Another year on and the merry band of mad photographers in the next big Togfest is here but this year has been tough, several of the guys couldn’t make it and have been missed so we will be putting together another TogFest for the New Year in the Brecon Beacons. This year, myself, Matt Dartford, Neil Burnell, Dani Colston, Toby, Chris Pope and Dave Fieldhouse ventured up to North Wales for a week of photography, cold, rain and mountains. Shaun Mills, Matt Garbutt, Darren Rose and Stuart McGlennon will be missed.
Like last year a bunch of photographers rallied together and headed of to a rarely visited location and visit numerous points around the area in a hope to capture something different. Now the week running up to the TogFest2018 it had forecasted snow so a few of us were certainly excited to seeing the white fluffy stuff for a change. (When I mean a few of us were excited, me mainly). But this wasn’t meant to be and the temperatures rapidly increased from the -10ºc to plus 14ºc so quite the change and along with this warmer weather was a lot of rain and wind. Not ideal for long exposures or any photography to that matter.
With the weather change in mind a few of us decided to cut our drive up and stop off at Titterstone Clee Hill in Shropshire hoping for some better conditions.
I was the first to arrive at 7:30 as the sun began to rise and in the car park it was great. No wind and sheltered but as soon as you got on top near the radar stations on top you were quickly blown off your feet so any long exposures we had hoped for with these structures was going to be difficult not to mention the flat boring light we had. Anything slower than 1/10th second was picking up movement on the smaller tower which when you approached and got closed you could hear rattling in the wind.
Myself, Dani, Neil and Toby stayed around here until 10/11am where we tried to find a new location around Clee Hill. Toby thought he had seen some tractor like machine object coming out of a shed and looking all ominous with trees and plants growing over the top of it. I still laugh now seeing Neil’s reaction as we pulled up on this roadside to look at this shed and watching Neil shaking his hands out of the car window as our convoy started a traffic jam. As quick as we pulled up next to this shed of nothing we quickly turned around and began our final part of the journey up to North Wales.
Fast forward two hours we all arrived at our very warm cottage. We arrived at 1pm and hoped we might be able to get some more time out or that the weather hadn’t really been that bad but it was so we waited until Chris arrived. Packed our kit ready for the Sunday and then headed up the road to the pub for some dinner and beers.
As you see from above our visit to Dinorwic was wet to say the least and it was a case of planning shots between rain showers and the cameras living in rain sleeves for the better part of the visit. We arrived just after sunrise at 8am and tackling in what can only be described as a small stream rather than a road up to the upper levels to have an explore. For most of us this was our first trip to the upper levels and although we all knew how vast Dinorwic quarry is. It’s only when you spend some time on the upper levels do you see how big and how much of a maze this slate playground is.
Despite the heavy rain and difficult working conditions we stayed out on Dinorwic for most of the day and only returned around 3pm to head back to find Dave. On Dave’s arrival he was hopefully for some better conditions in the last hour of light but as we all peered out of the window we could just see more bands of rain coming through so plan A stayed. To the pub!
Dave didn’t have to wait long for those better conditions however. The following day was clear, still and not a cloud in the sky. It was quite the surprise. If you’ve been to Snowdonia or similar areas you will know that the mountains cause micro climates and today was the reminder how different it can be as we all split up and went off to different areas of Snowdonia.
Dave and Toby headed to Ogwen Valley, Neil, Dani and Chris were at Newborough woods on Anglesey but first paid a first to the Lone Tree on Llyn Padarn and I headed over to Beddgelert and Nant Gwynant. This was a welcome split and meant we all would get something different, unlike the previous year where many of us had the same shots and only our styles of editing would make each distinguishable.
On Anglesey, the guys had long exposures and detailed macro shots, Ogwen valley with traditional landscapes and vantage points and myself in the woodland, rivers and lakes.
We all stayed out from sunrise to sunset. The guys from Anglesey came back over and joined me in Llanberis at Llanberis quarry. Now we owe Greg Whitton as usual a big thank you for the tip of this quarry and all four of us repeated his shot looking over the hole of the quarry out to Llanberis with Dinorwic in the distance.
