• Daniel Wretham

Shooting Snowdonia - Landscape Photography Guide - Part 2

Updated: Oct 9, 2019

The familiar sound of the 5 am alarm call rang in my ears and I hurried to look out of the window after the weather forecast of snow last night, It was a big disappointment, there was none. Snow had been replaced by driving rain and gusty winds, I was not amused in the slightest.

There was only one way to deal with a situation like this, console myself with a full english breakfast and go on a location scout again. Wednesdays weather was looking fowl and time was ticking away as I had to leave first thing on saturday morning and I started to feel some pressure which was exactly what I had come here to avoid. I had a stern word with myself and remind myself why I did this, because of the enjoyment I got from it, with that the pressure was lifted and I got back to the important business in hand and finished off breakfast.

I had crossed the Menai bridge and really liked the look of it and decided I would be back for some shots of it if the weather improved plus it had the back drop of Snowdonia to see, well you could see it if it hadn't been covered in thick grey photography hating cloud, but nonetheless I knew it was there and i'd be back.

Feeling rather sluggish after consuming a breakfast fit for a football team I decided a walk was my best bet to try and shake off the slow feeling and I might just find a few places. Nantlle was still fresh in my mind and Thursday looked like it could be a good bet for it so it was put on the back burner for later.

But for now I headed off towards Snowdon View on the other side of the mountain range in the hope that I might get some better conditions or find somewhere of interest, I didn't.

It was frustrating to say the least but I pressed on to Capel Curig and parked up and took a wander up the hill and found a very rocky area with great shaped rocks known as the Capel Curig Pinnacles and it looked really nice.

Snowdon was visible in the distance and it over looked Llyn Mymbyr too and I felt if the sunrise was decent it would drop some lovely light over Snowdon and was again noted as a possible for a morning shoot.

The weather had started to break a little bit and the cloud was giving way to a few rogue beams of light which would occasionally sweep over the mountain range so I headed back towards Snowdon View and waited.

It started with a small beam of light and quickly grew into a nice sweep along the flanks of Snowdon and I couldn't get the camera out fast enough.

This was the sort of photography I really enjoyed, now I might seem an obvious statement as light is the very building blocks of our photography but for too long I had chased sunsets and sunrises shooting into the light and not using it to its best advantage and it was this that really got my blood pumping more than anything.

Crib Goch in the background with Snowdon obscured by the cloud

Large patches of light were now sweeping over the range and I did my best to capture them in between being asked by random tourists what I was taking a picture of, whilst pointing my camera at the glorious mountain scenery in front of me and standing on an area known as Snowdon View Point. I resisted the temptation to be sarcastic and pointed in the general direction of the mountains and got the usual "ooohhhh" reply and got back to work, the mind boggles.

The light where I was standing wasn't especially good but the light on the mountains was rather special and I managed to pass around an hour while being mesmerised by it dancing all over the mountains like a naughty mistress flashing you her underwear with a cheeky smile of seduction.

After a while the cloud started to get a little clearer and I went for a drive again to see if there was any chance of shooting Llyn Dinas but again the white dragon had waved its claw and breathed fire on my plan as Llyn Dinas was looking rather plain and lacking in light or contrast, I started to doubt I would get this shot at all during my trip.

Llyn Dinas was special and I felt I must earn an image of her beauty but so far I clearly hadn't done enough to impress her as all that was on offer was a date with her ugly sister with the monobrow and a peg leg.

I decided to return to Llyn Gwynant which had been much kinder in the past few days and I knew there was the old boat house there which I very much wanted to get a picture of.

On the way there I saw a decent waterfall which was coming down the back of Snowdon and it looked pretty good, it was fairly high up and a very steep climb but it looked like it was the only way to reach it but there was a road heading that direction so I took it and after a very narrow and tight path I ended up face to face with a very bemused gentleman on his driveway, I had dropped an extreme clanger and felt pretty embarrassed but I hadn't seen any signs to say it was private. Fortunately the old chap found it highly amusing and told me I couldn't reach the waterfall in question as it required going through private land and thats a boundary I won't cross. He wished me luck and sent me on my way to Llyn Gwynant with a smile and a wave, you have to love the Welsh they are such a friendly bunch.

I got to the top of Llyn Gwynant just on a bend of the road there was a small gateway through the high stone wall which lead down to the old boat house but I liked the view from up here and it gave a composition that allowed me to show the beautiful winter colours that the ferns and bracken had taken on like burnt bronze.

