The lone tree at Llyn Padarn is anything but an original subject. I’ve seen hundreds of different photos of it over the last year or so, since I began paying more attention to photographs from North Wales. The thing is, just because a scene is well photographed, it doesn’t make it a bad place to visit. Far from it in fact, these places are well photographed for a reason! Llyn Padarn was high on my list of places to visit on my recent trip to North Wales, so I visited it a few separate times during the four days I was there, hoping and praying for the right conditions to create a spectacular photograph to be proud of.
My first visit was more of a scouting trip than anything else. I knew roughly where the tree was, but wanted to know where I was going so that I didn’t waste time looking around in the pre-dawn darkness. I arrived at the nearest car park shortly before sunset one afternoon, and grabbed my camera gear before walking up the shore of the lake. It took only a few seconds to find the tree; it’s no more than 100 feet from the car park and stands proudly out of the water a few metres from the stony beach, in defiance of the icy cold water in the lake. I took the opportunity to take some photos of the tree, and the cloudy sky and choppy water gives the image a dramatic and moody feel that I love.
The next morning I awoke after a pretty crap nights sleep in the van, and drove a few miles back to the car park. It had been a wet and windy night, and there was a thick blanket of cloud overhead. I wasn’t expecting great conditions at the lake, but I decided to visit anyway and see what it was like. The sky was bland and grey, and the light drizzle did nothing to cheer me up. The water was very choppy with no hint of a reflection, and the overall lighting was flat and uninspiring. I took a couple of photos, but quickly retreated back to the van for a cup of coffee and some porridge, before driving on to Ynys Y Pandy slate mill for the morning.
Determined to get a photo to be happy with, I planned to go back the next morning. On my way back from photographing the Twr Mawr lighthouse on Llanddwyn Island, I stopped off in a nearby McDonalds for some food and a hot drink, and to check the weather forecast on their wifi. The forecast was for a relatively calm night of patchy clouds and a light breeze. It wasn’t perfect conditions but it had to be better than the previous visits! At 6.10 the next morning I drove back to the familiar car park and parked up. As I got out of the van, I was struck with how clear and silent the area was, very little cloud cover overhead and no wind at all. Excitedly, I made my way to the tree and found that I was not going to be alone. There was a group of 4-5 photographers who had obviously seen ideal conditions forecast and wanted in on the action. I made my way round to them and set myself up in a small gap, careful not to get in anyone’s way.
As the sun began to lighten up the morning sky, the sky caught fire in an amazing colour of orange and pink. The small spotty clouds above me kept their cool purple tone, and the distant clouds over the mountains at the far end of the lake were dark and ominous looking. I quickly noticed how still the water was; The calmest and sharpest reflection I’d seen in many months, since I visited Pontsticill Reservoir in the Brecon Beacons earlier in the summer. The entire surface of the lake was a giant mirror, with the tree, mountains and clouds all reproduced in perfect detail upside down in front of me. Within minutes of the sky lighting up, some rowers appeared at the edge of the lake and slid their boat into the water, spoiling the reflections. After quite a few minutes of waiting, they disappeared up the far end of the lake and the water calmed down again, only to be spoiled by a couple of ducks paddling out from the nearby shore. I was annoyed at the ducks to begin with (well, as annoyed as any sane person can be with a duck), but looking back I think the occasional ripple in the water adds a sense of realism to the image which I think that perfectly still reflections can sometimes miss.
The sky was much brighter now, and the colours became very intense. The sun was going to rise at the far end of the lake, and as the sun prepared to emerge, the gaps in the mountains lit up with a hot orange glow that would have been at home in a Lord of the Rings film. I raced around trying out different compositions and finally settled on the one you see below. I decided to keep the trees reflection out of the frame as it meant I would have had to shoot at a very wide focal length which would have altered the perspective and made the mountains and clouds look very far away indeed.
Happy that my hard work had paid off, I set about photographing the incredible reflection without the tree, using a longer focal length to really zoom in and show the mountains and clouds far away. Another couple of ducks appeared now, and I used them to add interest in the photo.
The weather in Snowdonia is unpredictable, and can change quickly. I made my plans to visit the area several weeks in advance, so I needed a lot of luck in order to get good weather when I was there. I almost cancelled at the last minute as the forecast was grey skies and heavy rain all weekend, but I took a chance and went anyway. I’m glad I did! If you have any comments or questions, I’d love to read them.