Sometimes landscape photography, for me is a journey into the unknown. I do my research by looking at Google Earth and other apps, but its not till you arrive that it all comes together and maybe not as you expected.
Wales is an amazing place and reasonably reachable from the Bristol area, but over the years the road infrastructure has got better with dual carriageways making it faster to get into the mountain regions of Wales.
The Hay Bluff region sits on the border between Wales and England and stretches for over 8 miles of mountains and is used by many for the long walks and parts are used by the military. But the weather is very changeable and quickly, especially during the wintertime, so you need to be prepared for the worse conditions. Some parts you still can’t get a phone signal, so it’s worth letting people were your be and for how long.
Because of my health issues, I have to be more careful in that I build myself up for the trip and what it will involve. I love driving and making sure the car is fully pumped up and has enough gas, is important. Checking the weather forecast theses days is so much easier with apps that can give you real time information (that’s if you have a phone signal). I made sure I was prepared for wintery conditions, with winter clothing, plenty of hot coffee, a couple of sandwiches.
I wanted to make the most of this trip and so packed my camera bag with lenses that I know I might use, light meter, tripod, the usual stuff but also lens cleaners and a t-towel to keep my lens and camera body dry as best a possible. I also took both of my drones, which is my Mavic Air and Mavic Pro 2, which gives me a total of 3 ½ hours of battery time and a couple of micro SD cards.
Being in a mountain area, most of my images can only be taken from the roadside and I have to make the best out of that situation, but having a drone extends my view and where I can capture those images that can only be got if you climb some way up the mountain.
So the day before everything was checked to see if it was clean or needed to charged and then packed in their rucksacks.
The weather outlook was possibly some sun, otherwise mist or rain, not the best combination, but then that’s what makes landscape photography what it is, unpredictable, just how I like it.
Sunrise was going to be about 8am and the journey was about 2 ½ hours long to my first location I had researched. I had about 8 locations set for the day and had co-ordinates to enter into my phone. A good idea is to download the map area, which you can do in Google maps, so if you lose a signal you have the downloaded map as a backup to work from.
I enjoy driving, its freedom from the shackles of my wheelchair or maybe its an extension of my chair. When going to a mountain range in the dark, you’re not able to see anything around you apart from what’s in the headlights. After about an hour of driving on the main roads, I turned onto a lane that took another hour to cover. As it twist and turns, it get narrower within places, I meet any other drivers at that time in the morning. Its an eerie feeling of not knowing what might be round the next bend or how sharp the bend is. A satnav is great tool, which can give you an idea of how long or short the bend can be ahead. You loose sense that you might be climbing as your driving along and then the road dips and then gains height again and again. As you near the end, the satnav shows the winner’s flag and say’s “you’ve arrived at your destination”. I find a place to pull over and turn the engine off and open the window, and then it hits you.
The silence of the countryside with just a whisper of trees moving in the light wind and all you can see is pitch black. I’ve become intrigued as to what is around me, so I carry a bright torch to shine around the area. I can see trees and the verge drops down a steep bank, then I hear an owl in the distance, which I must of disturbed as I arrived and now flashing the torch in the air. Apart from the owl, there is nothing but the breeze and rustle of the trees that I can see are fern trees.
So as I’ve taken in my surrounds, I open the flask of coffee and poor myself a cup and push the car seat back and relax.
From darkness into the light.
When you sit in the dark, your eyes become accustom to the light, and you begin to see contours between the land and the sky, shapes that move, the world is waking up.
The thing is, sat in the middle of what seems to be know where and a car headlights begin to light up the view in front of you, your mind turns to what the other driver is thinking as he passes what seems to be an abandoned car, is he going to stop or carry on, if he stops what are you going to say to them. It’s a sudden moment that you think what would I make of seeing a car parked at the side of the road in the middle of know where? As it passes and carry’s on going back into the dark, you have a wave of relief that you don’t have to explain yourself.
As the sun rises, it seems to get light very quickly, and your mind turns to why you are there and the anticipation grows of what view will the sunlight will uncover.
It becomes apparent that I’m not at the top of the hill and have to drive a few hundred yards before reaching the horizon, and then I see the fog and the sun beginning to break through to show the first view of the mountains.
The fog hides the top, but snow has fallen and partially covers the mountainsides.
As this is the first location of my day, I scour the view to see if there is an image to capture. Landscape photography is like drawing a box around an area and looking to see what’s in it that can make a photo that has something about it, that mixture of land, sky and everything in between.
As its dry and very little wind, I decided to setup the drone to search the area around me. But after a few minutes, the rain began and so I had to bring down the drone. Not to be outwitted, I got my camera and waited for the cloud to break so that the sun might break through. It does for just a moment and I get one or two images before being force to get back into the car out of the cold freezing rain.
As I’ve said, weather conditions can change in a moment, which can decide on what you do or not.
From location to location.
There is around 8 miles of mountains, but today is not a day to see them in their glory, as fog, sleet and rain puts and end to being able to capture clear images of the area. But the fog can make a subject interesting, and as I drive through, images of livestock and trees become the focus of some of my work. Wherever you are if you look closely enough you can find an image. Each time I got out of the car and grabbed the camera, I would have to use the lens wipe to remove the droplets of water that formed from the fog, I would point the camera downwards so not to be in direct line until I was ready to photograph and then each time whip the lens again and again.
By mid afternoon I was tired, and it seemed that the weather was not to change for me and was against me. I had enough and was ready to call it a day, with be being muddy and wet, I found a puddle to try and clean the wheels if my chair so not to cake the inside of my car with it all.
I had put home into the satnav and began to make my way back along the road at the bottom of the mountains, feeling slightly grumpy that the day had not turn out how I’d had hoped. But then as I got back to the second location along the road, the sky lit up with sunlight, the fog had cleared somewhat, and I could see the mountains in a line!
I pulled over and looked behind me and could see the fog rolling down the side of the mountains. The wind was light so I got one the drones up in the air and mange to get a number of images and about 15 minutes of film before the sleet began to fall.
Just when all had seemed to be a loss of the day out, it all came together for a brief moment. When I got back into the car, I sat back and thought this was actually worth all the mud and rain to get to this point.
I was actually in a lot of pain with my body, but this moment made it all go away for a while and helped me make sense of what I do and why.
Images don’t come to you, you have to get out there and push through the weather to find amazing places and with the help of the ever-changing weather, make images that can’t be replicated. They are moments that creep up on you, and it takes time and patients to get that image.
I missed one shot of a rainbow that looked amazing in the place it was, but by the time I had got my chair out, it had gone. If only I had waited a few minutes longer, I might have been able to of got it, but it is what it is, and that’s landscape photography for you.
You can see the video I capture by clicking on the link