Photographing the Brecon Beacons National Park with Grant Hyatt.

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.

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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.

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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.

Moments before Dawn - Cefn Cwm Llwch by Grant Hyatt

Moments before Dawn - Cefn Cwm Llwch by Grant Hyatt

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Moments before Dawn - Cribyh by Grant Hyatt

Moments before Dawn - Cribyh by Grant Hyatt

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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”

A Dawn Dragons Breath by Grant Hyatt

A Dawn Dragons Breath by Grant Hyatt

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Kit used:

Nikon D610, Tamron 24-70, Velbon Tripod, Format Hi-tech 5 stop ND Filter.

Settings:

Manual Exposure, 24mm, ISO 100, F20 , 20 Seconds.

If you’ve reached this far  - thank you!

Grant Hyatt

Artist of the Week, Grant Hyatt.

Whenever there is a little snow forecast for the UK there is always a flurry (couldn’t resist) of excitement and a contagious buzz on Social Media, most notably on Twitter where my feed is full, almost exclusively of photographers, from all over the United Kingdom, with interests as widely spread as our respective post-codes.  Most of us have occupations that dominate our commitments during the working week, which come Friday 5pm – means we must all feel like a dog being let off the lead in the park – all running off into the hills, mountains, valleys and forests. fully laden with hot flasks of coffee, down jackets, tripods & cameras.

Excitement had been building for a few days in the Brecon Beacons, in the run up to the weekend of 16th January, as snow had arrived mid week and forecast conditions for the Saturday morning were looking about as good as  anyone could’ve hoped for.  I hadn’t been able to add any new snowy images  to my “Moments before Dawn” series for quite some time and I was extremely hopeful that this weekend I would be able to make one of the Big Four (Pen Y Fan, Corn Du, Cribyn & Fan Y Big).  I had a very clear idea in my head of what I wanted from this trip and if the Beacons were really good to me I also hoped to grab an image of the four central beacons with the first light of dawn gracing the peaks of some of the most walked mountains in the Brecon Beacons National Park.

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From what I could gather, most seemed to be heading for Pen Y Fan, which left me hopeful of an empty summit on Fan Y Big and plenty of un-trodden fresh snow, as being able to make the first footsteps in the snow on any path always feels quite special to me,  maybe not quite as special as Neil Armstrongs’ first steps on the moon but with a hill walking event of 500+ participants starting out from Pont ar Daf early Saturday morning, this experience would certainly be limited to a very select few!

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Winter sunrises allow for a much later than start than is typical of the rest of the year, with my alarm for this outing set at a very civilised 5am, allowing 30 minutes for breakfast, an hour for the drive, an hour for the hike up and then plenty of time to chose the specifics of my photographs on location, get comfortable and enjoy the show.  And aside from a very brief  and tricky encounter with waist deep snow, everything went exactly to plan.  Definitely a rarity in my outings as an enthusiastic Landscape Photographer!

The pre-dawn sky was just sublime, more vibrant pink/purple pastels than I had seen in the sky before, perhaps down to it’s contrast with the bright white snow covered landscape. With a little whispy cloud in the sky I thought this would be a great opportunity to use a long exposure to try and capture the movement of the clouds and paint the sky with these most beautifully peaceful of colours. It really couldn’t have worked out much better for me.

Moments before Dawn - Central beacons by Grant Hyatt

Moments before Dawn - Central beacons by Grant Hyatt

ISO100 / 24mm / f16 / 5 secs  BUY IMAGE

 

I shot maybe two or three frames of varying exposures, trying to find the balance that suited my on-going “Moments before Dawn” series best, and settled on the above, which was shot at ISO 100, 24mm, f16 for 5 seconds – Using a  5 stop nd filter. I am very much looking forward to returning to this spot once the snow has melted to shoot a similar image for comparison.

After I was satisfied with the above image, I sat and waited for the sunrise, hoping that a little of this pre-dawn colour would linger just long enough for me to include it in the only other photograph I had hoped to make on this morning. When I was planning this brief little outing I had envisaged an image of the four central beacons with the first rays of dawn’s light just kissing their summits. But to come away with this and the added bonus of some incredible colour in the sky (not a single adjustment was made to any of the colours in either image) absolutely made my day!

First Light by Grant Hyatt

First Light by Grant Hyatt

ISO100 / 24mm / f14 / 15 sec  BUY IMAGE

 

Given how well the first long exposure had gone I opted for the same technique for the above picture, though this time using an additional 3 stop graduated filter, bringing the total exposure time to 15 seconds. Both taken with a Nikon D610 and Tamron SP  24-70 f2.8 VC.

 

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                                ISO100 / 24mm / f14 / 1.6 secs

 

Central Beacons by Grant Hyatt

Central Beacons by Grant Hyatt

ISO100 / 24mm / f14 / 1.6 secs  BUY IMAGE

 

Hopefully this won’t be the last of the white stuff for the Brecon Beacons this season.

Thanks for reading.

Grant