Nestled within the breathtaking Snowdonia National Park, Ogwen Valley stands as a photography paradise. With its awe-inspiring landscapes, dramatic mountain peaks, serene lakes, and cascading waterfalls, this hidden gem offers a wealth of captivating scenes waiting to be immortalized through the lens. From the rugged grandeur of Tryfan Mountain to the mirror-like reflections of Llyn Ogwen, and the mystical allure of Cwm Idwal, Ogwen Valley (or Dyffryn Ogwen in Welsh) presents a stunning array of photography spots that will leave you spellbound. Whether you’re an avid landscape photographer, a wildlife enthusiast, or simply a lover of the great outdoors, a visit to Ogwen Valley promises a visual feast that will ignite your creativity and leave an indelible mark on your photographic journey.
Photography spots in Ogwen Valley
If you’re feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of Ogwen Valley, don’t worry – we’ve got you covered! Having explored this gem countless times, we’re excited to share the top spots and subjects that will take your photography game to the next level.
Majestic and rugged, Tryfan Mountain stands tall as an iconic centrepiece of the Ogwen Valley, luring photographers from all around the world to come to take a superb landscape photo. Its distinctive, triangular shape and craggy peak create a dramatic subject that demands attention.
During the early morning or late evening, when the sunlight bathes the mountain in warm hues, the interplay of light and shadows accentuates Tryfan’s striking features, making it a captivating sight for landscape photography.
Additionally, the surrounding landscape offers numerous vantage points to capture Tryfan in different compositions, from the serene Llyn Ogwen in the foreground to the rolling hills and valleys that enhance its grandeur. Whether shooting from the valley floor or hiking to its summit for a bird’s-eye perspective, photographers will find themselves captivated by Tryfan’s awe-inspiring beauty.
If you’re looking to climb Tryfan itself, make sure you pick a route which fits your abilities and experience. The North Ridge in particular is not for the faint-hearted and can be extremely dangerous if the conditions are poor and you don’t know your way. This is a route where the last thing you need is a huge back of expensive camera gear on your back, especially with the scrambling sections.
Llyn Ogwen: tranquil lake and its reflections
Llyn Ogwen is an enchanting lake that offers photographers a myriad of photography opportunities. The tranquil waters of the lake act as a perfect canvas, capturing the reflections of the surrounding peaks. Whether it’s the early morning mist gracefully floating on the surface or the fiery hues of a colourful sunset, Llyn Ogwen presents an ever-changing landscape that is a photographer’s dream come true.
What makes Llyn Ogwen truly special is its versatility as a photography subject. During calm weather, the lake reflects the rugged grandeur of Tryfan Mountain and the neighbouring peaks, giving rise to postcard-worthy shots. Meanwhile, on windy days, the lake takes on a more dynamic personality, with rippling patterns that add a touch of whimsy to your compositions.
Walk the Cwm Idwal
Taking a walk through Cwm Idwal is an adventure for photographers seeking stunning scenery. You’ll come across cool spots like the famous Idwal Slabs and Devil’s Kitchen.
The Idwal Slabs are these huge rock faces that look stunning against the blue sky. They also make for great photos with climbers on them to give a sense of scale. And then there’s the Devil’s Kitchen, a wild gap between mountains that gets even more amazing when it’s misty or after heavy rain, with waterfalls adding to the drama.
In every direction around Llyn Idwal, the views are stunning. Even getting just a bit of elevation on the nearby hillsides provides great vantage points not only over the Llyn Idwal but also further down into the valley with both Llyn Ogwen and the rounded peak of Pen Yr Ole Wen.
Following the path around Llyn Idwal to the left past Idwal slabs and then as opposed to heading up Devil’s Kitchen head on a path just to the left. Once you reach Llyn y Cwn, there is a steep scree slope on the left up to Glyder Fawr. The views from up here are incredible offering views over Tryfan, Snowdon Range and the Carneddau. From here, there is a path along to Glyder Fach. On the way, you will pass two iconic locations, Castle of the Winds and the Cantilever.
Unfortunately, parking is quite a challenge in Ogwen Valley. At the start of 2023 parts of the A5 (the main road through the valley) now have double yellow lines. The National Park Authority manages a small pay-and-display car park located at the Ogwen Centre, but unless you’re very early it can be a challenge to get a spot. The other options are busses or park and ride from Bethesda.
