Autumn is perfect for landscape photography, so Nigel Hicks takes us on a tour of the county capturing stunning scenes – from crashing waves on the cliffs of Hartland at sunset to the wild, fire barrel carriers of Ottery

So this is autumn, and the hazy, high sun of summer is behind us, replaced with lower, more dramatic light, coupled with increasingly stormy clouds and vibrant, colourful foliage. This is the time for autumn's great show before the duller colours of winter set in. For landscape photographers especially, this is their favourite time of year.

No autumn photography would be complete without the colours of the foliage, both in our wild woodlands and gardens. Although the leaves of our native woodland trees don't generate the rich red colours that the maples of North America and Northeast Asia manage, we do have the golden yellows of beech, birch, hazel, field maple and larch to liven things up. Our gardens, on the other hand, do have some of those American and Asian maples, their presence making for some wonderful photography subjects.

Along the coasts, both sea and land are starting to take on a more rugged, weather-worn look, although in early autumn some of the more sheltered spots can look every bit as balmy as they do in summer. Generally, though, the sea is more restless, waves rolling around the rocks and on to sand with more energy and urgency, driven - like the increasingly scudding clouds – by the growing Atlantic winds.

On the cliffs and moors, the bracken has died back, the once-green foliage replaced by a tangle of patternless bracken, not so inspiring to look at on a cloudy day but a firey mirror of copper and bronze when hit by the light of the setting sun. It’s always a sight to look out for on an autumn evening.

Finally, the human world lends its own colour and vibrancy with the festivals around Bonfire Night, and in Devon that most especially means the Ottery Tar Barrels, a wild evening of blazing barrels tearing through crowded streets on the backs of some very brave, or foolhardy, men. It’s a spectacle to be photographed by those that can hold their nerve!

Bowerman's Nose

Great British Life: Bowerman's Nose (c) Nigel HicksBowerman's Nose (c) Nigel Hicks

Bowerman's Nose as seen in the golden sunlight typical of the last few minutes before sunset, on a crystal clear day in late autumn. Though one of Dartmoor's most iconic landmarks, it is not an easy lump of granite to photograph well. Any shot that really does justice to the rock requires you to come in quite close, something made really rather difficult by its position on a hillside littered with boulders, many of them hidden among deep, tangled vegetation. Coming in close to create a strong angle takes some time and care, but shooting from a distance, safely outside the field of boulders results in an image that is quite flat and uninspiring. 123

Fingle Woods

Great British Life: Fingle Woods (c) Nigel HicksFingle Woods (c) Nigel Hicks

No autumnal photography would be complete without some wonderful autumn colours from Devon's woodlands. This image shows some of the lower leaves of a beech tree, set along the banks of the River Teign, near Fingle Bridge, in the heart of Dartmoor. Unfortunately, most of our ancient woodlands consist largely of oak trees, which don't usually generate particularly vibrant autumn colours. Beech trees, on the other hand do, and when you can find woodlands containing patches of beech then you're in for a treat. Such is the case with the woods at this location. 94

Evening wave at Hartland

Great British Life: Hartland (c) Nigel HicksHartland (c) Nigel Hicks

Shortly before high tide, at Hartland Quay on the north coast, shoreline rocks are both washed by the rolling waves of the Atlantic and reflect the final rays of sunlight minutes before sunset. Not only does the setting sun illuminate the subject with warm, golden light, but also the low light levels make it easy to use a long exposure time, something that blurs the movement of the sea, capturing and conveying the restless energy and movement of the waves as they hit the shore. 86

Ottery Tar Barrels

Great British Life: Ottery Tar Barrels (c) Nigel HicksOttery Tar Barrels (c) Nigel Hicks

A blazing tar barrel, held aloft by a group of men, is taken at high speed through the crowded streets of Ottery St Mary, in the town's celebrations of Bonfire Night. The spectacular and frankly rather scary annual festival is probably one of Devon's most enigmatic events, certainly wholly unique. The sight of one of these barrels heading towards the crowd is usually sufficient to send people scattering to get out of its way. Not so the photographer, of course, whose job it is to head in the opposite direction, coming in as close as they can to seize the action, the drama and the frenzy of the situation. 112

Rosemoor in autumn

Great British Life: Rosemoor (c) Nigel HicksRosemoor (c) Nigel Hicks

Autumn colours in a man-made landscape setting at the stunningly beautiful RHS Garden Rosemoor near Great Torrington. Although the placing and relative juxtapositions of trees and shrubs is contrived and controlled it is nevertheless, from the photographic perspective, complex and compact, making it important to apply just the same rules of landscape photography as you would out in a natural setting. In other words, try to keep the compositions simple, don't feel it essential to squeeze into the frame the whole of your subject tree, just those parts that fit well into a composition with its neighbours, taking into account their colours and shapes next to the larger, brighter tree, which is the main subject of the image. 124

A Salcombe panorama

Great British Life: View of Salcombe (c) Nigel HicksView of Salcombe (c) Nigel Hicks

This is an early autumn view, looking up the Kingsbridge Estuary past the iconic harbour of Salcombe, to the rolling hills of south Devon. It’s quintessential and utterly stunning Devon. With autumn setting in, the colours of the hills change from a largely uniform vibrant green to a softer mix of hues, all set against the magnificent blue of the estuary, showcasing the beauty of Salcombe's shoreside setting. 66

Sunset at Thurlestone

Great British Life: Thurlestone (c) Nigel HicksThurlestone (c) Nigel Hicks

Sunset on a brisk autumnal day at Thurlestone on the south coast. The state of the sand suggests that it had been a busy day here but now, as the sun drops towards the horizon and things turn a little squally, just one solitary figure remains, tiny and possibly rather fragile against the enormity and power of the sea and sky. This kind of image feels like the very essence of autumn on the coast. 78

Valley of Rocks

Great British Life: The Valley of Rocks (c) Nigel HicksThe Valley of Rocks (c) Nigel Hicks

The golden light of sunset sets the autumnal dying, brown bracken ablaze on the magnificent coastal cliffs at the Valley of Rocks, at Lynton in the western part of Exmoor National Park. One of the most dramatic and most easily accessible parts of the Exmoor coastline, these west-facing cliffs are best photographed in the evening, with the sunlight shining on to the rocks, really bringing them to life and generating vibrant colours in both the bracken and along the rocks and cliff face. 85


Great British Life: Watersmeet (c) Nigel HicksWatersmeet (c) Nigel Hicks

The deep and precipitous valley cut by the East Lyn River at Watersmeet, near Lynmouth, in Exmoor National Park, comes alive with vibrant colour as the dense forest heads into autumn. With the rich greens of summer replaced briefly by these colours, shortly before the winter 'sleep' begins, this is one of the best times to photograph this and other forests like it across Devon. 

Great British Life: Beautiful Devon (c) Nigel HicksBeautiful Devon (c) Nigel Hicks (Image: Nigel Hicks)

Nigel Hicks is a Devon-based professional photographer. His one-day photography workshops include Autumn Garden, Exmoor Wildlife, and Dartmoor in Autumn. His books about the South West, including Wild Southwest and Beautiful Devon, can be bought from most bookshops, high street and online, or directly from Nigel.