Shooting Snowdonia - Landscape Photography Blog Part 1
Updated: Oct 9, 2019
Hello again everyone and sorry for the long absence. Since October I have been flat out at work and under huge amounts of pressure and getting out to do pictures has been a rare treat. Work deadlines have been hanging over me and the never ending workload has been brutal to say the least.
I try to always have a blog ready for release every Friday but work simply wasn't giving me a chance to do so and any rare spare moments I got were spent rushing out with the camera to try and keep a little sanity and get some release from the grey prison that is the four walls of an office.
I had worked myself into a bad state and I was tired emotionally and physically and I needed to have a holiday, there were several options that I really wanted to hit. Scotland for the out and out rugged beauty and the mountains with the lure of snow, The Lake district because I have always had a fascination with it but felt that maybe it was the wrong time of year to hit it and that it would be best left till Autumn not to mention the vast numbers of visitors there which was a major turn off as those that know me know I'm a solitary person who likes to have his space.
Now my last big trip was to Wales and I have always been exceptionally keen on the country as it has so much beauty and potential, and I really wanted to shoot some mountains.
Snowdonia was the obvious choice and I had visited it very briefly once before in October and it had certainly got my interest.
It was mid February and there was finally some light at the end of the tunnel at work and I had finished most of my projects so I started to turn my attentions to Snowdonia and decided on a whim to book a small cottage in Bangor to use as a base.
The idea was that it was right on the edge of Snowdonia and it had the added bonus of being right on the edge of Anglesey too which gave me a lot of scope to go coastal if I wanted too.
The trip was due to start on March the 4th and I couldn't wait ! I watched the weather intently over the next few weeks and I was aware I was taking quite a big gamble with it as it can be so changeable in Snowdonia around the mountains, but I had a burning desire for snow and I thought I might just be able to catch some and get lucky.
The weather reports were a very mixed affair but there had been a lot of sun & rain mixed and the thought of capturing a rainbow or two was very appealing. A week before the off and the weather took a turn for the worst with heavy rain forecast everyday which put a bit of a downer on things to say the least.
It didn't make any difference, I was booked and I was going. Even if the weather had been terrible all week and I couldn't shoot I would be happy to walk in such beautiful scenery each day because I just needed the break and to be away from the pressures of work.
Two days before the off and the forecast changed again, for the better. Something wonderful had happened, Snow ! I felt my luck had taken positive turn, it was just over the mountains which suited me even more as it meant a safer drive on clear roads but with snow on the mountains which is exactly what I wanted.
The weather was very mixed through the week I was due to stay but there were at least two days that were looking like they had some potential so I was full of excitement once again.
I spoke to a friend on the friday who confirmed there had been snow and it had settled on the mountains, my heart was thumping and I couldn't wait to get up there, maybe just maybe I was finally about to catch a break.
The drive to Bangor from Dorset was roughly 320 miles and around 5-6 hours which I felt was quite a lot to do in one stint so I decided to stop on the way up at Wrexham to a waterfall I knew and then onto the beautiful village of Llangollen to give myself something to shoot and take a break from driving.
So the plan was all set, surely nothing could go wrong ? I planned to leave at 2 am so I could be there for first light as Saturday looked like it could have some potential for a reasonable sunrise.
5pm on a Friday and work was finally over, I was on holiday and I rushed home, the kit was checked about a dozen times and everything made ready for the early start. I never ever leave my kit in the car so it was all ready for loading first thing along with the customary coffee flask to keep me awake in the early hours, something I only recently got into thanks to Martin Dolan who introduced me to the joys of coffee whilst on a shoot, Thanks mate !
It was now 8pm and I knew I needed to head to bed now in order to be up at 2 am, not something I was used to seeing as 2 am was usually closer to my time of going to bed.
I lay there excited like a child at Christmas, full of thoughts of mountains and snow and wondrous conditions, I couldn't drop off and I decided to do a bit more research into the areas, this was a bad idea.
