Focus Stacking In The Forest

Something a little bit different today, and no mention of Lugnaquilla in sight ;).
I’m also going to only talk about one image this time, so something very new for readers of my blog!
This is going to be quite a technical post I am afraid guys, so if you are not terribly interested in the pursuit of absolute image quality then this might not be for you.

One of the age old problems in photography, especially with landscape photography is getting sufficient depth of field in a photograph. The traditional method is to stop down your lens. Most photographers understand that if you stop a lens down to f/11, you will get a larger depth of field, or zone of focus than if you shot the same image at say f/4.
So why don’t we just stop the lens down to f/22?
Well, because of diffraction – on my full frame Nikon D810 – diffraction is evident at f/11 but at f/16 its really quite noticeable and the sharpness loss and contrast reduction is easily perceptible, especially when viewing on a large monitor.
This is why I don’t tend to shoot at a smaller aperture than f/16 (most of the time).
Basically, diffraction is an optical effect which will limit the resolution of a photograph – why buy a high resolution camera and then limit it by stopping down too far?
Diffraction occurs when light begins to disperse or “diffract” when passing through a small opening (i.e. a lens set to a small aperture).

Life is all about compromise, and so is photography. If you have a near subject that you want sharp and a far subject that you also want sharp – the usual advice is to stop the lens down. However, high resolution photography magnifies the negative effects of diffraction.
So, a compromise must be made (unless using a tilt shift lens – but they have their own issues). You have a choice to make:

A) Stop down and accept some diffraction that will limit the resolution of your photograph. Sometimes though, especially with a very close foreground and distant background, no amount of stopping down will achieve critical sharpness throughout the frame.

B) Accept a blurred background but a sharp foreground (or vice versa) – sometimes this is desirable for artistic effect. Usually though, in landscape photographs we really do want ‘everything sharp’ and in focus. For some scenes, that is simply impossible – without focus stacking.

What is focus stacking? According to wikipedia:
“Focus stacking (also known as focal plane merging and z-stacking or focus blending) is a digital image processing technique which combines multiple images taken at different focus distances to give a resulting image with a greater depth of field (DOF) than any of the individual source images.”

Lenses I use for focus stacking include Zeiss Milvus 18mm f/2.8, Zeiss Milvus 34mm f/1.4 and the Zeiss Milvus 100mm f/2.

One of the many reasons I favour Zeiss glass is the power and control over exactly where the zone of focus can be placed. This, coupled with low aberrations (spherical, chromatic aberration and field curvature) means you have absolute control of where focus falls. There are no surprises.
The focus rings are extremely precise and have a long throw – most autofocus lenses have bad focus rings in my experience, with a short focus throw. It’s hard to describe but once you have used a Zeiss lens for landscape photography – there is simply no going back.
I’d like to add here, that all opinions posted on my blog (and my other content) are my own. Any conclusions I come to are after many hours testing various pieces of equipment. I am not affiliated with any camera/lens manufacturer and all of my gear is personally bought by myself (at my expense, great expense I might say!).

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 at f/10, nikon D810 – 40 frame stack2019-04-01-10.56.44 ZS retouched.jpg

At this low resolution (I don’t think WordPress allows high resolution uploads) there is no difference between the above image (a stack of 40 images, shot at f/10 each) to the one below:

Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 at f/10, nikon D810 – focus was placed on the large tree at left
focus on tree copy.jpg

So, to demonstrate this I will have to show some crops.
The following are 100% (pixel level) crops from my 36 megapixel Nikon D810.

CENTRE :: 40 frame stack
stacked centre.jpg

CENTRE :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunkfocus on tree centre.jpg

What might be already apparent from the above two crops is that whilst the tree trunk is sharp in both crops, taking a cursory glance to the right shows the power of focus stacking. Strong blur (insufficient depth of field) on the non stacked crop but the stacked crop is very sharp. Remember this was shot at f/10! I did a test shot at f/16 (the minimum aperture of the Zeiss Milvus) with the same focus placement and still the background was blurred.

Let’s look at another couple of crops.
This sequence is taken from the far right.

FAR RIGHT :: 40 frame stack
stacked FR.jpg

FAR RIGHT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree FR.jpg

As you can see, absolutely nothing is in focus in the single shot crop. The focus stacked crop shows a very high level of detail. I think the benefits of focus stacking largely speaks for itself in this particular scene but let’s see some more crops.

This sequence is taken from the far left.

FAR LEFT :: 40 frame stack
stacked FL.jpg

FAR LEFT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree FL.jpg

Again, a similar pattern occurs. The area where focus was placed is sharp in the single shot but the background is blurred. Compare with the focus stack crop above. It’s not really a competition if absolute sharpness is required all over the frame is it?

I want to show another crop here, this time taken from the bottom left – this was very close to the camera (a couple of feet at most).

BOTTOM LEFT :: 40 frame stack
stacked BL.jpg

BOTTOM LEFT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree BL.jpg

No way was this area going to be sharp in a single frame. No amount of stopping down would give sufficient depth of field for an area of the image this close (when focus was placed on the tree). This area is simply too close to the camera.
However, focus stacking as seen in the above crop proves its worth.

One final crop, this time of the bottom right of the image.

BOTTOM RIGHT :: 40 frame stack
stacked BR.jpg

BOTTOM RIGHT :: single shot at f/10 – focus on the tree trunk
focus on tree BR.jpg

This area is too far away from the focus point for f/10 to cover it in the single shot (f/16 didn’t either). The advantages of stacking are pretty obvious I think.

So, what are the disadvantages?

Like everything in photography, focus stacking comes with compromises. Some limitations of focus stacking that I have discovered are listed below:

  • Wind and moving subjects pose a challenge for stacking. Any subject movement means extra time on the computer retouching ‘double images’ where the stacking software gets confused. For example, you may have two tree branches instead of one!
  • Time and effort both in the field and at the computer. Stacking in the field requires time and patience. I usually focus on the nearest object in the image and the slowly rotate the focus ring as required to ensure that the furthest objects will also be in focus. In fairness, it only really takes about five minutes but if you do that for 10 shots that’s nearly an hour! I use Zerene stacker (Zerene Systems) to automate the focus stack frames on the PC but usually it needs ‘touching up’ to varying degrees. It’s great software but not free, I bought the ‘prosumer edition’ ($189 USD at time of writing) I believe. It’s really worth it. For the image in this post, I think I spent an hour over several evenings (at a leisurely pace, I was unfamiliar with the software) retouching. It’s really not that bad when you consider how striking the image is when viewed on a large screen at full size. It all depends on how much you care about image quality at the end of the day. If you really care about quality then it’s a ‘no brainer’ investment in both time and money. 40 frames are a lot, but this scene required it because I had very close elements in the foreground – most scenes probably only require a handful of frames. This was quite an extreme example.
  • Storage – 40 images were used to stack the above. So that’s 40 images to obtain one! Of course, you can delete the ‘stack frames’ once you’ve finished building the stack to free up storage.
  • Blur can be beautiful – ‘bokeh’ is very popular these days! Smartphone software engineers are working overtime around the world to emulate background blur in smartphone cameras (software blur) – they are getting good (they are not great to a keen eye) but optical blur is, and will be for some time – king. You don’t always want ‘everything sharp’, it really comes down to intent in the photograph and what it is you are capturing.

I am sure there are other limitations I have not yet discovered but if you are serious about landscape photography (or still life/macro photography) then focus stacking is a skill that you really need to add to your arsenal, especially as camera sensor size and resolution is ever increasing (and depth of field decreasing with it).

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here! I am also on Instagram now, as phillipjwells.