One issue, this composition only works in stormy, cloudy conditions. The blue sky just looked to happy and odd, it was as if someone Photoshopped this awful sky in to what is a great view. I think I speak for most of us on that visit to the quarry in that nothing was a real keeper.
As the light started to fade and some clouds began to come through we opted to leave the quarry for better compositions. We were going to revisit our roadside spot opposite Dinorwic to shoot the orange trees and slate which we was the plan up until we parked here and Neil quickly muttered going to Llyn y Dywarchen instead.
We all agreed and off we went but all of us completely forgot actually how far it was and by the time we arrived the light had been blocked by the mountain range by the fishing lake. Leaving nothing but a flat shaded ground against a bright blue sky with little clouds for anything special.
It’s easy to blame Neil here for making this decision of location so I will. Neil you messed up! What this visit was good for was scouting the location and seeing the vantage points for compositions for later in the week when the weather was due to worsen.
As the last of the light went we all agreed this would be a brilliant spot for some astro but as we mutted the words astro our stomachs began rumberling and on that note we all left to go get dinner and find a Matt Dartford.
On arrival back at the house we found Dave and a very sleepy Toby.
Poor Toby had been taken on a loop around Ogwen Valley, venturing up Pen yr Ole Wen to the classic waterfall view to Tryfan and the stone wall up top, back down and over to Y Garn and back down and up to Llyn Caseg-Fraith so both guys put in some serious leg work with the mountain climbs here.
This didn’t stop Toby who was keen to get back out very quickly to try his hand at some astro photography in which Dani joined him and the pair ventured back to Ogwen Valley and shooting from Cwm Idwal. This is also where we parted with Chris who had been in the Lake District days before and with a solid week of walking and lugging a heavy rucksack. His shoulder was now playing agro so opted to return home to recover and beat the traffic.
Shortly after the trio left, Mr Dartford stepped through the doors, unpacked and those of us left at the cottage once again returned the pub.
Now to plan for the next day, both Neil and Matt were keen to go where Dave had been in Ogwen Valley so I offered to take the pair up Pen yr Ole Wen to get the classic shot and vantage points. Dave opted to take Toby over to Watkin path and find something here having just been in Ogwen Valley before. In the whole week, these were the hardest conditions to shoot in with heavy, driving rain coming in to your face. We only had three photo opportunities and all three we needed to keep shooting in hope to get something between cleaning the lens and lifting the rain covers.
With all three of us soaked we decided to head back to dry off and recover before venturing back out once more. Before we headed out both Dave and Toby returned and here the two parted from North Wales too. With work calling and the weather forecast not improving they made the decision to leave before things got worse.
The three of us left, our next location was in the centre of the National Park in Blaenau Ffestiniog at a slate quarry called Cwmorthin and much like the morning it was wet but with some improvement with some breaks and at least we weren’t on a mountain side and had the shelter of the quarry from the wind. The three of us remained here till sunset and would had likely stayed longer if the wind hadn’t changed direction and the rain started once more. We also made the silly mistake of climbing to the upper levels here which had nothing but ruins and more lethal wet slate on the ground. Both me and Neil nearly slipped up here with tripods and cameras still locked in on the end. Don’t panic nothing broke but both of us quickly opted to put the cameras back safely in our rucksacks.
Having climbed unnecessarily up this slate mountain for no reason we began the slow trudge back down to the better compositions in the lower valley but as soon as we arrived back down to view the church and path back did the rain return. Tired, wet and now very hungry we opted to leave and find dinner where we descended on Blaenau to find dinner and bought half the contents of a local Co op store.
Wednesday morning was a little more promising weatherwise and the day started cloudy with breaks from some decent sunshine breaking through.
