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Landscape Photography - The Harsh Reality

Updated: Aug 15, 2019

Well, it's been quite a week and I've learned a hard lesson. The passion I have for landscape photography is huge and simply cannot be measured but every so often she can be a harsh mistress and knock you on your ass.

Llangorse Lake
A misty start at Llangorse Lake

For roughly a month I had been planning a trip to the Brecon Beacons in Wales, an area I know very well but have only really dabbled on the fringes of mainly chasing the waterfalls there.

This time I was planning on shooting a few of the lakes in the area and of course the mighty Pen Y Fan Mountain and surroundings.

Pen Y Fan had long been a nemesis of mine and I hadn't managed to shoot it and to be honest I had reservations about climbing it too, it gave me a lot of anxiety just thinking about it, therefore I HAD to conquer it.

There are several paths up to Pen Y Fan and one of them is pretty easy but due to my own reasons I was still concerned about going up it but I knew I had to defeat my own demons in order to prove to myself I could and to get the monkey off my back.

The trip was planned in minute detail, locations checked, double checked and triple checked.

The two week countdown had started and I was excited, actually thats a lie, I was beyond excited and couldn't wait.

This trip would be slightly different from my normal ones in that I would have company as I often do when I go to Wales as I have a very good friend who lives there who also happens to be into photography and I have a dam good laugh with as well, the added bonus she makes a banging curry and breakfast, so a good week was a certainty.

Rather than obsess over multiple locations I decided to concentrate on four of them, I was going to be staying for four days and felt a day at each would be worth having to get exactly the shot I wanted rather than trying to rush between a few venues each day.

The weather had been glorious and sunrises of epic proportions had teased me in the run up to the trip.

I had booked two days off work and was using the weekend too so I really wanted to make the most of the time there and decided that Pen Y Fan would be best shot on the Thursday or Friday when it was least busy as weekends there are chaos.

I watched the weather forecast intently on the run up to the trip and then it happened, a huge weather system started moving closer and closer towards Wales and it wasn't looking good.

It was Wednesday and I was itching to finish work and drive up to the Brecons. 5 O'clock finally came and I finished work, got in the car and turned it on and the heavens opened.

There were a few choice words muttered I can tell you, I drove up the 150 miles in what can only be described as a full on monsoon with added extra wet !

I was tired after a week at work and the three hour journey but I got to Llangorse lake and met my friend and spirits were soon lifted.

After checking the forecast it basically said two days of solid rain for Thursday and Friday which was the last thing I wanted to see but as with all things, you have to make the best of a bad situation and hope for a break in the weather which can make for some very dramatic photos.

Eirwen said she had ordered mist for the morning and had some sort of pact with the weather, that would do for me I thought. The wet conditions outside and the dropping temperature could well be the making of it and there was a possibility that the rain would relent for just a bit in the morning.

Llangorse Lake at Sunrise
Golden light at Llangorse Lake

We were staying at a camp site at Llangorse lake which has a beautiful bird viewing hut that had caught my eye and I imagined it surrounded by rolling mist with the mighty Pen Y Fan mountain in the background, I fancied that shot a lot and went to sleep praying to the weather gods to be kind.

The shrill cry of the alarm went off at 6am and I jumped up to take a peek out of the tent, it was still raining but there was a little mist rolling around and I got ready and raced down to the lake.

There was little or no signs of colour and in fact it all looked rather drab but the sun would be coming up soon and the hut would look great as the morning sun hit it.

The mist was starting to go but I didn't want to shoot till the light was there really but a tiny bit of colour was now showing and I decided to take a couple.

It wasn't the best conditions but it was better than the forecast had predicted so I made the most of it.

The light never really came and the mist vanished and the rain started again so it was back to the camp site to decide on a new plan of attack and get stuck into a man size breakfast bap or two.

Llangorse lake jetty
Misty start at Llangorse Lake

The forecast had put a downer on the next two days with non stop heavy rain and a tent and a camper van can be quite a small space when your claustrophobic like me so a decision was made to go and look at a few areas to see if there was any potential in case the weather broke.

Talybont reservoir was the first stop and I had seen this well photographed lake many times and wasn't it too much of a rush to capture it myself although if there was nice light about then of course I wouldn't look a gift horse in the mouth.

Pontsticill reservoir Wales Brecon Beacons

Brecon Beacons

From there it was on to the reservoir at Pontsticill which was another well photographed location but I really liked it and wanted to get a shot of the fabulous tower that nestles in the waters.

This one had my attention and after much searching around in the rain I found the areas I wanted to shoot it from and now I just needed a break in the weather and some light, after waiting for a long, long time with neither showing the decision to leave it was taken and it would be renamed Penicillin lake due to the fact it gave me a headache and I couldn't say Pontsticill without sounding like I doing the worlds worst Welsh accent.

Talybont Reservoir

A drive down to Pen Y Fan was in order, we got there and couldn't see a thing.

Thick fog had engulfed the mountain and today was not the day we would be getting a shot of it so we drove further round to the valley in search of a better view and maybe a gap in the fog, it simply wasn't there and the day was written off.

The evening was going to go clear so in order to make the most of it a few night shots would be tried as it was a recognised dark sky area.

Talybont was visited and a few shots taken but none that I really liked and then the short drive to Pontsticill lake to get to the place I really wanted.

