Snowdonia autumn shoot – part 1

Finding myself with some free time on Saturday I headed off towards Snowdonia in North Wales with the intention of catching a sunrise over Llyn Padarn.  I like to arrive in plenty of time for a dawn shoot as usually the most interesting light comes before the sun makes an appearance, especially if there is little cloud around as there was on this day.  With sun up at 08:00 I pulled into the conveniently located car park at Llanberis just as the clock hit 07:00 so it was still very dark and necessitated a head torch to see where I was going.  The best bit about shooting the lake from this vantage point is the  limited amount of walking required to get into position, only about 2 minutes by my estimate.

Now I have to confess here that one of the main reasons I like to shoot early in the morning is that I usually get a location to myself but this was not going to be the case today.  Two other photographers had already setup near the famous tree which sits just off the shoreline with the mountains of Snowdonia sat directly behind it.  When I last shot this location on the August bank holiday I had to share the spot with another photographer but was fortunate enough to get a good image of the tree nonetheless so this time I has a different composition on mind.  Just round the corner from the tree sits a small inlet which offers equally good views and to be honest the lower water levels made the tree shot less attractive on this day.

I had decided to use the Bronica SQAi medium format film camera on this outing and setup initially with a wideangle 50mm lens (28mm equivalent). As it was still dark I couldn’t really assess the composition so pulled out the Panasonic FZ1000 and used its EVF to give me some idea of what was in front of me.  Having settled on a position I got the tripod setup and waited for the light to appear and begin shooting.

Around 07:40 with the sun starting to illuminate the wispy clouds that sat above the mountains of Carnedd Ugain, Snowdon and Glyder Fawr I took my first shots of the day. I was initially using a mix of Kodak Portra 400 and Fuji Velvia 50 that I had loaded in the camera backs from the last outing to Llangollen.  To be honest I didn’t think either of these was ideal and wanted to use them up so I could load some Kodak Ektar which not only has the exposure latitude to handle the brightness of a sunrise but is also saturated enough to do justice to autumn colours.  I thought it best to bring down the sky values somewhat so added a 2 stop soft soft ND grad filter although the Porta colour negative didn’t really need it (19 stops of dynamic range according to some).  Shutter speeds ranged from an initial 8 seconds @f/22 to around a second as the light levels increased.  Speaking of apertures I typically use f16 or f22 for most of my shots when using the Bronica as depth of field is very limited with the 6×6 format.  If you use full frame cameras and find it hard to get front to back sharpness in your scenes then spare a thought for the poor medium and large format film photographers out there!

Kodak Portra 400
Kodak Portra 400


With a change of composition using up the remaining frames of film in both backs I switched to Ektar and walked around assessing other potential shots.  I was constrained by the water in front of me and trees to both sides but despite these limitations I found a couple of alternatives shots and made good use of my standard 80mm lens to crop out extraneous details.  Over a period of nearly two hours I had shot a fair few frames and felt satisfied that I had made the most of the conditions which were decent but not spectacular.  Just before I  packed up at 08:45 I could see the sun cresting the mountains to the left so decided to see what would happen when its full force hit the scene.  It was bright, very bright indeed but despite this I took another couple of shots and was pleasantly surprised to find the Zenzanon lens showed no signs of flare despite being hit at an acute angle by the sun and not making use of a lens hood.  I did hold my sit mat off to the left hand side of the lens but saw little if any difference in the contrast.

Kodak Portra 400


The show was over and I packed up and returned to the car for a drink and snack before heading off to my next viewpoint of the day.  I had planned to go straight over to Dolwyddelan castle but ended up with an unexpected stop off on the way.


To be continued. . .

Steve O'Nions

Steve O'Nions is an amateur landscape photographer specialising in film cameras and living in the North West of England.

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