with many rocks and the remains of an old wall. The surrounding undulating landscape is dotted with tors and rocky outcrops while the view to the north takes in miles of open countryside.
Although Dartmoor is a short drive down the M5 from my home in Somerset, to reach Belstone Tor in time for sunrise would have required a very early start, especially considering that in mid-summer sunrise is at 5:00am. Rather than travel there in the morning I decided to camp overnight, allowing me to photograph the area both in the evening and following morning.
The day of my visit started promisingly; I’d set up camp on Belstone Common in time for sunset and had captured a few shots looking north-west. Before the evening light completely faded I scouted views for the following morning, with my eyes set on the expanse of countryside to the north-east. Following a rough night’s sleep I unzipped my tent at 4:30am to be greeted by a dawn chorus and a virtually clear sky, bar some clouds on the horizon.
Despite the previous evening’s scouting I couldn’t find a composition that felt well resolved, so I spent some time staring at foreground rocks, trying to find patterns in them. Eventually I settled on an arrangement of rocks that were shielded from the early morning light. As the sun started to rise it became an orange ball surrounded by pastel colours and I could see its rays hitting a layer of mist. I knew I’d not have long to capture this effect so I moved quickly, deciding on my composition and capturing the shots I needed.
Shooting directly into the sun, I knew it would be a difficult scene to capture. In such situations I prefer to use exposure blending rather than stacking graduated ND filters. To create the finished picture I made one exposure of 1/100sec for the sky, followed by another at 1/6sec for the land. Moments later the sun had lost its pastel glow and was too bright to look at. I turned my camera to other views, capturing a few pictures before returning to my tent for breakfast.
This article featured in the viewpoints section of Outdoor Photography magazine in July 2014.