Betws-y-coed and the Watkin Path

Betws-y-coed and the Watkin Path

Every year I get a chance to shoot in Snowdonia, arguably one of the most beautiful places in the British Isles.  It is however always in winter, when visiting relatives in the area - so it's cold!!  Last year we went to the Llyn Idwal/Tryfan area on New Year's Eve at sunrise - you can see the result of this little trip in an earlier post.

3 rolls

Over Christmas I spent quite a lot of time with my film camera - trying to learn more about exposure, composition, contrast, and just how to work more smartly.  Because of course, every image costs in the film world.  This post contains some images from the first three rolls of film I have ever shot - I can't say how satisfying (and exciting) it was to see these images on the roll of plastic as I pulled out the developed film from the tank for the first time...

Roll 1 - Ilford HP5+


HP5+ roll1 012

I decided for my first roll to be a film classic; Ilford HP5+.  So many people had recommended this film as either their go-to, or a great beginner's film to experiment with.  It has a really nice grain that I personally think compliments black and white portraits.  It isn't too oppressive, but is noticeable, and it adds a nice mood to the images.  This film also had a reasonably pleasing contrast - the images above were not really corrected for exposure or contrast in Lightroom (dust and marks were removed).  If there was one thing hindering me when shooting that roll, it was getting used to the split prism-type lens focusing that the old Nikon lenses had.  Some images I thought would be nice and sharp just weren't (although, this might be due to the fact I was shooting pretty wide open because of the low level of available light!), but this hopefully will begin to sort itself as I get used to shooting this medium with this gear.

Roll 2 - Ilford Delta 3200

This was the roll I was really looking forward to shooting.  Some people hate it (too grainy), but I love the roughness of it, coupled with the quite strong contrast ( least, heavier than the HP5).

first christmas-031Grandson-039Nap time-038

Perhaps counter-intuitively (or at least going against the grain of what people normally do with this film), I decided to shoot some candid portraits of my new nephew with my mother.  I actually found that the lovely contrasty tones made the highlights pop, giving the images some nice soft, dreamy character.  This worked well coupled with the bokeh being produced by the Nikon 105mm - I was pretty pleased with the results.

Also, I was onto my second roll and I hadn't messed up the developing yet...I'm not sure exactly how contrast and general film characteristics can be affected by the development temperatures and times used; perhaps something for me to look into in the future...

Roll 3 - Ilford Delta 400

My last roll over the christmas period I shot was a roll of Delta 400.  Delta is generally considered the Rolls Royce of pro films, so I was interested to see how this (more expensive) film compared to the cheaper, but identical ISO, HP5+.  I did shoot some more portraits with this roll, but I also took it with me when I was shooting in Snowdonia over New Years (see my previous blog post) as I was keen to see its potential and performance shooting landscapes.

Black mountain-069Roaring white-073

The grain is pretty similar between both films (maybe, if I squint, you could argue the Delta's is a bit finer...) but the tones across the board are in my opinion a bit more pleasing with the Delta.  This film also seemed a little sharper, and responded better to light sharpening in Lightroom.  As a film for landscape photography it worked pretty well - especially in dull conditions, it was useful to have that raised sensitivity.

I really enjoyed the whole process over the holidays.  Slowing down and properly considering a shot, then having to wait to see if I got it right, then the development steps themselves.  It is definitely something I will be continuing with, and I have already bought in some more rolls ready for my next outing.  I've even splashed out and picked up some colour negative stuff (some Portra 160), which should be pretty fun...

Snowdonia, New Years Eve

Usually on a christmas break (with jobs as hectic as ours) you would normally assume lie-ins and slow days, and you would be correct, except for when we are in scenery as striking as Snowdonia, North Wales. A wake up call at 6am on New Years Eve.  We were greeted by partially cloudy skies and some light rain, which immediately screamed great potential for a decent sunrise, and a restoration of my faith in the BBC weather service.  Tryfan was our destination, meaning a 90 minute drive was ahead of us.  Luckily no one else was as stupid was out and about, so we made good time.

Leading up to Tryfan, we passed through a spectacular valley, but unfortunately there was nowhere to stop and park, but this is a definite future shooting site (on the A5 just west of Capel Curig).  Tryfan itself has a small car park which was empty, and it also contains the start of the (very well looked after) trail up the mountain.

Idwal stream-1470

100 yards up the trail you will come across a bridge.  There had been a lot of rain so the stream passing over the rocky hillside and running under the bridge was in roaring good form.  The image above was actually taken on the way back down - the sun had risen and promptly hid behind heavy, threatening cloud.  This left little option for me but to convert into black and white.  However, with the long exposure and the milky white waterfall, there was a nice amount of contrast.

Ogwen Valley-1471

The path up the mountain is maintained by the National Trust and so was in really good condition.  It also cut a beautiful path up the hillside, creating some lovely leading lines of the grey rock contrasting against the greens and browns of the vegetation.  Up to this point the UK had not seen any cold weather.  At all.  But this high in Snowdonia there was a light dusting on the peaks, helping them stand out against the rapidly evolving sky.

Glyder Fach-1465

At this point the sun was about to come above the horizon, and the sky was trying to work out if it wanted to show any colour.  The building clouds caught a little light, but the sunrise was not developing as nicely as early morning excited me thought it would.  However, with the promise of some great views regardless, we pressed on through the bitter winds.

Tryfan stream-1458

After about a 20-30 minute hike (including photography stops), we reached Llyn Idwal, the first of the lakes on the route to the mountains.  Again, a full stream was gushing out at high speed, adding a dynamic aspect to the image I managed to capture above.  All the images I shot this morning were achieved with the Nikon D750 and the 16-35mm f/4.  I continue to be mightily impressed with the amount of data the sensor can capture - this image needed a little help in Lightroom to bring out the shadow detail and the colours, but I think this really reflects our experiences of the morning.

Glyder Fawr-1457

There's a different mountain ridge across the lake, again being cut in two by a stream running down from the lightly dusted snowy cap.  Only after I got this image back into the computer did I spot the moon cheekily placed above the left peak!

I also took my Nikon FM2n on this hike, and shot a couple of images on some Delta 400 - I will be developing this roll in the next few days and will include the images in an upcoming post about my first few rolls of film shooting...

The lake was as far as we were willing to go on this occasion - the weather was closing in and we chickened out decided to make our way back down safely.  However, a fantastic vantage point for Snowdon itself was only a 10 minute drive away, so we made our way there before the bad weather settled in for the rest of the day.

Twin peaks-1482

This was one of the last images we managed to capture where the summit was actually visible (3 minutes after this image, a torrential downpour started, and didn't stop until we left the national park! Typical...).  I was in two minds about whether to keep it in colour, as the light was not producing very punchy colours.


This last mono image was one of my favourites of the day.  The misty clouds slightly veiling the summit, along with the deeply dark foreground hills, cut through by a fast moving stream.  I think black and white works excellently in mountainous, poor weather terrain such as this, and this image rounded off a really enjoyable trip into the mountains of Wales.