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Moorland streams on Christmas Day – how to do things the hard way.

Moorland streams on Christmas Day – how to do things the hard way.
A small stream Dunsford Wood, Teign Valley, Devon, England.  This is a long exposure images taken to produce a fluid, surreal look to the flowing river. Colin Munro Photography

A small stream Dunsford Wood, Teign Valley, Devon, England.

Like all photographers I am sometimes asked how I created certain images, and how difficult getting certain pictures were. The answer in most cases is ‘not that difficult provided you’ve planned it and are well prepared’. But sometimes I just make things difficult for myself.

The above picture is a long exposure, 30 seconds in this case, used to blur movement (in the above picture the flowing water) producing a milky, fluid and slightly surreal look to the flowing stream. Obviously the amount of light hitting the camera sensor has to be limited to compensate for such a long exposure. Stopping down to a very small aperture helps but will only get you so far, rarely all the way to 30 seconds exposure. Stacking neutral density filters in front of the lens is one way, but a simpler way (especially this time of year when days are short) is to shoot at dusk, when light levels are naturally low and long shutter speeds are not merely desirable but also necessary.

Late Christmas Day I made a snap decision to get out on to Dartmoor, go for a walk and get some nice images. I left in a rush, trying to multi-task ineffectively as usual. The moor was not inspiring – low grey cloud and steady drizzle do not make for great pictures, so I turned around and reluctantly headed home. Light was fading fast when I found this little stream in the steep, wooded valley of the River Teign. I pulled over and decided to try and get some shots. This was where my rushing and lack of preparation came home to roost. I realised I had left my walking boots by the entrance to my boat and had only the city shoes I was wearing with me. Worse still, upon opening my tripod case (not checked before I left) I discovered that somehow the tripod head had snapped in two (I’ll be writing to Manfrotto shortly). Luckily I also had a small, six inch, tabletop tripod with me, but that meant actually getting in to the stream and perching it on top of boulders if I were obtain any useable shots. By the time I found a suitable spot along the stream it was about 4:15pm and getting gloomier by the minute. A quick scan around confirmed that there were no suitable boulders at the edge of the stream on which to mount the tripod; there was no alternative, shoes and socks had to come off and I had to wade out in to the middle of the stream. Thirty minutes later I stumbled to the side. The light had well and truly gone, so it was time to pack up. I had by then also lost all feeling below the ankles. It was not until i started driving home again that feeling began to return to my feet, doing so in painful waves as flow returned to constricted blood vessels. I had ample time to reflect on the stupidity of my lack of planning. My first actions the following day were to buy a spare tripod and place wellingtons and thick socks on the boot of my car in readiness. Hopefully that is at least one mistake I won’t repeat. Meanwhile I have now place some of these images in my art images of Devon Landscapes Gallery. This can be viewed (and prints purchased) here. Hopefully it was worth the effort. Colin

Teign Valley: Dunsford Wood and the River Teign, Christmas Day

Teign Valley: Dunsford Wood and the River Teign, Christmas Day

Steps Bridge, River Teign, Dunsford Wood, in mid-winter

Steps Bridge, River Teign, Dunsford Wood, in mid-winter


This has turned out to be one of the coldest Christmas days on record here in South Devon. Living on a boat, this has not escaped my attention. I haven’t been moving too far from the woodburner stove at night. For the second winter in a row I’ve been locked in ice for weeks on end. Around 2a.m. this morning I was woken by a loud bang and the whole boat shuddering strongly. It was around minus 10 Centigrade (~14deg F) and Maria had shifted as the ice thickened and expanded. Maria weighs around 30 tons. I climbed on to deck to check the thickness of the ice. A few hard thumps with an old wooden oar succeeded only in sending gunshot-like sounds ricocheting through the night and splintering the blade of the oar. I gave up and retired to bed. Maria is very stoutly built with oak frames at 11″ spacing, she wasn’t about to be crushed. I just don’t want the ice to get any thicker.
River Teign partially frozen, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.

River Teign partially frozen, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.

Christmas day was perfect: clear blue skies and crisp white snow underfoot. So after doing the family stuff in the morning I decided to take my son Calum walking in the Teign Valley through Dunsford Wood. It would certainly give us an appetite for Christmas dinner. Dunsford Wood is owned by the National Trust and Managed by the Devon Wildlife Trust, with footpaths through the woodland and along the riverbank open to the public. In summer it is a great place to see huge wood ant colonies and the rare High Brown Fritillary butterfly. Year round it’s a great place to walk; light open oak, hazel and ash woodland on one side and on the other the river lazily gliding past (or thundering past, depending on season). As it happened, the river was doing neither along much of the walk on Christmas Day; or if it was drifting past it was doing so beneath a carapace of ice. We were lucky enough spot a couple of dippers (Cinclus cinclus) as we walked ( a first for my son). We watched one for several minutes as it skipped between sheets of ice-covered river, occasionally slipping beneath the surface where it found ice-free water. Unfortunately the sun was already low and the only long lens I had with me was way too slow, so I didn’t bother getting it out. As the sun set and the temperature plumetted we headed back to the landrover hoping that the stove would still be going when we got back to the boat.

River Teign partially frozen, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.

River Teign partially frozen, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.

Snow-covered upland oak woodland along banks of the River Teign,  Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.

Snow-covered upland oak woodland along banks of the River Teign, Dunsford Wood, South Devon, UK.


As always my images are available to license and as fine art prints. If you’d like to use one of my images for publication please contact me. If you’d like a print of one of the images drop me an email stating image number and print size (costs for prints can be found on my fine art prints pages, e.g. Fine Art prints of Devon. Email me.
To my main website www.colinmunrophotography.com