Saturday 14 September 2013

Welsh Highland Wet Weekend

Apologies for the slightly delayed update, but being as it is about railway photography, a post involving trains being slightly delayed seems quite appropriate.

Our final weekend in Wales (at least for a month or so, depending on if I can get some time off before Christmas) has come and gone… we'd set off with every intention of getting at least one more pic for the “Home is…” project, but that fell through in spectacular fashion when the weather decided to revert to form for North Wales, and it tipped it down for about 48 hours.  So, therefore, I thought I’d head out for some train pictures instead.

The Welsh Highland Railway were having their “Superpower” gala, so it was off up to Dinas Station on the Tuesday, followed by a few shots out in the wilderness on the Sunday.  Lots of unusual and special trains running, so plenty to photograph.

Being someone who does lots of model making and miniature sculpture, I was also very pleased to see some of the model railway layouts on display- this is “Bron Hebog”, a layout which has its own blog which I’ve been following for a few years

Unusually I hadn't bothered with a timetable, just rocking up to see what was happening, so was pleasantly surprised to see a freight train (which seemed to catch the other photographers equally by surprise) hauled by a loco I'd last photographed about 5 years ago.

I know its a running joke among some people I know, about my attempts to get ultra low angle shots of trains/rally cars, but I was very happy with just how low I managed to get with this shot...

Something else I'm having a play with, long-exposure blur shots.  I'm actually going to be doing something very similar to these in the near future using miniatures for a separate project (using a home-made model of a similar train), so I couldn't resist having a go at doing a pic using the full-size subject matter.

Sunday was incredibly wet, but dodging the showers in Porthmadog I managed to get a quick shot at the joint Ffestiniog/Welsh Highland station… the lighting was poor, and the world and his dog were stood there taking pictures, so I decided to have a bit more of a play with some long exposure shots.

The number of other photographers about proved to be an issue for the afternoon, when the weather finally brightened up.  I had intended to just photograph the Vintage train (two of the oldest narrow gauge steam locos in the world, lots of lovely old coaches) in the Glaslyn Pass, but I reckoned a fair few people would be out to photograph this rare service, especially at so popular a location, so I drove out to an odd little spot that I figured nobody else would bother with (and as it happened, a fair few other photographers were near-by, but missed the bit I’d chosen).  Its off a farm track near Plas Y Nant, and involves a bit of a scramble and the risk of getting your feet wet, but worth it... or would have been had the train run on time when the sky was completely blue behind the bridge.  Ah well.

Getting to Aberglaslyn, and a spot we'd recently used for the "Home is..." shoot turned up an unexpected train, which I managed to snap in a hurry.  Very odd lighting in the afternoon, and the camera seemed to be struggling a bit with the dark and light greens in this spot, but I still rather like the image.

Racing the train back down the valley, to my slight surprise (given how many cars with old men toting cameras we'd passed on the way) I was able to get into my original location of choice half way down the beautiful Glaslyn Pass.  I did end up beating a couple of annoyed photographers who seemed quite angry that I’d got there first, about 20 mins before they had.  It was worth the effort and the scramble though; this is the sort of shot I’ve wanted at this location for years, especially with these particular locos.  All in all, a very successful couple of days…

Saturday 7 September 2013

"Home is..." in the Glaslyn Pass at 6am

After a couple of days of bad weather, we finally managed to get a couple more shots for “Home is” done…  A couple of locations we’d planned on fell through for various reasons, then by chance we found another spot on the way back from the recce just outside Beddgelert- I love taking landscape and transport pics in the Glaslyn Pass, but we’d sort of written it off for this project because it was thought too difficult to get the furniture to a good spot.

   However, we found a layby, and though it was a fair bit of a walk (with a hill, an underbridge, an overbridge, a level crossing, and three kissing-gates to negotiate in each direction) we managed to get down onto a shingle beach only accessible when the river is quite low.

   Whilst we were shooting the pics, we’d noticed the mist thickening, and improvised with another quick shot on a footpath on the way back- one very polite, though obviously slightly bemused, dog walker but nobody else in sight. 

All in all, two nice shots, which was good given the weather had scuppered other shots.  With time in Wales running out, its probable we wont get any more shots in this area this year, so time to focus on doing some pictures back home in Yorkshire…

Friday 6 September 2013

Underwater Shots take two...

