alan frost photography

in monochrome with occasional colour lapses

Posts from the ‘Snowdonia’ category

Dinorwic slate quarry – a harsh and inhospitable place.

This is a foreboding place. A harsh environment, full of drama and atmosphere. Now redundant but not forgotten. Dinorwic Slate Quarry in Llanberis covers a vast area with the mountains of Snowdon as its backdrop. Closed in 1969 after 170 years of slate extraction, it was once the second largest slate quarry in the world. It was a dangerous, dirty, unhealthy place to work and whilst the workers were skilled, they were also poorly paid.

On my recent visit the rain kept away, but the wind blew and I could only stop and try to imagine what conditions must have been like for those that toiled in such an inhospitable climate, day after day, week after week, year after year.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Whilst Dinorwic Slate Quarry is hardly a place of ‘picture postcard’ beauty, it does have a beauty all of its own, which I like. It’s a place with history, it has a story to tell and what’s important to me is that my photographs have something to say about the location and are not just ‘record’ shots.

Taking the shot is just one step along the path to the finished result. The making of the image is in the processing. It’s only at this stage that I can start to make some creative decisions as to how I would like the picture to be seen by the viewer. Does the image convey any emotion? Does this series of images help tell a story, so that words are hardly necessary? I would like to think the answer is ‘yes’ to both these questions, but I would be interested to hear your thoughts on this as well.

To see more detail in any of the photographs, do click on an image to see a larger version in a new window.

Thanks as always for stopping by and looking at my blog.

 

The old A5 – Nant Ffrancon valley in Snowdonia

The road from the western end of Llyn Ogwen to Bethesda in Snowdonia passes though the deeply glaciated valley of Nant Ffrancon. Now a typical ‘A’ road the original road featured in this post is a single track road with just a few passing places. It is rarely used so parking is not really a problem. You just stop in the middle of the road and hope that no vehicles come along while you jump out of the car and take a few photographs.

The road twists and turns with a variety of fences defining field boundaries. Wire and post fencing, stone walls, but perhaps most interesting of all are the slate fences, nestling in the grasses which lean from left to right and undulate in harmony with the lie of the land.

It’s a fascinating area to explore and really does feel like you are stepping back in time. There are very few buildings along this stretch of road. The ones that are here are isolated and when I visited this part of Snowdonia at the end of October the weather was favourable. I tried to imagine what it might be like in the depths of winter, with rain or snow being swept through the valley by a cold and strong wind. Pretty bleak I thought to myself.

The first two images below are taken from the existing A5, looking down into the valley. The line of the old road can be seen in the top right of the frame of the first shot.

 

Nant Ffrancon valley

Nant Ffrancon valley

 

Wire and stone

Wire and stone

 

Valley road

Valley road

 

Valley farmhouse

Valley farmhouse

 

Tree of light, Nant Ffrancon

Tree of light

 

Slate fence

Slate fence

 

Old road

Old road

 

Do click on any of the images to view a larger version which will open in a new window.

Early morning in Snowdonia – with or without a tripod?

Llynnau Mymbyr

Looking towards the Snowdon Horseshoe from Llynnau Mymbyr, near Plas y Brenin 

 

This is one of those iconic photographic locations where many tripods have stood, with cameras perched and the photographer waiting for the right light before releasing the shutter. Checking and rechecking the composition on the back of the camera, moving the tripod a little to the right or to the left, then raising or lowering the height of the legs until all the important elements of the picture fall into place. With many ‘JCBs’ or ‘Joe Cornish Boulders’ to  fill the foreground the permutations are almost limitless.

It may well be a popular location, but as a first time visitor to Snowdonia it had to be taken. However my set up is rather different to the one described above. Put simply I prefer not to use a tripod. I have observed many photographers using this piece of equipment which is considered by many to be essential to landscape photography. It’s often extended to eye level so that they can stand comfortably. Nothing wrong with that but might a lower viewpoint be more interesting? I like to move around with the camera in my hand, spontaneously reacting to what I see through the viewfinder. No live view for me on the back of my Leica Monochrom. I enjoy this freedom of movement, working a location, without a heavy tripod and its head to inhibit me. I can easily crouch or even lie down on the ground to get the picture I want.

I know some will say a tripod slows you down, makes you stop and think about what you are doing, but this just isn’t my style.  I like to change the composition of a shot by moving my body around, whilst adjusting the position of my feet and hands, until I see the picture that works for me. Perhaps I am lazy or just too impatient to take the shot and move on, but I can cover a lot more ground without a tripod. If you use one on a regular basis, can I suggest you leave it in the boot of your car one day and see what a difference it makes – you may find it quite liberating – I know I do!

