A wet Bath

28th September 2008
In: News
Steeped in history Bath conjures up images of cobbled streets, traditional British charm and buildings of every conceivable epoch. A visit also offers plenty of scope for landscape photography as the surrounding Somerset countryside is flushed with opportunities.

A couple of weeks prior to my trip I researched my destination. Scouring the internet for the best photos of Bath, I not only built up a list of the sites I wanted to shoot, but the best angles too. One thing I didn’t think to check in advance was whether certain landmarks were better to photograph at dawn or dusk, as this obviously affects the angle light will hit your subject. Despite this small over-site I was pleased to be arriving in Bath knowing what I wanted to photograph and where it all was.

Just one thing left to check, the weather. By-Jupitus, the 5-day forecast made the kind of reading that makes you wonder why the Roman’s ever bothered invading in the first place. Torrential rain is expected throughout the weekend and beyond. If the previous two weeks are anything to go by then I’m anticipating washed out skies and only minimal changes in light tone throughout the day. I set off with the dim hope that I might get a resplendent thunder cloud or a fortuitous beam of sunlight dancing on the warm, open waters of the Roman Baths.

I arrive late Friday evening and spend a couple of hours wandering round the city centre to locate and assess my pre-planned subjects to save valuable time when I’m ready to start shooting. During my reconnaissance I discover that there will be a food exhibition on throughout the weekend so I return to my hotel pleased that if tomorrow’s weather is as vapid as I expect then I’ve got another option.

I wake to the sound of rain and a rumbling belly, so I quickly decide that the food exhibition will be the wisest and most satisfying choice of subject.

I had planned to photograph four key locations: Pultenay Bridge, The Roman Baths, The Royal Crescent and Avebury Stones, just outside Bath. As the hours flow past like the rain I realise the range and style of my shots will need to change. I even start looking for colourful characters that might make a good portrait shot.

I decide a still life would be prudent in the circumstances and purchase a beautifully ornate seafood starter, purely for its photographic potential you understand! The delicate arrangement of the food made it easy to start photographing straight away.

By the end of the day I had only photographed one of my intended targets - the Royal Crescent.

My only solace was that Bath is a small place and I could get round it quickly if the weather improved.

Peeping through my hotel curtains at 5am I am pleased to discover there is a respite in the rain, although the sky is hospital grey. Skipping breakfast I scurry down the hill into the city centre to catch the empty streets and courtyards around the Bath-house. I pass dozens of delinquent gulls shredding any bin bags that haven’t been appropriately stowed, but they wheel away before I get a chance to shoot them.

Arriving at the courtyard outside the baths I haul my gear from my bag and start assembling it. Predictably I start to feel the cold pin pricks of rain patter on my head. Disconsolate, I use the arcades and café awnings so I can keep shooting. With spasmodic breaks in the rain, I spend a couple of hours patrolling the short distance between Pultenay Bridge and the Baths. The tanned colour of the buildings, the sombre lighting and the flat sky meant I was taking shots with a view to converting to black and white; although in reality a monochrome image needs a diverse range of tones for full effect.

Finally the baths open and just as I go inside to start being a tourist the singular slate grey cloud finally breaks offering a more interesting blend of light and shade. Typical, I thought; the sun finally comes out and I’m back indoors! Fortunately, the last and most photogenic section of the Baths is outside and the sky now made a more flattering backdrop, my wet weekend finally had a silver lining.

Romans, Vikings and their ilk have come and gone, but it is our eternal battle with the weather that defines our country and very often our photography.


- Always have a back-up plan, or be prepared to be flexible if you intend to photograph outside. I needn’t explain why!

- Plan ahead. You never have enough time, so you need to have a good understanding of what you want to photograph and where it is before you set off.

- A graduated filter is a crucial piece of kit. Even in poor weather they can help keep some detail in the sky.

- As photographers we generally don’t like bright sunlight, but a totally flat sky can be equally troublesome.

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