Tarn Hows - The Inspiration to Photograph A Classic View

The view from above Tarn Hows looking towards the fells of Coniston Old Man, Wetherlam and the Langdale Pikes, is one of the most picturesque views in the English Lake District and the whole of the British Isles. Once owned by Beatrix Potter, Tarn Hows is now in the custody of the National Trust and is one of its most popular locations.

A few days ago, with Autumn upon the fells, I finally managed to visit Tarn Hows for the first time. As I set up my camera on the side of the small hill over looking the Tarn in the late afternoon, the setting sun had dropped into cloud and the Tarn was in shadow. As the cloud was moving in the same direction as the sun, I was not sure if the light would come good onto the Tarn before the sun set. One photographer I had spoken to had decided the light would not work its magic and had abandoned his attempt to photograph the Tarn in favour of an early meal. Then, just before the sun set below the surrounding fells, it dropped below the cloud and bathed the Tarn in light allowing me to make the image below.

To be honest, my photograph of Tarn Hows is not original. Tarn Hows has been photographed by many photographers before me and will be photographed by many more after me. Whilst you can vary the position from which the Tarn is photographed and the composition you make, these are in reality only variations on a well photographed theme. The only real variations are the weather, the colours of the trees and the fells, and the light playing on the scene before you.

A lot has been written about photographing classic views and the photographic cliches that can result from doing so. My view, for what it is worth, is that if you want to photograph a view/subject and you derive enjoyment from doing so, then do it. Forgetting the photography, the intrinsic beauty of locations such as Tarn Hows makes them worth visiting and if you come away with an image you are happy with then that is a bonus. Then there are the health benefits, both physical and mental, that come from spending time with nature, these have been well documented.

An online internet search for Tarn Hows on Google results in about 260,000 results! A search on Instagram for Tarn Hows results in over 12,000 results! With numerous images being available to view on social media and the internet generally, the natural assumption would be that this is where my inspiration for visiting Tarn Hows came from but this would be wrong.

I first saw a photograph of Tarn Hows when I purchased Gordon Stainforth’s photography book: Eyes To The Hills - The Mountain Landscape Of Britain. First published in 1991, Eyes To The Hills was an inspiration for me as a mountaineer and aspiring landscape photographer. Photographed pre-digital on film using a Hasselblad camera, Gordon Stainfoth’s images were (and are to this day) an outstanding body of photographic work from a mountaineer and photographer. But Eyes To The Hills is much more than a photography book, it explores the whole philosophy of mountaineering and the ways in which we see mountains. Included within this book, is a photograph of Tarn Hows with the Langdale Pikes in the background. It was this photograph that I first saw over 25 years ago that was my inspiration for visiting Tarn Hows, it is a pity that it took me all this time to see the Tarn for myself.

After three print runs, sadly Eyes To The Hills has been out of print for a long time. However, secondhand copies of the book can be purchased on Amazon for as little as £0.06, which is a bargain by any standards. A copy of this classic mountain photography book would be a good addition to any personal collection and a great source of inspiration. More information about Gordon Stainforth and his photography can be found on his website: www.gordonstainforth.co.uk.