Top 10 Locations for Landscape Photography in Yorkshire
Yorkshire is England’s largest county, stretching from the North Sea coast, into and over the Pennines, and from the River Tees in the north to the Humber and further south.
Yorkshire covers an area of over 4500 square miles and has nearly a third of the total area of national parks in England contained within its borders. The Yorkshire Dales, the North York Moors, and part of the Peak District make up around a fifth of the region’s land mass.
When you consider that, within the national park land alone, there are stunning waterfalls, scenic rivers, mature woodland, dramatic gritstone crags, vibrant heather moorland, beautiful green glacial valleys and hills, more limestone pavement than anywhere else in the UK, and even 45 miles of coastline, you begin to gain an insight into the sheer diversity of the region.
However, when you combine the soft, rolling countryside of the Yorkshire Wolds, the moorland and gritstone of the South Pennines, and also many varied locations outlying industrial West Yorkshire, it becomes apparent that you could spend a lifetime here with a camera, and barely scratch the surface of what’s accessible.
Although some of the main centres of the dales and coast, such as Grassington, Malham, Whitby, and Scarborough can, and do, attract quite heavy tourism, you shouldn’t let this put you off. In most cases, it’s the towns and villages that become congested and, for only a slight diversion away, you will be rewarded with much quieter areas that, for the main part, you will have to yourself.
Thanks to its epic diversity, Yorkshire has a landscape for all seasons.
- In early spring (March), crops are planted in the Yorkshire Wolds, temporarily marking the undulating hills and meadows with orderly graphic patterns and lines. There are amazing woodland locations that will be heavily carpeted in Bluebells from late April, peaking around the beginning of May.
- In early June the hay meadows of the Yorkshire Dales burst into life with a blaze of yellow buttercups.
- In June and July, the sunsets along the coast at Whitby and Flamborough can be spectacular, with the sun actually rising and setting out to sea!
- In late August, the vibrant reds of the moors above contrast with the soft green gold of the valleys below, as the heather reaches the peak of its colour at Swaledale and Nidderdale.
- In September, as the days begin to draw in and mild daytime temperatures meet cooler nights, many of those same valleys will be filled with mist in the mornings, with the higher ground appearing to give a view from above the clouds.
- In mid October through to early November, numerous woodland/waterfall locations are framed with beautiful russet reds, fiery oranges, and vibrant yellows, around the onset of autumn.
- From December to February as the snow and ice arrives, areas of Limestone scenery around Crummackdale, Ribblesdale, and Kingsdale have enough drama to rival anywhere in the UK (if you can reach them).
Gordale Scar, Malham, Yorkshire Dales
Due to its south facing situation and its popularity with visitors to the dales, Gordale Scar is probably best photographed during the winter months, when its towering limestone cliffs will be bathed in warm, early morning, low-angled sunlight.
The Scar itself is actually a collapsed cavern, with Gordale Beck flowing through it from the gorge above. There are numerous viewpoints to try out, at both ground level and up on top of the Limestone Scar.
Down below, you can use the line of the stream to act as a lead into the cliffs in the background or, venturing into the back of the scar itself, there is a large waterfall, where the beck tumbles over ‘tufa’ (calcium carbonate) covered rocks.
From up above, you can use small areas of limestone pavement as a foreground to views of the dramatic amphitheatre of the cliffs beyond. It only takes a hint of cloud-diffused light to enhance an already moody scene.
Twisleton Scar, Yorkshire Dales
Twisleton Scar is situated above the village of Ingleton, at the head of the famous ’Ingleton waterfalls walk’. The scar is an area of moorland and dramatic limestone pavement, with views to two of Yorkshire’s famous ‘Three Peaks’ (Ingleborough and Whernside).
Around a thirty to forty minute steady, uphill walk will see you reach the top of the Scar, and some of the dales’ very best limestone scenery. Twisleton is renowned for its gnarly, old, stunted hawthorns, which barely cling to life, rooted between the grykes (deep fissures) in the limestone pavement. There are numerous examples of these dotted around.
Some of them provide a foreground or mid-ground subject to the already dramatic distant views, and some make a strong enough subject in themselves. Make sure to leave enough time to explore and work the area fully, as there are images to be made in all directions.
This is one area where your standard and ultra wide lenses will certainly become useful for making images with a deep foreground. If you can fit it in, take a walk slightly further onto Scales Moor. There is a fantastic example of an egg-shaped glacial erratic, perched on limestone pavement and perfectly placed for background views of both Ingleborough and Whernside.
