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 clicking 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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What do photographers do all day?

Black grouse, north Wales
Black grouse, north Wales

Over the winter I’ve seen a couple of episodes of the TV series entitled “What do artists do all day?”. Each programme featured a particular artist and showed them doing the sorts of things an artist might do. Like, well, painting, for instance. But what about photographers?

I’ve spent quite some time this week trying to get my PC to work more smoothly, with some success, I think I dare to say. It certainly wouldn’t make good TV but I spend so much time at the computer, and I imagine the same is now probably true for most photographers. A far cry from the days when you exposed a few rolls of film, put them in an envelope, and waited for the transparencies to come back. Oh, then there’s updating the website, writing the blog, invoicing customers, emailing contacts…..the list is endless.

How come I found myself, yesterday, pulling the vacuum cleaner apart and putting it together again, of all things? One of my most crucial pieces of equipment is the camper van. It’s my home from home and enables me to be on location first thing in the morning when so much top quality wildlife and landscape photography is done. And with the passage of time you just have to do a bit of spring cleaning. Banal, I know, but true……. and one thing leads to another……..

To give an example of how indispensable the camper van is, though, a couple of weeks ago I had another go at photographing the black grouse lek which I also wrote about here and here. I drove up the previous evening, parked up nearby and settled down for the night. It was clear and frosty so by sunrise a thick layer of ice had formed on the inside of the windscreen! At 5.15 am I could hear the birds’ bubbling and hissing calls as they began displaying nearby. But it was still more or less dark, and I had plenty of time to make some tea and observe the birds with binoculars while the day gradually dawned.

It became apparent that there were more birds present than on any previous visit, and they were taking up stances over a wider area. Having said that the amount of activity was rather variable. Some birds actively jousted with their neighbours, while others looked a bit bored. It was as if they may have been young birds which knew where they needed to be, but didn’t know what to do when they got there. As a whole the birds seemed to be rather nervous and at one point all suddenly swept away. A couple of seconds later a sparrowhawk briefly landed on the deserted lek site. One wonders if the grouse would be less easily distracted at the peak of the breeding season in a couple of weeks time. A little later two greyhens (female black grouse) also flew in, which provoked an extra burst of activity from the lekking males.

It was inevitable that on a still morning such as this extraneous noises like the rapid firing of a shutter would be heard by the birds. In anticipation of the “action shot”a shutter burst would begin just as two birds sized each other up. One could imagine how strange, and possibly distracting, this might be from the bird’s point of view.  On the other hand it was also noticeable that during a lull in activity a car engine starting (for example) might  provoke the birds into briefly displaying more vigorously.

This was my seventh visit altogether to the lek site and it was probably the best. Being a weekday there wasn’t too much disturbance as  impatient birders and other photographers came and went. Despite bright sunshine the light had a soft quality to it thanks to some atmospheric mistiness, and this was ideal for photographing these high-contrast, black-and-white subjects.  The winter yellows  and ochres of the vegetation and a layer of hoar-frost made for an attractive landscape in which to set the birds; so much so that I’m planning to include a set of three images from this visit in my forthcoming exhibition. It was also a pleasure and a privelege to be able to watch this fascinating spectacle.

So what do photographers do all day? It can really be almost anything from the sublime to the ridiculous.

 

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