After I clambered down the hill the old boat house looked pretty good to me but whichever way I tried to shoot it I would end up with branches in shot which I really didn't want, They could have been cloned out in photoshop but then it wouldn't be a true representation of what was there so I decided I would perceiver with it and see if I could get something half decent by the end.

The weather was rapidly changing and nice light filled the area and the clouds broke up once again.

Moss covered boulders at the back of the boat house glistened like emeralds in the sun and I wanted to get closer to them but the water was just that bit too deep and there was no one else around so I decided that a swim wasn't really the safest option. Not to mention the fact it was still winter and I didn't want to freeze my bits off !

There was a newer boat house just to the right of the old fallen warrior but it just didn't have the same appeal to me as this weathered old mess but the light was getting good again and Llyn Dinas was only a mile or so down the road so I hurried the gear back in the car, spun round and headed in its direction ready to get the image I really wanted.

In the brief time it took me to get from Llyn Gwynant to Llyn Dinas everything changed and there was a splash on the windscreen followed by another and then another.

I pulled into the lay-by just in time for the heavens to open and a downpour of epic proportions had started, The white dragon of Llyn Dinas had once again decided today would not be my day as he guarded the ladies charms from the prying eye of my lens.

The white dragon was toying with me and I prayed that the red dragon would decide to have a rematch and finish him off.

As I drove away in the heavy rain I could swear I heard them both laughing at me.

Wednesday never really recovered after that and it stayed torrential for the rest of the day so I called time and drove home somehow once again going via the Llanberis pass to Llyn Pardan and that dam tree.

It was still in my head and I loathed it for being there, I conceded that I actually did want to shoot it but I wasn't going to let myself.

I got back to base and looked at the weather report, everything looked good for the morning and the shot I so desperately wanted at Nantlle was on the cards and sleeping that night was going to be hard as that all too familiar feeling of excitement and expectation crept in.

The banshee went off at 5 am and I leaped into action looking out if the window it looked favourable so I grabbed the faithful flask of coffee and the camera and headed off to Nantlle.

The drive there was only about 17 miles away and I had planned to arrive around 30 minutes before sunrise but already I could see signs of some high level cloud starting to take on a beautiful pink hue and the right foot once again become heavy to say the least.

I pulled into the lay-by and there was no one there, I was not used to having places to myself. Dorset has become the photography capitol of England it seems and everywhere you go there are dozens of other photographers jostling for position and trying to put another tick on their check lists formed by raping original photographers web sites of their hard found locations and compositions.

I liked it here and it made me realise I had fallen out of love with Dorset a little. I got to the bank of the lake and it was nice and calm and the boats were staying still and playing ball, and the sky was on the turn with some great pink and purple tones coming through.

I had lucked out for once and got the conditions I wanted at the first time of asking and I shot away happily at the scene in front of me. I couldn't help but feel sad knowing that I wouldn't be able to do this every weekend and that the only real option was back to the Dorset grind.

The other option was to shoot less but go a lot further afield for my shots and keep my interest going. This appealed to me and I would bounce the idea around in my head a lot over the week.

Nantlle Sunrise

I tried several compositions here and tried to zoom in closer to the boats but the main area of sky was getting lost so I settled for the slightly set back image above.

The composition form the side also appealed to me and after shooting the images I decided to sit on the nearby park bench and watch the rest of the sunrise unfold with a cup of coffee and thoughts of where to go next.

I've said before but it's so important to enjoy these moments and not get caught up in just the photography and then realise you have actually missed everything going on around you.

I took the whole scene in and thoroughly enjoyed every moment of it and one cup of coffee turned into three and one hell of an awake feeling !

Snowdonia was awesome and I was enjoying it even if the weather was a bit more changeable than I would like.

I wasn't really sure where to go next but the conditions looked nice and I knew I could get to Llyn Dinas form here so off I went in search of that elusive image that would haunt me for the trip.

I was headed in the right direction I thought until I pulled up against another lake and realised I had in fact taken a wrong turn when I looked at the map and quickly turned round and realised my worst fears, it was clouding over again and the light was going and I cursed the fact i'd missed yet another chance at Llyn Dinas and wondered if the white dragon had been given a day release pass to change round the road signs, dam him.

