Guest post on Winter Photography in Snowdonia by Snowdonia based photographer, and friend of the site Richard Outram
Winter photography in Snowdonia
Winter has arrived in Snowdonia. The summer colours and burnt autumn tones are fast becoming a memory as the landscape prepares itself for the dark months of ice and snow.
As a landscape photographer based in Eryri/Snowdonia I find this the most exciting time of year. Conditions become challenging but the rewards are infinitely more exciting than the benign stability of summer.
Light becomes fractured as clouds split the sky, mountains become hard, frozen monoliths, seemingly taller as snow covers the peaks and rivers and lakes begin to creak and crack under the weight of gradually forming ice.
The summits become irresistible targets for the adventurous and for landscape photographers, everywhere one turns has the potential for capturing a magical image.
I have been photographing the landscape of Snowdonia for ten years now and every year, it is the winter months which produce the greatest pictures. The landscape and I alike come alive in this most inhospitable time of year…
Venturing out in conditions like this requires planning. Unlike those who head to the hills for walking, photographers find themselves waiting in sub-zero temperatures for that perfect moment when the rich blaze of sunset picks out a ridge or peak across the valley. We are all given the advice to take warm clothes and layers but for a photographer this is particularly pertinent due to the time spent often standing or even sitting in one spot.
I found myself, just this last winter, pacing the summit of Mynydd Mawr for two hours, waiting for the light to reach its most intense phase. I had reached the top of the mountain far too early. My aim was to look to the east, towards Snowdon/Yr Wyddfa itself and to capture the deep, warm colours of sunset on the summit and slopes. Wearing layer after layer of warm clothing the wind chill on the summit was too much for me in the end and after those few hours of pacing the cairn, stopping to take pictures and pacing and stamping again I was beaten by the cold, I could tell I was going blue!
I managed to stay just long enough to capture what I walked up there for but made a very quick descent, the thought of the heater in the car far off below keeping me going. The pictures I made whilst there are ones I am incredibly proud of.
I use a Canon slr camera with pretty minimal equipment, I don’t want to be carrying too much up a mountain. I will take two lenses with me: a wide lens to capture the sweeping, epic nature of being in the landscape from a super sharp foreground, right through to the distant peaks and a telephoto lens to pick out details in a far off valley. I will also take a tripod to ensure that images are as sharp as they can be. Carrying all this weight plus provisions and extra clothing makes me most envious when I come across a group of walkers sometimes holding nothing more than a bottle of water!
Early morning in winter is the best time to catch lakes at their most still. Somewhere like Llyn Idwal is easy to reach quickly but one needs to be there by about seven am to capture that calm and the pre-dawn light followed by often incredibly saturated colours on the slopes as the sun makes its first appearance.
The joy of winter light is its unpredictability, one minute to the next the landscape can be bathed in rich, warm colours, the next, sharp, piercing rays of light are picking out crags and ridges with everywhere else in gloomy darkness.
Winter photography in Snowdonia is never dull! To stand at the edge of a lake or on a mountain top in winter is to watch nature at its most dynamic, most demanding and most rewarding. The challenges of the cold, the darkness and the slippery ground (crampons are essential) are far outweighed by the incredible beauty of the interaction between the landscape and the elements.
As a photographer in Snowdonia in winter I have a real and personal relationship with the landscape. Treated without respect the landscape will show you who is in control. I walk the hills and mountains with a sense of being allowed, my presence there is at the whim of the landscape itself.
I have a respect for it as a living, breathing thing and my photography will always strive to reflect that. Mountains take on personalities, Yr Elen, white with snow stands out from the Carneddau like a ship sailing through frozen waters, Moel Elio resembles a frosted bun hiding the steepness of the walk up and Y Glyderau become a white fortress crenellated with razors of ice.
Winter photography in Snowdonia for a landscape photographer is to be at the heart of why we pick a camera up in the first place. The challenges, both physical and artistic concentrate all of one’s skills to attempt to harness in an image a glimpse of that wonder. After all, it is a passion for the outdoors which has always come first with me, my photographs are simply a frozen record of the beauty of this most wild of Welsh landscapes.
Special thanks to Richard for this guest post, if you like his work please support him on his very popular Welsh Landscapes Facebook page. Or if you’re inspired book to go on his ever popular workshops!