Job done!

Sorted! (Click to enlarge)

It’s very rarely that the landscape photographer can pack the camera away in the knowledge that their objective was entirely satisfied. But I was able to do just that yesterday.

For a number of years I had occasionally been visiting a viewpoint overlooking the village of Betws-y-coed in north Wales with the main peaks of Eryri in the background. I’d never come away with any images I was happy with. For one thing it is a west facing viewpoint and I prefer the light to be at ninety degrees to my angle of vision – in other words at this location “lunch-time light.” Not good.

Yesterday the forecast was for early showers blowing in from the west followed by an improvement to sunny intervals: with the sun rising in the east these were ideal conditions for a rainbow. I added that to my wish-list for the morning.

It didn’t start too well. It had been the coldest night for months and I needed to wear all my layers (plus waterproofs). I piddled around for far too long and when I arrived at the tiny car park it was full. I had to drive a further couple of hundred yards to find a parking space, and walk back to the gate. The first rainbow was already forming before I reached it. Had I left it too late? It was still ten minutes walk to the viewpoint.

When I arrived I hardly recognised it. Tree growth over the last few years has been so vigorous that Betws-y-coed, in the valley below, was almost invisible; I had to pick my spot very carefully to see it. But the eastern mountains of Snowdonia were lain out across the horizon. A second rainbow formed and dissipated.

It was one of the bright, breezy and totally invigorating mornings that the photographer in me enjoys so much. The sun came and went, and shadows passed quickly over the landscape. From such a prominent position it was possible to see the beginnings of showers as they blew in across the hills. The faintest hint of another rainbow appeared and moved steadily towards me, slowly intensifying. For a couple of minutes its “end” dipped down into the valley below me. I was able to make some images as it did so. The shower passed over and I had a quick look at the images before snapping the camera screen shut. A broad smile appeared on my face. It was definitely “job done”.

NB : In the picture, Moel Siabod is the prominent peak to the left, with, going right, the Glyderau, Tryfan and the Carneddau; the latter two with their summits in cloud.

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Photography on the fly.

Fly agaric, near Betws-y-coed

We’re well into autumn now and I recently decided I needed some photographs of that spectacular fungus, the fly agaric. I was up in north Wales for a couple of days, and a mixed forecast suggested I might get some sunny scenic landscape photography done; any cloudy conditions being more suitable for more intimate “autumn colours” and woodland scenes. Yes, I know I’m a traditionalist but at my age what do you expect!

By mid-morning on the first day it was starting to brighten up although a strong southerly wind was blowing. My first destination was a hilltop above Betws-y-coed, with the town deep in the valley below and the main peaks of Eryri in the background. But why not first spend an hour or so looking for fly agarics in the woodland leading to my destination? Two minutes later, right by the path, I had found my first! It was a perfect specimen, I thought, in my excitement, so I got the tripod out and began taking some ground level shots with my telephoto zoom. A passer-by told me that fly agarics were very common this year;  some images he showed me on his phone looked great, and I realised my own specimen was not actually that special – tall and broad, yes; but crimson in colour with flecks of white on the cap? No, not really. I had a look around.

Fly agarics are usually associated with birch trees (and sometimes pine or other species). The fungus has a mutually beneficial relationship with the roots of the tree which helps both species thrive. What I found on my short exploration amazed me. Over an area of perhaps a hundred metres by fifty, I found several dozen fly agarics. Most were already past their best, being flat-capped, or even bowl shaped, with the red colouration having already faded towards orange. But I found one particularly photogenic group among some birch trees and did a bit of “gardening” to expose them. One was already broken off at ground level so I decided to make a feature of it alongside several other complete ones. Things are rarely as simple as you hope for, though, in this case because the sun was now shining brightly, creating areas of high contrast on the woodland floor. Every so often a tiny wispy cloud passed in front of the sun but even this didn’t give me the even lighting I needed for this shot. I wandered around, found more fly agarics, did some tai chi, looked at the sky over and over again, waited and waited some more. Eventually I realised that a better image would also include the mushrooms’ habitat so I swapped to a wide angle, placing them in the foreground with birch trees and bracken taking up the rest of the frame. Contrast was still a problem so I tried two other techniques:

1)  Using a ND grad over the brightest part of the image (at the top), and

2)  Bracketing with the intention of combining two images in Lightroom at the processing stage.

To some extent both worked, but the image (above) was processed using the HDR control in Lightroom. I had to examine individual frames carefully and choose those with the least subject movement for combining: the wind was still strong.

Thirty-six hours later I was back, and within five minutes had found a tiny, perfect little specimen freshly emerged from its protective sheath, looking just like something you might find in a very upmarket cake shop (see above). And it really wasn’t a difficult shot to take; a little gardening to clear dead bracken stems and twigs, tripod, aperture priority, f5.6 for minimal depth of field, and ….success!

Llyn Crafnant

The intervening day was glorious – warm, sunny and cloud-free; perfect for pure enjoyment but not great for the landscape photographer. I spent the night in the van by Llyn Crafnant above Trefriw. I do love the length of these autumn nights. No problem getting a good night’s sleep and no rush to be up before dawn. It was perfectly calm for several hours in the morning and, having found a good spot by the lakeside, I took a long series of images of the head of the valley and its reflection as the sun rose. In the end it was the very last image I took that was my favourite, so perhaps I should have waited longer!

Beyond the head of the valley, completely invisible from within it, lay the great peaks of Eryri – the Carneddau, Tryfan, the Glyderau, Yr Wyddfa and its outliers, and finally Moel Siabod. It was half-an-hour’s walk to a point where they could all be seen. Or so I thought: it actually took something like an hour and by the time I got there the sun was really too high and the sky too blue for successful image-making. But it was a great walk and I will do it again another day. As for the hoped-for view above Betws-y-coed, cloud was covering the peaks on both of my visits. Oh, and I got drenched in a two-hour downpour in woodland near Dolgellau on the way home. Light rain showers, the Met Office forecast said……….

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