BRECON BEACONS SPRING WORKSHOP Friday 26th – Sunday 28th April 2019

I usually run my 3 Day Brecon Beacons workshops in spring and autumn, making best use of colour, light and available daylight lengths.  Autumn to spring is generally the best time of year for these workshops as thay are mainly south facing and the low light means we are able to shoot all day.

This is my account of my April 2019 workshop; a less than perfect weather forecast but it turned out much better than expected, with some great changing light and striking spring colours! We  managed to get some great images on all days with striking light and compositions.

So with thanks to Ellen, Gurinder, Robert, Sally, Lesley and David, for your company and for your images, here’s my blog. You’ll see that we captured a wide range of locations over the three days!

The front of my house / studio at Talybont on Usk in the Brecon Beacons. Plants just growing and coming into flower! I use my cinservatory as the teaching space. Plenty of light, though a little too much at time

Introductory Session at my studio

The broad plan was to spend a day on woodlands and waterfalls, a day on upland / mountain photography, and a day in the South Wales valleys covering industrial heritage. We covered all three, though in order to make the best use of available weather coinditons, I decided to swap the days / locations around from the original plan. We ended up capturing a wide range of locations over the three days, although left out the planned dawn climb up Pen y Fan.

A spring morning creates dramatic light over the Brecon Beacons from Pen y Fan. Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales, United Kingdom

FRIDAY 26TH APRIL: SPRING COLOUR AND LIGHT – FROM BLUEBELLS, YELLOW OIL SEED RAPE TO STRIKING MOUNTAIN LIGHT!

We started around 12 noon with introductions, coffees & Welsh Cakes! Before we went out,  I asked some general questions about the settings that clients usually used and hopefully made one or two helpful suggestions!

I then showed my presentation on Composition in Outsoor Photography with the aim of giving clients ideas and context to the various locations we were visiting

Crickhowell Bluebell Wood

The bluebell woods are one of the local highlights in April and May, so I decided to make it our first destination on the Friday afternoon. A mix of sunlight and cloud made for varied conditions and some nice shots

The group setting up in the Crickhowell Bluebell woods

Gurinder produced a great panoramic image of the woodland!

Gurinder’s thoughts: “I took five portrait shots to stitch together in post processing. I wasn’t too worried about exposures because the light was pretty even through that end of the wood. A much easier and more satisfying outcome rather than attempting to create a pano in camera”.

This shot from Gurinder really brought out the intensity of the colours in the bluebells

Sally shooting against the light gives dramatic results with light and shadow and great contrast

David turned out to be experienced and skilled at ICM (Intentional Camera Movement)

David’s thoughts on his image: “The light in the bluebell wood was subdued and with limited dynamic range, but the key elements of a good image were there in the shapes and colours – the brown path leading in to the trees, the swath of bluebells in the middle and the dark verticals of the tree trunks. It occurred to me that I could make the most of these elements by moving the camera vertically while opening the shutter. The exposure is ¼ second so I needed a narrow aperture to avoid overexposure – f18 at ISO 100. I used a zoom lens (188mm) to bring the trees closer”.

Brecon Beacons Views and OSR Fields

Afer doing a brief composition excerise in Crickhowell, we drove about 10 miles westwards. The continuing changing light was perfect for one of my favourite views of the highest paeks in the Brecon Beacons, with Pen y Fan in the centre of the image below. It was a good opportunity to practise with GND (neutral graduated filters) as the light gave us great contrast between foreground and background. The filter helps to balance exposure.

Oil Seed Rape Fields above Brecon

As you can see, it was wet, dark and moody as we arrived at our viewpoint, but the skies were good enough to open up for enough time for us to capture some shots

The storm clouds quickly came and wet over the mountains. This is a good location for light over the mountains, with clear views and an easily accessible spot (perfect for nipping back to the cars when the rain comes down again!)

David captured the light over the Brecon Beacons perfectly. These shots often work best with the foreground in shadow, drawing your eye to the background view. David’s thoughts “We stopped at a viewpoint looking out at the Brecon Beacons. The sky was dark and there was no interesting light on the scene. I set up my camera on a tripod with a graduated filter and was just in time to capture an image as the sun broke, very briefly, through the rainclouds, illuminating the distant fields. I cropped the image to a panoramic format, removing the foreground. 1/200th at F5, ISO 100, 70mm”.

 

We then decided to go out and walk down to More London which is a development built around 10 years ago. It’s on the way to Tower Bridge from London Bridge and includes some great contemporary architecture. There were lots of opportunities for perspective shots and architectural details. The Shard is also closse by although difficult to capture from a low viewpoint..

We then spent around an hour exploring this area, concentrating on the strong perdpective lines of the buildings. One of the most interesting buildings was no 6 More London Place as it had a mix of black and red colouring. We used wide angle lenses to capture the strong perspective lines. The main difficulty was keeping lenses dry in the light but persistent rain. The grey sky worked well as a simple background for the building colours.

