Kit talk. Far too much kit talk.

Great white egrets, Ham Wall.

As I have done so little photography in the last two months I hope you’ll forgive me if recount an incident from spring last year. In early May I paid a visit to Ham Wall in the Somerset Levels near Glastonbury. In a post describing a previous visit I called this magnificent RSPB reserve ‘Heron HQ UK’ : as an example of habitat creation on a large scale it just can’t be beat.

My first morning there saw me making an early start. It was humid, still, and scraps of fog hovered above the wetlands and reedbeds.  I wasted little time in making my way to the Tor View hide, joining another early-rising photographer. It can be good to chat to like-minded souls in bird hides and one can sometimes pick up useful info about what can be seen locally. But on this occasion it really was a bit too early for conversation and, besides, a surreal dawn was slowly developing into a stunning sunrise. But he just wanted to talk ….”Are you using Canon, then…..?” Even worse, he wanted to talk about kit. And did he! He proceeded to list his lenses: …the 600 f5.6, the 500 f4 and the 400 f2.8 (…..possibly…..). He carried on in this vein.

Meanwhile a pair of great white egrets were just becoming active in the mist nearby, offering a stunning spectacle to the photographer. But he just didn’t seem to notice. Fortunately a couple of other photographers arrived which took the pressure off me to respond! The sun began to break through the trees, spotlighting sections of the egrets’ brilliant white plumage. I couldn’t believe I was the only one pointing my camera in their direction.

Perhaps backlit birds don’t offer ideal subject matter for the traditional bird photographer. Whatever the reason, the others sat on the other side of the hide and chatted away. The sun rose, dispersing the mist and warming the landscape.  I was able to photograph a bittern in flight with the summit of Glastonbury Tor in the background, an image that really sums up Ham Wall for me.

And what of our friend with the car boot full of equipment? I hadn’t noticed him slip away but certainly noticed him return. This time he was pulling a four wheeled trolley loaded with gear. Someone had advised him that thieves were known to frequent the car park and he must have thought it better that he had it all with him.

I’m struggling, really, to conclude this post because the moral is surely so clear to see. There is more to photography than kit.

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What a difference an hour makes…..

Mawddach estuary at 7 am.
Mawddach estuary at 7 am.

After doing deliveries around north Wales on Friday I had the day free on Saturday for photography. Friday had been damp and drizzly with plenty of low cloud but no wind. A continuation of the calm conditions overnight coupled with the passage of a cold front suggested that better times would soon come. I guessed that there would be plenty of “interesting clouds” to photograph the next morning. I sat out Friday evening and then drove down to the Mawddach estuary to arrive just before dark. I could see that the low cloud had aligned itself in distinct layers along the steep sides of the estuary although it was too dark to photograph it. I set my alarm for 5 a.m. I didn’t want to miss a thing!

I had parked up by the side of a minor road near Barmouth with a view right down the estuary and across to Cadair Idris. Groggily I crept out of the van to find that the cloud had coalesced into a huge amorphous blob with no photographic potential whatsoever. Although it was cloud-free to the west it would take the sun quite some time to rise above the blob. Time to enjoy the birdsong and make a leisurely cup of tea. I decided to head for the Panorama Walk above the head of the estuary. At least I’d get some exercise!

The cloud was very slowly drifting downstream above the estuary and lifting. Would the sun ever break through to light up the landscape? I felt sure that all over Snowdonia photographers were making amazing images but that here it was no-go time. At last, at 7 a.m., a few gaps appeared and a dramatic scene was revealed (see top picture). Although the clearance lasted only a couple of minutes it had been worth getting up so early.

I turned my attention south- and west- wards. The tide was out, revealing beautifully patterned sandbanks; river channels reflected the blue sky as they coiled through the sand. I floundered through deep heather and young gorse to a lower viewpoint closer to the river. The brilliant young greens of oak woodland appeared. Even a gorse bush in full flower. This landscape had everything other than sunlight to illuminate it. I was close to prayer. And then, exactly an hour after the first short clearance, the cloud receded inland to allow the sun to appear. I took a series of images and stepped back to admire the view for its own sake.

Mawddach estuary 8 am.
Mawddach estuary 8 am.

I used a polarising filter to saturate the colours and a one-stop graduated ND filter to hold back the sky a little. It is sometimes  said that a one-stop grad is virtually useless but I find that in conjunction with a polariser it gives perfect, natural-looking skies. This may be a conventional image in many ways but for me it sums up the beauty of the Welsh landscape at the most stunning time of year. And I need new images of the Mawddach estuary for postcards. Job done!