Last weeks underwater shoots were prematurely capped by both weather and mad dogs being allowed off the lead to run riot; this time we figured, with the summer hols drawing to a close, that we might have a better shot at quiet beaches.  Poor weather once again limited us to just one day per visit (amongst the shoots for the "Home is..." projects), and whilst it was intermittently sunny, it was also rather colder than we’d hoped, so we tried to limit time spent standing in the cold sea.  We returned to Llanbedrog beach, where the sea was nice, calm, and shallow, and with the tide in this time, it meant less of a trek down to the sea (the beach here is so shallow that you can walk out about half a mile before getting the water above your waste, but fortunately Amy and I both needed relatively shallow waters for our shoots).  Apart from our one day visits to Llanbedrog we also managed to get an hour at Criccieth for some more wave shots for Amy's project, the sea being a bit more dramatic on this beach.

Amy’s project is the marginally easier to shoot of the two sets, featuring as it does just the natural landscape and no extra props, which has meant a bit more flexibility with locations and weather.  She took some more pics at Llanbedrog and also at Criccieth (as mentioned above), and the dramatic sky certainly added to the atmosphere of the pics; however she wasn’t too happy with how calm the sea was at Llanbedrog, so we decided we might try and find another bit of coast where the sea has somebigger waves, hopefully at some point next week.  The clarity of the water did lead to some very nice shots under the surface of the waves though.

With my project things were a bit more complicated, with numerous props and more influence from the weather conditions affecting the shoots.  Having proved the concept for doing abstract pics using inflatable toys as props last week (as a variance on my old “Inflate-Deflate” shoot), we’d come prepared this time with a ton of old toys left over from the “Inflate-Deflate” and “Happygoth” projects: lesson learned, never throw anything away that might come in useful in another shoot.  Ignoring the slightly weird looks we were getting from passers-by on the beach (who seemed puzzled by the sight of two young people who kept randomly walking into the sea with various swim rings and beach balls, standing with them held in the water about ten feet from the shore taking pictures, then trailing back on land with them) we proceeded in and out of the surf with a number of toys.  Overcoming various problems ranging from poor lighting, fish and other marine life (that steadfastly refused to stay still long enough to be photographed) swimming/crawling over our feet, and randomly deflating or popped toys, and equipment issues, we finally managed to get a selection of decent shots on the second visit to Llanbedrog.

We were both reasonably happy with how our pics were coming out, so we decided to take the opportunity of another warm couple of days to hit the beach whilst we still could, and get a few more shots- after about mid September we probably wont get chance for any more underwater pics for quite some time, being unable to get to the seaside due to time constraints with work, so we’re doing what we can whilst we can…  However, the promised warm days turned into a day and a half of rain and low visibility, but we finally managed to get to the beach on the last day of the visit to Wales.  The lighting conditions were hazy, with intermittent sun, which sort of suited Amy's shots, even if the camera started to struggle a bit with the low lighting... shots however didn't work- the sea being a bit rougher, there was a surprising amount of sand and other rubbish being washed around in it, which rather affected the pictures, as can be seen below.

And so that would seem to be that; whilst we have another couple of days in Wales, time constraints (and the forecast bad weather) make it unlikely we'll be able to get back to the sea, though at a push Amy might be able to get a few more of her pics.  Now to do some editing; there should be a future blog post towards the end of the month detailing just how we'll be using these pics in a wider project...

Thursday 5 September 2013

"Home is..." Three Days in Wales

A return to Wales last week on my days off from work, and the opportunity to shoot some more pics for both the “Home is…” (again focussing on the main living room set) and the underwater photography projects…  First up, something of a mega-update on "Home is..." showing just how much can be crammed into 3 days, when you get up to start shooting pics at 5am...

With Thursday forecast for rain, we decided to just spend the day doing recce runs to various locations.  Our first stop was the quarries above Tanygrisau, a spot we had visited extensively during previous shoots and projects.  Up at high level in the quarries are the remains of buildings, tramways, all sorts of bits of machinery which they never got around to removing when the quarry went bust.  However it’s a long walk carrying the furniture despite its merits as a location, so we chose instead to go for the memorial garden which is located at lower level nearer the car park.  This landscaped spot on a former waste tip has wagon turntables, rail lines, trees, all sorts of bits and pieces (as can be seen in these older shots from my last visit to the site a few years back).

Annoyingly (and marking the start of a day of disappointments) we found the site closed, due to what could be best described as catastrophic erosion of the paths and retaining walls by the bad winter weather.  My attempt to bypass the collapsed retaining walls were cut short by the sound of more slate shifting under this mess, and I realised I had better things to do than be buried under hundreds of tons of slate waste if I managed to trigger a landslide, so we left.  There is one possible location here, at this bridge (which has a high waterfall directly under where the pic below was taken from), but it would only be good after heavy rain…

Moving onto the next location, an abandoned goods yard on the derelict Blaenau Ffestiniog-Trawsfynned railway line.  The yard was formerly used by Cooke’s explosive works back in the 80’s/90’s to load their products onto trains.  Looking on Google Earth, the site seemed abandoned, and being suitably remote, should have provided a good spot to photograph.  Being as Cookes are long gone, the railway is closed, and I was unable to establish who owns the site, we thought we’d take a look. 

