The Cloudmakers

The story behind the photo: The Cloudmakers

I have just been in the Nottingham and Leicester area for a shoot for Teenage Cancer Trust. While there, I took advantage of the opportunity to get a photo that I have been wanting to capture for years now.

Just off the M1 at junction 24 is Ratcliffe-on-Soar Power Station, a coal fired, 2,000 MW power station with eight enormous cooling towers. When running at full capacity the towers send dense plumes of steam into the atmosphere, creating, under the right conditions, a vast cloud that can be seen for miles around.

I stopped at the power station just before sunset on Tuesday evening, and there was no wind at all so the plumes were heading vertically upwards until they reached a layer of the atmosphere that was moving, creating an anvil-shaped cloud that was actually generating small amounts of rain as I watched. However the conditions still weren’t right for the photo I wanted – the sun was hidden behind a bank of cloud in the west, meaning there was no sunlight hitting the plumes of steam, and the contrast between the steam and the pale blue sky behind wasn’t enough to create an arresting photo.

Undeterred, I returned to the spot a few hours later when the whole scene was lit by the lights of the power station and the adjacent East Midlands Parkway railway station. The red lights on the single chimney (visible in the centre of the photo) gave a coloured tinge to the edges of some of the plumes of steam emerging from the cooling towers, and it was by now dark enough that I could use a two minute exposure to blur the steam and smoke into an almost mist-like appearance. You can see the smoke is made of different gases from the steam as it has a slight yellow tinge.

Shot from ground level, I used a 24mm tilt-shift lens shifted upwards to ensure the towers and the columns of steam and smoke remained vertical in the frame, and the trees and lights in the foreground help to emphasise the sheer scale of the structures.

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The Cloudmakers
The Cloudmakers