York Minster and Walls - The story of a picture

February 19, 2013  •  Leave a Comment

There are two stories to every photograph - the story told by the image itself, and the story of the creation of the photo. I have a clear memory of the circumstances leading up to each of the photos in my portfolio - the extent to which the photo was planned, whether anybody was with me when I took it, and the thoughts I had about composition and light. All of my photographs tend to be a combination of planning and a certain amount of good fortune. I place myself in the position to take the photo at the right time to do so, and hope that the light will be suitable for the photo I want to create.

York is an attractive city with history around every corner. It is a place where I have taken many photographs - for my own portfolio and for various articles in Yorkshire Ridings magazine. There is one view, looking along the city walls from near station Road over Lendal Bridge towards the Minster, which I have photographed several times without producing an image I was happy with. In the daytime the view lacked impact to my eye. I tried an evening shot, but a floodlight spoiled the view. I therefore decided to try an early morning shot, with dawn breaking behind the minster.

This is the result:

York walls and Minster9463-minster-and-walls

You can see a larger version of this photograph in the York gallery here.

My first planning decision for this photo was the time of year to take the picture, I decided that winter would be best. I find that for this type of dawn or dusk shot trees without leaves give a more pleasing image than when they are in full leaf. In summer at this time of the day, the tree canopy can appear as very dark blocks in the image. The next consideration was the weather. I knew that the foreground of the picture would have plenty of interest, so a clear sky, with graduated blues would work. My first piece of good fortune on this day was that the weather was as forecast.

York's city walls are locked overnight, except for a small section which appears in the middle ground of this photo. I set my tripod up at that point and took a couple of photos. This view was "OK", but didn't work as I really wanted - if I took the shot from the path next to the walls, a tree covered more than I wanted of the Minster, and if I moved the viewpoint away from the walls onto the adjacent steps, the image didn't give the impression that the viewer could walk into the photograph.

At this point, my second piece of good fortune appeared - a man on a bike whose job was to open the gates of the walls for the day. Luckily he started his rounds where I was standing. I moved further along the walls to give longer lead in lines to the Minster and a higher viewpoint, revealing more of the Minster's illuminated West Front. I took a series of shots from this spot - balancing the exposure and looking at the pattern of traffic trails in each image. I was happy to have the traffic trails to give atmosphere, but didn't really want any stationary cars or buses distracting from the composition.

I took this shot, which I felt worked, and thirty seconds later the floodlights on the west front of the minster switched off - my third piece of good fortune.  Without the lights on the Minster its significance as a focal point in the composition diminishes enormously.

One of the fascinating aspects of photography is that each photographer approaches a place with their own viewpoint. When I get to know a place and visit it time and again I will tend to look at it slightly differently each time. In fact, looking at this image, and thinking about the way the walls run at this point, there are several other possibilities I may well explore on a future visit. I hope however that this image gives the viewer the impression of walking along the walls on a stunning, crisp winter morning.


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