 

 

The appeal of ‘light on dark’ in Snowdonia

Burning mist

Burning mist

 

What makes a good black and white photograph? There are of course many answers to this question, so for this post I want to concentrate on one particular aspect and that is the use of a light subject set against a dark background. Put another way it is the natural contrast between two key elements of a composition. Finding suitable subjects in the landscape is not necessarily that easy and may require side lighting or even back lighting to give the desired effect. I have chosen four images for this post all taken on my recent trip to Snowdonia.

Blessed on a number of days with lovely sunshine, the chances of capturing a ‘light on dark’ image were improved as the bright light increased the amount of contrast. Exposing in such conditions can be a challenge, as it’s vital not to blow the highlights but I still wanted some shadow detail which I could bring out later in post processing. There are though occasions when I don’t want any shadow detail and the blacks can be deep, dark and even mysterious as they provide no information to the viewer whatsoever. This technique may not always be appropriate for a landscape image but even so, the contrast between light and dark can be enhanced when required from a purely artistic point of view.

The first image at the top of this post was taken as the last of the early morning mist was being burnt off by the strengthening sunshine which was still low in the sky. The light is coming from about 10 o’clock (from where I am standing and pointing the camera), but had the sun been behind me this shot would not have worked. It totally relies upon the light coming from a certain direction to illuminate the autumn leaves on the tress, so they stand proud of their darker background. Do click on the image to view a larger version as you will see there is still detail in the back drop of trees which are shrouded in mist.

 

Llyn Dias

Llyn Dias reflections

 

In the second image the light is coming from the left. Like the first shot it was taken fairly early in the morning. The sun lights up the fence and the trees, which like the first image stand out against the dark background. The water in the foreground is reflective adding another dimension to the picture.

 

Tree of light, Nant Ffrancon

Tree of light, Nant Ffrancon

 

The third image, above, is I think a very good example of ‘light on dark’ and why this type of shot makes a good monochrome photograph. Here I have focused on the tree in the top left of the frame. The yellow leaves catching the bright sunlight, creating virtually a silhouette of light against the darker tree behind it. The wire and slate fence leads your eye into the picture but being out of focus and dark does not detract from the brightness of the tree. This time the light was coming from about 2 o’clock. Personally I like the chimney, it just adds another point of interest but is still secondary to the main event.

Lastly I had to include a picture a sheep. How could I visit Wales and not have a sheep shot? Not literally of course, just photographically speaking! It’s not the greatest image taken on my trip but it does once again illustrate that the natural contrast between the subject and the background works in black and white. In colour this picture really wouldn’t be very pleasing to look at. What is critical to this shot is the detail which has been retained in the highlights in the sheep’s coat. A minimal depth of field has also been used to blur the background.

 

Welsh sheep

Welsh sheep

 

As mentioned earlier, all of these images are worth viewing ‘large’, so do click on each one to see the photograph in a new window.

 

Creative use of depth of field in Snowdonia

Sunlit fern

Sunlit fern

 

It was not until the summer of last year that I finally decided to go full frame, and purchased a second hand Leica Monochrom. I had previously used APS-C (Nikon) and Micro 4/3rds (Olympus) cameras. One of the principal reasons for my decision was the potential to use minimal depth of field more creatively in my work. The combination of a full frame (35mm) sensor, coupled with a large aperture, has given me photographic opportunities which were simply not possible before.

However just blurring the background doesn’t necessarily giving a pleasing result. The out of focus areas are still important to the overall appearance of the image. Blurred shapes, tones and arrears of light of shade still influence how the image is viewed, even though the eye may initially be drawn to the main subject of the picture which is in sharp focus.

The main photograph I have included in this entry is I think a good example of what I am trying to say. Taken on my recent trip to Snowdonia, the bright early morning sun was shining on small area of bracken in a wooded glade, whilst a path in the middle ground weaved its way down to the waters edge of Llyn Dinas.  I tried to visualise how the background elements of the image would be rendered when out of focus and whether or not the shapes of the trees would enhance the overall composition. You can of course try and visualise what the image might look like if everything had been in focus. I didn’t take a shot with a small aperture opening so I cannot make this comparison. My feeling is that there would be too much going on. The foreground and background would be fighting for attention. By using a narrow depth of field I have been able to isolate the sunlit fern which is the principle point of interest. The blurred background informs the viewer about the setting, complimenting the main subject and enhancing the overall appearance, but in my opinion it is no longer a distraction.

Here is another example – This image was taken in the woods near Capel Curig.

 

Autumn saplings

Autumn saplings

 

I am not saying there isn’t a place for landscape images which are very sharp from front to back. I take a good many myself, but increasingly I prefer to shoot wide open (50mm at f1.4) and by doing so I add another dimension to the composition, which until last year was not possible.

Click on either image to view a larger version which will open in a new window. By doing so I think you will appreciate the photograph just that little bit more.