In the short time it took to drive to there the sky had gone from crystal clear to cloudy and mother nature had indeed given me a swift kick in the family jewels.

There were two other photographers there who remarked that the cloud had come out of nowhere pretty much as soon as we had turned up, I was starting to feel like a jinx !

Pontsticill reservoir Wales Brecon Beacons

A couple of shots were taken and I actually liked one of them because of the lit tower, it just gave a certain mood and I was into it.

There was a catalogue of amusing events during this shoot in the pitch black, dropping of items, car headlights going on by their own accord, a tripod left at home ! I could go on but the pair of us laughed it all off and decided to call it a night and head back, Tomorrow would surely be better.

It wasn't, the forecast had gone from monsoon, to "I'm just going to throw buckets of water over you all day" This was a right pain and thoughts of a weekend climb up Pen Y Fan were now becoming a reality which I really didn't want to do.

Thick fog and heavy rain was all that was showing up on the weather apps and looking outside it was all we were getting, sunrise wasn't even attempted and we consoled ourselves with more breakfast baps, which brightened the mood but killed the waist line.

The day pretty much went like this and there was no chance for a picture anywhere, dull lifeless sky, thick fog and rain ! When mother nature wants to make a pain of herself she does it with style.

There was a small break in the rain and some light came out late in the day and we raced out towards the back end of Pen Y Fan trying to capture the light streaking across it but having gone down a fair few narrow paths it quickly became apparent that if we were to find a gap in the hedgerow to shoot from we wouldn't be able to pull over because the road was so narrow.

After missing the best of the light there was finally a small gap to shoot from and a shot was taken but my heart wasn't in it and I knew we had missed the best light.

Back to the campsite for a banging curry and all was well with the world again, the forecast when I last looked said Saturday & Sunday might be ok, I checked again and it was back to solid rain, I just couldn't catch a dam break.

Brecon Beacons

Corn Du

The morning came and true to form there were cats and dogs bouncing off the tent and hopes were at an all time low. Staying in wasn't an option so when its flat rubbish light like this there is always the option to shoot a waterfall or two as flat light really works well for them.

We set off to find a really nice but small waterfall we had seen on day one while looking around the local area. Several shots were taken and my mood lifted and we set off in search of more and found a further three that were all lovely but had lots of branches and broken trees obscuring them and they just didn't seem too photogenic to me so they were admired but no pictures taken.

Waterfalls in wales

We went to Pen Y Fan again and when I say there were hundreds of cars there it's no exaggeration, it was simply rammed and taking pictures would be chaotic at best topped off with the fact it wasn't exactly looking good we decided to leave it.

A short drive down the road and the weather had vastly improved and there was a bit of nice light peeping through over the valley at Pen Y Fan, not one to miss an opportunity I pulled up the car and jumped out and got a couple of ok shots.

Light at the Brecon Beacons

Driving further round we went back into the bad weather which seemed to be following us, a brief moment of hope was given when a rainbow all be it a very slight one appeared on the horizon but it was bing blocked by the torrential rain that showed no signs of letting up.

I waited and waited in the pouring rain but it just didn't happen, the rainbow was dead ahead in line with East so we drove East to try and get in front of the bad weather but to no avail, the rainbow had enough and vanished, this was pretty typical of the luck on this trip.

Day four, the last day and my only chance to salvage anything from the trip.

A location had been found that overlooked the mountains and the sun came up to the left, my hope was that first light would hit them and give me a really special shot as the thick cloud poured over the top.

To be fair the sunrise was actually quite reasonable with some nice colour forming but the location I had chosen just didn't lend itself to shooting that direction, I wanted to wait it out for the shot I wanted.

It was all looking very good, the sun was just about to come up then think cloud rolled in and obscured it.

I was less than amused at this point but there was a gap in the cloud and sooner or later the sun would hit it and I hoped the shot would be back on, I waited nearly two hours in total for this but the cloud kept climbing just ahead of the sun and it just never came.

I called it a day and went back and packed up, it was time to go home as heavy rain was yet again forecast and I didn't really fancy driving home in it.

The photo side of the trip had been a complete nightmare with barely any shots taken and had been a real come down from what I was expecting.

It might seem strange to blog about a really bad experience, but I wanted all of you to understand that this is how it is more often than not, Going to a location and everything all being perfect happens so rarely its almost unheard of.

I want you to know that a few bad trips are perfectly normal and while you might be seriously fed up and down at the time it all goes out the window when you get great conditions again.

That feeling of euphoria and elation when conditions are kind and everything went to plan is worth all the bad trips every time.

I wanted to touch on another side as well, this trip had been an absolute blow out make no mistake, but it was still one of my most memorable ones simply because it was made so good by the company I was with.

We had laughs, we shared in our disappointments, we had amazing food and kept each others spirits up and the enthusiasm going.

As someone who generally likes to shoot alone it was a bit of an eye opener and it wont be the last trip I take with my adventure buddy, without whom this would have been just a failed trip instead of a roaring success.

It's not the trip, the location or the conditions that make it or break it, it's who you share them with.

Bring on the next one, Thanks Eirwen.

Happy Shooting,

Daniel Wretham

Myself and my adventure buddy, Eirwen posing with Pen Y Fan in the background

Man sized breakfast !

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