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

A Wicklow Winter Wonderland At Lugnaquilla

Short, sharp and sweet was the clearance of fog at Lugnaquilla last weekend (2nd Feb, 2019).
Leaving my home at 4 am, I was a bit concerned about the roads due to most of Wicklow’s high roads being impassable because of lying snow and ice.
Not a problem, if you start your hike quite low!
The roads were fine (I was mostly using national roads) until I arrived at Knockanarrigan, where it was a bit icy with some snow on the road banks.
I parked up at around 05:00 I think, and I got home around 20:30, from memory.
Long day!
The forecast was for clear skies all day except around lunch time, when some low cloud was forecast, so probably a whiteout at Lug. Ironically, this was the only part of the day (after the sun rose) where Lugnaquilla was actually clear! Well, a weather forecast is just that – a forecast – NOT a statement of weather!

Such a perfectly clear morning, a bit of wind but not horrendous down here in the glen.
Already some lying snow here, at the 200 metre above sea level mark. Lugnaquilla is 925m asl.

I took a couple of night sky shots, because it was so clear. Looking over to Keadeen with some obvious light pollution behind, presumably from Baltinglass.
Keadeen Twilight copy.jpg

I  managed to catch a couple of meteors in the below shot as well (near top right).
Looking upto Lugnaquilla just before dawn.
Lug Twilight copy.jpg

Ascending Camarahill now, and the snow on the ground is getting heavier, and in places has collected into deep drifts. Taken during ‘blue hour’ – the hour before sunrise, you can see where the name came from!
Keadeen Twilight II copy.jpg

No joke getting up here this morning, tough work. Some of the drifting here is knee level, or higher. The fresh north-westerly winds of the previous day have left their mark in the patterns of the snow here. They were not light at this moment either!
Drifts Camarahill combined copy.jpg

Sunrise was soon, so at this point I pressed on up Camarahill a bit. It was tough going, the snow was deep and I was carrying heavy photography equipment (as always). I paused for quite a while for a breather (and some calories) at the top of Camarahill, where I was greeted by a (mostly) clear view up to Lugnaquilla.
Lug sunrise copy.jpg

Here I was overtaken by two hikers who found the tracks I left in the snow a great help on their ascent! You’re welcome chaps!
It was their turn to pioneer snow tracks now :).
2 copy.jpg

Just after this, I met a follower of my blog who figured out I was who I am! Hi Jan, if you are reading this. Nice to meet you!

Oh no!
The fog moved in, just as I was ascending Lower Corrig. It looked temporary, so I took a shot and pressed on. The sun pretty much up now, the snow on the ground getting deeper still.
Fog coming copy.jpg

The fog is getting thicker, and lower – Ballineddan is ensconced now (at left) and it looks as though Keadeen is about to become smothered too. Whiteout soon, I suspect.
Rock Drift copy.jpg

Just as I thought the whiteout was imminent, it cleared in an instant!

Here is a shot I took just after Upper Corrig (I took none there, because it was intermittently foggy). Pretty arctic looking up to Lug from this spot.
Arctic copy.jpg

I knew the fog could return at any moment though. It always does at Lugnaquilla!
And yep, it did! Just as I was ascending the final slope of Lug, it came in thick.
I decided to press on. Fortune favours the brave, I was thinking. It also favours the prepared. I had a map and a compass – and I know how to use them.
Whiteouts are extremely difficult to navigate in, impossible without navigational tools.

Here is the summit, I found it without difficulty in the whiteout ( a well rehearsed routine!).
Arctic Summit copy.jpg

Suffice it to say, it was quite a challenge to read the army information sign this day.
However, that was not my greatest challenge that day though!
You can just about make out the summit cairn in the background too, right of centre.

The snow here is less deep than on the way up, presumably the strong north westerly winds would have blown a lot of it off into the south prison (which is really south east facing). Still, it was pretty deep in parts where it had drifted.
Not much to see right now, but it’s probably about -14°C including wind chill at this point. I was not cold though, I had my winter gear on. Even still, I could not hang around here for many hours (as I do in summer!). It was about 10:45 when I got here. Operating camera gear with heavy winter gloves on is difficult, my hands and fingers are quite large, clumsy and inflexible. This was when I felt the cold, to remove the gloves to operate the camera settings. This is one of the reasons that touch screens don’t impress me!
I have a strategy for this though, I always pack a hand warmer in each glove, so that after putting the glove back on my hand heats back up fast.
Arctic Summit Cairn copy.jpg

Well, the fog showed some signs of clearing, so I headed over to a spot I love just above the south prison. Still in mostly whiteout conditions at this point.
Still very foggy.
Fog copy.jpg

I sat (I was wearing ski trousers) and ate my lunch now. I was hoping the fog would clear. The mountain tends to reward patience, in my experience.

Less than an hour later, it started to clear.
Fog Clearing copy.jpg

A winter Wicklow wonderland is revealed!
Winter copy.jpg

Looking south east to the pyramidal Croaghanmoira Mountain.
Croaghanmoira copy.jpg

And then further, to Croghan Kinsella, beyond the Ow river and valley.
Croghan Kinsella copy.jpg

A shot down over to Cloghernagh and Corrigasleggaun. To those who are not familiar with this view, that is a LOT of snow down there.Cloghernagh copy.jpg

Skirting around an interesting cornice at the south prison.South Prison Cornice copy.jpg

Pretty arctic up here, and I have a strong (and cold) wind to my back. You wouldn’t want to be up here without appropriate clothing.South Prison Cornice II copy.jpg

I was having a great time with some of these compositions. The landscape up here is remarkable right now, almost lunar.South Prison copy.jpg

My footprints above the south prison.
South Prison Footsteps copy.jpg

A (super) detailed shot of the tumbling cliffs of the south prison, taken with my 35mm Zeiss lens. The level of detail in this shot is pretty astonishing when viewed on a large monitor at high resolution.
South Prison Zeiss copy.jpg

So many interesting snow formations up here, I knew I didn’t have much time. I know how fast the fog rolls in up here. And I knew more would return.
South Prison Arctic copy.jpg

Another composition.
Cold at Lug copy.jpg

Aw shucks. Just as I had anticipated, the fog came back in. Thick, rapidly and heavy this time.
I headed back to the summit now, figuring that the fog would be here to stay now. I was correct in this assumption, Lugnaquilla remained in fog for the rest of the day. I still had to get down though.

Although I was not worried, it pays to respect the mountain. And whilst I have descended Lug in whiteouts a few times before, always respect the mountain. Navigation skills are a must here.
Frozen Post copy.jpg

Another world…
Frozen Rocks copy.jpg

Descending the final slope of Lug now, and out of the fog (almost) and I bump into someone I have not seen for five years or so! Fellow landscape photographer and mountain skills guide, Adrian Hendroff.
Hello Adrian!
Adrian copy.jpg

Photographer in action:
tog copy.jpg

Another one.Adrian copy.jpg

I continued the descent with Adrian for some time but I wanted to shoot some long range shots and some snow drifts in the Corrigs whilst he opted to continue down to Camarahill. I would catch up with him later to shoot the sunset over the Glen Of Imaal.

Looking down to the artillery range with Lobawn rising above.
Lobawn copy.jpg

Such a clear day at this point. Perfect atmospheric clarity, cold winter days are best for that. Taken using my manual focus Zeiss Milvus 100mm – the resolution is truly outstanding at 100% on my large monitor here.

Looking over to a snowy Keadeen:
Keadeen copy.jpg

Some of the drifts at Lower Corrig.
Drifts Of Corrig copy.jpg

The light started to get really interesting now, as the sun was dipping lower in the sky.
Drifts Of Corrig II copy.jpg

It enhanced the contrast on the drifts here.
Drifts Of Corrig III copy.jpg

The snow here started to take on a slight pinkish hue.
Drifts Of Corrig IV copy.jpg

A challenging shot to achieve, but the high dynamic range of my Nikon D810 helped me out a lot here. I had to push the shadows 2 and a third stops in lightroom here so that I could save the highlights of the sun at capture time. The latitude for pushing shadows on the D810 is wonderful and when you couple that with quality glass (such as the Ziess 35mm f/1.4 used here) you can capture shots that would be very challenging with other cameras (in a single exposure). The Nikon does this, with minimal/non existent noise or colour banding.Keadeen Sun copy.jpg

A glance back at Lug, before I look down to the Glen Of Imaal. Yep, still in fog.
Pink Lug copy.jpg

Beautiful colours in the sky above Mount Leinster in this long range shot.
cover1024..jpg

The shoulder of Keadeen and a snowy Glen Of Imaal.
Shoulder Of Keadeen copy.jpg

Looking over to Knocknamunnion. I captured the belt of Venus at the start of the day and at the end of the day this day!
Knocknamunnion copy.jpg

One last glance over to Lug.
Lug last glance copy.jpg

Now, for the descent of Camarahill. I always find this tough going after a long day at Lug. But at least I had some company this time! See you on the hills again sometime Adrian!
Adrian pointed out that I was the first on the hill this morning, and the last off it! Not unusual to be honest.

