Still waters and cloud in Eryri.

Near Capel Curig.
Near Capel Curig.

Last week, the sun shone endlessly, and I was finally able to get away from domestic commitments on Thursday afternoon. It was my intention to “do Snowdon” on Friday so I parked up overnight by the Llynnau Mymbyr near Capel Curig. Dawn was frosty and valley fog had formed overnight. The forecast was for a day of unbroken sunshine and light winds. While it would be lovely in the mountains I suspected that conditions would not be that great for atmospheric landscapes. Flexibility is the name of the game in landscape photography so it was over to plan B, which involved an early morning session in Dyffryn Mymbyr as the fog cleared. Sunrise comes so late at this time of year that it was a really leisurely start!

Llyn Mymbyr is one of the classic photographic locations in the National Park. The view from Plas-y-Brenin of the Snowdon Horseshoe reflected in the lake’s still waters is often the photographers’ desire. It is quite iconic in good conditions and when done well. But in valley fog one would be immersed in damp greyness and Snowdon would be quite invisible. It is then more profitable to take the rough and tussocky path between the two sections of the lake and look back towards Plas-y-Brenin. It is one of my very favourite locations in Wales. As the sun rises the fog tends to melt away downstream, allowing more and more of the landscape to emerge. Friday morning was just about as good as it gets, as you can see from the image above.

The sun shone all day on Friday and the Horseshoe looked absolutely stunning during the afternoon from Dyffryn Mymbyr. But I was glad that I had saved my energy for an attempt on Snowdon the following day. Saturday’s forecast seemed much more promising; a broken cloud base of perhaps 500 – 600 metres but with the summits remaining above the cloud. I liked the sound of that!

The next morning the fog was denser and more extensive at Capel Curig but stars could still be seen overhead. By the time I set out from Pen-y-pass about 7 a.m. the first wisps of cloud were forming above Y Lliwedd, and as I made my way up and along the PyG track I barely noticed how quickly it was developing.  I’m nowhere near as fit as I used to be and I don’t mind admitting that it was a bit of a slog to reach Bwlch Glas. At this point one leaves the confines of the great eastern corrie of Yr Wyddfa and can take in the view to the west. An almost complete sea of cloud spread out below me. It was more or less only within the corrie and above the very highest peaks that cloud had not already formed. Blue sky could still be seen over the summit of Snowdon while cloud lapped and drifted around below it.

Brocken Spectre, Snowdon summit.
Brocken Spectre, Snowdon summit.

I grabbed a quick vat of tea from the café and assessed the possibilities. I was a little disappointed about the extent of the cloud but these were ideal conditions for seeing a Brocken Spectre. I walked around the summit area to find the best location and for an hour or so one was visible intermittently as my shadow was projected on to cloud below. The shadow itself was astonishingly three-dimensional as it fell on to countless tiny individual water droplets. The Spectre – or Glory – takes the form of a small circular spectrum of light centred on one’s own head.  It has all the colours of the rainbow, and is, in fact, formed in a similar way, with violet on the inside and red on the outside.  At times, the colours in the Glory just glowed. I have enhanced the colours slightly in the image above but it still retains a close link with reality. And interestingly, if one enhances it further, additional concentric rings of colour can be seen outside the primary spectrum.

For a while it was truly glorious up on the summit. It was warm and there was barely a breath of wind, just enough to cause the cloud to drift slowly around. A continuous stream of people were arriving by mid-morning. Every train brought another few dozen, but on such a day far more were doing it on foot. Conversations could easily be overheard. English seemed to be a minority language! Was that Welsh…..? Er….no, probably Polish. A few fully bearded Muslim men had walked up and even a few veiled Muslim women. But it was apparent that few had actually noticed the Brocken Spectre, even if they were only a few feet away from a good viewing point. Occasionally one could hear the magic words being spoken, and it was a pleasure to join these individuals in the experience.

Well, all good things must come to an end. The cloud base was lifting imperceptively until it was clear of the summit by lunch-time. Beneath the cloud it was dull and hazy so it was time to put the camera away and return to Pen-y-Pass. Still the crowds were flooding upwards, though. Little did they realise what they had missed.

 

Every picture tells a story.

Purple heron : what an amazing creature!
Purple heron : what an amazing creature!

I can’t have been the only photographer to have recently received junk email offering…..”Always have amazing skies!”. It goes on –

With the killer App for Sky Replacement and our new Skies and Clouds Collections

With […………..] sky replacement is no longer like Rocket Science

Add Skies III and our amazing new Drag and Drop Cloud Formations and the skies the limit on creativity!”

Two New Bundles to SAVE on so you’ll never have Dull Skies Again

It goes on and on in this vein.  I find it terribly depressing. The graphic designer could thus, for example, adapt a poor quality landscape image by adding a sky downloaded from a software package. No photographic skills required whatsoever! Likewise the amateur (or professional) landscape photographer wanting short-cuts to dramatic photographs. It has until recently been difficult to incorporate stunning skies into landscape images without stunning skies being present in reality. Doing so in the days of colour film would have involved a very high level of printing skills indeed and it is probably fairly safe to say that it had rarely been done successfully. In the brave new world of digital photography much of the work involved has been already been done by the software designer.

But this kind of approach does more than make life easier for those wanting short cuts to great landscape images. It devalues photography in its most basic sense. By its very nature a photograph has documentary qualities. I don’t mean to confuse “landscape photography” with “documentary photography” here. But a photograph – any photograph – is an interpretation of a slice of reality. It is rooted in what the photographer saw through his/her viewfinder. So a landscape photograph automatically has documentary values. The very best have both aesthetic and documentary qualities in shed loads. If the photographer has added a spectacular sky – even one of their own – that link between reality and image has been lost.

