By Claire Carter (cARTerART)
The Snowdonia National Park covers 840 square miles of mountains, forests, lakes and river valleys and takes its name from mount Snowdon, which at 1113m is the highest mountain in Wales and England.
All photographers will have locations they have visited many times with a vision in their mind that requires the light and weather to come together in order to make the image they think should be possible.
Llynnau Cregennen, in Southern Snowdonia, is one such place for me. I have spent many a dawn at this location and only twice has the light come right.
The first occasion was in August 2008. The summer months are not my favourite time to shoot inland and the mists I really wanted would not be present but I knew the rising sun would be in a good position. I had only one morning available so got up well before dawn. There were no stars to indicate that the early rise would be fruitful but with only one chance to get some shots I decided to take the 10-mile drive from where I was staying. Ten miles is nothing but even though this lake is very accessible by car it takes time to reach on a gated single-track route, requiring sheep dodging, as they like to sleep on the warm tarmac.
There are two lakes and approaching from Dolgellou I recommend ignoring the first smaller one initially BUT the waters are often stiller as it is more protected.
The larger lake gives more options to get wide views of Cadair Idris (892m) a horseshoe shaped mountain, there is a small island with pines, a standing stone, heather in late summer and a nice boathouse.
Parking is at a public car park (with toilets and maps of walks). You may immediately believe that an accessible and beautiful lake would mean you would be sharing the view with many others but I have rarely have seen others here at dawn and on this occasion I was on my own – bar the sheep.
It was when I was opening the sheep gate before the first lake that I realised that the weather was about to work some magic. Stars were appearing and disappearing at a rate of knots and an early glow in the sky indicated that there was a good low-level gap in the clouds with all the activity being at high altitude.
By the time I’d parked I knew I had to work quickly as the light show had started and all the energy was going to be in the sky as the water was being broken by the approaching storm. I prefer to approach a location with time to think, walk a bit and consider options but on this day it was a mad dash to the shore. After a few shots I knew I was wrongly positioned as was trapped by a fence preventing getting a composition that was right as this shows. Nice but not quite right.
I therefore changed my lens and tactics to get this image.
Whilst happy to have caught this sky with the island I went home knowing I would have to return as the image I truly wanted was about the location, the mountain that is not in the shot above and also I wanted a mist.
It was in May 2009 that I was next in this area. Staying in Arthog, which is a perfect location to reach the lakes (a shorter route but steeper and more gates but having my friend Dougie with me made the gates less of a problem – thanks Dougie!).
We had already spent one morning and an evening here on this trip and got these scenes taken when the light was good but the sky lacked atmosphere.
It was the second morning visit that everything came together. It is worth noting that nothing on the drive up had suggested that it was going to be a fruitful journey. The sky seemed too clear. It wasn’t especially still either but as we rounded the last turn we saw that the dip the lake is in was full of mist and clouds were hugging one peak. We had struck gold – we were in the right place and probably the only place in miles where the conditions were showing any drama.
The next hour was a delight. We struggled as the mist came and went causing condensation on lens and grads. The rising sun gave exposure challenges and lenses had to be changed to make the most of changing conditions.
The following images tell the story.
So, do I need to return? The answer is YES. I want to catch images with the heather. This was taken a few years ago but I want a tighter composition.
I want to see what the smaller lake has to offer in winter.
I want frost and snow and ice and autumn colours. I want pink mists. I want moon shots…….
Some places just draw you back again and again but even if the light fails and you go home with nothing in your camera just being there is a joy.
As a postscript we met a fellow photographer, Andrew Kime, at this lake one morning. He had had a nasty accident with his camera, but despite this tragedy he was kind enough to share his local knowledge with us. Subsequently I looked at his website and would like to share his excellent work with readers here.