Long past sunset.

Long past sunset……. peat and boulders in the submerged forest. (5 seconds at f13)

The weekend before Christmas there was a break in the relentlessly cloudy and wet conditions that continue to plague us here in west Wales. While this allowed me to do some garden chores – getting a new load of logs under cover, for example – I was also able to visit the submerged forest between Borth and Ynyslas, about eight miles from here. My first visit was “on spec” after a birding walk on the Dyfi estuary. It was immediately apparent that a very large expanse of peat, together with hundreds, if not thousands, of tree stumps had been exposed after recent storms.

It was about half an hour before sunset and the tide was coming in, washing over the peat and through the stumps as it did so. From previous experience – see this post – I quickly worked out that timing would be better the following day as the advancing tide would be about fourty minutes later. Nevertheless I hung out there for a while and took a few pictures before the sun set.

Sunset over the submerged forest

I was back again the following afternoon. Although it had been a warm still day further inland, here near the mouth of the Dyfi estuary a cold easterly breeze was blowing. The light was extraordinary. The intensely clear sky was cloudless, bathing my surroundings in blue light, which I found quite unpleasant. The dark brown peat seemed to soak up whatever light hit it and become almost black. The breeze created countless ripples running at right-angles to the sun which put paid to any hope of any reflections. It was only when the sun neared the horizon that any relief came, in the shape of incoming waves breaking and being backlit with sunset colours.

Blessed relief from blue light!

Although my Olympus kit has remarkable image stabilisation, when one is considering exposures in the order of several seconds a tripod is indispensable. So this time I had my tripod with me and as the sun disappeared I set it up on a solid section of peat. I took a few long exposures but the tide advances very quickly here and before long the submerged forest was once more submerged! I determined to return the following evening.

The day of my third visit skies had been cloudless again but there was little wind; water levels were that much lower and there were still walkers on the beach. I explored a little but discovered that pleasing compositions were difficult to find. This figure seemed to add a sense of scale and I knew that I could easily clone him out if I felt he intruded on the timeless nature of this landscape.

A two image stitch in Lightroom

The sun had sunk below the horizon before waves began to encroach upon the forest. When they did I took a series of images at shutter speeds of up to eight seconds. On an incoming tide one needs to work quite fast to avoid getting wet feet (or worse) and I had time for just a few exposures. It was actually the last one (main photo) that I found most satisfying, and the tree stumps are only a minor element within it. I happened to notice that a few rounded boulders lay within the peat and that they were “rimlit” by the extremely bright post-sunset sky. I quickly moved the tripod over to place them in the foreground and pressed the shutter.

After processing them I posted the above image online. There followed a discussion on whether it was more effective with or without the figure – it was probably about 50/50. Further, and more interestingly …….. is a landscape with a human figure actually still a landscape at all?

For more technical information on the Submerged Forest, see this article by John Mason, a local geologist.

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Highly Commended image -2015 BWPA awards

Submerged forest with tree stump - Borth/Ynyslas
Submerged forest with tree stump – Borth/Ynyslas

I think it is now safe to announce that one of my images has been Highly Commended in the Coastal and Marine section of the 2015 BWPA competition. It will thus be appearing in the exhibition and book.

One might query whether this constitutes wildlife at all;  the trees have been dead for about 5,000 years! But it is still a fantastically wild place in the right conditions, even if the sand has long ago returned and the tree stumps been hidden again.

For more information on the submerged forest and my experiences taking the photograph, please click here.

More from the submerged forest.

Submerged forest, Borth - receding tide.
Submerged forest, Borth – receding wave.

Submerged forest, Borth - incoming wave.
Submerged forest, Borth – incoming wave.

A few weeks ago I wrote about the submerged forest which had been exposed by January storms between Borth and Ynyslas – see this post. Since then I’ve been back several times in different conditions, with mixed results. I’ve been plagued by camera shake problems using a ten-stop ND filter. On one visit, during the middle of the day, I came away with virtually no useable images at all, even with exposures of just a few seconds. I decided to forget about the filter and rely on natural light (or the lack of it) to create the conditions I was looking for.

My intention had anyway been to capture waves moving through the tree stumps at sunset. Until the sun dropped below the horizon light levels were still too high, but after sunset conditions became almost perfect. On a recent visit I eventually found a photogenic-looking arrangement of stumps, set the camera on the tripod and waited. For a period of just a few minutes the incoming tide washed in and out through the stumps before covering them completely. Sunset colours in the western sky formed the backdrop. Having found “the moment” it was actually quite easy to make the images. I chatted to a fellow photographer, breaking off to press the shutter button every now and again as waves came in and receded! I returned home with dozens of almost identical images to wade through, however, and so far I’ve only processed a few of them. It hadn’t been a particularly intense sunset so I’ve processed them quite hard to give them a little more impact. I’m quite pleased with the results.

The beach seems to be returning to normal slowly but steadily. The upper part of the very distinctive tree stump pictured in my first post is still visible but sand is building up around it. There’s no sign of the rather remarkable peat cutting shown in the second picture, which must have been filled in with sand. Perhaps within a few months there will be no sign at all of what the winter storms of 2014 left behind.

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