A beautiful day, but not without challenges :).

Fifteen and a half hours out on the hills (including driving) – time well spent if you ask me! It took about that much time to compose this blog post too!

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

 

The First Dusting Of Snow At Lugnaquilla

The first snow to fall at Lugnaquilla occurred last weekend – some of it whilst I was on my way up.
Howling winds and horizontal snow, with wind chill of -5°C in the morning – that’ll wake you up alright.
I have to say, I’ve been to Lugnaquilla many times but this day was the toughest that I recall. It was not purely because of the weather, I’ve been up in much worse – it was just a long day. I spent 12 hours out walking the area, carrying heavy camera equipment the whole time.
The Moon was slightly more than three quarters full, and on a clear, frosty morning illuminated the way enough that I barely needed my head torch – only in the forest was it dark enough to warrant its use.Moon copy.jpg

The sun not up yet, but it’s not far off. I can see that there is snow lying on the lug already and it appears that it’s getting a fresh batch of it.
Snowing on the lug copy.jpg

As I approached the north prison, the sun had risen and the winds were strong.
Northerly winds are cold too!
This was a very challenging shot, the wind was so strong that standing was a problem let alone trying to shoot a dimly lit landscape with a high resolution camera.
Camera movement ruins sharpness when using longer exposures – this was 1/30th of a second shutter speed – which sounds fast but really is not. Viewing the scene in live view, I could see how much vibration was being caused by the wind. My advice when shooting these scenes is either use a higher ISO (I don’t prefer this) or wait patiently for a drop in the wind and use a cable release (my preferred option). Obviously, sometimes you cannot wait – for example if it’s -5°C and howling winds you might not really want to stand around! Still, I managed to get a sharp shot at ISO 64 here, using a bit of patience and some grit!North Prison copy.jpg

Woohoo!
Some snow!
I wait all year for this!
Snow Dice copy.jpg

The summit, with a light dusting. This would not last long – the October sun would later prove to be too strong, despite the freezing temperature up here at present.
Cairn copy.jpg

The fog came in rapidly, and then blew past as suddenly as it appeared.
The sky was partly cloudy all day, with fast moving clouds, some low (hence the fog) and some higher – but all fast moving (due to high winds).Sun copy.jpg

It’s already apparent in the image above that the snow was not going to last long, the sun had been up for a couple of hours at this point and the temperature is just above freezing (though it did not feel like it with the wind chill!).

There is a rocky outcrop slightly north west of the south prison that I like to sit at for a snack sometimes, so I headed over that direction – I was pretty hungry. Starbar time. Yum!
Yeah, the fog came and went, this is really not unusual for Lugnaquilla. Climbing the mountain without basic navigational skills is really not something I would advise.
Fog copy.jpg

On the subject of navigation, an important point here is to not store your compass near a mobile phone. If you don’t know why, put simply – magnets will depolarise a compass and thus cause it to become inaccurate (usually, completely wrong) – smartphones contain magnets.

A long range shot now, looking down to Aughavannagh with some nice sun rays.Aughavannagh copy.jpg

It’s been a while since I wrote a blog post about Lugnaquilla actually, but that’s not to say I have not been lately – I’ve actually been once or twice each month this year so far. This would be my second visit this month.

At this point, I decided that I would hop over the other side of the mountain, to look down the north prison to the Glen Of Imaal. It adds a few kilometres to the trip but I thought it would be worth it.
North Prison To Imaal copy.jpg

I was glad that I did!
At this time of year, the sun never hits the cliffs on this side of the mountain, as is shown in the photographs above and below. The northerly winds were biting here.
North Prison 35 copy.jpg

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am quite the fan of rock formations, and it wouldn’t be a real visit to Lugnaquilla if I didn’t shoot at least one!
Rock copy.jpg

Another take.
Rock II copy.jpg

Beautiful autumnal light on this visit, although it was a challenge keeping the camera steady in the wind. Autumn and winter is where the good light really happens, everything else (other seasons) is just practice to my mind.

Where does the time go!?
Sunset was only a few hours away at this point and I had a lot of ground to cover to get back to the car. I started my walk at 06:00 and ended it at 17:48 – 22.94 km later! Taking lots of photographs to a high technical standard takes a lot of time, so it’s not that it took me 12 hours to walk 23 km – photography eats up a lot of that time.

So I started the homeward journey, along the cliffs of the north prison.Looking down the np copy.jpg

Another angle overlooking the great cliffs of the north prison a bit further down the mountain.
NP cliff copy.jpg

I’ve always liked the view over to to the west from here with Keadeen sitting in the distance.
West copy.jpg

Looking down to the Glen Of Imaal. Long way back to the car!Glen Imaal copy.jpg

A wider shot, showing the distance I have yet to travel. The ridge leading to the middle of the image (from the left) is the Camarahill/Corrig ridge that is my return journey. Some nice light!
Glen Imaal 20 copy.jpg

Gonna feel this walk in my legs for a few days I think.
Off Lugnaquilla now, and it’s like a switch was flicked – no wind at all!

I once encountered an unwanted visitor here at this small pond – a deer tick had attached itself to me. Lovely!
Makes sense really, it was late summer and presumably this is a drinking hole for deer so that’s where I would hang out if I was a tick! The DEET spray did not protect me much here, it would appear! No harm though, I have a tool for removing them with ease.
tick pond copy.jpg

A nice skyscape.
Clouds copy.jpg

The sun low in the sky now, about an hour and a quarter until sunset. My journey back follows from left to right in this image, with Camarahill the brownish bump at right with the wall slightly off centre.
low sun copy.jpg

As darkness comes nearer, I reach the top of Camarahill – the last descent of the day beckons. Taking one last glance over to Lugnaquilla – I was seeing a face in the shadow cast by the north prison of Lugnaquilla. It’s the BFG!
BFG copy.jpg

The last shot of the day, sunset on the way down from Camarahill.
Sunset copy.jpg

A long day!

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

An Autumnal Evening At Tibradden

To dispel any myth that I only hike at Lugnaquilla, I decided that I would do a post about a short (but pleasant) walk to Tibradden Mountain in County Dublin.

Now that summer is over, we are coming into much more interesting times, photographically speaking. As readers of my blog will know, winter is my favourite season of all but autumn is certainly second!

Tibradden summit lies just above the Zipit forest adventure zipline area, it’s not a long walk, but a pleasant one.
Starting off just before the Zipit area, I took a steep shortcut I know that can offer some nice views over to the trees at Cruagh wood.Cruagh Wood copy.jpg

An excellent time of year to be in the forest.
Tree copy.jpg

The forest stretch at the start of the walk is pretty short – it’s not long until you hit open hillside, where you simply follow a rocky path (with occasional railway sleepers) to the top. Navigational skills are not required on this walk.