The Ogwen Centre has 24hr toilets and a small snack bar with drinks and snacks which can come in very handy before or after your time exploring Ogwen Valley.
Clothing & Equipment
As with any hiking activity in the mountains, the correct clothing is essential if you’re to remain comfortable. Always hope for the best, but prefer the worst conditions. The weather can change quickly and waterproofs are essential, especially if you’re going to be sitting down on wet rocks or grass. Depending on the time of year you’re going to need a different number of layers, layers are critical as you can tailor your clothing to your activity level and the weather conditions to keep warm without overheating.
Also, don’t overlook your footwear. This is what’s between you and the ground and they’re important for your safety. Make sure your footwear is both comfortable and appropriate for the time of year.
In winter, when there’s snow and ice, if you’re planning to hike or scramble any of the mountains you require experience and all the correct equipment. If not, I would highly suggest taking an experienced guide and hiring the required equipment.
This being said, the beauty of Ogwen Valley, is that Llyn Idwal is highly accessible., there are not many places where you can reach a stunning lake at the foot of numerous mountains within 30 minutes of leaving your car!
Checking weather conditions
At all times of the year, the conditions in the mountains can change very quickly. Some days will be fully overcast and wet all day, making photography nearly impossible. However, if the conditions are variable this offers great opportunities for dramatic scenes. Clouds
Patience and Timing
With the changing weather conditions, patience is critical. Especially if you’ve hiked to a perfect viewpoint, and set up a perfect composition but then the weather turns, this can be highly frustrating. Staying put and waiting it out, or finding an alternative, can often result in great photos. It’s most often the weather conditions which challenge you which produce the best shots! If it was easy, everyone would have done it!
Photography gear to take with you
Camera & Lens Choice
Given the accessibility of Ogwen Valley and the surrounding areas such as Llyn Idwal, it’s possible to bring a fair bit of photography gear. The walk from the car park to Llyn Idwal is only around 20-30 minutes, and although there’s an incline, there are large slabs which form the path. This makes it easy to walk with a bag full of camera gear if that’s what you would prefer.
However, if you’re planning to hike Tryfan (Especially the North Ridge!) or the Glyderau range then you may need to think carefully about your camera and lens selection to keep the weight down and reduce the space needed. Remember you’re going to also need space for water, food and spare clothing together with any other important items.
As always, stick with the camera system you’re familiar with. The scenery is suitable for any type of camera system, however, for the best image quality and flexibility interchangeable lens DSLR or Mirrorless camera systems would be preferred. Mirrorless cameras have come on a long way in recent years and with their low weight they’re well suited to photography in the mountains. However, DSLR cameras are generally cheaper and still offer equivalent image quality, especially when paired with any of the many lenses available on the market. Mirrorless camera systems don’t yet have a wide range of lenses on offer, but this is changing quickly.
Crop sensor vs. full frame & lens choice
Whether you’re shooting on a DLSR or Mirrorless camera it may be worth considering a crop sensor camera for landscape photography. These are typically, smaller, lighter and the lenses are also more compact as they don’t need to cover the area of the larger full-frame sensor. To combat the smaller lens crop factor lenses such as the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 can be a great choice as a wide angle. On the long focal length, the crop factor becomes a benefit giving you up to 1.6-1.6x additional reach.
My current preferred setup for mountain landscape photography is a Nikon D7200 (Crop sensor DSLR) paired with the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 mentioned above and the Tamron 16-300 f/3.5-6.3 superzoom. Although this superzoom lens has a relatively small aperture, I’ve not found this to be a problem for landscape photography. Especially when using a tripod (allowing low ISO and slower shutter speeds than shooting handheld). A long focal length also comes in handy for wildlife and unique compositions which come with lens compression. As an example bringing a subject closer to a mountain in the distance.
For full frame users, the “Holy Trinity” lenses are normally the go-to, which includes the f/2.8 14-24mm, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm. However, if you’re looking to save both weight and cost it’s worth considering f/4 versions of these lenses. The low light and shallow depth of field aren’t normally required in the mountains, especially with a tripod. This is the same reason why prime lenses are usually avoided. One exception to this would be astrophotography where a low aperture becomes beneficial to keep ISO low as possible. This also avoids the need for prolonged shutter speeds which can cause star trails depending on your focal length. Another exception would be portrait photography in the mountains, where bokeh requires either lens compression or a wide aperture.