The more I looked the more excited I got at the prospect of shooting Snowdonia, I finally managed to drop off sometime after 1 am, then the horrible sound of the alarm kicked in less than an hour later.
I woke up and started to wonder if I was doing the right thing in going now, or should I get a few more hours sleep and just go up later ? Of course not, the adrenalin kicked in and after a quick shower I was raring to go.
Coffee and red bull was consumed and I loaded the car, it was now around 3 am and I was off.
I love travelling this early in the morning as there is no traffic or distractions and I settled myself in for the long drive ahead.
I had only got around 40 miles into my 320 mile journey when disaster struck, the A34 was closed, I had planned my route in critical detail and knew exactly where I was heading that is until I hit the roadblock and the diversion sign, just the one of them ! I was now lost and heading across country as there were no other signs for the diversion. I decided to pull over and see if I could find out what was going on and where I was and what I could do about it.
The A34 was due to reopen and 6 am, I could wait it out and get some much needed sleep or just try and find my own route, not being the most patient person I chose the later and headed across country on the worst back roads ever for what seemed like hours till I eventually managed to get to the M5 which I knew would take me towards my goal.
I had a relatively clear run from here and headed for Wrexham hoping that the sunrise would make all the problems worthwhile, In short it didn't and the dark night gradually got to a lighter shade of grey and to be honest I just didn't fancy the waterfall shot in Wrexham so I decided I would keep going.
I had now been in the car for around 6 hours with all the roadworks and I was starting to feel it by the time I got to Llangollen and once again this just wasn't inspiring me so I decided I only had around 70 miles left to go so I would just keep going.
Mountains Meet, The A5 with Tryfan on the left and Pen yr Ole Wen on the right
I eventually got to Betws Y Coed after around 7 hours in total and knew there was a waterfall here called Swallow falls which was worth a shot but I was torn as I really wanted to get to Snowdonia as I was so close, i'll get it on the way back I thought to myself and kept going it was then that I got my first glimpse of Snowdonia and its Mountains and my jaw quite literally dropped.
I was in awe, the mountain in question was Moel Siabod, and it looked epic towering above everything and whats more, there was snow on the peak, I had just seen heaven and my right foot got a lot heavier.
I pushed on through the twisting and turning route of the A5 and knew eventually I would be coming face to face with my main reason for coming here.
Most people would assume I was talking about Snowdon itself but no, for me the mountain that had grabbed my attention and had started a love affair with Snowdonia was Tryfan, a rugged triangular peak that reminded me of a dinosaur like Stegosaurus and its big plated back.
I had dreamed of this mountain and couldn't wait to shoot it, I hit more roadworks and I had now been in the car for 8 hours and frankly was getting a little bit irritable, then I came round the bend and saw it.
Tryfan was there right in front of me and it was huge and every bit as amazing as I had imagined especially as right opposite it was Pen yr Ole Wen and the A5 would go right between them.
Pen yr Ole Wen from the A5
I stopped on the side of the road in the lay-by and just took it all in, I really don't have words to describe how I felt at this point but it was pretty emotional after such a terrible drive and then meeting a hero in the shape of Tryfan I was deeply moved.
After taking it all in and grabbing a much needed coffee I headed up the base of Pen yr Ole Wen to over look Tryfan from a river that was running down the mountain, I thought this would be a good area to start shooting from as you could see all the way down the valley and the river would make great foreground.
By now the clouds had got some definition and colour about them and it was looking more interesting.
I climbed further up keen to get the best foreground of the flowing water and the expanse of the Ogwen Valley stretching out into the distance.
Tryfan & the Ogwen Valley
Tryfan from further up the river
The conditions weren't exactly what I would have wanted as the light wasn't really coming through the clouds too well but I was shooting anyway as I wanted to preserve my feelings at this moment in time.
I managed to get a couple of shots then without warning the heavens opened and I got into the Gore-Tex kit to keep dry and decided staying up there was going to be pretty futile.