Above the trees now, a pleasant view over to Montpelier Hill, and the Hellfire Club (an old hunting lodge, with many supernatural tales surrounding it) emerges. A curious place, unfortunately a little spoilt by mindless graffiti.
Montpelier Hill copy.jpg

At the summit now (it is a short walk!) – and nearby here lies a prehistoric burial cairn.
Though not terribly windy here, the clouds in the sky are indicative of fast winds in the higher atmosphere.
Tibradden Cairn copy.jpg

I opted to walk a bit further on from the summit – continuing even further would lead to Fairy Castle/Two Rock mountain but I had not intended to walk there this day.
The light and colours at this time of year can be amazing.
Autumn copy.jpg

Clouds thickening here at one of the tors of Tibradden. Wind increasing too.
The clouds in the sky are taking all sorts of forms, lenticular/flying saucer shaped.
If you find yourself in the shadow of a lenticular cloud, then in the shade you shall stay if you do not move on. These clouds don’t tend to move much – they are continually reformed over the same location by new air rising up and over a mountain, condensing and producing the clouds.Tor copy.jpg

Looking over to Cruagh, the sky is most curious.
Cruagh Sky copy.jpg

I  decided to wait here for a while, near the tor – I am a huge fan of rock formations and I was waiting for the sky to show me some interesting patterns.

But, being close to Dublin – this is a popular walk so my patience was thwarted when a group of scouts came to look at the tor – more a fan of nature than humans, I opted to move on.

There is a nice view over to Howth and the sea from near the summit area, with large ferries and cargo ships toing and froing.
Howth copy.jpg

Heading back to the tor now, hoping that it was free of people – indeed it was, but the sky was becoming totally overcast. Looked great though.
Tor BW copy.jpg

This was a small taste of the display the sky would create a small bit later.
Back at the cairn now, and the light show really began:
Tibradden Cairn Sky copy.jpg

Further down from the summit, this spectacle presented itself.
Sky copy.jpg

I have seen a lot of things when out hiking, sometimes nature puts on an amazing show like the above. I’d like to add, the images I present here on my blog are not ‘cooked’ up in photoshop – in the digital darkroom I prefer to do minimal work on my photographs to achieve a look and feel that was the same as what I observed, sometimes I might lighten shadows, darken highlights but really not much more than that. Analogue photographers would have been able to do the same with dodging and burning.
Of course, the high dynamic range of my Nikon D810 helps a LOT.

Yellow Tree copy.jpg

 

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.

A Trio Of Visits To Lugnaquilla

Spring was late this year. It is almost as if it didn’t happen.
We had snowstorms in Dublin up until 18th March – this is very unusual for Ireland.
Not that I was complaining, I love the white stuff!

We did not have many bright days though (until recently), there have only been two days (on the weekends, so not including weekdays) where I had been out walking and the sun was out for more than an hour. Two… in four months!
And this day, the first visit to Lug this year for me, on the 21st April – was one of them. And it was one of the most beautiful days I have ever had at my favourite place in Wicklow.

Usual drill, 03:00 hours start, camera packed, batteries charged, lunch prepared, starbar packed (important, this part) and of course thermals on. I suspected it was to be cold early in the morning, and I was right. Very cold in fact, because there was no cloud cover for insulation.

I have neglected my blog a bit recently, not deliberately – I’ve just found it tricky to find the time. It does take several hours to go through my photographs of a day out and then several hours to put it all together in a post. I’ve had a few issues this last few months – car trouble, camera trouble, among various other things that do not need to be shared here. A very busy year so far. Well, here is a long post to make up for that!

Anyway, back to the first walk….
Usual starting point for me, Fenton’s Pub down in the Glen Of Imaal – I choose this route for a couple of reasons but most importantly because my car has always been safe at the journey start. Car break ins in Wicklow are a real problem, and on the rise I am afraid. With the ever increasing popularity of hill walking, I fear it will only increase further. I have been the victim of break ins a few times and I do not wish for it to happen to me again.

This would be my first ascent of Lugnaquilla this year, though I have spent a lot of time in the South Prison and surrounding area – I had not visited the summit so far this year.

A predawn shot, showing the ‘Belt Of Venus’ glow over the Glen Of Imaal from Camara Hill. A nice warm glow on a cold morning.
Keadeen Belt Of Venus copy.jpg

I had not realised it at the time, but I did not take any photographs since the above one until I paused for breath part way up the final slope to Lugnaquilla itself. I was on a mission!
Looking back over the shoulder of Ballineddan and the Glen Of Imaal. Nice, warm light – but I was cold! The sun rises beyond Lugnaquilla from the direction in which I approached it, so it would be a while before the sunlight struck the slope I was on.
Ballineddan copy.jpg

Looking south now, over the shoulder of Slievemaan. Some very vibrant colours on display. Brilliant atmospheric clarity too, at this time. Early mornings often are the best for this sort of atmospheric visibility, also known as ‘seeing’ or ‘astronomical seeing’. When you shoot a high resolution camera with Zeiss lenses – the limiting factors in your photographs are the photographer, and the weather. Only one of these elements I can control!
Slievemaan copy.jpg

The final stages of the approach, and here is my old friend – the ‘dice’ of Lugnaquilla. I rolled a 6 weather wise this day!
Dice copy.jpg

It is often desirable to get everything sharp when shooting landscape photographs. But not always.
I think blur can be very beautiful and subject isolation is a strength of fast lenses. I took several versions of the above, some at wide apertures, others stopped down. I preferred the wide open shot at f/1.4 above ultimately.

The summit cairn at just after 08:00 in the morning. I was the first up here on this day, I believe. It’d be a lot busier here later in the day! And yes, that horizon is straight – I use a digital spirit level and my tripod analogue spirit level to level all of my photographs – I do not level my camera ‘by eye’ because that is not an accurate method when shooting in the mountains. Using a more accurate digital spirit level shows the lay of the land much more truthfully.
Blue skies!
Summit copy.jpg

Moving over to the South Prison area now, the heat of the sun has started to affect me now. I was cursing my thermals!South Prison copy.jpg

A similar shot, this time using my Zeiss Milvus 35mm f/1.4 lens. I had to climb down a bit, on some steep ground, to get the composition I wanted here.
South Prison 35 copy.jpg

A few words about the Zeiss 35mm lens. It’s a lens I have not owned for long and I am still in the process of making my mind up about it. It has some distinct advantages over any other 35mm lens I have used before but it also has some caveats. Like anything I suppose! It’s heavy (over 1kg) and expensive (about £1700). It is also manual focus only – not an issue for me as I manual focus every single landscape photograph I take but some might not like that.
However, it has almost zero chromatic aberration which is a major, I repeat MAJOR advantage over any other 35mm lens I have ever used. The Sigma 35mm f/1.4 has very large amounts of lateral chromatic aberration in the edges. This is contrary to the reviews of many ‘experts’ online who only shoot test charts when reviewing new lenses.
I do encourage those who are looking for absolute image quality to research thoroughly before buying new lenses and try to seek out (multiple) honest opinions rather than just reading a lens review based purely on shooting test charts.
I prefer to shoot lenses in the real world and discover their characteristics in a method that is applicable to my own style of shooting. I don’t spend my free time photographing flat charts on walls, so why would I test a new lens that way? I am fairly certain that I am not in the minority here…
Photographing test charts in a studio can only reveal so much about a lens and while it can be worthwhile in some cases, I think it sort of misses the point a bit.
Also, quite often these ‘expert reviews’ do not state on which camera body (and thus how many megapixels) they are testing the lens with. A good performance from a lens on a 20 megapixel camera might be a totally different story when shot on a 36 megapixel (or higher) camera.
A high contrast scene such as the above would totally reveal the chromatic aberration limitations of the Sigma 35mm. This can be removed in Photoshop of course, but at the loss of sharpness, acuity and contrast – and that loss can be significant. The Zeiss has no CA that is perceptible to my very critical eye.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sigma is a good lens – but there is a vast league between the performance of it and the Zeiss Milvus in the edges of the frame. Why shoot a high resolution camera if only the middle pixels are worth keeping?
Well, as always – my honest opinions are my own and based purely on my own findings.
And of course, I am just an amateur photographer in my spare time so I am not sponsored or endorsed by any companies – thus, you can trust my opinion! I own both lenses.
I come from a software engineering background – so I am a very technical photographer and maximising image quality is important to me.

Back to the walk!
There were a few areas I wanted to visit this day on the mountain, and I ended up walking 21.49 kms according to my step counter.
the views of the South Prison are covered in the two images above, but my main area of focus for this walk was an area above a location marked as the ‘Green Corner’ on my map. Reading the contours on the map suggested that this was an area of very steep ground, on the north east face of Lugnaquilla. I suspected the views from here over to Fraughan Rock Glen and Benleagh would be quite dramatic.
Looking North East copy.jpg

And again, trust me – the horizon is straight. At left of the image, in the distance – are the higher mountains in Wicklow, and the hills gradually wane in height as we look more eastwards (to the right in the photo) towards the sea.
A large number of the hills of Wicklow are on display here! The rocky area directly beneath my feet (foreground) is an area of steep, shelving ground. A great place to explore I imagine. Just beyond that is an area known as Lugueer. I don’t actually know how this translates to English but I suggest the ‘Lug’ prefix means ‘hollow’. Perhaps someone can let me know in the comments section!
The steep rock face at left is that of Benleagh, with Bendoo opposite, casting strong shadows. I will leave it to readers of this post to identify other areas/hills here! To regular walkers, it should be easy enough!

One of the reasons I get up so early for my visits to the mountain is that in spring/summer there are often warm, bright days with lovely sunshine but shooting around midday is really not the best for landscape photographs. Early morning and late evening is better.
When the sun is directly overhead, the light is harsh and the angle of shadows can be problematic. When you add heat shimmer/atmospheric lensing into the mix – shooting satisfactory images can be difficult. I took this one at 09:46. Already there was some atmospheric lensing at play here but it’s barely perceptible in the photograph. This is caused by temperature differential. I must get here earlier next time!

Another, detail shot of the cliffs of Benleagh. I used my 85mm f/1.8g Nikon for this shot. A lovely lens, and light! Lens weight is a big deal when you hike 20+ kilometres!
Benleagh 85 copy.jpg

I don’t tend to process my photographs much really but sometimes a tool is required for a certain situation.
So I added a small amount of saturation to this photograph, and used a small of amount of a ‘de-haze’ method I employ. The sunshine was a little hazy but I wanted to get as much detail as I could.

A wide angle lens of the same scene now, taken with my 20mm f/1.8g Nikon. Lovely blue skies. Amazing view here, much of the Wicklow uplands on display, including Tonelagee and Mullaghcleevaun.
That white patch at the right is a small patch of snow. It was due to be 20°C + in Dublin this day, so I don’t suspect it will last long (though it would be about 14°C here).
Looking North East 20 copy.jpg

A fine lens indeed, and light! I appreciate Nikon’s strategy of light, plastic lenses.
Heavy metal lenses might seem more durable, but drop a plastic lens – it bounces. Drop a metal one, something has to give. And as mentioned before, weight is a consideration when hiking.
F/11 – f/13 sees to be the optimal apertures for the 20mm lens, when there are close foreground subjects and detail in the distance. Choice of focus area is far more important though, and this is a point often overlooked by many photographers I speak to. Focus stacking is an option of course, but in Ireland the wind would be an enemy here and to be honest – I am not the gentlest touch when it comes to moving focus rings! For focus stacking, you need zero movement in the camera.

My new favourite trio of lenses for walks is the 20mm f/1.8g Nikon, 35mm f/1.4 Zeiss Milvus and the unrivalled (my favourite lens) 100mm f/2 Zeiss Milvus. But, the Zeiss lenses are not light.

After a snack (a banana), I opted to head out to the next location before midday struck. This location was about 500 meters to the west of my position here, at the rim of the North Prison.
North Prison copy.jpg

A portrait of the cliffs of the North Prison, with Keadeen looming beyond.
North Prison 85 copy.jpg

An unobstructed view now, looking down from the heights of the North Prison to Lugatroch and onward to Glen Imaal. Still some large snow patches here. North Prison 35 copy.jpg

The mountain is truly more than a summit indeed.
A lot of work done this day, From here I then climbed back to the summit and decided to have lunch at the rim of the South Prison.

A view that I have shared here on my blog before, but a favourite of mine – looking over to Lugcoolmeen from the South Prison of Lugnaquilla.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

A wider shot of Lugcoolmeen, with the foreground falling away below. I do like to shoot a scene with different focal lengths (and thus different fields of view), I find that it’s nice to have options later and also it can provide a lot of context about a place.
Lugcoolmeen 20 copy.jpg

And now, a narrower field of view using a portrait lens. You might be able to make out the small figures of people near the middle of the image! I wish I could upload higher resolution images but WordPress does not allow this unless you pay.
Lugcoolmeen 85 copy.jpg

Crikey, this is going to be a long post. Sixteen photographs in and I am still talking about the first of three walks!

Still above the South Prison here, this is one of my favourite lunch spots. Looking down to Aughavannagh now – a hazy view but pleasant nonetheless. Croghan Kinsella sits at the rear at distance with what appears to be the smoke from a (presumably) gorse fire at right of the image. Also visible here, at bottom right – is the forest track I took when I took A Stroll To The South Prison Of Lugnaquilla.
Aughavannagh copy.jpg

Time to start heading back to the car now, I had done a lot of work already this day and there was more yet to do!
I headed back to the summit then took a track above the North Prison heading south west to start the descent of Lugnaquilla.
I tend to prefer to descend slightly nearer the cliffs than most people do. It’s not easier, but the view is superb down to the Glen Of Imaal. It is quieter!
I’d like to mention here, all of the areas I have visited at Lugnaquilla I have done so ONLY after talking to the warden in the Glen Imaal Army Headquarters (near Fenton’s Pub). I have had many conversations with various Army Sergeants in here, so I am well aware of where I can and can’t go.
Please do not stray off of the approved routes when walking at or near Lugnaquilla/the artillery range.
From North Prison copy.jpg

Looking over to Keadeen and Ballineddan.
Keadeen copy.jpg

Back at Lower Corrig now, and a quick glimpse back at Lugnaquilla.
Lug copy.jpg

A wider view, showing more of the route and the great hollow that is the North Prison.
Lug 20 copy.jpg

The last stretch now, after the descent of Camara Hill. This is always torture. At this point in the walk – I am always exhausted and this rocky/potholed army road is killer!
Last Stretch copy.jpg

Until next time, Lug…
Little did I know, that in the next few weeks I would get two more visits to this place!

The 6th of May was my second visit this year, and the day before my 34th birthday. I am getting way too old for this.
Another early start indeed! And another glorious day. Very hot though. Tough work this day.
05:12 am, and this was my view partway up the army road, at Camara Crossroad. A calm, humid and foggy morning, no wind at all.
Moon copy.jpg

A foggy morning indeed, at least here, in the valley.
Fog copy.jpg

Gaining height now, as the sun also begins to rise. As I ascend Camara Hill, it becomes apparent that the fog is hanging in the valleys/lowlands and that the hills are clear. I had suspected this might be the case because I have seen similar conditions before. Cool!
Fog Keadeen copy.jpg

The Belt Of Venus above a fog enshrouded Glen Of Imaal and Ballyhook hill emerging above the fog.
Belt of Venus copy.jpg

A similar shot, with the shoulder of Spinan’s Hill at left. What a morning!
Belt of Venus II copy.jpg

For this walk, I thought it might be a good idea to take the triple threat lenses of my Nikon 20mm, Zeiss 35mm and Zeiss 100mm. These are my favourite lenses and the above five photographs were taken with the 100mm. A flexible lens indeed, and my all time favourite.

