‘Llyn Idwal’, The Glyderau, Snowdonia, Wales
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III, EF17-40mm f/4 L USM @ 40mm, 30 seconds @ f/7.1 ISO 100
LEE Big-Stopper + 3-stop ND Grad filters.
Manfrotto 055CXPRO3 tripod, Manfrotto 405 Pro Geared Head.
Adobe Lightroom.

“We have an innate feel for visual balance and perhaps it is something best considered at an instinctive level.”


I made this image on 18th April 2010, Eyjafjallajökull, the Icelandic volcano, had created an ash cloud leading to closure of European airspace; an air traveller’s nightmare, a landscape photographer’s dream. Beautiful clear skies with no aircraft contrails. I headed for Cwm Idwal, a beautiful glaciated valley, surrounded by it’s own volcanic rocks in the heart of Snowdonia. I awoke early and walked up to this magnificent lake at 5.30am with the hope of some intense pre-dawn hues courtesy of the volcanic ash.

I love the challenge of an asymmetrical composition like this, a composition that demands meticulous attention to visual weight and balance. It can be interesting to intellectualise visual balance and consider how large areas of mountainous shadow can be counter-balanced by much smaller but concentrated areas of high-contrast and saturated colour as seen here with the rising sun. Of course, we don’t sit at the side of a lake like this and peruse compositional devices. In reality, the distillation of a scene into our intended composition is more often an exercise in comparing various imagined framed alternatives and deciding on a favourite. When visualising such a scene on location, it can be interesting to view it through half-closed squinting eyes, filtering our perception of reality into simple light and dark shapes. As photographers, we have an innate feel for visual balance and perhaps it is something best considered at an instinctive level.

Photographing a sunrise is all about preparation. The event is completed within just a few minutes and even within this relatively short time there is a much smaller window of opportunity when all the dynamic components of the scene are optimally positioned; the ‘decisive moment’. Half an hour was spent visualising various possible alternatives before making a final decision on this composition and setting up the camera on the tripod. I attached a neutral density filter to allow a long enough exposure to ‘calm’ the lake. Once everything was set up, it was simply a matter of waiting for the sun to rise above the cloud bank on the horizon and then ensure I captured the optimum moment by making a series of images as daybreak unfolded.

This article first appeared in Outdoor Photography Magazine. Reproduced with kind permission.