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Cumbrian Images: A Lockdown Photography Story

By Rob Stuthridge

In February this year if you’d asked my wife Carol and me what we’d be doing with our spare time in June, “photographing nature” and starting a new venture would have been a long way down the list of activities! With me working full-time in the Barrow shipyard, evenings normally consisted of watching TV and weekends were for visiting shops and cafes in Cumbrian towns, with the occasional walk thrown in for a change.

Then in late March, life changed, (as it did for everyone, sometimes tragically), with the spread of Covid-19 and the movement restrictions required to stem its transmission. We were fortunate I was in a job I could do at home, so that’s where I was sent and where I’m still working at time of writing.

We soon realised that we had another blessing in our life – a garden! This became, for us, the place to escape the confines of the house. As it happened, the weather turned gloriously warm and sunny, there was an almost complete absence of traffic noise (we live in Barrow in Furness), Spring seemed ‘turbocharged’ with hatching birds and emerging insects and for the first time for years we had the time to take note of nature literally in our backyard; it was like having our own private “Springwatch!”

Hungry fledglings mean busy parents! Barrow in Furness.
Photo 1: Hungry fledglings mean busy parents! Barrow in Furness.
Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) on Erica Carnea, Barrow in Furness.
Photo 2: Honey Bee (Apis mellifera) on Erica Carnea, Barrow in Furness.

Every time we took a break from our work, we’d head out to the garden to watch insects on flowers, beetles in the grass, birds on the feeders taking food off to hidden nestlings, with a growing appreciation that what was a crisis for Cumbria was, in many ways, respite for our wildlife. I’m sure we weren’t the only people who gained a new appreciation of the creatures which share our living spaces.

Despite my forty-plus years’ interest in photography, I hadn’t really kept up with changing technology, but in 2018 bought a used Nikon D500, though we rarely used it on walks or town visits. Like most people, we had become used to using our phone cameras, but these were not up to capturing our backyard wildlife; the insects were too small, the birds too distant and too fast. So the D500 was put to work, sharing our backyard jungle on WhatsApp and Facebook with family and friends who could not pay us a visit.

Yarrow [Achillea millefolium], Roanhead.
Yarrow [Achillea millefolium], Roanhead.
Tiny Natterjack toadlet, Roanhead.
Tiny Natterjack toadlet, Roanhead.

I knew Carol enjoyed our garden safaris and has a great eye for composition, but she didn’t have her own camera. With uncanny timing, when Carol’s birthday arrived in mid-May, the birthday fairy brought her a used Nikon D850 (most of our gear is used, because it’s too expensive for us when new). Sticking to one camera brand would keep the costs of our hobby down by sharing lenses (we now squabble over who gets to use which lens and when, but that’s another story). From the outset, Carol created more ‘artistic’ images of nature, whereas I favoured realism.

Our different approaches expand the variety of images we produce. We don’t line up to take the same picture, though we occasionally stray into each other’s style!

South Walney dunes support a wide variety of wildlife.
South Walney dunes support a wide variety of wildlife.
Lakeland fells framed by the dunes at Roanhead
Lakeland fells framed by the dunes at Roanhead

We soon realised we had stumbled onto a hobby we could enjoy together, while following individual paths. Photography enables us (literally) to focus on nature and to share our excitement with others.

As the Covid-19 restrictions eased, we took our cameras further afield. We had previously visited South Walney Nature Reserve in November 2019 when I’d photographed grey seals, so we returned recently to see some of its other inhabitants.

When friends told us about the Nature Reserves at Sandscale Haws, North Walney and Roanhead, these were revelations to us! We couldn’t believe we had lived for the past two years with these treasures right under our noses, driving for miles into the Lakes when so much was unexplored nearby. We started to visit our ‘local’ Nature Reserves and filled our days taking photos of the rich nature and wildlife of the dunes, ponds and seashore around Barrow in Furness.

Stonechat posing politely at Sandscale Haws Nature Reserve
Stonechat posing politely at Sandscale Haws Nature Reserve
Another stunning sunset from the dunes at Roanhead.
Another stunning sunset from the dunes at Roanhead.

We also found that walks that would have lasted an hour with our phones took four with our cameras, because we’d stop to capture everything, excitedly sharing it online when we got back home. Our photographic skills improved with every poorly exposed image, blurred shot or empty frame from which a bird had just departed (we’ve learned that wild birds have zero patience with photographers!), and we watched a lot of instructional videos on YouTube!

By the end of May, we agreed that nature photography was something we would continue, lockdown or no lockdown. We set up “Cumbrian Images” (so-named because it’s what we produce) and we have a growing audience on social media and have just published our new website. Without the lockdown, Cumbrian Images wouldn’t have existed. Much worse, we might still be ignorant of nature’s treasures right here on our doorstep.

Carol and Rob Cumbrian Images

About the Authors

Carol & Rob Stuthridge
Cumbrian Images

We moved with our two dogs (Oscar and Tilly) from Lancashire to Cumbria in 2019, though Rob has worked in Barrow’s BAE shipyard since 2018.  Carol has a legal and web background and Rob is an ergonomist. We are passionate about Cumbria’s diverse landscapes, nature and wildlife and established Cumbrian Images to share our passions with a wider audience through photographs, videos and podcasts. https://cumbrianimages.com/