Photographing landscapes; and the healing power of landscape photography

In July, we went to North Wales for a landscape photography trip. The trip was important to me for many reasons. I went to Bangor University, and I loved my time up there, really feeling like I had found my home. I had not been back to Bangor for ten years due to ill-health – so a trip was long overdue. North Wales has the most beautiful landscapes, seemingly a vista around every corner – so it is a must for landscape photographers. Also, I knew it would be challenging physically. I wanted to prove to myself that I could handle the hiking, despite my painful neuropathic feet.

It was indeed challenging. But, as soon as I saw the mountains, I felt like my spirit lifted. I have recently realised that photography, in part, is a healing tool for me (no pun intended photoshop users!) Being out in nature makes me feel better. For a while, I can forget everything. The transplant has been incredible, but I have side effects from the medications. I cope with most of the side effects, but the shaking makes me so anxious, and I feel like everyone is looking at me. I am still suffering from panic attacks – my last one was at the photography show. I managed to breathe through it with my husband stroking my hand until I calmed down. The severe, at times, neuropathic symptoms have not gone either. My feet are in pain much of the time. It leaves me trapped in pain, feeling trapped in my body. Landscape photography gives me a goal. If I capture something awe-inspiring, it is such a high – suddenly that pain does not feel so acute. I am outside of myself, living in the moment. Darren is always there whilst shooting. I am glad that he sees this and can share in this less strained Vicky, for she is enjoying life.

On the first day, we went to Llyn Ogwen, it was pouring with rain, but it was so atmospheric. We pulled up in our camper van, making a cup of tea, just looking out over the lake. I took a few shots, waiting for some light to emerge – eventually, it did, but it was fleeting. As the light went, we thought it was time to go to our campsite – just down the road at Gwern Gof Isaf. A Campsite that has been operating since 1906, no-frills, but a beautiful site. We decided to take a walk to explore the area. The mountain Tryfan dominates the landscape, so we began walking towards it. I am always drawn to photographs with historical or archaeological foregrounds, particularly since shooting for book covers. Straightaway we found an enclosure – now I think it was just for the sheep (insert laughing face here). But there are so many Neolithic and Bronze age settlements in the Snowdonia national park, so I was not sure. The clouds came menacingly over the brow of Tryfan and, so with my wide-angle lens I put the enclosure in the foreground with Tryfan right behind. It is a brooding shot. The rain-filled clouds soon reached us, and it poured. Facing defeat, we went back to our camper for a hot chocolate and a good night’s sleep.

Stone enclosure in front of Tryfan

Thursday was our full day in the national park. We intended to drive to Llyn Ogwen cottage and then walk to Devil’s Kitchen. But our campsite suddenly started filling up. You do not get pitch allocation at this campsite, so if you leave your spot, you could lose your spot. So, we thought our best bet was to walk – adding 4 miles to our walking that day. As we began our journey, the weather was brutal. The rain cascaded – we knew we would be soaked all the way through, so we walked the mile or so back to our campsite and had some lunch. Fortunately, the weather can change very quickly in the mountains – and by the afternoon, it looked much more promising.

We began our walk back to the lake, taking stock shots along the way. Eventually, we reached the car park at Llyn Ogwen cottage and started our ascent to Devil’s kitchen. You can walk around the lake, and it is a relatively easy walk, but we went up. I knew this would be a challenge because of my feet, but I did not think vertigo would be the thing disabling me. I wanted to get a shot over the lake with Y Garn behind. Halfway up, I knew I could go no further. Views from this vantage point are spectacular, but I was shaking so much from vertigo. I said I could not do it – Darren had to take the photographs. But as soon as he had put the camera on the tripod, I had to take over. Vertigo ignored! By this point, nearly all the dark clouds had gone. It left the most beautiful light over Y Garn. I was so pleased to get this image – the pain just drifted away, it is such a special place to be, and I will never forget it. We made our descent, and the walk back was difficult, especially when we got back to the road and the unforgiving tarmac. I barely got a wink of sleep. But the high of that evening still clung on – the pain did not matter, my soul felt nourished.

View from Devils Kitchen over Y Garn

The next day we went to Llanberis, specifically, we went for the lonely tree. The Lonely Tree is now a famous place for photographers to go, so it was no surprise that there was a queue. The photographers talked about nd filters (neutral density). The filter limits the amount of light that gets into the sensor. I wanted to use one too so I could do a slow exposure and get the lake looking glassy and ethereal. But there was a slight breeze. One of the other photographers said: ‘I’d rather have a glassy lake and an out of focus tree’. I thought the whole point of this shot (bar the breath-taking background) is the tree. It must be in focus. So, we used a four-stop ND filter, which limited the amount of light but not overly so – the lake is not as ethereal looking as I would have liked. But the exposure was fast enough to get the tree in focus. It was a compromise, but I am happy with the shot. The stormy clouds lend drama and framing, and my portrait version of the tree was accepted at Arcangel.

The Lonely Tree, Llanberis

We spent our final day on Anglesey; our campsite was a couple of miles from the lighthouse at Llanddwyn Island. We knew that the lighthouse was another must for landscape photographers. But getting these images ended up being trickier than we had imagined. We walked from our campsite and underestimated how long the walk would be – so we got there just in time for sunset. We hurriedly set up the tripod and took as much as we could whilst we had the light. This is not how I like to photograph – I need to spend time, find the composition, and make sure the settings are all correct. I also want to explore, and I know that I missed the remains of a church on the island. Still, it was stunning, and these failings give me a reason to go back. Our underestimation was not our only failure. Llanddwyn Island is exactly that – an island, all be it only at the highest tides. As we came down to the beach, my heart stopped. The tide had come in – it was cutting us off from the mainland. Swimming was not an option. We had all our camera equipment, all our used memory cards. To lose these would be beyond devastating. We started walking to the other side, but it shelved, and it was deep very quickly. Luckily, closer to the rocks, the sea was shallower. We managed to walk across. Thankfully with only wet legs to show for it – and wonderfully – a memory card full of shots of the lighthouse, with a great sunset and glowing light.

So, our mini trip to North Wales had little adventures, lots of photographs, lessons learnt and some good fun. A trip I could only dream about whilst on dialysis. The healing power of landscape photography is indeed a tangible tool on the road to recovery. 

Tyr Mawr Lighthouse, Anglesey

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