Adam Burton Photography

Llyn y Fan Fawr, Brecon Beacons

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Situated in the more remote western side of the Brecon Beacons National Park, Llyn y Fan Fawr is a natural lake lying at the foot of Fan Brycheiniog.  Surrounded by windswept moorland and mountains the lake is not somewhere you would accidentally stumble upon. 

While working on a book project to photograph landscapes of the Brecon Beacons I had long planned to visit both Llyn y Fan Fawr and it's sister lake Llyny Fan Fach.  On a cold January trip to the western side of the National Park I decided the time was right to make my trip.  I wanted to capture the lake shore around sunrise, ideally bathed in some rich morning light.  Pre-visualisation is a crucial part of the planning process, but its just as important to be flexible and adaptable when things don't happen according to plan, as I was to soon find out!

Parking up just off a small mountain road, I began my walk in the pre-dawn darkness.  There is a track up to the lake, but try as I might I couldnt find it, so I trudged on over the moor heading in the general direction of the lake. The snow from a few weeks back had melted, which made my off road wandering rather squelchy, but luckily I had come prepared with some wellies!

After around 45 minutes of walking steadily uphill in the darkness I was certain I should have reached the lake but in the gloom I was disappointed to not see it anywhere.  By now the darkness was fading and the first colours of dawn beginning to appear in the cloudy sky.  Any landscape photographer will recognise the sinking feeling when this moment arrives before they have reached their viewpoint.  Checking and rechecking my map I changed direction slightly and continued up the seemingly never ending hill, cursing myself for not being more prepared.

As the hill began to level out I was dismayed to encounter a new obstacle, hill fog!  Within moments every direction was choked with fog, if the lake was difficult to find before that task just got a whole lot more challenging!  Fortunately, minutes later I stumbled across a small stream and decided to follow it uphill which at last led me to my destination, Llyn y Fan Fawr! 

Through patches of swirling fog I could just about make out the lake, covered in ice and surrounded by deep snow.  By now any thoughts of capturing sunrise had faded, the wintry conditions presented before me were now something even more special.  I made my way towards the shore, enduring a couple of comical moments when I sank up to my waist in snow!  At one end of the lake the thick ice was cracked into various segments making rather appealing shapes for a photograph. 

I set up my gear in the snow, attaching my Canon 16-35mm lens to maximise the cracked ice in a wide angle composition.  In order to really show off the ice at its dramatic best I needed to get close, and that meant stepping into the water beside the cracked ice.  Thankful for my wellies I stepped into the freezing lake and carefully positioned my tripod amongst the chunks of ice, as close as I could without disturbing them.  By now the fog had swirled away enough to reveal the far side of the lake, providing enough detail to ensure my picture would feel more like a landscape and less of an abstract.

I used a 0.3 Lee ND Grad to hold back the brighter foggy sky and captured several exposures both in landscape and portrait before my frozen feet begged me to drag them onto the shore.

Reviewing the pictures on the cameras preview screen, I was really pleased with what I had captured.  They certainly weren't the photographs of Llyn y Fan Fawr that I had pre-visualised but that didnt matter, I had adapted to the unexpected conditions presented before me and hopefully captured something far more special.

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