While were on the subject I should warn you here that Snowdonia can have 4 seasons of weather in one hour and I don't say that as an exaggeration ! It really is something to be caught out in and Gore-Tex waterproofs are an absolute must.
Gore-tex is a breathable membrane that allows moisture from inside to escape but won't let water from outside in, and it's simply the best available in my humble opinion. I have tried many types of waterproof and they have all let me down in extreme conditions except Gore-tex so now I won't use anything else.
I rambled down the mountain side back to the car to debate my next move. I wasn't able to check into the cottage till 3 pm and it was only 11 am at this point so I decided to take a trip around the outskirts of the mountains to look for possible spots to shoot from and to get a feel for the place.
There is a kind of ring road that runs round Snowdonia's Mountains starting on the A5 and going round to Llanberis and Capel Curig before jointing back up to the A5.
This journey was an eye opener, I had got a bit disillusioned with Dorset recently due to a number of things and Snowdonia was a welcome breath of fresh air from the daily Dorset life. The endless lines of photographers in Dorset had been replaced by sheep & Mountain goats, The all too familiar double yellow lines had been replaced with rows of Daffodils, Parking charges had been replaced by tourism friendly free parking, the city tower blocks were replaced by mountains and the sense of a relaxed way of life was already flowing through me, I liked Snowdonia, I liked it a lot.
I was keeping an eye out for Ogwen Falls which I knew was in the area but I hadn't seen it as I drove round in an anti clockwise direction. I eventually came to Llanberis and the huge Llyn Pardan Lake which was 2 miles long and home to one of the most photographed trees in Britain, one which I was determined not to shoot as it had been done and done well so many times before and I didn't feel I could bring anything else to that shot to improve it, however I was here and I wanted to have a quick look to see what it was like with my own eyes.
I pulled into the car park and as expected there was a bunch of photographers around it (Probably the only place I saw photographers all week) Despite conditions being terrible with a lack of light and pouring rain they were merrily snapping away anyway so I left them to it and moved on.
Something else had caught my eye at Llyn Pardan which was Dolbadarn Castle which was perched high up on a hill over looking both lakes and I liked the look of it and made a note to come back here when conditions were better.
Just as I was about to pull out there was a brief moment of light and a rainbow started to form, I screeched to a halt and rushed out trying to set up the camera before it went, I wasn't in a very good spot in terms of composition sadly and I managed to fire off one shot before it faded but it gave me hope that I might get a few more of them as the week went on, Alas it was to be the one and only one I saw.
Not the best shot but it was all that I could get at the time and place.
I drove further on reaching the famous Llanberis pass, by now the visibility was terrible and the chance of any shooting had rapidly gone, I was experiencing the full force of Snowdonias changeable weather as high winds and sleet smashed against the windscreen.
As I got to the end of the Llanberis pass there was a mass of cars parked on the side of the road as the weekends hikers were out in force and I could see why, this was the base of the mighty Snowdon and I was looking forward to coming back midweek when the crowds had disappeared a little.
Driving further on I came to a couple of lakes that were actually joined by a small channel and they were known as Llyn Mymbyr and I liked the look of it a lot, there were boulders in the waters edge and it looked directly down to Snowdon. This area had real potential and it was added to the ever growing list of areas to shoot.
Right now tiredness had got the better of me and I decided to head to the cottage I had booked as it was nearing 3 pm and I could finally check in.
The weather looked like it had set in for the day so I decided to have some sleep and be fresh for an early start in the morning.
5 am and the alarm sounded its shrill call and brought me out of my deep much needed sleep, I looked out of the window and it looked bad, really bad. High winds and driving rain.
I checked the weather forecast and it looked like that was it for the day but I was up and I was here so I decided to go out and see what I could find and hope that the weather eased off a bit.
In short it didn't, it rained solidly all day and was horrible and there was absolutely zero chance of a shot but I didn't want to waste the day so I went back to Tryfan and the Ogwen Valley for a walk round as I wanted to see Llyn Idwal as I had been very keen to shoot this area.
I got out of the car and was nearly blown over, this was not my best idea but i'm stubborn and thought id sooner walk in horrible conditions rather than be stuck inside bored.
The rain had turned to sleet and was driving right in my face as I climbed the old stone path, but already I had passed over an old wooden bridge full of character and with great views all around it so I knew I had to come back for it at a later date. As the path twisted up to Llyn Idwal the rain was rushing down the mountains in raging torrents and in some places it had completely over run the pathway but I pressed on, my Gore-tex gear would keep me dry.
Eventually I got to Llyn Idwal and it was beautiful and I definitely wanted to get back here on a calm morning as it offered so many possibilities to shoot so many inspiring things.
My hands were now so cold they felt like they might drop off so I headed back to the car and a much needed hot shower. It was now early evening and I knew that the day hadn't been wasted even if I hadn't been able to shoot anything.
Tomorrow the weather looked favourable and I needed to plan the mornings assault on Snowdonia.
The twin lakes I had seen on Saturday looked like my best bet as the sun would be rising directly behind me and casting its light on to Snowdon's peaks with the beautiful Llyn Mymbyr Lake in the foreground which would hopefully give me a nice reflection of Snowdon.
Its worth mentioning here that I had made a decision to totally change the way I normally shoot, in Dorset I would often go for the dramatic sunrises or sunsets shooting into the light for contrast shots with hopefully lots of dramatic colour.
This, I didn't feel would be so effective in Snowdonia, after all the subject I wanted to shoot would look far better with light on it rather than light behind it making it much darker, it was a decision that I felt worked out very well for me.
I set the alarm and checked the kit and went off to bed, The alarm did its thing at 5 am and I eagerly looked out the windows, it was quite clear but there was a hint of cloud and more importantly there was no wind, The shot was on.
I drove down the Llanberis pass and on towards Capel Curig and pulled into Llyn Mymbyr and was relieved to see a very calm surface.
I grabbed the camera and scrambled down towards the edge of the second lake and pulled out the camera and the old faithful 16-35mm Canon Lens.
I use this lens for probably 85% of my shots and have complete faith in it and love the results it gives.
As I looked through the view finder at the rocks in the foreground it looked great, but the mighty Snowdon was not looking so good, in fact it looked almost small and I decided to swop over to the 70-200mm lens and stand a bit further back so I could narrow the frame which gave me what I wanted from Snowdon but now the rocks weren't so dominant in the foreground and this wasn't working for me.
I ended up putting the 24-105mm to try and get the best of both worlds but for me it was a big compromise as I find this lens to be a little soft and nowhere near as sharp as the 16-35mm or 70-200mm
The sun was just coming up now and there was some lovely pink colours forming around Snowdon and the snow covered peaks began to glow.
The conditions were exactly what I wanted but I just couldn't get happy with the lens and I ended up chopping between the three time after time.
Taken with the 24-105mm
Morning light at Llyn Mymbyr
Snowdonia had taught me a hard lesson and my indecisiveness had cost me time and possibly a good shot, I was not going to make the same mistake again and vowed to plan my shots better for the next time.
Lens choice was going to be critical here and I felt that I would be using the 70-200 mm more than usual to get the kind of shots I was after.
Feeling rather bemused I decided to go closer into to the mountains so I could get back on familiar ground with my trusty 16-35 mm wide angel.
I headed back up the Llanberis pass pulling in at the car park to get on the minors path, This was one of the only chargeable car parks I encountered on the whole trip and was £5 for 4 hours or £10 for the day.
I decided 4 hours would be enough for me to get up the miners path to the base of Snowdon and the lake known as Llyn Llydaw.
The Miners path running past Llyn Tayrn on the way to Llyn Llydaw.
The path was roughly 2 km long and after a walk of around 30 minutes I set eyes on what can only be described as perfection. A lake nestling high up in between mountains that were covered in snow and fantastic light pouring in from the side, This was what I had come for.
