Autumn photography: top tips

The vibrant yellow of spring daffodils, the icy beauty of a snow capped mountain, the vivid blues in sea and sky come summer… No matter when you visit, the beauty of North Wales is a given.

But with each season comes a distinctive atmosphere and unique ambience – so there’s always something new to capture on camera.

And for those of you looking at North Wales through a lens, the stunning glow of autumn boasts the most spectacular photo-ops of the year. The summer mix of fresh greens and cool blues shifts to a palette of reds, browns and golds. This riot of autumnal colour makes for some truly evocative snaps.

If you love photography, why not take a look at our blog pointing you to some of the best spots to shoot in Snowdonia? Click here to read more.

Our tops tips for perfect autumnal shots

The days of needing a pricey SLR camera to take impressive shots are long gone. While top-end cameras still rule the roost when it comes to professional photography, phone cameras are capable of producing some stunning shots.

You don’t need to be a photography pro to capture dazzling autumnal colour palettes. While simply taking your phone out of a pocket, pointing and clicking might get you a decent snapshot, here are a few tips to get the best results from your autumn photography:

Switch on HDR mode

HDR works by taking multiple photos and combining the data into one single image. This helps to improve the lighting, focus and colour of your photos and should be a default setting for anyone snapping on their smartphone who is eager to get the best final result.

Use the ‘Rule of Thirds’ – but don’t overdo it!

According to the rule of thirds, holding your horizon in the centreline of your image for a balanced shot is a great guide for beginner photographers. But do remember that it is only a guideline.

For example, if the sky is a featureless blue, the shot may benefit from having the horizon moved up and the sky more obscured. Sometimes you need to forget the rules and use your eyes.

In North Wales, however, the sky is rarely featureless. The depth of colour and delightful sunlit hues that can spread across the autumn horizon are simply breathtaking.

Shoot during the golden hour

If you’ve seen a stunning autumnal landscape, pop back at different times of the day and experiment with your camera. The so-called ‘golden hours’ are a good time to try. This is after sunrise and just before sunset, where the light is soft and the low angled sun adds a warm, golden hue to your photos.

Sometimes, the golden hour makes a shot in a way no filter or editor can rival. In the autumn, time of day is particularly important – half-an-hour can be enough to change the entire palette of colours before you.

Overcast is good, too

If you’re in North Wales on an overcast day, don’t shy away from taking some snaps. The light will be soft and even, and bright, autumnal colours can actually contrast quite nicely with a grey sky, adding some intensity.

Keep it steady

Tripods aren’t just for professional photographers, you know! You can buy one for smartphones, go-pros, digital cameras and SLR’s – so there’s no excuse for shaky shots! Pick up a tripod before you go – they’re quite affordable online. It’ll make a huge difference to the end result.

Head for the water

There’s plenty of water in North Wales – so make good use of it in your photography! If you spot a lake, stream, river or even just a puddle, get your camera out and start shooting. Reflections of colour-rich trees in still water can produce absolutely stunning autumn shots.

Our quick pick of North Wales autumn photography hotspots…

Tu Hwnt i’r Bont

Ask a local what the best place in the area for a quintessential autumn shot is, and we can bet they’ll say Tu Hwnt i’r Bont in Llanrwst. The cute little tearoom is covered in Virginia Creeper which, you guessed it, turns burning, blazing red as the seasons change.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BnqKhSQA5AG/?tagged=tyhwntirbont

Bala Lake

The majesty of the Bala Lake (or Llyn Tegid) has beautiful flat waters and plays host to an array of beautiful colours on its shores, which seem almost impossible in their variety come autumn. Bala Lake is an hours drive from the Royal Victoria, but on the way, you can visit…

Betws-y-Coed

We just couldn’t leave good ol’ Betws-y-Coed out of the picture when it comes to autumnal scenery. It’s home to some stunning local waterfalls and some of the most scenic woodlands in Wales. Bursting with lively shades of gold, red and terracotta a few weeks into autumn, it’s a perfect mid-morning stop for photos and a drink on your way to Bala Lake.

Bodnant Garden

Further east is Bodnant Garden in the Conwy Valley, famed for its spectacular autumn colours. There’s a bold show of bright red Japanese acers, unbeatable views of the Snowdonian mountains and a real kaleidoscope of autumn colours and textures.

https://www.instagram.com/p/BaBXKRvHFod/?taken-by=bodnantgardennt

How to read the historic landscape – part three

In our regular monthly blog series, writer and hiker Phil Thomas shares the trade secrets of his passion: the Great Outdoors. He lives in North Wales and spends most of his spare time writing or walking in the hills with his girlfriend and their crazy Patterdale terriers.

Phil will be sharing his knowledge of the practical side of walking with real life tips than can help you enjoy the mountains more and maybe even save you if you get in a spot of bother. This week, the final instalment in our mini series exploring the historic landscape of North Wales – guaranteed to bring a whole new dimension to your rambles…

Click here to read part one of this mini series or here for part two.

It’s easy to be swept away by North Wales’s beautiful landscapes, but at the same time it’s easy to miss its subtleties. Is that a boulder, or a standing stone? Is that a pile of rocks or the remains of a burial chamber? And is the path you’re walking a route for tourists, or have people and livestock trodden this route for hundreds, if not thousands of years?

Every landscape has a hidden history, and in North Wales there is history everywhere you look. In this, the third and final of three posts, we’ll share with you the history behind the landscapes – how to spot old routes and settlements while enjoying the great outdoors here in North Wales.