Muker, Swaledale, Yorkshire Dales
Although there are many hay meadows spread around the whole of the Yorkshire Dales, the best known examples of these are probably found near the village of Muker in Swaledale. By using traditional farming practices and no pesticides, the meadows are left free of sheep, so grasses and wild flowers can flourish.
Around the first week of June the meadows should be a blaze of colour, with various wildflowers reaching their peak. The dry stone walls and ancient field barns obviously feature in lots of images, but why not go for a more impressionist approach.
Go low to the ground with a long-ish focal length (above 70mm) and use a wide-ish aperture (f/2.8 – f/5.6), and focus on the distant barn. The colourful, out-of-focus foreground flowers contrast beautifully with the sharp stonework of the barn, giving a slightly painterly feel to your images.
If you can make it, also take a walk from Keld, which is around a ten minute drive away. There are a couple of great waterfalls and also some fantastic views into the Kisdon Valley from Crackpot Hall.
Forever immortalised in Bram Stoker’s Dracula, Whitby is the typical Yorkshire seaside town, with amusement arcades, funfairs, and numerous novelty shops and public houses.
However, there is an altogether more romantic feel to Whitby when you walk through one of its cobbled streets on your way to photograph its old wooden piers at sunrise, or when you’re looking for a shot of the imposing Whitby Abbey up above on the cliffs at sunset.
Because of Whitby’s situation (looking north west up the coast), the sun actually rises and sets out to sea in June and July, making this an ideal time for a visit. However, some locations can be busy so, if possible, time your visit to avoid the crowds.
Try a shot looking down the 199 steps that lead from the town up to St Mary’s Church and the abbey. In my opinion, lens distortion spoils quite a few shots from this popular location, making it look like the buildings are crooked.
Try keeping your camera completely level, and walking down the steps until you have the right balance of foreground/sky. This will ensure that those verticals are all dead straight. From experience, you’ll also find that you can include one of the old, antiquated lamps in the left of your composition, and all the elements complement each other nicely.
If you want to get away from the crowds, take the road up towards the abbey (around a five to ten minute drive) and pay a visit to Saltwick Bay. There’s an iconic shot of the Admiral Van Tromp shipwreck looking back towards Whitby, but there’s also lots more.
The geology at Saltwick Bay is fantastic, with patterned shale, honeycomb rock formations, and even fossilised reefs, making a great subject for more intimate, close-up images.
Flamborough and Thornwick Bay
Just an hour’s drive down the coast, and there’s a completely different feel to the landscape at Flamborough Head. The cliffs are composed of white chalk and limestone, and there are similar slabs of rock down on the beaches.
There are fantastic views from Thornwick Bay towards the cliffs at Bempton, and a few of the bays are notable for their chalk arches or sea stacks. When you take into account the whole of the location, you really need a full day to explore it.
In midsummer, the viewpoints looking up the coast will work well at both ends of the day. In winter the sun rises behind the lighthouse, so this can be a good time to capture views from up on the coastal path above the cliffs.
Take around a twenty minute walk along the cliff from the North Landing car park, and you’ll eventually reach a cove called Breil Nook. There’s a beautifully pointed sea stack in the middle of the bay, and the sea here can be azure blue in late spring/summer. It’s a great location to try out some long exposure work at either end of the day.
Stoupe Brow, Ravenscar, North York Moors
At Stoupe Brow near Ravenscar, the heather moorland of the North York Moors meets the North Sea, and the views from along the Cleveland Way footpath are well worth visiting for. This is another quieter location and, even at busier times of the year and in the middle of the day, you should be able to get away from the crowds.
This particular view looks down into Robin Hood’s Bay with an old waymarker stone in the foreground but, if you walk over the moor from the parking area, you can get some slightly closer views of the bay, as well as the patchwork pattern of the cultivated fields below. Time your visit to coincide with peak heather season, and the sun will bathe the heather in soft light during the first couple of hours of the day.
If you get the chance, Boggle Hole, down below the cliffs, is also worth a visit at sunrise. There are some great rocks here at the back of the beach which make a kind of natural pavement, and the views towards Robin Hood’s Bay and down the coast (depending on time of year) always work well.
Do take care here though, as your escape route from the bay and off the rocks can get cut off very quickly as the tide rises.
