On the outskirts of Brecon during a recent trip to the manmade reservoirs in the Elan Valley, Mid Wales, my fellow photography companion and I noticed a couple of fields with late August straw bales.
‘Perhaps we’ll be able to grab a few golden hour shots on the return journey’, I remarked as we flew by.
On our return the original field I had in mind was no longer a possibility as the bales had already been taken. There was only one field left with an open gate as the fast sinking sun hastened our approach loaded with backpacks and tripods. I might have preferred more time to consider the stronger compositions, but I was as excited as a child in a sweet shop and my eyes were distracted by a particular backdrop. So many mistakes have been made by doing this, unaware of the potential behind my back. I experimented with shots one way with a sky devoid of cloud before facing the direction you see in the featured image. For me, the series of images recorded from this location represented late summer and were totally unexpected. Sometimes, in photography, it is the unexpected opportunities that provide the most satisfying memories of the day.
The featured image was captured in Alcúdia, Mallorca whilst exploring the Walls of Alcúdia Route. I took my camera and an old 35mm telephoto zoom lens. Although the views are quite spectacular over the town, it was this cloud formation that really caught my eye and yes, it did herald an approaching storm which, thankfully, I managed to avoid.
Timing is everything and nothing. Studying maps, preparing equipment, scouting… If the weather is on your side, the dream will manifest with nature’s blessing on your side. For that time whilst you are sitting, standing, taking everything in, there is a strong sense of being in the moment and savouring one of life’s simple pleasures…
I have been sky dreaming for as long as I can remember. As a child with summer memories of lying on the grass and imagining characters in passing cloud processions. In the days before I started to enjoy school, I remember sitting at my desk by towering windows, looking up at the big sky with its promise of freedom…
Now I dream of sunrises, sunsets, interesting cloud and record the passing of time.
’Sky Dreaming’ was captured on the island of Ibiza. It is probably one of the most beautiful and photographed locations on the island with the Torre des Savinar (defence tower) as well as the Cova des Mirador and sweeping views directly over the Vedrà and Vedranell, north to the island of Conillera and southeast to Formentera. I had planned for sunset and hoped that there would be some interesting cloud and, as if by magic, my wish was answered. The decision to arrive in plenty of time was a wise one because it wasn’t long before other tourists started to arrive. Some families brought a picnic, one couple hoping for a romantic sunset portrait, posed for a photographer friend. In fact, there was quite a crowd of people to the sides and behind me, and, despite being hemmed in, there was an overwhelming feeling of peace. I remained for some time after the sun had disappeared, watching and recording the changing colours in the sky and to allow the crowds to move off – some to return to the beach below by foot and others, to make their way to the crowded makeshift dust-filled car parking area. It was the only time that there was chaos as people tried to manoeuvre in darkness, out of tight areas where foliage and other cars had made the most of the available space.
The image captured at Ses Salines was not as well prepared as the outlook onto Es Vedrà. It was supposed to have been a scouting mission for a morning shot and the sky didn’t appear very promising for an evening image anyway but, as I was there, I thought to hang around and take a walk along the salt flats with camera and tripod. If the statement about suffering for one’s art is true, I should have got a medal for the meal the mosquitos enjoyed on me that evening. The salt mountain against the greenery of woodland and reflection is great for early morning sunlight and compressed compositions of the flats at sunset make this a great location for landscapes. As a nature reserve, there is plenty of wildlife which makes it a fantastic location for all tastes.
I put off a holiday to Ibiza for many years because – for some strange reason – I associated an old holiday from hell story from a former work colleague and San Antonio with a huge sign in my mind’s eye that stated in bold lettering, KEEP OUT! Lively resorts have never been my scene and, when the island was mentioned as a potential holiday destination I couldn’t help but appear dumbstruck. Surely there are other destinations…
Was it ignorance or my own arrogance that had prevented me from opening myself up to the possibility that I would be pleasantly surprised by casting my own misplaced judgments to one side? Again, I was in that familiar predicament of being on the lookout for something… something more… something else.
Torre de ses Portes, Ibiza
Torre de ses Portes, Ibiza
Torre de ses Portes, Ibiza
Now as I look back through images from a September morning sunrise hike to Torre de ses Portes, after driving along Ses Salines and the saltworks, the image of the watchtower reminds me of the need to be mindful of ‘perspective’. The defense tower – now restored – can be dated to the 16-c and is located on Ibiza’s southernmost tip. It’s quite an isolated location with great views across the water (Es Freus Strait separating Ibiza and Formentera) to Hangman’s Island, where captured pirates were sent to the gallows, and Pig’s Island, where pigs smuggled from Formentera were kept. After careful planning and studying weather and a local map, I decided to head out to find this lonely tower to coincide with the golden light of sunrise.
My timing couldn’t have been better and I was fortunate to have some interesting cloud in a sky that could have been too bland. Armed with a tripod and just a polarizing filter screwed onto the lens, I set to work exploring the subject in the sunlight that would soon lose its magical glow. I had the location to myself and there was a concentrated diligence to ensuring I wouldn’t leave the location until I was satisfied I had explored all angles that were possible with the tools and the time I had.
It is so easy to fall into the trap of seeing an image and thinking that’s it, I need look no further but, I found myself continuing, like an excited and curious child, trying this angle and that and then, only ceasing when the sun had lost that magic light and the heat was beginning to be felt.
As I reflect on that memory of working the subject in relation to the sun and exploring different angles, perspective, my mouth cannot help but curl into a smile as I remember my first reaction at the prospect of choosing Ibiza as a destination. If only I had been willing to adopt a different perspective and not be so judgemental and defensive. The holiday proved to be one of the most enjoyable visits. I managed to observe and capture images that I didn’t think I would get and I had the space to reinforce a valuable lesson – on a personal level as well as a photographic one.
I have always preferred natural lakes to man-made reservoirs for photography, however, they are dominant features of the Welsh landscape – a landscape blessed by rain as much as its sheep. Some of the larger dams located in Powys and further north have served as poignant reminders of villages sacrificed to store and channel water beyond Welsh borders into large English cities but, apart from newsworthy anniversaries of protest and ‘hiraeth’ (Welsh), the reservoirs of Wales now attract hordes of visitors to spend their summer holidays.
Lake Vyrnwy (Llyn Efyrnwy) is a reservoir in Powys, built in the 1880s to supply the city of Liverpool with fresh water. The main image (mono) features the straining tower ‘…which is where the water leaves the lake at the start of a journey along an aqueduct and pipeline to Liverpool, around 70 miles away. It is called a straining tower because the water first passes through a fine metal mesh to filter or strain out material in the water. The tower stands in over 15m (50ft) deep water and is over 48m (160ft) high.’
The head of the Vyrnwy valley was flooded to supply the city of Liverpool with fresh water. Remnants of the small village of Llanwddyn can be seen when the water level is very low.
Beyond ‘Solitude’, lies the small monastic island of Caldey, home to its chief inhabitants and owners, the Cistercian monks. It is no wonder that Caldey is known as one of the Holy Islands in Great Britain with a recorded history that goes back over 1500 years.
The island is reachable by a short boat trip from Tenby harbour or the beach, depending on the tide. One of the tourist attractions on Caldey includes the restored 13th-c church of St Illtyd and priory.
I was fortunate on my first visit to enjoy a fine day without too many visitors and poor weather to prevent exploration of most of the popular pathways, however, I could have spent longer enjoying the peace and serenity which this island appeared to offer.
I have looked upon this small tidal island (St Catherine’s Island/Rock) so many times over the years – in different seasons come rain and shine, high and low tides. However, despite countless visits, I don’t think I have ever spent so much time viewing it so intimately in a photographic sense. Perhaps the most familiar sights are those that become almost invisible with the camera as the personal search beckons exploration of locations further afield. It is as though the most familiar become the most ordinary and why, why would I want to take the time here when there is bound to be more elsewhere? But, this time I was content to stay long enough to observe the tide, the motion of cloud and the solitary island free of people and children climbing its rock.