Over the last few years there have been many memorable moments spent amongst the hills, valleys, mountains and rivers of the Brecon Beacons National Park, but few more so than the morning of the 3rd November 2015.
As a hill-walker & amateur photographer there are few experiences more coveted than being able to stand above the clouds looking down on everything below and the chase for this experience will more often than not mean sitting in cold/damp conditions atop your chosen location, cursing the Met-office for not being right all the time.
These mornings have been quite frequent, where there is little to do but hunch over in the sometimes sub zero temperatures and disappear in to an almost meditative state trying to keep warm while waiting, wishing and hoping for something interesting to happen. Often this can be quite a de-motivating experience given the effort that is involved in getting to these places – the 4am alarm, the sickeningly strong coffee, those awkwardly dry mouthfuls of an unwanted but needed breakfast, not to mention getting growled at by your dogs for waking them at such ungodly hours, and all this before you have even left the house! There is still the 45 minute drive with the now twitchy caffeine enthused eyes and the horrible first few hundred meters of walking, when your body is still doing everything it can to get you to turn around and go back to bed.
But I persevere.
In the hope that one day I can reach the top and have the clouds so close I could step right on to them!
On the morning of the 3rd November I came as close as I have done to this feeling.
The few days prior had seen Temperature Inversions in the Brecon Beacons and the Sunday had tempted me up out for dawn a hike up Pen Y Fan. It was a pleasant morning out on the hills, with a nice blanket of “the Dragons Breath” on the land below. But it didn’t rise much passed a few hundred meters and so failed to give me the experience I had been chasing.
But undeterred from this experience and with another Temperature Inversion forecast I had nothing to lose other than sleep so off I went.
Week-days are a great time to get up on to the hills for sunrise if, like me, you enjoy the solitude and isolation of hill-walking. As I reached the summit of Pen Y Fan, there was a wild-camper packing up and heading back down, a decision I am sure they would later come to regret, as this had the makings of a very special morning indeed! The build up was near perfect. With the Moments before Dawn, my favorite of almost any outing, gracing me with the most beautiful pre-dawn sky and soft pastel colours.
Sitting on the summit of Pen Y Fan, South Wales highest mountain watching the clouds flow over Cribyn like a river was like nothing I have experienced before and one that will be with me for some time. If the weather took a turn for the worse from here, I would’ve been quite satisfied and would’ve gone home and then on to work, with a smile on my face and a definite spring in my step.
With the sun still a way off rising, I took some time to enjoy the events unfolding infront of me, without the pressure of trying to photograph it. I just sat above Cefn Cwm Llwch with a flask of coffee, some home made brownies and took the time to enjoy the moment.
The sunrise itself was pretty uneventful, due to a band of cloud on the horizon. But still the Dragon breathed, the valley-fog kept rising and eventually started to engulf the whole of Cribyn. A scene that I had just had to capture, but with little light around I was at first unsure of how best to make a photograph from it. But watching it flow over the highest point of the mountain and cascade in to the valley below gave me the idea of using a long exposure to encapsulate it’s slow graceful enveloping of this iconic Welsh Mountain.
I composed my shot to include a little foreground and used the topography of the mountain to lead the eye in to the main interest of the photograph, I focused (using the back-button method approximately) 1/3 rd in to the scene as I don’t know about you but calculating the hyperfocal distance still confuses me. I set the sensitivity to my cameras lowest native setting, calculated 5 shutter speed stops back from my camera’s light-meter reading & used the Timer function to ensure as sharp an image as I could.
As soon as I pressed the shutter the sun just began to peak through the clouds, but not so much as to over-expose the final image, just enough to grace the clouds above and below it with a subtle tint of it’s early morning colour. I knew at this point I was going to have a final image to be proud of!
And I was not wrong! I am still smiling 2 weeks later as a result of having this image short-listed for Outdoor Photography’s “Outdoor Photographer of the Year”
Nikon D610, Tamron 24-70, Velbon Tripod, Format Hi-tech 5 stop ND Filter.
Manual Exposure, 24mm, ISO 100, F20 , 20 Seconds.
If you’ve reached this far – thank you!