Back in January, I made the journey up to the Ribblehead Viaduct, the iconic piece of Victorian infrastructure on the Settle to Carlisle railway line. I thought this would make a good subject for this year’s RICS UK Infrastructure photography competition as it fitted the brief perfectly. I had heard that the Flying Scotsman would be pulling an express over the viaduct that day but as it turned out this famous steam locomotive was having issues with its brakes following its multi-million pound refurbishment and was replaced by two other locos. Nevertheless, steam locomotives of any description would be the icing on the cake for any shots taken. When I arrived, the area was already quite busy with walkers and photographers. As the viaduct is framed by Whernside, the highest peak in the Dales it is a popular spot for hikers. Nearby is Ingleborough which together with Pen-y-ghent form the three peaks challenge.
Having never visited the viaduct before, I set about scouting the area and looking for different angles to photograph the structure. The light was quite soft which helped to avoid harsh shadows. I utilised both my Canon 5Diii and Sony A7ii on this shoot. My first group of shots was taken from the eastern side of the viaduct as well as from underneath – its highest point being 104ft above the valley floor. I also wanted to convey the scale of the structure which can easily be lost without a point of reference.
After this first group of shots I walked up to the road to view the viaduct from the western side. Here one can see the sweeping curve of the structure and it was where most of the photographers had set up their tripods. I chatted to a few as I passed and when I found my preferred location I photographed the viaduct with my 300mm f4 prime lens supported on my monopod. In addition to taking single shots, I decided to take a sequenced set of images to combine into a panorama when back in the office. The time ticked away and there was no sign of any steam train. An old diesel train chugged over at one point which was good for reference shots but I was becoming concerned about the dropping light levels and the need to keep re-evaluating my camera settings. By 3.30pm most of the photographers had started to pack up and I too was becoming concerned about the low light as the sun started to head towards the horizon. At this point, and after having checked my watch frequently towards 4pm, a local chap arrived who had that the train was on its way and we started chatting about the area. I was fascinated to learn that the ITV drama series, Jericho had been filmed nearby as the story was based on the building of the viaduct in the 1870’s. By 4.30pm however, I had lost the light and not seen the steam train which was disappointing. I had though, had a very enjoyable day out and met some interesting people along the way. I was sure I had captured some nice images of the viaduct and was looking forward to viewing them on the large computer monitor.
I utilise Adobe’s Lightroom CC to process my RAW files together with Photoshop when required. As these images were taken for a competition, I was very careful to read what was and wasn’t permitted in terms of post-processing. After reviewing all my images, I selected one taken from the eastern side of the viaduct. This had a good leading line from a footpath, a sense of scale from walkers in the distance and the light from the south picked out the fine details of the construction. The colours were quite drab and Whernside was a little misty at times so I decided to convert to black and white. Form and contrast are very important when utilising this genre of photography. Luckily, today there are many fine pieces of software which do a very good job of converting images to black and white. I use the Silver Efex Pro plug-in for Lightroom and Photoshop as a starting point which is part of the Nik suite owned by Google. They have just recently released the whole suite for free which is quite amazing! My work done, I set off the image with 2 weeks to spare before the closing date. Unfortunately this year, my image didn’t make the top ten but that is not the point of this blog. I had a great day out and even though the steam locos eluded me, I now have some fine images of an amazing piece of civil engineering infrastructure.