We got a tantalising glimpse of the site from the road over bridge, but to our irritation found a rather new looking gate securing the site on the access road.  Being as this is an ‘official’ project for a gallery we are doing, we decided not to risk being cautioned/arrested for trespass and so aborted the recce.

To add further annoyance, another location we’d chosen nearby on a previous recce, a lay-by with fantastic views over the mountains is now being used to dump skips in.  We still toyed with the idea of this location, but found that we can’t fit the car, the chair, and the tripod all into the remaining space and keep the skips/car out of shot.

And to cap-off this day of minor irritations, our final stop was at Penrhyndeudraeth, where there used to be a bath high up on the hillside, in use as a cattle trough, and which we had figured would make a pretty good ready-made bathroom set for a picture with the addition of a few props and light set dressing.  And typically for this day, upon arrival we found that it was no longer a bath, but a modern, purpose-made plastic cattle trough which was on the site. 

For all of our successful shoots so far, it is somewhat annoying that about 8 of the major locations we had in mind for this project when we started out (all used in previous projects) are now inaccessible:

Cwm Prysor Viaduct- now in private ownership with CCTV
Cwm Prysor railway cutting- now in private ownership with CCTV
Blanaue Ffestiniog slate loading dock- access blocked by new wall along road and CCTV
Tanygrisau Quarry- access blocked by landslides
Penrhyndeudraeth Bath- removed
Maentwrog Goods Yard- access blocked by new gate and CCTV
Maentwrog Lay-by- access blocked by builders skips
Trawsfynned Level Crossing- heavily overgrown

After this day of disappointments, we decided to use Friday as an opportunity to reshoot a couple of pictures instead…  The morning saw us back at the partially-logged woods in Tanybwlch, which were suitably misty and spooky.  No random passers-by this time, and a rather lighter sky which aided things considerably.  A more dramatic backdrop of logged trees was used this time compared to the previous visit too, meaning a much better image resulted.

During the day we also did a recce to try and find a new slate quarry location, given the previous days problems at Tanygrisau, so this time we headed for the Nantle valley.  Working as we were off a 30 year old OS map, we hoped to find the abandoned tips and inclines marked on the map, but were somewhat annoyed to find the area now very green, gentrified, and very, very heavily fenced off in private ownership.  We were forced to turn back as well about half way along by the very large herd of cattle being moved along the single-track road.  We did find a possible location though, a fishing lake high up in the hills with a concrete jetty, boat shed, and paths with good views, so decided to return the next morning.

A trip down the coast to Barmouth followed, and was used partially to get some underwater shots, and partly to scout some more locations.  One thing I’ve certainly never seen before was a lifeboat being moved overland, which made for some interesting images and a pleasant distraction from the recce shots…

More slight setbacks followed on the recce though; I had previously visited the mothballed airfield at Llanbedr (a former RAF base which had been closed back in the early 2000’s, but the site now just consists of a few grubby looking sheds, and frankly I can think of a few better locations we might use compared to this one; most of the ‘interesting’ things like bunkers, radar towers etc have been removed since I last visited for a University project (the below shot, from that last visit, shows pretty much all that is there now, only the sheds look rather tattier).  Equally, the abandoned museum at Maes Artro just up the road has been cleared and is now covered in holiday lodges and log cabins, rather than the mothballed clutter of old tanks, planes, and crumbling buildings which once existed here.

The evening saw a shoot which was a re-do of one of the concept pics, actually shooting in the dark under a streetlight right outside where we were staying, with a new model posing for us (in pyjamas, slippers, and dressing gown no less).  A good image, if a little rushed because of the ever-present midges.

Saturday morning provided the opportunity to do a shoot at the one decent location we found in the Nantle Valley, the lake with a concrete jetty and boat house, so we set off early, arrived, and found the lay-by blocked with a camper van, the driver evidently choosing not to pay for a site anywhere when he could park for free.  Had we been able to park up, they wouldn’t have taken kindly to us disturbing them at half 6 in the morning, so we were forced to abandon (twice now due to people sleeping in lay-bys, it must be a Welsh thing).  We did however decide not to waste the morning, so headed back to Aberglaslyn to redo a shoot from last week which had been scrubbed due to bad lighting.

