The Way Is Blocked

Last summer, I hiked up the Little Garth to take some shots of the remains of Walnut Junction Viaduct. It’s normally a very easy walk (provided the ground is dry!), but this time the rains had brought more than just mud down onto the path … just don’t tell the missus that I scrambled over this thing both on the way up and on the way down 🙂

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The Leafy Road To Llantrisant

With the car in the garage for its M.OT., the quickest way on foot for me get to and from the garage is down Merthyr Road, through Treforest, and then up the A473 to Power Station Hill. It’s a fair walk, but it’s worth it for those times of the year when the leaves are green and this stretch of the A473 is empty.

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Mumbles Lighthouse

It might be a long way from Merthyr Road, but the sea front between Swansea and Mumbles is just as historically important. It is the site of the world’s first passenger railway service, just three years after Richard Trevithick started the ball rolling with the world’s first steam-powered railway journey.

Unfortunately, there’s nothing left of the railway today. It was dismantled in 1960. But at the end of the route stands Mumbles Pier, and from the end of the pier I took this lovely shot of Mumbles Lighthouse at the end of the bay.

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River Taff In November

View all the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

South Wales is blessed with some of the most peaceful places around, partly thanks to the River Taff that flows down from Merthyr Tydfil to the old docks at Cardiff Bay. Perhaps the most tranquil of all of this route is the Taff Trail stretch running north out of Pontypridd. Just moments away from the busy market town, the river wanders through a wide (and largely unspoilt) flood plain. It’s the perfect place to get away from it all and to take time out to wind down a bit.
Thoughts On The Day

In between running the cats to the vets for their annual booster jabs, and the gas board turning up for the annual service of the boiler, I had a couple of hours spare to wander along the Taff Trail north of Pontypridd. With the light holding the promise of some excellent colours in the cold November air, it was an invitation that I couldn’t turn down 🙂

I’m going to come back when I’ve more time and do a more comprehensive photoshoot of this stretch of the Taff Trail, and to discover more about the history of this particular area. For this outing, my aim was to try and snag the best shot or two I could of the river and hills beyond. I’ve tried this before – most notably back in 2003 when I first got my Nikon D100 – but with four more years experience, a fantastic 10 megapixel camera, and the benefit of HDR, I was hoping to do quite a bit better this time around!

For a change, I remembered to bring the tripod, because I wanted to try improving the sharpness of my photos by using the mirror up feature of the D200 (big thanks to my friend and work colleague Gareth Newns for showing me how that works). I’ve been having more and more success with the HDR shots, but if you zoom in on them, they don’t look anywhere near as good as they should – because I’ve been combining 5 separate shots that were all taken handheld. By using the tripod to ensure the camera stays in the same spot for each frame, and then using the mirror up feature to further reduce camera vibration, the result should be five frames that are exactly the same view.

There’s been a lot of interest in the office in how I create HDR shots. I’m thinking of creating a ‘5 steps for HDR photos’-type post about it soon. Let me know if you’re interested in reading such an article by leaving a comment below.

The Photos

Here are the photos from today’s shoot.

River Taff In November Quarry and River Quarry and River #2 The Reflections In The River The Darkening Skies South Towards Pontypridd Uprooted Tree Interesting Tree Trees And Graigwen Interesting Tree #2 Rock, Trees, and Graigwen Trees And Quarry

Post Processing

All of today’s final photos have been built by combining five separate frames into a single shot. Each of the five frames was taken with a different exposure, so that the range of shots together cover a wider range of light and shadow than the Nikon D200’s sensor can cope with in a single shot. It takes a few goes to find the right settings for each of photos, to preserve the right level of contrast whilst still bringing through the rich colour and detail that HDR photography is great for.

After generating each photo using Photomatix, the JPEG is imported back into Aperture, where I do the final adjustments of brightness, contrast, and sharpening. Although it’s sold as a professional photography tool, Aperture is perfect for novice and amateur photographers like myself. It provides adjustment tools rather than editing tools, so it feels more like photography and a lot less like the fantasy work that sometimes comes from Photoshop.

The final step before uploading the photos to Flickr is to decide which photos to upload. My wife is always reminding me to try and publish less quantity and more quality! That’s easier on shoots like this – where I’ve gone out to get the best photos I can – but I still find it difficult on the more photo-journalism-type shoots 🙂

Found On Flickr

It looks like there aren’t many folks posting photos of this stretch of the Taff Trail to Flickr, but one chap who has is Areopagus. His photo of the Taff Trail in Late March shows the stretch where I took most of today’s photos from, and his shot of the footbridge gives you a good idea of the northern-most spot that I went to today. Look out for more information about this stretch of the Taff Trail in a later article in my Merthyr Road series 🙂

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Pontypridd Bridge

When I’m discussing my Merthyr Road project with friends and colleagues who share an interest in local history, I’m often heard to remark that I’d love to be able to take my Nikon D200 with me back in time to take shots of what these places looked like in their heyday. Alas, we don’t yet have a time machine (and current thinking is that, when we do have one, we’ll only be able to go back in time to the day the machine was first switched on), but we do have Photoshop.

Fellow Flickr user Capt’ Gorgeous has been busy with Photoshop, creating a tantalising shot of what the old bridge at Pontypridd might have looked like when it was first built, before the more modern (and flat) road bridge was built alongside it. I think it’s a fantastic piece of imagination, and a great piece of work.

