Last Sunday morning the finely-tuned plan had been to be up bright and early. I’d drive into central London to snap the 7am start of the London Brighton veteran car rally, and then carry on up to the Lake District.

So everything had been packed on Saturday afternoon, the alarm was set on my phone, the phone was charged, and it was near the bed. What could go wrong? Only my own incompetence. The phone’s time was 12 hours wrong – AM instead of PM, or whatever – and by the time I woke up the cars would already have been half way to Brighton. So much for planning (a familiar theme).

But sometimes you get a bit of perhaps-undeserved luck. The weather here can be unpredictable and varies in different valleys, so on Thursday I was just checking various webcams when I noticed a link to a veteran car rally in Honister slate quarry. And it turned out to be an annual event which was taking place on Saturday. Bingo! Just a couple of miles from where I’m based, this quarry is at the top of one of England’s steepest roads and it’s a location I know well (I’m a big fan of what they do). In fact when I was here in September I’d been up the quarry track three times in a couple of weeks. It zig zags up to near the top of the mountain, Fleetwith Pike, and I could easily imagine how spectacular the veteran cars would look battling their way up its 25% incline. Mine workings scarred the valley opposite and the huge views across Borrowdale would be a wonderful backdrop.

So that was my Saturday. I was up there an hour before kick off and didn’t leave until it was getting dark and when the last driver decided it was a challenge too far. I think we endured 4 mixed rain-wind-hail-snowstorms, and at times it was depressingly cold. Great day though!

I think a few things stand out :

  • Vintage cars are nice and slow, even more so up those hills, and you can usually get closer than with modern cars.
  • A low angle worked well – and that was thanks to spending the day standing in the streams which line the quarry track.
  • Most of the time I used my wide angle lens, which tends to produce a dramatic effect when action is so close, and a few were with my 50mm. My 70-200 might as well have stayed at home.
  • I felt my mentality was landscape photography with motorsport, not photographing motorsport. I think that helped avoid boring car shots (sorry motorsport enthusiasts!).
  • A neutral grad filter stayed on the wideangle lens and was great for keeping detail in the sky.
  • Open top cars make better pictures because you see the people – those with roofs just look lifeless unless you get a view of the driver.

My favourite shot has to be the girl with the lovely big smile. Only one person is allowed to drive the car down, and she had just told her passenger he was walking back. On reflection, I wish I’d gone for more of this type of observational picture – but there’s always next year!

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