I looked round for suitable compositions and found some nice boulders along the edge of the lake which looked across to the mountains as some heavy cloud gathered above them.
The rocks had many different colours and shades to them and they glowed as the light poured in from the left giving them a beautiful natural saturation.
I checked my shot and it was right there and then that I knew that if I didn't get another shot I would still go home happy, this for me was one of the shots of the trip.
Llyn Llydaw as some cracking morning light hits
There were shots to be had everywhere here, foreground and mountains and fabulous reflections but I needed to work fast as the cloud cover was starting to obscure the mountains and Snowdons peak was itself already invisible due to the dense cloud coming in so I moved further round to take a picture of Crib Goch, the sharp younger upstart brother of Snowdon of which I had a fondness for.
I looked around for a decent composition and found a triangle stack of rocks which seemed to mirror the shape of Crib Goch perfectly all be it on a much smaller scale and just as I was about to take the shot the light faded as an area of cloud obscured the sun.
I wanted this shot and was prepared to wait for it and after around ten minutes which seemed like an eternity the light was back for a brief moment and I took my chance as the foreground shone giving the colour and depth to the rocks in front.
The pretender to the throne, Crib Goch
I moved further round the pool looking for other angles to shoot but the light had seen its best and I decided I was going to take a walk back along the miners path and hope for some breaks in the clouds but before I started I took a moment to just sit down and marvel at the wonderful scene in front of me.
Its all to easy to get carried away when shooting scenes and frantically chasing around while the light is right and you can really miss whats right in front of you and this was a scene I wanted to remember and fully take in and appreciate all that it had to offer.
After around 20 minutes or so I snapped out of my dream like state and grabbed the bag of kit bag for the walk back, and just like that the light shone down once again so I rushed to get a couple of images before I left of a nice bridge and also another of the mountain edge known as Y Lliwedd.
I walked back along the miners track and was pleased with how the morning had gone so far after a slightly shaky and rushed start but the cloud was now in full force and had cut off the light so I decided a location scout was the best use of my time.
I decided to take another drive round the ring road of the mountains but this time i'd go in a clockwise direction to give me a different perspective of it and I was glad I did, I found several areas that I had missed the first time round as they weren't visible that way including Ogwen falls which I was parked only meters from on the first day but the light was high in the sky now and it wasn't right for a shot but it was noted for a return visit.
I went past Llyn Pardan again and my thoughts wandered to the lone tree, I wasn't going to shoot it and that was that, but it kept popping back into my head like an awkward memory that just won't leave. I ended up back at the end of the Llanberis pass and instead of turning left to continue on the ring road I took a right and just drove to see what was down there.
There was a small pull off overlooking the base of Snowdon which was known as "Snowdon View" and I liked the look of it a lot, there was great big mountains right there in front of me and a valley running down the outside, this was very much of interest and I was excited at the thought of a misty morning there.
There was a lake in the distance which looked very inviting and certainly gave a chance of a misty shot if conditions played ball so I went to explore it a bit further and soon found out it was called Llyn Gwynant and it was beautiful and full of potential.
Right now there was some wind across the lakes surface and quite a ripple going and frankly quite dull conditions but it was again noted for a shoot over the coming week.
Driving further down the lake I found an old boat house that had some wonderfully weathered timber and a rusty old frame and I was looking forward to getting a shot of that too.
After around two more miles I arrived at another lake which was known as Llyn Dinas and I recognised it from some shots I had sen from Simon Kitchen and his superb book Photographing North Wales (highly recommended as not only a good read but a brilliant guide to locations and best times etc)
I walked around and found several nice compositions that could work if the weather played ball, but alas it wasn't at the moment and I would have to wait for another day to get a crack at Llyn Dinas.
This lake is somewhat mythical and holds a deep history in Wales, The hills around the farm are also steeped in mythology, with legend telling of the battle between a white dragon and a red dragon which took place at the hill of Dinas Emrys that overlooks the Llyn Dinas lake. The red dragon won, becoming the national emblem of Wales, while the white dragon is