We got the shot we wanted, using a slightly different angle to last time, but encountered a minor spot of bother on the way out from another driver who arrived onto the car park and, spotting me carrying a lot of furniture back to the car, must have leapt to the assumption that we were some sort of travelling armchair thieves, as he proceeded to furiously scribble down our details, car licence plate, etc.  Had he opened his windows we could have talked to him and actually explained what we were doing; and being as we weren’t pulled over by the fuzz on the way home for suspected Grand Theft Bookcase, so we’re guessing he was just a bit of nosy type.

So that’s that then: a few days of mixed disappointment and success.  We have a possible 4 days left to take pictures in Wales dispersed over the next week, but we’re rapidly running out of scouted locations up here anyway.  We’re hoping to get one more beach shot (on a shingle beach this time), and maybe another go at that concrete jetty on the fishing lake, before we leave Wales as a venue for the project.  Autumn and Winter will be mainly focussed on the North, specifically various bits of Yorkshire, as well as the Midlands over Christmas.  More on our last few days in Wales on the blog shortly, but the next Blog entry will probably feature our other ongoing project, the underwater photography…

Tuesday 3 September 2013

Welsh Highland Railway and Waterfalls

It wouldn’t be a Ribbon blog without some train photos, so I thought I’d post a few pics taken around the Welsh Highland Railway whilst out doing location recces for the “Home is…” shoot- we want a pic with some railway content in the landscape, but our attempts to find a suitable location keep getting thwarted by access issues.  Plus, being as the mainstream railway magazines don’t often publish images from these railways, I thought I might as well put the images I shot of the trains whilst out location scouting up on here on the blog.

The first couple of shots were taken whilst scouting around between Rhyd-ddu and Waunfawr in mid August, and at a location which is good for train pictures and vehicle access, but which turns out doesn’t have anywhere really suitable for the chair, there being not a lot of flat, level land around here.

One other problem is the nature of the trains themselves; at the risk of alienating the casual reader, the locomotives here are of the Garratt type, which are powerful engines built for service overseas (the ones on the Welsh Highland having been repatriated from Africa).  They’re basically two articulated power units at either end of a boiler, which means that whichever way the engine is pointing, you end up photographing a fairly featureless metal shoebox with a headlight stuck on it.   The only solution I’ve found is to shoot from high up so you can see all the detailed, interesting bits, from far away (for the arty ‘train in the landscape’ look), or very low angle to emphasise the power of the engine.  The first shoot was an attempt at the low angle, the second a high angle off a bridge which I was a bit happier with.

Incidentally, though the location is poor for the “Home is…” shoots, it turned out to be fantastic for getting some long-exposure pics of waterfalls and the river, which rather made up for things.

Below is a new location, found at the tail end of August whilst doing another recce for the “Home is…” project, and a level crossing right at the end of the summit of the line near Pitts Head.  The trains are working hard coming up the gradient which (whilst a little dull now in the warmer weather) which should make for a good shot in cold weather later in the year.  Love the casual pose of the driver…  Given our difficulty finding a railway-based location for “Home is…” this one may prove suitable, given its ease of access and relative isolation.

The high angle from near the same spot is not so bad, but involved getting very wet feet climbing up through what turned out to be a very well camouflaged stream…

Finally, a return to another old haunt, and the Glaslyn Pass, which is one of my favourite locations for photography in the whole of Wales (and has been since my first visit here when I was about 15).  A quick clamber up the rocks got me to the line side in time for a passing train weaving through the tunnels, and all I had to put up with was some random abuse shouted at me from a carriage window by a young idiot and his dad when the train passed.  Still, decent images resulted, even if the poor lighting hampered things a bit.

Not one to waste an opportunity, I thought I’d get in a few landscape shots too along the river.

Some interesting new locations then for transport pics resulted from all this anyway, and at least one which might prove to be suitable for the “Home is…” project, and the rest should come in handy for some future transport shots... 

"Home is..." in Yorkshire, for a change

Another batch of shoots for the “Home is…” project, and this time we are using the Blackhills Scout Camp Site in Bingley, West Yorkshire.  This is another location known to us, through our capacity as leaders.  Amy was undertaking this shoot for us whilst I was at the day job.  A relatively easy shoot given that the site was mainly closed to the public (so less risk of passers-by wandering into shot, and it meant Amy could take her time choosing angles and locations, with less of the rushing around which has characterised some of the other locations we've been to), and Blackhills offered lots of opportunity for pictures taken in woodland settings.  Again, for this shoot, we’re focussing on the living-room set, but with the additions of some Scouting-specific books, props, etc.  A pleasant morning’s photography by all accounts, and three more shots done.