The Motorway to Pen y Fan

Last week I had the pleasure of walking up Pen y Fan with a couple of fellow Bristol photographers. Oddly, although over the last year I have explored the Brecons a fair amount, this was the first time I have summited Pen y Fan. I think a mountain looks better from lower down than from the top, but last week’s expedition changed my mind.

As I say, this was the first time I’ve climbed this mountain. Last summer, I did a circular walk up Fan y Big looking back towards Cribyn and the peak of Pen y Fan and I have photographed Pen y Fan and Corn Du, from the Upper Neuadd Reservoir. Wales Water has drained the reservoir and there are some truly spectacular compositions to be shot of the rivers and trees left in the dry basin:

Still, while there are more options for compositions from the valley looking towards peaks, sometimes getting high is worthwhile – especially when you have good atmospherics. On this day, we weren’t sure how the weather would be. When we set off from Bristol, there were patches of mist here and there, but things could have gone either way.

We took the easiest way up Pen y Fan. It sets off from Pont ar Daf car park and is called the motorway route. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but when we arrived, the car park was heaving. Looking up the hill, you could see a string of headlights snaking its way up the hill.

We hit thick cloud about halfway up the hill. When we reached the summit, the fog was thick, and it seemed unlikely we would come away with any photos. The top of the hill was busy too. There were maybe 100 people up there. Standing there in the murk, it seemed unlikely that we would get the cloud inversion that we had hoped for, but then dim shapes formed. We set pointed out cameras towards Cribyn, knowing that this might be our only chance of the morning.

It was still half an hour before sunrise, so there was limited light to focus in, so I stopped down to F14 for depth of field and set my focus to infinity. With an ISO of 250, I could get a shutter speed of 20 seconds and I exposed a few frames before the clouds closed back in for good:

I like the way this image came out. I like that beyond Cribyn and Fan y Big, you can see Sugarloaf Mountain isolated above the cloud in the top middle left of the frame.

Also, although sun stars are dramatic and warm, direct light would add interest and texture to the clouds, sometimes I prefer a subtle blue hours shot. More and more I like images to have longevity. Images with strong sunrise colours are striking, but can become tiresome when you have seen them too many times.

So climbing the mountain instead of shooting from the valley was fun, and I got the bug and I’m looking forward to the next visit to the Brecons. Hopefully, we will get some snow this year. If we do, I will try to get the same composition again.

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