Ancient routes in and around North Wales

Our oldest routes date from around the same time as standing stones and stone circles. They would have been created simply by the repeated passage of feet and livestock – there was no surfacing or drainage, unlike the later Romans. They can be hard to spot simply because if any trace still exists, they may have long since been covered over.

A long-distance walking trail that follows a medieval pilgrimage route from the Welsh borders to Bardsey Island takes in some of these ancient ways. There’s also evidence that standing stones act as way-markers for upland routes across hills and mountains. One obvious example is the route of the North Wales Coast Path. High above Penmaenwawr the track leading out of the village of Rowen passes a cromlech and standing stones, towards Bwlch y Ddeufaen (which the Romans used later).

Other things to look out for include sunken lanes (called holloways in other parts of the UK), where a road or track is below the height of the surrounding land. The constant trampling of feet, hooves, carts and cars have pushed these routes deep into the ground. They are frequently lined with trees. Sunken lanes are fairly common in low-lying parts of North Wales but some are more obvious than others. They tend to twist and turn, unlike later Roman routes!

Green lane towards Porthamel on the Anglesey Coast Path

North Wales also boasts plenty of green lanes, simply well-trodden paths that have never been surfaced but are often grown over with grass. Many were old drovers’ routes, used by farmers moving livestock to market or from summer to winter pastures. A great example of a green lane is near Siambar Wen between Llanrwst, a medieval lane between the B5427 and the A470 in the Conwy valley.

Then there are packhorse routes, which can be more difficult to spot as many have been built over or lost forever. The biggest giveaways are packhorse bridges. You can find one at Pont Pen y Benglog, the bridge that takes the A5 across the Ogwen Falls in Snowdonia. It’s easy when admiring the falls to miss the remains of the bridge directly beneath the arch of Telford’s more modern construction. There’s another great arched packhorse bridge, often covered in moss and ferns, over the River Machno near the Machno Falls.

Packhorse bridge, Ogwen Falls, Snowdonia

A quick look at any map will tell you that, yes, the Romans built roads in North Wales too. But be careful. Thomas Telford’s A5 replaced older, more twisting routes – but this relatively straight line through North Wales was built in the early 1800s and owes little, if anything, to the Romans. Instead, the major Roman road through west Wales links Camarthen in the south to Caerhun, near Conwy in the north, and passes close to Trawsfynydd and Betws-y-Coed as it crosses Snowdonia. For telltale signs, Roman tracks typically have a camber, with a drainage ditch either side. Some kerbstones may remain. As they can be difficult to spot you’re sometimes better looking at Ordnance Survey maps, or even Google/Bing satellite views can provide visual clues.

Another type of route North Wales has an abundance of is the quarry or mining tramway. Many of Snowdonia’s mountains are marked by steep inclines, or banked routes on which tramlines or narrow gauge tracks were laid. Ffestiniog‘s railway is a slate route from the quarries of Blaenau Ffestiniog to the docks at Porthmadog. Many of these disused tracks make great walking tracks or cycling routes, though some are in a ruinous state. Part of the walk round Llyn Padarn uses an old railway line which once took slate from Llanberis to Caernarfon.

Ancient settlements and Roman towns

There are ancient hut circles all over North Wales, remains of early neolithic settlements. They’re most common in upland areas of undeveloped or un-farmed land, such as the clusters found in the hills around Llanberis.

Din Lligwy hut circle, Moelfre, Anglesey

Yet some of the best preserved ancient settlements are on Anglesey. Ty Mawr hut circles on Holy Island near Holyhead likely date back to 500BC. Slightly more modern is Din Lligwy near Moelfre on Anglesey. These well-preserved stone-built huts in an enclosure date from the third of fourth centuries AD. Later still in the timeline, just off the beach road between Newborough village and the forest is Llys Rhosyr, the remains of one of the Royal courts of Llywelyn Fawr, Prince of Gwynedd, dating from the 13th century.

Aberdaron, at the tip of the Llyn Peninsula and jumping-off point for the pilgrims travelling to Bardsey Island, could be one of the oldest settlements in North Wales. The Iron Age hill fort at nearby Castell Odo, on Mynydd Ystum, was built earlier, we think some time between 2850 and 2650 BC.

The origins of many of our towns and villages are hinted at in their place names. ‘Chester’ (just over the border) signifies a Roman fortified site, and the Welsh for Chester is ‘Caer’. So Caernarfon’s name tells us it was once the site of a Roman fortification, called Segontium, the low-wall remains of which you can visit today. Holyhead in Welsh is Caergybi. Sure enough, the town centre is built around St Cybi’s Church, which itself is built inside one of Europe’s few three-walled Roman forts (the fourth boundary being the sea, which used to come up to the fort).

Far less ancient – but just as fascinating perhaps – are the towns that grew up around the Industrial Revolution and Snowdonia’s mining industries. The likes of Beddgelert, Tremadog, Porthmadog feature handsome Victorian buildings made from slate. In the forest above Betws-y-Coed is the abandoned mining village of Rhiwddolion, found along Sarn Helen Roman road. Three of the hamlet’s old buildings have been restored.

We haven’t even mentioned the medieval towns of North Wales, many of which boast castles and town walls. They are the more obvious signs of history in the area!

Time to turn detective…

Now you’ve been given some tips as to what to look out for, and some fine examples of ancient history in North Wales, it’s time to get hunting! During your wanderings in North Wales, take your time. Stop to really look at the landscape, the land beneath your feet and the landmarks around you. Many of the things you see could have a bigger story to tell…

Images courtesy: Packhorse Bridge, Copyright Keith Williamson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence. Green lane leading to Porthamel near Brynsiencyn, forming part of Anglesey’s coast path, Eric Jones [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons