With about at least 2 miles to walk on, half on this northern part labelled ‘moderately’ easy. To this day, I am not sure how ‘moderately’ modifies ‘easy’. Does it mean it is pretty easy, a bit harder than easy or only part way from mind-numbingly simple? Though having walked the trail, the top half was not easy, but not too hard even for someone in my physical condition, (dodgy knees), but there were plenty of obstacles, many slippery roots and puddles, and often a drop that now grew to perhaps 40 feet on one side. ‘Moderately difficult’ may be a better phrase! Whichever, the loo was now far from my mind, we were deep in waterfall country!
We left the unnamed cascade and walked on, the path at times becoming flat so we put in extra speed on these parts to make the best use of time. So much to photograph, but we couldn’t stop. Time, and the loo, not on our side.
Funny, think of all those videos of pro landscape photographers spending hours waiting for the right light, ever wondered what toilet facilities they use?
The River Neath, as I mentioned, was low. But still audible, speaking encouraging words to my bladder. Ignore that. Frame, focus! Some quick snaps of the path as the gorge flattened a little with lush grass on the opposite bank, resplendent in the sunshine that peered between clouds. No great composition, just a momento. “Morning.” Passers by, hikers, traffic. Made me nervous. What’s Photoshop for if not to clone out garish yellow plastic?
Another 10 minutes or so and through the trees we caught a glimpse of the first major fall, Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf, The Upper Gushing Fall. There is was down there, below. How could I photograph that? The thick tree cover meant you could hardly catch a view of the beautiful wall of water. I had seen shots taken at river level, but here I was, at least 20 feet up. How to get down? Thankfully my sensible wife stopped me from racing headlong, fully geared up, down a step bank littered with trees and other obstacles. She pointed to a lower path and the bend in ours that looked promising. It was. I bounded off impatiently; I had to get down there. No one around. We had the falls to ourselves.
Down at river level it was clear how low the River Neath actually was. Half the rocks of the river bed were visible and made walking up to the fall easy. The fall looked stunning, again, I thought of the images online in full flow, shame, but still, this was gorgeous!
I framed up carefully with the tripod. Before I start playing with filters, I always take a basic shot, to check composition. Polarizer on: f/8 ISO800 1/40 sec. The sun was behaving, keeping mostly behind clouds so as not to give the exposure problem of bright sunlight on white water. At river level, surrounded by the tree covered hills, it was quite dark.
Slowing the shutter by lowering the ISO to 100; 1 second. Beautiful, and a hint of the silky water blur reflected in the river that trailed out of shot to the right. Now add the Little Stopper a 10 second exposure, the sunlight ebbing and flowing with cloud density meant for natural variations of shutter speed without camera adjustments.
I tried a number of different zoom lengths and angles, mostly framed low down to the rocks to emphasise the foreground. I was there in front of Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf for about 20 minutes, switching from these views upstream to view the fall side on looking across the plunge pool with the silky strands plummeting off the overhand.
Polarizer, Big Stopper, f/11, ISO200, 25 seconds. The image gleamed on the back of the screen. If only the wind would play fair too.
The trouble with blurring water is that, unless the air is perfectly still, leaves blur too. Here, with the low branches hanging around the fall, leaf blur was all too obvious. A stiff breeze seemed to be following the flow of the river. Another exposure; faster shutter speed. The two could be blended later to get motion blur where I wanted it and not in the trees.
I had captured the scene upstream and to the only side possible (both on the flat and up the bank through a natural arch made by fallen trees. I began to walk away but I couldn’t turn my back. Too beautiful! It had to be photographed again!
Viewing upstream again, hadn’t I just taken something similar? Yes, but this time closer to the low flow on the right hand side, from the plunge pool and beautiful natural curve was formed. I got down low again and framed up the wonderful scene to feature the random dark river boulders covered in moss and lichen. Wonderful! More exposures with and without the Big Stopper moving between 0.6 and 20 seconds and variables in between judging for the right amount of water blur, and of course a fast shot in case I had to blend in more compliant branches.
There were three more falls to go. We had to get going. Still no one else hanging around, but could we be so lucky at the next falls? I went through some rear screen checks, and looked around. To this day, I wish I had stayed another 20 minutes at least.
A tip to help all frustrated photogs is to make sure you maximise times like this.
When opportunities as stunning as The Elidir Trail present themselves, arrange your rendezvous with your driver, but add a couple of hours! There was no phone signal in the gorge, and you can’t have people being worried about you if you are late, so give yourself plenty of time!
That was it. Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf, goodbye!
Part 3 From Sgwd Ddwli Uchaf to Sgwd Ddwli Isaf and Sgwd y Bedol next week.
Please post comments, questions, suggestions and links to your images!
The Frustrated Photog