Being slightly more rational now and blaming my error firmly on my lack of driving skills I eventually pulled up at Llyn Dinas as suspected it just didn't look good so I cut my losses and headed further up the road towards the A5 and my old favourite, Tryfan.

In that region nestled a beautiful glacial lake by the name of Llyn Idwal and that was where I was heading.

It's a busy area even during the quietest of times but on a weekend it's utter chaos so I had given myself today or Friday to visit it to have the least amount of visitors.

Conditions this side of the mountain range seemed a little better and were improving with every mile I drove until I pulled up to the parking area and started towards Llyn Idwal.

It was really looking good now and the thick cloud had started to break up and now there was blue sky and white fluffy clouds roaming over the tops of mountains, That would do nicely !

As you get to the end of the path to Llyn Idwal there is a gate and a bridge and if you look over the flowing water toward Pen yr Ole Wen it's a beautiful site and the cloud formation above the mountain was stunning, like a crown and I quickly set up my camera and worked my composition up.

I really couldn't have asked for better here and I hope the picture speaks for itself but the morning light was on the mountain and the river flowing and the sky was playing ball. I was a happy chappy once again.

The Crown of Pen yr Ole Wen

The Mountain Flow

This was a great start and I was more than a little happy with these images and I turned my attention to Llyn Idwal which was every bit as stunning as I had dreamed it.

Llyn Idwal is a small lake (approximately 800 m by 300 m, or 28 acres) that lies within Cwm Idwal in the Glyderau Mountains of Snowdonia.

It is named after Prince Idwal Foel, a grandson of Rhodri Mawr, one of the ancient Kings of Wales. Legend states that the king's unfortunate offspring was murdered by being drowned in the lake. In fact Idwal Foel died in battle against the Saxons in 942 and an alternate version claims that he was cremated beside the lake, as was the burial custom for Celtic nobility.

There was one thing missing which was a calm flat lake, the wind had got up and any thoughts of capturing a nice reflection were pretty much gone so I adjusted my composition to focus on the outflow of the lake and the Glyderau Mountains at the back.

There was still some nice light around and some areas still in the shadow and I was fairly pleased with the final image as I felt it was a good representation of what was in front of me on the day and the picture had lots of interest to see.

I decided to wander back and get an image of the bridge crossing I had seen earlier in the week and then go for some rest.

The lack of sleep at the start of the trip and the constant 5 am starts and late evenings were taking their toll on me now and I was tired and not feeling at my best.

Conditions had now taken a turn for the worst again and I checked the forecast and it said rain all day and night so I headed for base and a much needed snooze.

This snooze turned into an epic coma which went past the hour I was aiming for and ended up being around four hours long, it didn't matter though as conditions were scheduled to be rubbish.

I Looked out the window and it looked good, really good.

The rain had stopped and the cloud had broken up but there was only around 30 minutes till sunset, I cursed myself for sleeping and missing the chance to get anywhere decent and wondered if the white dragon had somehow sabotaged my morning coffee but in reality knew the blame lay firmly with me.

I was in panic mode now, where could I get to in time ? There was only one place really which was Llyn Pardan in Llanberis but i'd promised myself I wasn't going to shoot that dam tree so I decided to head to the very mouth of the lake and shoot down instead with the light coming from behind me.

When I got there I just didn't fancy it, it just didn't look right but there was some nice light dancing over the mountains so I opted for the long lens and tried to capture it as best as I could.

The sun was getting lower in the sky now and I knew there was a good chance that the lone clouds floating over llyn Pardan would colour up but I just didn't like what was in front of me, Where to go ?

The answer was obvious and I knew it but I didn't want to do it.

The lone tree of Llyn Pardan was 2 minutes away and I could make it and possibly get a shot but it would mean my morals would be compromised and I wasn't sure I wanted to do that.

I didn't want to have the same old shot as every other photographer who visits here, then a strange thing happened.

My brain decided that this shot which has been done very, very well by many others has been shot almost exclusively in the morning as the sun rises in front of it. It was now evening and the light would be falling on it, maybe just maybe that might make it allowed ?

My feet had already decided that the rational was fine by them as they rushed down the path.

I got to the tree and it did look rather nice and there was some stray light falling on the tops of the mountains and some nice colour in the clouds.

The camera came out, I'll take the shot and it will be just for me I foolishly told myself.