A familiar tree to myself. This is where the real work begins – on open hillside now and the 20 minutes of purgatory that is the ascent of Camara Hill awaits.
Tree copy.jpg

Well, it took a LOT longer than twenty minutes to get up here on this morning. I was constantly pausing for photographs. It should be understood, that as a precise landscape photographer – the phrase ‘pausing for photographs’ for me means removing my heavy back pack, unstrapping my heavy tripod, setting up the tripod and possibly even taking out my metal lens case to switch a lens and then carefully composing my shot, dialling in my settings and taking an image. It is not a simple process of ‘point and shoot’. If life was that simple!
The Sugarloaf Of Imaal rising above the sea of fog. At right just beyond the tree is the command and control tower for the artillery range peaking above the fog.
Sugarloaf Of Imaal copy.jpg

At the summit of Camara Hill now, a quick shot down to Mount Leinster was worthwhile I thought.
Mount Leinster copy.jpg

And here it is, basking in the morning light – the target for the day. Lugnaquilla.
Lug copy.jpg

The fog did not last long, the May sun too potent. It started to break up at 07:45. A view back to the summit of Camara hill.
Camara copy.jpg

Ascending Lugnaquilla now, and the view south shows some fog still in the lowlands, and the Moon in the sky (near top right).
This photograph is interesting because it shows the nature of the final slope up to Lugnaquilla – a rock strewn affair. South copy.jpg

I did not pause much for photographs until I reached the point of interest – I had wanted to return to the location above the ‘Green Corner’. I was happy with the image I previously took here but I wanted to see it in earlier morning light. The atmosphere was much clearer. I was right to press on.Benleagh copy.jpg

My plan for this day was much the same as my previous visit two weeks prior. From here, I headed to the North Prison and then on to the South Prison.

The North Prison, on another beautiful day!
North Prison copy.jpg

The same, with my 35mm Zeiss. I particularly like the patterns of the water flows.
North Prison 35 copy.jpg

At the South Prison now, and my usual lunch spot facilitates. Miraculously, there is still a small patch of snow! Very hot at this moment in time.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

A similar shot with the Zeiss 35mm.
Lugcoolmeen 35 copy.jpg

The tumbling cliffs of the South Prison.
Cliff copy.jpg

Walkers at Lugcoolmeen, with the peaks of East Wicklow beyond.
Walkers copy.jpg

Whew. What a day. Super hot too. It was around this time (about 11:00) that I was wondering why I had left my sun cream in the car. I know why. It’s because I am an idiot.
Luckily for me, I don’t burn too much – being of slightly dark complexion – but leaving the sun cream in the car was not cool.
Heading back now, usual descent route besides the North Prison and I paused for this almost aerial shot of Lugatroch.
Lugatroch copy.jpg

Inside the North Prison. I did a bit of scrambling to get this shot.
I always forget ‘arm day’!
Whew, getting really hot now in the midday sun. No shelter at all from it’s intense rays.
Inside North Prison copy.jpg

I enjoy rock formations, and rocks/boulders in general actually. I am not sure why. But I think it’s a metaphorical reason. I dislike change, certainly changes that are impactful that appear suddenly. I suppose that to me, rocks symbolize at least the implication of permanence – of course, nothing is permanent, including rocks. But within a persons short lifetime, rocks do not visibly change.
Rocks II copy.jpg

More granite.
Rocks copy.jpg

A bit more granite.
Rocks III copy.jpg

Some more granite to chew on.
Granite copy.jpg

Almost off the steep slopes of Lugnaquilla now, and a shot towards the Glen Of Imaal.
Glen Imaal copy.jpg

What? How is it now 15:00? I was having so much fun scrambling around the North Prison that I completely lost track of it!

Back at Camara Hill now, I always take one last glance back at Lugnaquilla.
Lug-2 copy.jpg

22.40 kms later! Time to stop off in the Glen Imaal store and buy myself a pre birthday treat of a giant cornetto! I believed that I had earned it!

P.S. I like trees too.
Tree-3 copy.jpg

May 19th was the date of my third visit.
A very early start. 01:30, to be precise. Yep, I am mad.
A beautiful clear night, and light winds. This would change as the day progressed – gales were forecast past noon. I always forget (living in the city) how clear the milky way can be seen out in the countryside away from light pollution. Even in this shot, light pollution is evident.
The planet Jupiter and (I can make out four) some of it’s moons above Keadeen mountain.
Jupiter copy.jpg

05:00 , twenty minutes before sunrise just below the final push up to Lugnaquilla. Yep, a nice rock formation!
Rock copy.jpg

First light over Keadeen.
Streaky clouds in the sky like this can be indicative of high winds in the upper atmosphere.
Keadeen copy.jpg

The first rays of sunlight strike the North Prison cliffs not long after sunrise.
Sunrise copy.jpg

Already starting to get windy now, glad I brought my windproof jacket (not optional in Wicklow!). The forecast for the day was warm, with clear skies in the morning but increasing cloud and wind by noon. I had intended to be off the mountain by that time anyway – due to my 01:30 am start!
Climbing up beside the North Prison, I had no real targets in mind this day. I just wanted to visit Lugnaquilla. I reached the summit just after 06:00, 41 minutes after sunrise. Somewhat surprisingly, I was the only one here! <joke>.

I decided to potter about near Lugcoolmeen, to over look the great cliffs of the South Prison.
South Prison copy.jpg

It was here, that I decided it might be a good idea to check out the great gully, labelled ‘The Big Troch’ on my map. Some scrambling awaited!

Winds picking up already, and it’s only 08:00. The beginnings of what appear to be lenticular clouds forming above Lugcoolmeen.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

The direction finder on the summit of Lugnaquilla.
Direction Finder copy.jpg

To find the gully from here, the summit – is not that hard actually, though most visitors to the mountain never see it. Head south, gently descending until you meet a large granite outcrop. From here, strike out south east and the ground starts to descend steeply. The gully will be clear in front of you. This is a dangerous area, the ground is exceedingly steep and falls away abruptly. Care required and bring a map, always.Gully copy.jpg

A wider view of the gully, showing some nice context.
Gully 20 copy.jpg

I wanted to do some detail shots of the gully, using my Zeiss 100mm, but this meant doing a small bit of scrambling so I took this shot as a precautionary warning.
It’s called “Don’t Slip!”.
Don't slip copy.jpg

Lovely rocks.
Gully 100 copy.jpg

I loved this formation.
Gully 35 copy.jpg

Getting very hazy now, and super windy. It felt strange, contemplating the walk back to the car at only 10:00. but it must be remembered, I started the walk before 03:00 am!

Heading back to my descent route beside the North Prison now, yep – this means climbing back up Lug to head down the other side. Easier than the alternative, which would be to contour around the southern slope itself. This is covered with small mica-schist rocks and progress can be slow and awkward (I found this out the hard way, of course).
Very hazy now, long range photographs are not going to work at all now – as the below shot of Glen Imaal demonstrates.
Sugar Loaf copy.jpg

A final glance over to Lugnaquilla (as usual) from the top of Camara Hill, taken at 12:20 noon. It did feel strange to be leaving so early but at this stage I had spent 9 hours out here and still had an hour or so to go!
Lugnaquilla copy.jpg

This shot is interesting because it shows a large part of the journey between Camara Hill (behind me, not in photo) and Lower Corrig, Upper Corrig and Lugnaquilla itself – along with the rough track that expires at the top of Lugnaquilla (when you are likely to need it most in fog!).

Another hot day, another 22.32 kms!

So, see you in two weeks, Lugnaquilla?

Thank you for reading!

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A White Lugnaquilla – Episode II

Ah!
The long awaited sequel (long awaited by me, that is!) to my earlier post – A White Lugnaquilla.
I’ve often said that Lugnaquilla is a hill in summer, but a mountain in winter – and I still maintain this view.
I am not going to lie, I found this day tough, it was very cold (high of -4°C, low of -8°C : not including wind chill), I was carrying a lot of gear and I was SUPER tired that morning!
For the last few weeks, there has been a reasonable amount of snow at Lugnaquilla – but the weather has been pretty poor on the weekends (nice in the week when I was at work of course!) and hill fog was the order of the day, until finally – a break!
High clouds were forecast, but few low clouds – I was not worried about overcast skies, but I was not interested in hill fog (low clouds).

So, taking my usual route – up Camara Hill, past the two Corrigs then up and onto Lug itself. A 05:00 start meant that I would have a reasonable amount of time on the mountains (sunrise was 08:30 and sunset 16:06). I think I got home (from memory) at around 18:30. A long day.
A route I have taken many times, and will take many more times – I love this route. It’s a constant climb all the way to the top, and I almost always see multiple herds of deer en route. There are many other route choices of course, and I have taken them all (except the technical ones) – but with this route you can usually drive to the start point regardless of the weather – the other routes require driving on the mountain roads. These roads are not treated in winter, and the typical advice is to stay away from them if there is snow and ice about. I am a proficient driver but I do not own a 4X4, and even then – it would appear that using a 4X4 only really gets you ‘further into trouble’ when the mountain roads are impassable due to snow/ice. I don’t like risks, otherwise I would play the lottery.

Heading up Camara Hill on this morning was a tough old slog. Lots of snow about, some ice as well. I was also super tired, due to a lack of good sleep the night before. My Dad refers to this ascent as 25 minutes of purgatory, but on this occasion it was more like 45 minutes of purgatory! Slow going. I had not done a walk greater than 10 kilometres for a few weeks, and this was most certainly felt on the ascent!
Near the top of Camara Hill now, and a pause for a pre-dawn shot of Keadeen Mountain was welcome.
Keadeen copy.jpg

At this point, I was overtaken by a ‘Lug regular’ that I had met a few times before, Kevin, and his mate – Simon. They both had ice axes and were aiming for the North Prison of Lugnaquilla. We chatted for a while, and then they moved out with haste! I would not have been able to keep up with them by any means – but, I was carrying about 5 times the weight of their packs I suspect!

A wider angle shot of Keadeen, just below the summit of Camara Hill.
Keadeen 35 copy.jpg

The sun still not up yet, but I was under no illusions – the overcast skies meant there was not going to be a lot of colour as the sun rose. At this point, I did not know the ‘fog’ status of Lug yet, i.e. was it in fog or clear. I had not seen it yet because it is hidden as you climb Camara hill, and it was dark at the time I was at the viewing points of Lug prior to the climb of Camara.

Finally, at the top of Camara now, and the ‘fog’ status is revealed. Yep, it’s in fog. Not unusual! It’s always disappointing though – after the purgatory of Camara Hill. I had faith, however, that the fog would pass.
The sun is up now, though not much a sunrise due to the cloud cover. The ‘blue hour’ is over now.
Camara Summit copy.jpg

Here, I saw a herd of deer running northwards over the saddle between Camara Hill and Lower Corrig. I often see a herd (or several) here, always moving north – near dawn. I found it curious that they always head this direction – north from there takes you into the artillery range. I suppose there would be no humans there at least!Deer Herd II copy.jpg

Frozen grass tufts between Camara and Lower Corrig.
Tufts copy.jpg

Shortly after the above shot, I turned to see a familiar Border Collie about 50 meters away. Another couple of ‘lug regulars’ – Damian and his dog! I walked back towards him, thinking to myself that he probably doesn’t recognise me in my new jacket! We walked and chatted from there up through Lower Corrig, and then up to Upper Corrig. He (like Kevin & Simon) also had designs on the North Prison, and came equipped with his ice axe. A funny coincidence, the last time I was in this area (a few weeks ago) I met both Kevin and Damian separately on ascent and ended up descending Camara Hill with the pair of them. On this day, I mentioned to Damian that Kevin was in (or more correctly, en route to) the Prison, and Damian started looking for footprints in the snow to follow! Lug regulars indeed.

Looks like Lug might clear of fog after all.
Lug Fog copy.jpg

Continuing on the journey now, as Lug clears. Damian pointed out a herd of deer over on the slopes of Slievemaan mountain. Thanks mate! My longer lens was left at home unfortunately, but I like the image my Zeiss 100mm delivered here. Oh! For a 400mm lens! Perhaps I should take more risks, and start playing the lotto!
Deer Herd III copy.jpg

Damian & Dog parted ways with myself just after Upper Corrig – he wanted to drop over to the North Prison, and my route took me up a much gentler incline (no ice axe required) – though still a steep one.Damian copy.jpg

Pausing for a breather, and some breakfast (a banana and a piece of shortbread), I liked the arctic feel of the rocks.Arctic Corrig copy.jpg

So tired! I was really feeling this hike this day. Punishing.
But I must press on, it’s so beautiful.

The final slope up to Lug is always a tough pull. But this day, it was something else. About an hour of quadruple purgatory, I reckon.
Breath pause halfway up, and a shot over to Ballineddan & Keadeen. B & K copy.jpg

Further up now, and the climate is a touch more arctic.
Frozen Rocks copy.jpg

The jumbled mica-schist rocks that lie about the face of this slope tell a story of high winds and freeze thaw conditions the previous day.

Almost at the summit now, and much gentler work ahead. Looking back over to Slievemaan, Ballineddan and Keadeen again, higher this time!
Frozen Dice copy.jpg

No shortage of snow alright! Just how I like it.
A hazy and overcast day, but very light winds. A beautiful day really. You don’t always want blue skies in the mountains, after all.
This military post, however, shows signs of some serious winds on the previous days!
Frozen Post copy.jpg

At the summit now, well worth the hard work!Frozen Cairn copy.jpg

A hazy view down to Aughavannagh from near the summit.
Hazy Aughavannagh copy.jpg

As I sit here scrolling through my images, and type this blog – I am reminded of the cold on this day! I am freezing! But I did not feel cold on the day. I have good clothing.
Time to turn the heating on, I reckon.

Brrr…..
Brrr copy.jpg

The cliffs of Lugcoolmeen. It had started to get a bit foggy shortly after this, not unusual, and not a great surprise.
Lugcoolmeen copy.jpg

I sat here (in my ski trousers) and decided to have a nibble. Yum! Starbar! I love these. I only seem to buy them for my visits to Lug, however, and it has become a part of my ‘Lug ritual’ at this point. No Starbar, no Lug – and vice-versa. At a push, a Snickers or Double Decker will do, but Starbar is where it’s at.

The fog was thin, and short lived – it cleared up rapidly. Great news!
To get the following shot of the cliffs of the South Prison, I had to stand in a ‘less than safe’ place – but it was totally worth it.
Lugcoolmeen II copy.jpg

A similar comment applies to this shot (i.e. standing in a dodgy spot!).
Lugcoolmeen III copy.jpg

But then! Disaster struck! The great scholars of the future will write legends about the following event for millennia…
I went to open my rucksack using the ‘ease of access’ zip on the front of the pack, but the puller mechanism must have frozen so when I pulled to close the zipper (it of course, opened fine), the slider just disintegrated as I pulled it!
Great, now my bag is going to be open at the front for the rest of the day!
Ok, so they may not write about this event – but at the time it felt cataclysmic! I was now going to be worried about dropping things out of my pack for the rest of the day. Paranoid glances behind me for ‘lost luggage’ after every rough patch of terrain were ubiquitous after this!

Heading back towards the summit area now, not a busy day for Lugnaquilla, let me tell you. I saw only a handful of people this day.
I wanted to start my way back to the car now, but en route I chose to head over the North Prison, and descend the slope of Lugnaquilla hand railing it, in case the fog came down again. I know Lug well, so I know to never underestimate it.

Only a couple of hours until sunset now, and I didn’t relish the thought of descending the steep slope of Lug in the dark (although I was equipped for such an eventuality – always be prepared!).
I took another shot of the frozen post, I found this very interesting.
Frozen Post II copy.jpg

Above the North Prison now, and the sky is getting darker. It looks like there is some fog moving in actually. Chances of a whiteout are high (this happened to me last year – A White Lugnaquilla).
North Prison copy.jpg

I love winter.
Winter copy.jpg

Some fog did roll in again now, but it too was short lived.
Heading down now, hand railing the North Prison. The views here were great.
Selfie!
Brrr cop1y.jpg

Yes, it has been pointed out to me already that I look like a ‘minion’ from ‘Despicable me’. The thought actually never occurred to me! I did not go to fashion school, clearly.
Say what you like about them, but these clothes kept me warm! Bright clothes are generally a good idea when hiking, especially if alone.