As with bluebells, the perfect time to photography oil seed rape, with its bright yellow fields looking perfect under grey skies! Try to photograph them both as a mass oy yellow and as individual flowers set against a darker background. Don’t expcet to be able to plan for these fields though as they’re always on a rotation year on year. So you’ll have to see what comes up each year!

We then went onto an oil seed rape field; always a striking colour in spring.

clouds closed in and with the light showing no signs of improving we went back to the studio for a brief review session. We had a great range of images to choose from

Back at the Studio!

We reviewed the day’s images in Lightroom and Adobe Camera RAW and processed a selection before heading out for the evening meal.

If we’d had some nice evening ligth we would have stayed out but we decided that it wasn’t goiung to change – and we were right!

…..and to finish the day………….

We popped into the Old Ford Inn near Brecon for a well deserved warm up & & evening meal. Thanks to our waiter who kindly took the picture for me!

SATURDAY 27TH APRIL: WATERFALLS, HERITAGE AND UPLAND LANDSCAPES

Saturday started windy & rainy so we started off in the studio, reviewing the previous days images. I also went through one of my presewntations on Long Expoosure photography. The rain eased off from around 10am & it graqdually brightened up (and warmed up a little!).

Blaen y Glyn Waterfalls

We went to the Blaen y Glyn waterfalls, around 5 miles into the mountains from Talybont on Usk. Not only are they nearby, but they’re also in a small compact area of woodland and easily accessible with a circular walk less than a mile round.

If anything we ended up with too much sun, typically difficult with waterfalls and woodlands with patchy light, high contrast and a cluttered light and shadow effect in woodland areas. It’s often best to try shooting against the light in these circumstances. Flat light which removes harsh shadows (particularly in a woodland setting), produces more subtle highlights on water and improves colour saturation.

Gurinder’s long exposure shot. A long exposure will create circular swirls where there is foam (created due to peat in the water) and the flow of the water. Gurinder’s comments: I did a lot of experimenting with exposure times whilst using a ten stopper in quite strong sunlight on the waterfall which captured the swirl in the water really well.

The group arrived in mixed light and set up to capture the waterfalls

Gurinder produced an excellent shot from the rocks in front of the main waterfall. The rocks were incredibly slippery – great care was needed!   Some moments of holding my breath whilst balancing precariously on wet slippery rocks! Another long exposure using the 10 stopper with an exposure time of 1 minute as the scene went from dark to sunlight in a matter of minutes which I had to experiment with and account for”.  

We then popped back to the studio for a quick lunch break and review session before heading back out again. The dark clouds and changing light made for some promising conditions.

It was difficult to get a good position at the top waterfall due to the slippery rocks. The sudden change in light also made conditions challenging!

Allt yr Ysgair – Viewpoint over the Brecon Beacons

You don’t need to go for from Talybont on Usk to get to this great viewpoint (in fact it’s the hill you look at from my studio!). But it offers great views over the village and surrounding areas, and is particularly good in the afternoon in changing light. The sun is overhead which means you can use the intensity of backlighting to get striking effects.

Another shot from David. Bright spring light on the fields contrasting with the mountains behind. You can see the outline of Pen y Fan, the highest peak in the Brecon Beacons, standing above the skyline

A close up within David’s shot reveals some interesting field patterns.

We made a quick return to the Crickhowell bluebell woods (a popular spot and a couple of the group members wanted to reshoot original shots, including an attempt at a panoramic). We then drove back towards the day’s final location and briefly stopped off at Tretower castle on the way.

Tretower Castle

Tretower is a medieval castle and manor house; one of the oldest and most historic buildings in the Brecon Beacons, about half way between Talybont on Usk and Crickhowell. We made a very brief stop at Tretower before moving on to the evening shoot. We concentrated on the castle keep (staying on the right side of a temporary electric fence) which stands out on its own. It’s a circular structure and you can walk all the way around it. It also makes an ideal night shoot location as it’s a single structure, perfect as foreground for the night sky.

Robert presented his images as a striking collage. There’s a mix of wider landscapes and detailed shots and cropped into square format: from the top & from left to right:

  • Sunset from Mynydd Llangorse
  • Lone tree above Llyswen
  • Detail at Big Pit, Blaenavon
  • View from The Allt
  • The winding tower at Big Pit captured through rusting metal
  • Another view from The Allt
  • Detail at Big Pit
  • Blaen y Glyn waterfalls close up
  • The Guardian Memorial at Six Bells
Mynydd Llangorse

Finally we headed for one of my favourite spots to catch the evening light and the sun go down. It didn’t disappoint with some great light across the landscape. Most of the group preferred to stay low down (protected from the cold & biting wind!!), though Ellen decided to brave it all and go higher up. She was rewarded with some great shots.

Ellen made a heroic effort to climb the steep cimb up Mynydd Troed and face the freexing cold wind to get to this viewpoint!

Ellen made a heroic effort to climb the steep climb up Mynydd Troed and face the freexing cold wind to get to this viewpoint!

Ellen’s shot from Mynydd Troed, overlooking the landscape towards Llangorse Lake and the Brecon Beacons Mountains.