Here’s hoping that someone does build a time machine, so that we can go back and capture shots like this for real one day 🙂

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Dawn on Caerphilly Mountain

View all the photos taken at Dawn on Caerphilly Mountain as part of my Merthyr Road project on Flickr.

It was the first night of clear skies after an unusually warm week – perfect conditions for a sunrise shoot. With the Taff Gap and Taff Vale filled with fog, the best place to enjoy the dawn was up on nearby Caerphilly Mountain.

Thoughts On The Day

Looking at the pictures I took, I’m pretty pleased with the results, but all I could think about that morning was just how sick I felt. I’ve been unwell all week, and my mind was definitely not on the job as we headed up to the summit of Caerphilly Mountain having forgotten the tripod in the boot of the car – or the tripod quick-release head left back in the house!

But wow – what a view from the top of Caerphilly Mountain.

In days of old, standing on top of the mountain, I imagine the view would have included the steam rising from the trains making their way from Walnut Tree Junction up Nantgarw along the Rhymney Railway. The trains would also have been coming up from Nantgarw along the Pontypridd, Caerphilly and Newport Railway, crossing Caerphilly on their way via Machen to the docks at Newport.

Industry still dominates at Nantgarw, but steam has given way to the jet turbines of the General Electric factory. The fog was creeping up from Nantgarw, cloaking the General Electric factory in the most spectacular way. The next time you wake up in Pontypridd, Trefforest or any of the Taff Vale villages, take a look outside to see if it’s foggy. If it is, head on up to the top of Caerphilly Mountain – you’ll be in for quite the treat.
Photos From The Shoot

Click on any of the individual photos to see a larger version.

Dawn on Caerphilly Mountain Caerphilly At Dawn The Castle At Dawn General Electric Through The Bracken General Electric In The Mist The Cottages In Colour The Cottages In Black and White The Dawn Sky Craig Yr Allt and The Garth

Panoramic: Facing West From Caerphilly Mountain

Panoramic: Caerphilly At Dawn

Post Production

After the successful trip to Scotland this summer, it’s become clear that my audience has a strong preference for photos that are rich in colour. HDR is a great technique to use at dawn and dusk to squeeze the maximum amount of colour out of a DSLR without ending up with photos that are over-saturated. Just remember to take a tripod! You can take handheld HDR shots if your technique is good enough and your camera body can shoot fast enough, but you’ll always get much better results if the camera is in exactly the same position for each frame for your HDR masterpiece.

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My photo of Cardiff Castle from the grounds of Bute Park has been chosen for use in Schmap Cardiff Guide. This Time Magazine article has more information about Schmap.

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The Taff Through The Trees

View all the photos from this shoot as part of my Merthyr Road series on Flickr.

Needing to get out of the house after a stressful week for us both, my wife and I jumped in the car and headed up the road to the Pontygwaith Nature Reserve. I’ve been here before, but this was the first time that my wife has enjoyed a walk in this beautiful place beside the River Taff.

Thoughts On The Day

The last time I came up the old tramroad, the path from the south to the overbridge at Pontygwaith was somewhat overgrown. Since then, the path has been completely cleared, and fresh gravel laid. It looks much better now, although I can’t help but wonder how many cyclists head north under the overbridge without realising that the Taff Trail actually cuts left at this point to go over Pontygwaith itself.

We were very lucky with the weather, especially towards the end of the walk when the skies really cleared. Every year, we normally get a couple of weeks of excellent light in October, and I fear Sunday was the tail end of this year’s band. But I have to say that I can’t think of a more beautiful spot along the Methyr Road to enjoy such rich and golden colours. I’m always amazed at how few people I see enjoying this local treasure, but at the same time I’m secretly pleased to have the place to myself 🙂

The Photos

Here are the photos from Sunday’s walk. Click on the thumbnail to see a larger version of the photo that interests you.

The Bridge Over The Tramroad at Pontygwaith The Cleared Path We Need Roots Buried Treasure Salmon and Tree Welcoming Tree GWR Viaduct Snake And Frog Sculpture The Colours of Autumn The Colours of Autumn Yellow Plants Otter Sculpture Beside The GWR Viaduct Rich Colour Tree and Tramroad Rickerty Old Fence Water And Leaves The Railway Embankment Dead Tree and Tramroad The Taff Through The Trees

Post Production

I toyed with the idea of desaturating the colours from this shoot (to match the style I used in the Unofficial Taff Vale Eastern Ridge Walk), but to be honest I’m so pleased with the colours captured by the Panasonic Lumix DMC-FX33 that I decided to limit my adjustments to edge sharpening. I’m not completely convinced by the FX33’s colours in dull light (such as the colours captured in this shot), but in brighter light, the camera did very well.

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I wasn’t around in the South Wales valleys when the mines were still here, but fellow Flickr user trelewis was. She’s posted a set of photos of the Abercynon Colliery before it was closed and cleared (the Navigation Park business park sits on the site today). Good historical photos that might interest anyone who enjoys my Merthyr Road series of photographs.

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I haven’t been to the site of the Aberfan disaster myself, but fellow Flickr user (and local history expert) thereggy has. He’s posted a poignant set of photos of the site of the Aberfan disaster and the memorial garden that stands there today. Well worth a look, and a read.

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