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Entries in Snowdonia (2)


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.


09/01/13 Snowdonia 

A friend asked me to show him how to use his filters and where better to go than North Wales on a crystal clear Winters day. Arriving just before sunrise in Snowdonia at Llynnau Mymbyr. This is quite a famous shot but not one either of us had done before. On a windless day you can get the Snowdon Horseshoe reflected in the lake and today was one of those days. Filters used in this shot were a LEE 0.6 hard grad to retain the detail in the sky and LEE 0.6 neutral density filter to smooth out any ripples on the surface. The light was soft so the image lacks any contrast but below is the end result.



The next location was to be Llyn Gwynant just at the foot of Snowdon but as we travelled along the road, there was a huge inversion layer of cloud covering the valley which made it extremely dark and it wasn't shifting either. So a drive back in the other direction and along the A5 through the Ogwen valley presented a reflection I have never even seen on this lake. I've driven past Llyn Ogwen many times and always found it one of the most lack lustre lakes to photograph in North Wales. Being surrounded by a road, the inaccessibility of getting to the other side, little option for foreground interest or there's been a breeze in the valley but this the scene that greeted us as soon as we rove round Tryfan. The lake was that still I didn't need to use a neutral density filter. All that was used was the LEE 0.6 Grad to hold back the sky and cloud detail.



Following a brief walk around Cwm Idwal and forgetting the light never really gets into the corrie we headed for Anglesey and rocked up to Penmon Point Lighthouse just out of Beaumaris. The light was still quite harsh but very quickly it turned soft and with a tide that was well out it forced us to look for some new angles and compositions. I had never shot it from the pebbled beach that lies to the West of the lighthouse and a low angle provided a great viewpoint and still allowed for all the elements of the location to be included such as the pebbles, waves, the lighthouse and Puffin Island which is situated half a mile off the shore. I used the neutral densitiy LEE 0.6 to allow be to slow the shutter speed right down to get some movement in the small waves that were incomming and the LEE 0.6 grad held back the detail in the sky and more importantly in the whites of the lighthouse where detail would have been lost.



So after a long day photograhing North Wales and Anglesey it was time for the 3 hour drive back in the fog but a great day was had by the pair of us. These are just my 3 favourite shots that I got from the locations we visited and I think we both came away having learnt something.