Viewpoints - Symonds Yat

The River Wye has to be one of the most beautiful rivers in Britain.  The lower valley meanders in sweeping curves along the border of England and Wales and is designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest.  Because the hills surrounding the lower valley are heavily wooded, it is difficult to get an elevated viewpoint of the winding river.  In one or two places however, large limestone outcrops stand proud of the tree line affording spectacular views of the canopy and river valley below.  By far the best and most famous of these is Symonds Yat Rock.

I had been to the viewpoint at Symonds Yat Rock several times to try and capture the magnificent vista there. Once or twice I had been rewarded with an atmospheric veil of mist or a glorious sunrise that made for great pictures, but I felt I was falling short of capturing the vastness of this view as I experienced it in person. 

The problem was that the great sweeping bend of the River Wye below was slightly too wide to capture on a 17mm lens, which was the widest lens I owned.  I suspect even if I had a 15mm lens, I would have failed to make a satisfactory picture, as I would have found it difficult not to include all the unsightly brickwork at the viewpoint in the foreground of the photo.  On my previous visits, I had settled for a composition that showed just the stretch of river to the left, winding its way into the distance.  However, one morning last Autumn I returned and this time I had a new technique up my sleeve.

I had been experimenting with panorama stitching software and had some success stitching together multiple frames using Pano Tools Assembler.  It was just the thing for this situation allowing me to take three separate frames covering the wide angle of view and stitching them together to make one panoramic image with the whole bend of the river in it.  To make things a little more complex though, I decided I wanted to capture the scene at the moment the rising sun appeared on the horizon.  This would be pushing the stitching technique to the limit because I would need to take two different exposures of each frame, one for the sky and one for the foreground.  I couldn’t risk using a graduated filter to balance the exposure whilst shooting directly into the sun for fear of excessive lens flare.

In situations like this, planning and preparation are essential as the perfect moment would only last about a minute.  It was an early start from my home in Bristol to make sure I was in position well before sunrise.  I set up my tripod so that the head was level and practiced panning through the view to make sure the horizon was straight.  As the sun appeared, I took two exposures of the left of the scene, one at 1/20s for the sky and one at 1s for the foreground.  I then panned right and repeated the process for the middle of the scene and again for the right of the scene.  It was all over for now because the sun had risen too high in the sky and was causing too much flare.

Although it took me a while at the computer to merge the two exposures in each frame and then to stitch the three frames together, I was very pleased with the result.  There was a time when so much computer involvement would have made me nervous that I was compromising the authenticity of the photograph.  In this case however, it is because of clever digital technology that I have been able to capture an image so close to the experience of being there in person. 

Symonds Yat

Canon 5D, 17-40mm lens at 19mm, ISO 100, 1/20sec for sky and 1s for foreground at f/16, tripod, cable release.


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