I took it and I was pleased with it, it looked pretty good and the added advantage of the light from behind gave the scene a good balance rather than the dark contrasty scenes of sunrise and a smile started to form on my face and my morals went out the window and I clicked away getting shots of the tree that I had refused to look at only hours before hand.

Photography does funny things to you and as I left the banks of Llyn Pardan I didn't feel upset with myself, in fact quite the opposite I had a shot I was proud of and just like that I was fine with it.

With reflection

Tighter crop without the tree reflection

Thursday was rapidly drawing to a close as I headed back to base and I was yet to plan my next day.

Checking the weather it looked like morning would be a reasonable bet but that the rest of the day was looking a bit wet and windy.

I hadn't managed to get to the coast of Anglesey yet and I really wanted to visit it but I was loving Snowdonia and decided that I should stay and make the most of it here and perhaps look at Anglesey for another adventure in the future.

The area that was really interesting me was the Capel Curig Pinnacles and I really fancied them for the morning, The sun would be coming up behind them then hitting Snowdon's peaks and lighting them up so I was all set and ready for some morning magic.

I headed to bed and was upset that Friday would be my last full day in Snowdonia as I had to leave on Saturday and I contemplated staying in the car on Saturday night to get another full day in.

The alarm rang out its battle cry at 5 am and pulled me out of my slumber and I looked out the window, there was some decent cloud moving about and it looked ok but there was some really heavy wind pushing in.

I drove to Capel Curig and parked up and started walking up the hill, it was dam windy up here and when I got to the top I was nearly blown over several times but behind me there was a very nice sunrise taking place and I was tempted to go after it and shoot it but the composition just wasn't really there so I decided to just stick to the plan and go for the shot I wanted.

The sun was coming up and I knew the first beams of light were going to hit the hills and mountains any second.

I had chosen to use the wide angle 16-35 mm lens to start with as there was a nice foreground but the wind was punishing me and I had to move much further forward than I wanted too somewhat spoiling the composition I had in mind. Having an ND filter on the camera wasn't helping with the wind factor as it tore at it and made the whole camera shake, I tried my best to shield the camera from the wind but it wasn't really having much effect such was the force so I went from F16 down to F11 and ramped the ISO up from 50 to 600 which I really didn't want to do but it did enable me to get the shutter speed fast enough that I was left with a sharper image that wasn't suffering from the pummelling the lens was receiving.

I also switched to the 70-200 mm at this point as I wanted to catch the light as it hit the house in front of me and the narrower focal length would make Snowdon far more impressive than the wide angle at this distance.

Shot with the 16-35mm

Shot with the 70-200 mm

Shot at 200 mm and really heavily based around the light

I think out of the two shots I actually preferred the 70-200mm shot with the tighter crop even if it left out the foreground.

I was now a wind swept state and resembled something along the lines of a Yeti and as I walked down the hill the sheep obviously thought so too as the scattered in all directions from the beast of Capel Curig, boy I needed a haircut and a shave !

Keen to make the most of the remaining time before the weather turned I headed to Betws Y Coed for another look at Swallow falls but it just really wasn't doing anything for me so I diverted towards another lake I knew of further up called Llyn Crafnant which I had viewed on Google earth and knew roughly where to head.

I found myself on a thin and winding road that just seemed to go on and on but eventually it came to Llyn Crafnant and it looked beautiful. There was quite a ripple on the water and the light wasn't great but there were large boulders lining the edge in the water and some were covered in a thick layer of moss so I set up my shot and waited for some light to appear, I waited and waited but nothing looked like it was going to happen it was very frustrating.

The clouds had some gaps in them and I just needed the sun to squeeze through these and we would be in business but it wasn't playing ball and I wondered if the mythical white dragon of Llyn Dinas had in fact relocated to Llyn Crafnant for the day.

I wasn't ready to give up as I had driven a fairly long way to this Lake and I knew the weather was going to change soon, I had been in position for around an hour now and doubt started to creep in, then it happened.

A small strip of light hit the bank and gradually creeped further along like a stripe which was reflected in the water which had now gone flat calm.

I started shooting and quickly moved to several new positions while the light was there, it lasted maybe 5 minutes and that was it but I managed to get several shots.

These weren't the best shots I have ever taken but they were of great reward to me because I had been patient and sat it out and had the shots on my terms and that meant a lot to me.