Many photographers argue that all photographs are “fake” to some extent and that therefore anything goes. In my opinion this just does not hold water. I agree that the photographer makes selections and interpretations at all stages of the process. They might use film or digital, a jpeg straight out of the camera or process a RAW file to their own satisfaction. They might use a 10stop ND filter on their DSLR, a smartphone or a pinhole camera, colour or black-and-white. By making these choices the photographer interprets their surroundings in different ways. But there is a quantum leap between that and getting a sky from elsewhere – their own library  or a software program – to combine with their own image to produce a result.

If it were possible (and necessary) the photographer would physically move a minor irritant (rubbish, for example) from the foreground of a landscape image before pressing the shutter. But if not I don’t really see a problem in cloning it out at the processing stage. I’m not that much of a purist. But it is at this point we enter a very grey area indeed. Where does one draw the line between “processing” and “manipulation” – the acceptable and the unacceptable? Personally I’m happy to clone out anything which on another day might not have been there: a walker in a red cagoule, or white van in the distance, for example. Others draw the line elsewhere. But there is a line. It may well be that advertising photography is artificial through and through, and maybe we should expect that. If there was a line of telegraph poles running through a landscape, though,  I badly need and want to know about it. Every picture tells a story and a manipulated one can tell quite a different story. It could be the difference between a real wilderness and an inhabited landscape in this example.

For more thoughts on this subject see this post.

On the other hand I have no philosophical problem with improving my images at the processing stage where necessary. The more I use Lightroom the more I learn what it is capable of. I was recently introduced to the adjustment brush by my correspondent David Clegg and how useful is that? How could I have managed without it, more like! During the latter stages of my Bird/land project I was able to use the adjustment brush (rather than the radial filter) to select the bird before making minor changes to its exposure or contrast, for example.  So much more effective! See the purple heron image above.

More on Bird/land very shortly, by the way……..

 

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More from Sizewell

Great black-backed gull, Sizewell (click to enlarge)
Great black-backed gull, Sizewell (click to enlarge)

After an hour or so I turned my attention away from the kittiwakes offshore (see previous post) and re-assessed my surroundings. There was only one landscape feature to be seen – the brilliant white reactor dome of Sizewell B and the extensive blue-painted steel clad building upon which it rested. Red railings ran along the edge of the latter. Whatever your opinion on nuclear power,  the clean lines and simple colour scheme of the power plant gave it a modernist and surreal splendour. Far more attractive than the crumbling and filthy concrete of Sizewell A alongside it.

And wait, there was a black-backed gull resting on the railings in front of the dome! This was an opportunity not to be missed! I grabbed my tripod and stumbled across the shingle: the bird could leave at any time. I left the focal length at 600 mm to isolate the scene from its few surroundings and took a small selection of exposures over the next minute or so until the bird flew. Such an extreme focal length would flatten the scene substantially and result in a very limited depth of field, so I set apertures of f13 or f16 and added a stop or two of exposure to correct for the largely white subject.

Until this moment I wasn’t sure I would return from this trip with any worthwhile results.  It had been quite a while since I had been “in the zone” but I felt I was there now. I remembered a comment from the late lamented landscape photographer Fay Godwin after she had spent ten days in northern Scotland. She thought she might have returned with “one very good photograph”. I could identify with that. As I left I felt sure I would be approached by power station security; after all – who but a terrorist would want to photograph a nuclear power plant? But as it happened my imagination was running amok.

Sizewell landscape (click to enlarge)
Sizewell landscape (click to enlarge)

I returned to Sizewell the next morning in the hope that I could repeat the image. Almost all the kittiwakes had left the tower and it was over two hours before a gull landed on the railings again. But while I waited I began to see the structure without the bird as pure landscape.  A security camera on a post took the place of the gull and gave the image a focal point. Not everyone will like it but I think it works.

So rather than the one good image that I thought I might come back with there are actually several. It’s funny how the most inspiring photography sessions can be the most unexpected.

 

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Welcome to purpleworld……

Years ago a website designer was adding nonsense text to my then-under-construction site. Under one heading he wrote

“Jeremy Moore is out in the jungle photographing rocks”

At first glance this was just an off-the cuff remark, but on further consideration it may have been a comment on the activities of landscape photographers. The world is beset by a multitude of problems, with climate change being one of the most pressing. And what do landscape photographers do? We drive across the country and take pictures of rocks.

Not that often in the jungle perhaps, but at the coast……..we do a lot of it. And that brings me to the title of the post. One quite popular and easily accessible beach in Pembrokeshire backs on to a quite astonishing little cove with purple and bright red sandstone bedrock and a variety of boulders in red, purple and green/grey. The beach itself features on one of my postcards and the boulders are easily visible in the image. It is surprising that more photographers don’t venture down there, but even those from Pembrokeshire seem to give it a miss, let alone the big names from England. I’m not going to name the location; that would make it too easy. But look at this image – you’d expect it to be elbow room only down there at low tide! 

Image

As for “purpleworld” the sense of colour at the back of the cove is so complete that one’s eyes begin to compensate for it and it starts to look “normal”. Turning one’s back and looking out to sea again the real world seems unreal.  

There are two interesting caves to explore there as well; I may post another image or two some time……

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