However it wasn’t to last very long. As quick as we arrived in to the local woods at Capel Curig did the rain once again come in…
For me personally, the woodland shots was something different and somewhat challenging. Having moved away from woodland and now spend more time focusing on mountains being in such a confined area and working on a micro level was eye opening again, this is likely the reason I’ve never gone full macro and purchased a lens in this medium. However it was enjoyable and although not on the same successes as the previous days out I got a few images I’m fairly happy with.
Both Matt and Neil they were in there element, especially Neil with his new behemoth of a lens! Sigma 105mm f/1.4
The lens weighed 2.5kg and was larger than your face, it really was a daft lens but the results from what Neil showed me on the back of the camera were stunning. This lens is a bokeh king but a heavy one.
After returning from the woods and spending nearly a good hour for our pig to be killed and served up to us we decided to part our ways and go to different locations.
Neil returned to Llanberis quarry to reshoot here with some better moody conditions, myself opted to go up Snowdon along Crib Goch and Pyg Track for some gear testing and shooting above the lakes. Whereas Matt decided the wet weather was enough and opted to return home. So here three became two.
With now just myself and Neil we opted to spend our Thursday at several quarries and lakes, first revisiting Llyn y Dywarchen and then on to Dorothea quarry.
As you will have seen from above where I first mentioned this fishing lake with the blue sky it did nothing for us and we knew it needed some mood and clouds to make this area and that is exactly what we got on our return! Soft light, hazy clouds hanging around over the tops of Allt Maenderyn (Snowdon’s South ridge) in the distance. Everything we shot last time, we both knew was being binned off in comparison to what we had now. Everything we took was a keeper and had opportunities for us to use later, whether this was a classic moody and atmospheric shot or some further post production to make a darker surreal photo.
As we finished at the fishing lake we ventured further in to the valley to find Dorothea, a quarry we had wanted to visit for some time now but had heard most, if not all the buildings were boardered up and you had no access to the walk any more. This wasn’t strictly all true but the labrinth on the opposite side of the quarry was fenced off but not completely blocked off. It does however make it very difficult to get any wider photos of the ruins but in the heavy rain that now joined us at Dorothea this worked to our advantage.
With the walk out of Dorothea being a very wet and miserable one we both had to make a decision when we returned. Remain in Snowdonia until Saturday as planned and hope the weather was changing for the better or leave early Friday to spend the weekends back at home.
To put it simply, our last night was spent watching Wicked Tuna and a few beers whilst packing up our kit. The following morning we loaded up the cars and headed to one last location where it would be sheltered and some morning light before the storms blew through. It’s been another great week of photography and plenty of keepers and editing now to do. Even finishing writing this I still have so many untouched photos from the week which I will sit on until I revisit over the Christmas period when work is quieter and I can spend some time on each.
This will be our final year visiting Snowdonia having visited the last two years so we will be changing where we go next year. Currently we are looking at Cornwall/Devon for a similar time next year and South Wales in the Brecon Beacons and Gower coastline in March time. Below is a list of locations and my map to show you how wide and varied each location was.
During my time in North Wales I ran a number of reviews which can be found below:
Clee Hill, Pistyll Rhaeadr, Dinorwic slate quarry, Ogwen Valley, Llynnau Mymbyr, Capel Curig, Pont Aberglasyln, Beddgelert, Dorothea quarry, Snowdon, Cwmorthin quarry, Anglesey, Tŵr Bach Lighthouse, Cwyfan Church, Newborough, Llyn y Dywarchen, Llanberis, Llanberis quarry, Llyn Caseg-Fraith, Pen yr Ole Wen, Cwm Idwal, Watkin Path, Nant Gwynant, Moel Siabod and Llyn Crafnant
Transparency Notice: Please note that I (Matthew Holland) receive free products for review from brands and manufacturers, but I only accept products for review on condition of total independence and no guarantee of endorsement. I am a Vanguard Photo UK and Snugpak brand ambassador and receive the products for free to review from both brands. The review is no guarantee of endorsement. I receive no monetary gain from Vanguard Photo UK or Snugpak from the reviews or discount codes. Any Vanguard kit I own has been bought by myself. Any Snugpak equipment is gifted to me for the purpose of the review.