All to many times i've seen people rock up to places, snap a picture and move on to the next bit paying no attention to the light or whats actually there just to tick a box which irritates the hell out of me.

Each to their own I guess and i'll probably be seen by most as an idiot for waiting but it got me what I wanted and I was pleased.

Bolders and patience

Emerald green in the shadows

The weather was once again on the change and I headed back towards Snowdon on the off chance there would be some nice light still about but in reality I was pretty much sure that it would be it for the day.

The roads seemed longer now I wasn't driving excitedly to a location and I took time to reflect on my week and how it had changed the way I shoot and had also more worrying it had changed the way I felt about my home county of Dorset.

I was no longer in love with the place and yearned for more excitement like this, going off to an area for the first time and just enjoying my photography all over again.

It was a troubling time and I didn't know if I was prepared to let go of something that I had held so dear for so long but in reality there wasn't really much that I hadn't shot there so it was time to call it a day and head to pastures new even if it was far less frequent.

As I rounded the bend of the A5 onto the Capel Curig road I was instantly brought back to reality as Snowdon was looking fantastic as heavy cloud had a break in it and light was dancing all over it.

The faithful 70-200 mm lens came out again and I cropped close to make the best of it and it ended up being one of my favourite images of the trip.

So simple yet such a great moment of light on the mighty Snowdon the jewel of Snowdonia.

Shortly after this was taken the heavens opened once again and with a heavy heart I headed back to base for the inevitable pack up that was due.

The weather forecast was terrible for Saturday so I decided I wouldn't sleep in the car after all and I would head home in the morning. After a bit of food and battery recharge I looked out of the window, it didn't look too bad, in fact it was looking pretty nice but the forecast said it would be torrential rain.

I checked again and there it was, rain all day and night but I couldn't ignore what was right in front of me and what my gut was telling me.

I grabbed the camera and headed out to Ogwen falls, I figured if the light changed then I could shoot the waterfall as flat light isn't the worst thing for these.

True to form as I got there the light went flat and I cursed my luck but had a wander down to the falls anyway.

Shooting waterfalls has always been a bit of a thrill for me, there is something about the roar of rushing water that just resinates with me and the way it chooses its own path and over time carves it in stone well all big draws for me.

The waterfall didn't look too bad and I managed to get a couple of shots in with Tryfan in the background when a cloud went over with a tinge of red on it.

This made me take notice, something was happening and the sunset behind me was a fairly weak affair but it was casting some nice colours on the clouds in its wake so I rushed to find a decent composition for a shot and there was a small area looking down the Ogwen Valley that offered exactly what I was looking for, a small waterfall with a rocky foreground and some nice colours along the tops of the Mountains.

Trying to get in position was not quite so easy as I was basically balanced on a thin strip of land and behind me was a very cold & wet river that didn't look to inviting but was doing its best to pull me in.

The shot was taken and I was fairly pleased with the result as it was a complete bonus that I wasn't expecting.

I headed back to base for the last time and was pleased with how the trip had gone, I packed everything away and went straight to bed. I was shattered, it had been a very long week and I had worked hard to maximise my chances of a shot or two and I had been faced with very difficult conditions but I had come away with a few images that I was happy with and an experience that I would never forget.

Snowdonia is a beautiful and spiritual place and I urge you to visit it at least once in your lifetime, it has too be seen to be believed.

I awoke the next morning expecting too see the terrible weather than had been forecast but it was rather nice, I wondered if I had missed a decent sunrise as it was now 8 o'clock. Never mind, i'd had a decent week and I couldn't complain, I was now looking at a six hour journey home and I wasn't looking forward to that.

There was only one thing for it, a trip back to Nantlle with a flask of coffee before I took on the 320 mile trip home.

I loved it here, it was tranquil and bright and just a dam nice place to be. Even though it was now nothing special on the light front I thought I'm going to take a couple of pictures of it during the day to remind me of my time there and how it made me feel and then whenever I get a little down about things I would be able to look at those pictures and it would remind me of better times.

The journey home was much smoother than the journey there and I had really enjoyed my time in Snowdonia and I knew I would be back at some point, maybe the autumn but for now it was back to the four grey walls of the office and the lows of work, only now I have the above picture sat next to the desk and it reminds me of what can be.

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog and I hope you enjoyed it.

As always, Happy Shooting.

Daniel Wretham

All the images from the trip can be seen in high resolution HERE

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