Looking down to Glen Imaal.
Looking down to Glen Imaal copy.jpg

Less than an hour until sunset now, and I am nearly at the bottom of the final slope of Lugnaquilla. Mount Leinster is prominent beyond Slievemaan in this photograph.Mount Leinster copy.jpg

I also liked this scene, with the two walkers heading over to Upper Corrig as they continue their descent from Lugnaquilla.
Scale-2 copy.jpg

The frozen Little Slaney river just below the source. Gentle tones in the sky, as the sun dips lower.Little Slaney copy.jpg

I didn’t stop for photos as I descended to Camara Hill because there was a spot I wanted to get to during ‘blue hour’, after sunset – and before it got too dark. I had planned to get a shot of the deer as they leave the artillery range and head south over the Camara ridge. It was just an idea I had – I suspected that if they travel north over the ridge at dawn, then perhaps they might travel south over the ridge as night fell (I had never witnessed this before, though).

My suspicion was correct!
I do hope they are visible at this resolution, WordPress does not allow high resolution photographs to be uploaded (unless you pay). They are just down and left of centre, three small dark figures.
Deer Lug copy.jpg

Getting dark, and much colder as I took this final shot. Now, for the descent of Camara Hill, which I always dislike after a long (though wonderful) day at Lug!

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If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

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Camenabologue Via The Table Track

I have not visited Camenabologue for years, and never from this direction.
The last time I was here was way back on the 20th September, 2013. For that visit, I started from the valley of Glenmalure.
This time, I wanted to approach it from the Glen Imaal side, to see the views from the south western side of the mountain.

It’s one of the more remote spots in Wicklow, and I was expecting to see only a few die-hard walkers on this trip (my suspicions were correct! I saw only one group of four).

The weather forecast on the day was for calm winds and partly cloudy skies, with a chance of rain. So, in the hills of Wicklow – an almost certainty of rain!
The route started at a regular starting point of mine – Fenton’s Pub in the Glen of Imaal.
From here, I would walk a couple of kilometres on the road, past the entrance to Leitrim Graveyard, and the ruins of Leitrim Barracks and up to the forest track at “Tim’s Crossroad” – a crossroad near the Knickeen Ogham Stone of Imaal. You can see more information about this area on my post about a hike to Knocknamunnion. I would be following the same journey for the most part, but I would be going much further this day – following the Table Track up and on to Camenabologue itself.

This route is one of only two approved routes near/within the Glen of Imaal Army Artillery range (the other route being the route up Camara Hill to Lugnaquilla – one I know very well!), so it’s best to check in with the warden office before planning to take this route. And of course, it cannot be done when the army are using the range.

Camenabologue ( ‘step/pass of the bullocks’) rests in a magnificent area, an area I am very familiar with and find fascinating personally. Camenabologue forms one of the high walls that cut off Glen Imaal from its neighbouring valley – Glenmalure.

A short walk down from the pub, at Seskin Bridge (passing over the river Slaney), the first view over to Lugnaquilla presented itself. In fog – not unusual for a September morning!
Lug from Seskin Bridge copy.jpg

Autumn is just about here now in Wicklow, the leaves are turning all sorts of hues of gold and yellow but have not yet fallen at the time of this walk – but I am fairly sure the next winds will start to bring them down in earnest.
Seskin Road copy.jpg

Moving beyond the crossroads now, I took a short detour into the forest to take a quick snap of the Ogham Stone. This stone stands about 8 feet high, with an Ogham inscription reading “Maqi Nili” – I think this translates approximately to ‘Of the son of Neill/Niall’. Ogham is an ancient British and Irish alphabet, consisting of twenty characters formed by parallel strokes on either side of or across a continuous line.
Ogham copy.jpg

Leaving the stone now, there are a couple of kilometres to walk on forest tracks now, until we reach the first of two (rather rugged and worn) wooden footbridges.
From the forest track here, an interesting perspective of Lugnaquilla can be obtained. I used the equivalent of a 300mm lens for this long range shot of the cliffs of the north prison. A cloudy day, alright.
Lug from forest track copy.jpg

After these bridges, a steep (though short) climb up the northern flank of Knocknamunnion brings you out onto open hillside.
At a junction in the trail at Knocknamunnion, you are reminded not to stray from the approved route.
Stay on route copy.jpg

As the day unfolded, the weather showed small chances of hope in the form of clearing skies. However, it was drizzling over the Glen of Imaal as I climbed up the table track at Knocknamunnion. The view here is very pleasing, even in such gloomy conditions.
Drizzle Imaal copy.jpg

The table track itself is an ancient path that connects the valleys Glenmalure and Glen of Imaal. The name ‘Table Track’ I assume comes from the fact that the path gives easy access to ‘Table Mountain’ – the nearest northerly neighbour of my target for the day (Camenabologue being my target).
I have also heard of the track being known as the ‘Black-Banks Road’ – presumably the black banks referring to the large black peat hags at the top of the road. I also read somewhere that J.B. Malone referred to this track as ‘The Stony Road To Imaal’. I can understand why – further up the track, the terrain gets a bit rougher and comprises of mostly stones and wet peat. Here, it is nice soft grass though. Look! The sun came out!
Table Track copy.jpg

Climbing higher now, and I have two choices. There is a junction in the track. I can head left and take the longer, less arduous approach to the high point of the track (between Table Mountain and Camenabologue itself), or I can take the stonier, steeper but more direct approach to the high point. Naturally, I chose the latter. I think the latter is probably known as the ‘Stoney Road’ and the former may just be a continuation of the Table Track itself.
As I reach the col between the two mountains, the name ‘Black Banks Road’ struck me as being a rather obvious choice for the track name. Place names in Wicklow often are purely descriptive as opposed to imaginative, it could perhaps be argued!
Black Banks c.jpg

Mullaghcleevaun looms beyond at left, and Tonelagee at right – Wicklow’s second and third highest mountains.
Looking north at the col between Table Mountain and Camenabologue, here is the ‘dog leg’ track that I opted to skip in favour of the slightly more arduous approach. I love the yellows here at this time of year.Table Track Elbow copy.jpg

From here, the summit of Camenabologue is only a short distance to the south, so on I went.
As I ascend higher, the sky is gaining an almost chrome-like, liquid metal appearance. The weather in Ireland is very changeable, and swift in its transformation – blink and you’d miss it!
Heavy rain was forecast for the evening, and I did not particularly want to get caught out in it – a sense of foreboding arrived with these skies though.
Camenabologue Cairn copy.jpg

Beyond the cairn in the shot above, sits Cannow mountain and Lugnaquilla itself.
Also visible from here, using a long lens is Cloghernagh Mountain and the Peat hags of Benleagh.
Cloghernagh copy.jpg

The north-eastern slopes of Lugnaquilla, before they plunge down to Fraughan Rock Glen.
NE Lug copy.jpg

Thinking about heading back now – back the way I came. Quite a walk back and the sky looks increasingly threatening.

Back at the col between the two summits now, and I take a shot looking over to the partially forested Lobawn and the Wexford Gap. I liked the rebellious trees that (presumably are self planted) sat higher up the slopes and chose to grow away from the ordered plantations below.
Lobawn copy.jpg

Further down now, and it started to drizzle a bit. Also, Camenabologue itself became enshrouded with fog.
Back down the wet side of Knocknamunnion and crossing a footbridge, over Oiltiagh Brook, places you back at the Coillte forest track, near the start of the journey. Some of the forestry has been felled here, providing a nice view over to Lugnaquilla in this autumnal scene.
Lug Autumn-2 copy.jpg

Thank you for reading!

If you like what you see here please feel free to take a look at my portfolio site where you can see lots more of my work, or follow me on Twitter or Facebook here!

The images presented here are my intellectual property and must not be distributed without my consent.