Fridaythorpe, Yorkshire Wolds
If you’re looking for a change of scenery (and let’s face it, as landscape photographers, do we ever stop looking for new locations?), set aside some time to go and explore the Yorkshire Wolds. As most photographers seem to overlook the area in favour of the more popular Yorkshire Dales, North York Moors, or coastal locations, it’s almost guaranteed that you will be the only person around with camera in hand when you visit.
Granted, the Wolds might not be the most dramatic of areas. They’re relatively flat and tend to be more agricultural in nature, as opposed to the moodier appearance of the hills, and geology of the dales and moors. However, this is exactly their attraction!
You have to work and adapt your vision to your surroundings to make successful images, which will surely only make you a better photographer. Without the usual stream of images popping up on the internet, you’ll head out with no pre-conceived ideas about what or how you’re going to shoot. This stops you becoming ‘blinkered’ to other types of images.
I was exploring the area in exactly this way a few years ago, and came across this undulating field and disused farmhouse at Fridaythorpe. I’ve since returned and photographed it in most seasons and at different times of day. It still remains one of my favourite locations in the Yorkshire Wolds.
Huggate, Yorkshire Wolds
The Yorkshire Wolds are known for their serpentine glacial valleys, or ‘slacks’ as they are named locally. The way the valley sides intersect each other from certain angles make for some very interesting geometric-style images.
There are numerous examples of these small valleys close to the village of Huggate and, with a ‘less is more’ type attitude to composition, and some favourable, cloud-diffused light, it’s possible to come away with something just that bit different!
The landscape of the Wolds around this area is constantly changing throughout the farming calendar. As certain crops are harvested and new ones are planted, this creates even more opportunity for new images, where previously there may have been none.
I personally find longer focal lengths more useful here to isolate smaller areas of much wider scenery. As such, a 70–200mm lens hardly ever leaves the camera. Concentrating on simple graphic pattern, curves, shapes, and the lines of the hills or the crops and surrounding landscape, will create the strongest images.
Hardcastle Crags, Heptonstall, West Yorkshire
Yorkshire has many small rivers and streams flowing through woodland. One of my personal favourite locations is Hardcastle Crags near Heptonstall, which is managed by the National Trust.
The fast-flowing Hebden water enters the valley at Blake Dean, passing through 400 acres of unspoilt woodland, and over thirty miles of footpath on its journey towards Hebden Bridge. Around the middle of the valley walk is Gibson Mill, a restored cotton mill that now operates as a cafe and a shop.
As well as the woodland, you can also scramble up onto one of the crags not far from the mill. This gives you an elevated view over the valley and woodland below. Autumn is an obvious time to visit as the colour here can be spectacular!
The valley is also prone to filling with mist after cooler, calm nights, and this only adds more atmosphere to your woodland images. Spring can also be a great time to visit, and there are areas that become carpeted in bluebells around the beginning of May. It’s difficult to resist a good reflection shot, and the glass-like pond behind Gibson Mill is perfect for this.
Bridestones Moor, Todmorden, West Yorkshire
Bridestones Moor is an area of open moorland and gritstone rock formations situated above the industrial town of Todmorden, which lies right on the border between West Yorkshire and Lancashire.
If you enter the moor from the eastern side and follow the path from Eastwood Road, you will eventually find the rocky outcrop that gives the moor its name. The rocks here have a few different names. They’re known as the ‘Kebs’, the ‘Kebstones’, or the ‘Bridestones’.
There’s one rock in particular that stands out, as it is very narrow at its base (probably due to water erosion), and becomes broader at the top. As this rock stands slightly away from the main outcrop, it is possible to isolate it (using an ultra wide lens), and include views of Stoodley Pike (hill and monument) in the distance.
If you walk down the western edge of the moor from the path that begins on the Kebs Road, you can continue all the way until the views over the Calder Valley begin to open up. There is a large pile of gritstone boulders here, part of which can make a great foreground to the view back down the valley.
This is a great place to explore at any time of the year, but late August is an obvious highlight because of the heather.
It’s obviously difficult to do justice to such a large and diverse area in a short article, but I do hope this very quick guide to Yorkshire maybe inspires you to get out and try a new location for yourself.
Just as a quick safety note: if you do venture on to the limestone pavements, please do take care and wear appropriate clothing and boots. Limestone can be treacherous, especially in damp weather or in winter, when there may be a coating of frost or ice. Always make sure someone knows exactly where you are.
Finally, the weather here can be testing at times, but the old adage that ‘it’s grim up north’ is an absolute myth!