The clouds above the horizon sent some great light down on the landscape below. This was a perfect opportunity to practice the use of graduated neutral density filters. A hard graduated filter is best for this type of sitation where the sun is close to a relatively flat horizon line. It gives you more control but you have to place the graduation carefully. Agraudated filter is more forgiving (and better with an uneven horizon or where you have a structure in the foreground) but gives you reduced light control.

Another elevated shot from Ellen. It’s important to remember that high viewpoints open up the landscape and reduce the effect of the foreground, whereas low viewpoints close down the landscape, reducing the impact of the middle-ground and focusses the eye on the relationship between foreground and background.

David shot a similar view from a lower viewpoint; you can see the compression effect on the landscape profile. As you can see, compared to the above example, he’s used enhanced post-processing the bring out the light rays.

David also captured a rainbow as the light dramatcially changed. A perfect opportunity for landscape photographers!

…..we didn’t go back to the same place but I have no picture!

We then finished for the night and went to the Red Indigo Indian Restaurant in Crickhowell for a well deserved dinner after a very long day! I forgot to ask a waiter to take a picture of this one so will have to make do with a repeat of the one from Friday Night’s dinner

SUNDAY 28TH APRIL: INDUSTRIAL LANDSCAPES AND HERITAGE IN THE SOUTH WALES VALLEYS

The Llangynidr Mountain Road to the South Wales Valleys

 

The final day, we ventured south towards the South Wales Valleys, and a complete change in environment. There is a dramatic change on the other side of the Heads of the Valleys from rural la ndscapes with fields, villages and hedgerows to the clear sight of industrial decline and more recent attempts at regeneration, such as the dualling of the Heads of the Valleys road.

We stopped at the pylons to do some work on composition by photographing them from different angles, both from a distance and close up. The first task was to capture them from at an angle that made for the best distance view.

David chose a great spot to use a telephoto lens and get the ‘marching pyons into the distance’ look!

 

David’s thinking behind the image: “We stopped to take pictures of the pylon line. I can imagine that, in dawn or dusk light, or against a stormy sky, the line of pylons crossing high moorland could look very dramatic. But the light was bland and the sky featureless. I took a number of pictures from different angles to try to capture the marching line of structures, using zoom (237mm) to bring the pylons closer together. There was little colour in the image and I immediately decided to convert it to black and white to emphasise the shapes and structures. 1/640th, f10, ISO 200”.

In the right morning in autumn and spring, the sun rises directly behind the pylons and is a great sunrise location. We didn’t have the right morning to make us of it though!

Gurinder went for a more close up approach. The structure if the pylons makes for an interestng abstract, particularly in monochrome set against a white sky.

We breifly stopped at the bridge over the Heads of the Valleys Road; it’s a good spot to capture light trails and I went through the theory behind this with the group.

The Big Pit Mining Museum at Blaenavon

We then went on to Big Pit, one of the two Mining Museums in the South Wales Valleys. It’s just outside Blaenavon. It has a great setting and is part of a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It makes a great location for photography both from a distance and with close ups of the vast array of mining equipment and decaying and rusting material.

 

I set the group 2 tasks:

  1. 10 unique images of the Winding Tower
  2. 10 images based on a simple composition theme of ‘Repeating Patterns’. This is aimed at ‘thinking in abstract’ and improving observation.

The main Winding Tower is an interesting if challenging feature. The rusting metal looks particularly strking against a grey sky – so we had the right day!

This shot from David is a good example of this.

The group exploring opportunities for repeating patterns. This is best done with a telephoto lens as they are ideal for picking out detail.

Robert’s collage included an original approach, framing the tower with rusting machinery. The flat light was perfect in bringing out the colour of the rust.

A series of 4 of David’s images. All well observed and exactly the type of image the composition exercise was aimed at! It’s some thing worth trying out from time to time, perhaps in your local area as it trains the eye to look for simplicity in approach, think in abstract and develop observation skills. Its helpful in training the eye in whatever kind of photography you do. Usually I give clients 30 mins to do each task. It’s long enough to explore and get a range of images, but short enough to keep their attention and focus!

The Guardian Sculpture at Six Bells Colliery, Abertillery

Our final destination before returning to the studio was to Six Bells just outside Abertillery, which has a memorial created in 2010 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of a mining disaster in 1960 that killed 48 miners. It’s 20m high and a prominent landmark in the area.

We explored the memorial from a variety of viewpoints. The pond in the foreground is the perfect setting with reflections

 

……..and finally………………………

 

There was time for a return to the studio for a brief final post-processing and review session before departure at around 4pm.

Finally, thanks to Robert, Lesley, Ellen, Gurinder, Sally and David for booking onto the workshop – it was great to have your company and it was great to see some great images.

 

If you’d like to book on the autumn Brecon Beacons 3 Day workshop it’s going to be from Friday 27th – Sunday 29th October (and they are proper long days from dawn to dusk with night shoots as well!). Please see https://creativephotographytraining.co.uk/product/brecon-beacons-three-day-workshops/

View from Mynydd Troed to Mynydd Llangorse in the Black Mountains, Brecon Beacons National Park, Wales

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