The most evocative and uplifting moments I have experienced in the mountains of Britain and the Himalaya have been during the twilight hours, particularly in the pre-dawn, when one is alone, the world around is still, and the only sound to be heard is that of silence.
Such was the case one very still and bitterly cold morning in early January when I found myself at Barrow Bay on the eastern shores of Derwentwater looking across a frozen lake towards Skiddaw. As is customary I had arrived in darkness, and with cold and stiff fingers had assembled my cameras with a view to capturing what I hoped would be a colourful midwinter sunrise on the snow laden slopes of Skiddaw. However, the spectacle that was about to unfold was much more than I had anticipated and before I would depart some hours later I was to enjoy one of the most magificent displays of light and colour that I had witnessed throughout a lifetime behind-the-lens.
To pass the time as I waited impatiently in the icy cold pre-dawn, mug of coffee in one hand and cable release in the other, I ran off a few exposures simply to ensure that my camera was working correctly in the sub-zero temperatures. With my attention distracted by the outcome of those images, it was only during a brief glance upward that I suddenly realised that I could clearly identify the Earth's shadow across Derwentwater's unobstructed western horizon. Lethargy was instantly replaced by industrious endeavour.
Over the next few moments, the shadow's dark blue fringe developed and blended into a magnificent pink band which illuminated not only much of the sky but the frozen surface of Derwentwater also. I had seen this phenomenon, known as the 'Belt of Venus' or the 'Anti-Twilight Arch' many times before, but never in quite such a dramatic display as on this occasion which was obviously enhanced by the contrasting and vivid white of Skiddaw's snowy slopes.
I tried to remain calm and carefully and systematically capture in a variety of compositions the scene that lay before me. It is at such times that I welcome the development of digital photography, for when the scene finally gave way to the arrival of the long anticipated sunrise I was confident that a wonderful selection of beautiful and totally unanticipated material was safely 'in the can'. A colourful sunrise followed as the sun's warming rays illuminated Skiddaw with beautiful soft pink, followed by orange and then yellow light, but for once a lovely sunrise was up-staged by the magnificent spectacle that had preceeded it.
Time of Year : Early January.
Location and Map Reference : NY 26809 20218 : Barrow Bay, Derwentwater. Time : 0820 GMT
Equipment : Canon EOS 5D Mark III, Canon EF 24-105mm f4 L IS USM Lens at 75mm, Gitzo tripod, Arca Swiss tripod head.
Camera Settings : Shutter 1/6 sec, Aperture f11, ISO 200.