I've been to Snowdonia a lot, but rarely just for photography - so I decided to enlist some help in kick-starting my 2018 photography in the shape of a workshop with mountain master, Greg Whitton (www.gregwhitton.com). I've been to mountain areas a fair bit, but mainly with the intention of scaling them in the daytime and getting back down safely - not to really explore them as subjects. Plus, I find that my usual sense of depth and perspective is a bit unreliable in the mountain environment - perhaps because I'm not usually surrounded by huge objects so far away (and with close foregrounds too).
A great way to get good photographs in an area is to go with someone who knows it like the back of their hand, so this was an ideal chance to do just that with Greg - also with the hope that early March would bring a bit of snow.
For the second time this year, the weather confounded my hopes and Snowdonia was largely devoid of snow, although definitely blessed by wind and quite a lot of rain! This deterred neither mine nor Greg's spirits, however, and actually resulted in a whole host of conditions over 48 hours, from heavy rain to sunshine, blanket cloud, fog, stillness, high winds and a dollop of epic light for good measure.
One of the first shots I took was a direct result of Greg's local knowledge - having seen the rolling mist in the valley and anticipating some sun coming through, he quickly changed his plan and got us to a patch of forest where some magical conditions ensued:
That was taken handheld as I was trying to optimise the composition while the light was still around - always a risk in relatively dark forest - probably should have backed it up with a tripod shot but sometimes that results in missing things while you fiddle.
The rest of the day was planned to be in the Cwmorthin slate quarry site - but soon after we set off, the rain forecast changed and we had to take shelter in a sheep hut. Again, Greg changed the plan based on the emerging weather and we set off back to the car - however not before an interesting blanket of mist rolled into the valley and some hunters coincidentally turning up with their guns and dogs. The combination of Greg giving us a bit of time to look around the area while the mist lingered, and some inadvertant posing by the hunters, gave rise to this spooky image:
Greg hatched a plan for sunset, based on cloud cover, sun position and distance to a good vantage point. After a short climb, we ended up in a great spot looking down a valley, just in time to see the sun descending and beginning to light up the valley in front of us. For the next 30-40 min, the light was fantastic - however, I made a bit of a hash of it, being too indecisive over compositions and battling with the (admittedly ferocious) wind. So the only image I was half way happy with was one after most of the light had gone and there was just a glow spreading across the hills. Nevertheless, it was a great spot to go back to and there are many great photos to be made there.
The next day began with more mist rolling down the valley, meaning an excited scramble up some rocks to get a good viewpoint. The sky was very drab, though, and I didn't manage to make anything of note. Greg urged us to consider looking at details on the rocks and the grounds as an alternative - good suggestion which I had a go at, although without immediate success - but that's not the point.
We next went to a local patch of woods, without quite the drama of the first morning's conditions but still with some mist to frame this beautiful trio of birch trees and their delicate colours - couldn't resist a shot!
We then headed out to the coast for a change, as the day looked quite overcast. There was a slight interruption as we got ready in the car park, as Greg is now so famous he was recognised by a random person who wanted to go on a future workshop! We set off to the beach and immediately I loved the pastel colours of the sky, sand and dunes. So I headed off by myself to find myself a composition that gelled, incorporating the mountain backdrop that was unique to this beach. After a while I did, and took many shots on the tripod while I fine-tuned the scene and the shutter speed to get some movement in the grass (it was windy again!). This turned out OK but lacked a bit of something - as it turned out later; light! I wandered off to meet the others as I'd exhausted the possibilities with a flat sky, then as I did so, a patch of light lit up the dunes, so I rushed back to recreate my composition! After a slight incident with mixing up a Lee 10-stopper and 3-stopper filter (ahem!) and lots of black frames, I got the result I was looking for - actually as the light was fading up as, in full force, it was overwhelming on the dunes. Here's what I think was my shot of the weekend, then:
I'm quite finicky over what I point my camera at, so when Greg suggested pointing it at a boat hut across a lake and doing a long exposure, I was initially reluctant for several reasons. Despite that, I gave it a crack anyway and turns out he was onto something after all! Even if I did end up preferring a 25 second exposure rather than a 4 minute one:
Overall, the workshop experience was excellent, thanks to Greg's knowledge, constant re-evaluation of weather conditions and quick reaction to them. We got quite decent conditions all round but I'm confident that, on another weekend, we would have still got a good set of images - just different ones. It wasn't just luck that we were in the right place at the right time - it was using the data to make the best of the odds. I'd recommend it to anyone, and that's not just in a chummy, Twitter kind of way! See more at www.gregwhitton.com