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04/06/13 Part 1: An Eagle in the Elan Valley

A new job means a lot less days off so days out have become few and far between. Fortunately a good friend had set up a small, early morning aerobatic display in a remote yet beautiful part of mid-Wales known as the Elan Valley. The aircraft was a Christen Eagle II aerobatic plane capable of high "g' manoeuvre, smoke trails and barrel rolls. 

The display was due to start at 7:30 in the morning above one of the huge dams and reservoirs that hold Birmingham's water supply. The mid-morning silence was interrupted by the sound of the single propeller bi-plane G-KLAW making an appearence at 2000ft and descending into the valley for a sighting pass.




After some already great passes, the smoke system came into life with white smoke billowing out the back of the aircraft as he performed roll after roll. The white smoke against the deep blue water of the reservoir provided great contrast.




After some awesome "water-locked" passes we were treated with a couple of head on flyby's before G-KLAW departed the area for a refuel at Shobdon before returning to her base in the Midlands and what a couple of flyby's they were!




25/04/13 Fairy Pools

A couple of hours at my favourite waterfalls in the UK produced some pretty dynamic images. Due to the huge, thick bank of cloud that was hiding the Cuillins meant I could effectively shoot into the sun the light was that flat to begin with.





The tricky lighting conditions were over come by using my trusty LEE 0.6 graduated filter to balance the difference in exposure between the sky and the dark rocky foregrounds. The dark gradient of the filter also added to the moodiness of the Cuillin mountains by darkening the scree and enhancing the low level cloud base. 


24/04/13 Highlands, Islands and Borderlands

Two weeks booked off from work with the aim of walking and driving across Scotland, catching Pave Hawks in the mountains and watching sunrises, sunsets and the stars aloft some of the highest peaks in Scotland. Unfortunately, the initial two weeks ended up just being a 4 day trip with some friends, taking in the Borders, Edinburgh, the Highlands and the Isle of Skye. Day 1 saw me in the borders near to Talla reservoir.

Talla is remote at the best of times but in gloomy, grey and windy conditions it's nothing short of hostile. The mountains either side of the reservoir tower over the odd farmhouse, single track road and a lone fisherman as I wind my way up the road that connects to St Marys Loch stopping briefly to photograph a small series of waterfalls.



After picking up a couple of friends from Edinburgh airport it was a whistle stop tour of the Highlands, taking in Rannoch Moor, Glencoe and Eilean Donan castle before arriving on Skye. The Isle of Skye is home to my favourite view anywhere in the United Kingdom. Elgol. A tiny village at the end of a 15 mile single track road, surrounded by peaks and powerful ocean waves offering a rugged yet peaceful stretch of coastline that is dominated by the Cuillin mountains. 

Sunset here is nothing short of magical as the sun drops behind the hills, the sky glows colours that you can not imagine. Blue, gold, pink, red, orange all being picked up on the waves on the incoming tide that swirls around famous rocky shore.



So after 636 miles driving in just one day (a new record for me) it was time to hit the hay. The following day was to be spent around the Fair Pools before heading back to the mainland heading further North before returning to Edinburgh. 


20/02/13 Cornwall

A trip that started off as an aviation trip to catch the USAF HH-60G Pave Hawks from the 56th RQS turned into a bit of a landscape trip after photogrpahing them off the cliffs of Cornwall, albeit to far away. At the end of the day, the walk back to the car took us past Gunwalloe Cove as the Winter sun was setting. Seeing the light unfold, a few of us decided to hang on for sunset.




The rocks turned golden and then the sky went pink. A true Winter sunset was unfolding infront of us in this beautiful part of the World. We had the beach to ourselves and with nobody to get in the way of the camera could explore this dramatic cove with its towering, jagged rock formations that stretched out into the sea. 




It was great to do some more landscapes in Cornwall, even it wasn't the primary objective for the trip down there. The downside is the sheer distance I'll have to travel to visit this beautiful place again!


24/01/13 Lynx over the Llugwy and a Surprise Squirrel

Four Army Air Corps Lynx Ah.7s were on exercise for the week utilising the Snowdon Mountain Flying Training Area (MFTA) practising flying in the bowls of the mountains, ridge flying around the tops of peaks and landing on natural landing zones (LZs). The planned two day trip I was intending on doing was scuppered by the weather so I stayed at home and went ahead on my planned second day. Setting off for the two-mile trek in the icy and snowy ground conditions was tough going in parts with it soon reaching depths of knee deep where it had drifted.




Still, we reached the edge of the lake and waited patiently in the glorious Winter sun. Soon, the Snowdonia silence was shattered by the distinctive sound of a Westland Lynx flying the valleys to our position and sure enough it turned in to operate in the bowl we were stood in. The first manoeuvre saw the Lynx fly into the bowl and come in on a shallow descent onto the LZ next to the lake. As it approached the LZ the down wash from the rotors sent ripples running across what was a perfect reflection of Llyn Llugwy, as you can see in the first image above.

Upon departing for another attempt at landing, the down wash then kicked up all of the fresh snow which had fallen overnight to create blizzard like conditions yet it offered some unique photography opportunities. Then like the previous attempt a low and slow approach over the lake whipped up a mix of snow and icy water offering yet more great shots. As it lifted off the LZ for the second time passing infront of the mountain Tryfan, the crewman signalled that they would do one more...



As we watched it enter the bowl for the third and final time it was clear that this was going to be "different". The Lynx descended to a height of around 15ft above the surface and maintained a slow, forward flight - heading straight for the camera. As the aircraft got lower the spray being churned up from the rotors down wash was incredible and it wasn't long before the wiper blades on the Lynx had to be turned on!




And so after some of the most spectacularly controlled helicopter flying I've witnessed the Lynx crew climbed to a couple of hundred feet before dipping the nose and carrying on with their sortie elsewhere in the beautiful surroundings of Snowdonia National Park.

Being in an area with sparse phone signal let-alone 3G meant we didn't know if they intended on coming back or whether they we were heading home early to Middle Wallop as the weather for their departure date was nothing short of horrendous with high winds and more heavy snow forecasted. As the hours rolled by with no phone signal, updates or helicopters the light became better and better as the day progressed, so we stuck it out until the end of the day. 

Conversation was interrupted just a couple of hours before sunset as the sound of an approaching helicopter once again shattered the silence. But it wasn't a Lynx. It was infact a Squirrel training helicopter from the Defence Helicopter Flying School based at RAF Shawbury. It wasn't what we were expecting but welcomed it nonetheless. It started working the tops of the peaks above the lake, landing on the same LZs that I had on previous occasions photographed the United States Air Force HH-60G Pave Hawks.

As it flew circuits, the crews spotted us armed with cameras and came down for a closer look. By now we had changed sides of the lake so that if anything did land on the LZ the light would be the correct side. The Squirrel made one approach and landing with the instructor at the controls in the some of the most glorious Winter light I've ever seen.




The second approach was made by the student pilot and he performed a great take-off facing into the sun which helped light up the inside of the cockpit whilst set against a snowy, rocky mountainside and it made for some truly unique images. 




After the students departure to go and work elsewhere in the Snowdon Mountain Flying Training Area we decided to call it a day. It had a been a fantastic day with some superb flying by both crews, in unrivalled scenery with fantastic Winter weather and great company. It's a fantastic location which offers photos like nowhere else and hopefully, in time it will see more and more action.