A tripod, although inconvenient to carry is fairly important for landscape photography. It enables flexibility with your shutter speed which also helps keep your ISO low. There are a couple of challenges which come with tripod use in the mountains.
Firstly, stability due to weather conditions, in particular wind. A study tripod is required however these are typically heavier, therefore there’s a balance. I would suggest getting the lightest, strongest tripod you can afford and carry comfortably. A top tip is to then use your bag to weigh your tripod down if it has a built-in hook.
Uneven ground is the other challenge, making use of your virtual horizon feature on your camera will ensure your horizon is straight. In practice, this can be difficult in the mountains when there is rarely a straight horizon in view. However, for panoramic images, it’s more difficult, as the tripod also needs to be flat, purchasing a tripod with a bubble level can make this significantly easier.
There are three types of filters which can be useful in the mountains. Neutral Density (ND) filters, Graduated ND filters and a polariser.
Neutral density filters block light to the sensor, and as a result enable you to slow down shutter speeds. When used on a tripod this is useful for capturing water or cloud movement. Graduated ND filters serve the same purpose, but only on one side of the filter blocks light. This is typically aligned with the sky which is bright, and allows in-camera capture of images with a well-balanced exposure. In practice, mountains make use of these filters a challenge, but still possible. However, with the dynamic range and features such as exposure bracketing the same effect can be replicated in post-processing. This being said some prefer to get the exposure correct in-camera.
The final type of filter is a polariser. These help to reduce glare, increase saturation and enable control of reflections. These are very useful with water if reflections need to be reduced to see interesting rocks underwater. They also help to bring out colours in the landscape, especially if there are many wet leaves causing excessive glare.
Best time to visit Ogwen Valley
No matter the season, The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) is a great tool to check the direction of the sun and therefore how the light falls on a given location. It’s free to use on desktop and perfect for planning trips to the mountains before setting off.
Bird life and vegetation were captured during surveys in 2021 on two days including transect routes on the Cwm Idwal, Y Garn, Tryfan and y Glyderau. The report provides a great overview of what to expect and also provides photos of the diverse vegetation and birdlife in the area.
Spring is a great time for observing the variety of alpine flowers. These flowers provide an ideal subject for foreground interest in landscape photography. With a telephoto lens, these flowers can be captured well using macro photography. The extremely rare Snowdon lily can also be found in Cwm Idwal, however, it’s found in mostly inaccessible areas.
Summer means later sunrise times, perfect for reaching stunning locations before dawn. That being said, due to the aspect of the mountains around Llyn Ogwen, The lighting is not always optimal, especially within Cwm Idwal. Make sure to check The Photographer’s Ephemeris (TPE) Blue skies in the middle of the day can prove challenging due to the harsh light and lack of shadows.
This time of year is the perfect time for capturing the changing seasons, with changing colours around the landscape and the potential for colourful sunrises and sunsets.
Ogwen valley is a fairly accessible destination even in winter. The loop around Llyn Ogwen is at a fairly low elevation, therefore if the conditions are right, it can remain snow and ice free, while the mountains are covered in snow. Snow-topped mountains can really add interest to the scene. If you’re planning to head to higher elevations while there is ice and snow, ensure you have the correct gear and experience. Another key benefit of photography in winter is the sun remains low in this sky all day long, this softer light makes photography far easier.
In conclusion, Ogwen Valley in Snowdonia National Park is a visual paradise for landscape and travel photographers. With its dramatic mountain peaks, serene lakes, and cascading waterfalls, the valley offers a myriad of captivating scenes waiting to be captured through the lens. From the iconic Tryfan Mountain, with its rugged grandeur and interplay of light and shadows, to the enchanting reflections of Llyn Ogwen, photographers will be blown away by the sheer amount of photography opportunities.
Whilst parking may pose a challenge, the accessible beauty of Llyn Idwal makes it a must-visit spot. Patience, timing, and practical gear choices are essential, and The Photographer’s Ephemeris can be a helpful tool to plan your shoots. What is more, each season brings its own charm, from alpine flowers in spring to colourful sunrises in autumn. Ultimately, a visit to Ogwen Valley promises to ignite creativity and leave an indelible mark on any photographic journey.