Visit this spectacular waterfall in late summer or early autumn, when it’s at its very best, says Jeremy Walker
Sgwd yr Eira is located on the southern side of the Brecon Beacons National Park in South Wales, along the river Afon Hepste. It’s the most spectacular waterfall in the area and the one you can walk behind, but is also one of the more remote.
The closest parking is at Penderyn, on Chapel Road off the A4059. A footpath leads across fields and into the gorge. The other option is the car park at Pen-y-Porth. It’s a longer walk but you’ll pass other waterfalls along the way.
Time of year
From late summer onwards you are more likely to have the place to yourself. You’ll still have the pleasant green foliage of the surrounding woodlands, with a hint of early autumn.
Time of day
Overcast and cloudy will give you low-contrast, soft, shadowless light that’s ideal for shooting a waterfall in a gorge. The valley runs in roughly an east-west direction at the falls, so there is potential for late afternoon sunlight on the falls – perfect if you want to shoot through the curtain of water into the light.
To make the most of the location, spend time having a look around and exploring the paths that lead off from the river for views back to the waterfall. Walk along the river bank and look for a long-lens view of the falls as this can sometimes be better than a close-up wideangle shot, especially if you incorporate branches and leaves to frame the main subject.
As you will have a long walk to the falls, take the minimum amount of kit – a body and 24-70mm and 70-200mm will cover 99% of the images and angles you see. Do take a tripod and cable release, as this is a great location for using Big Stopper-type filters for lengthening exposures and blurring the water.
Apart from a Big Stopper long-exposure type of filter, you should also carry a circular polariser for shooting leaves and water. This has several uses, but its main one is removing unwanted reflections from the water as well as the reflective sheen from the foliage, caused by the sky or clouds. It will help to bring out and emphasise the colour and contrast of the scene.
Food and lodging
A quick snack before or after your walk may be hard to come by, so take plenty of water, energy foods and a flask with a hot drink.
When shooting in the area I have always made my base in Brecon, which is about 10 miles to the north. Brecon is a major tourist destination and is well served with bars, restaurants and accommodation ranging from hotels to B&Bs. The Coach House on Orchard Street attracts good reviews.
Without a shadow of a doubt you will need a tripod – a reasonable one that is not too flimsy. It’ll be useful not only for long exposures and heavy lenses, but also when you are shooting in the water, as it gives you something to hold on to!
Lee Filters’ neutral-density filters are good for creating long exposures and blurring the water for creative effect. Filters such as the Big Stopper will allow you to increase the shutter speed by 10 stops so that anything that moves – water, clouds and leaves blowing in the wind – will become blurred.
These may not be fun for walking long distances but are worth it once you are at the river. Being able to wade into the water to get an otherwise unobtainable angle or view will be worth the hassle. If you need new wellies, go for the neoprene-lined ones as they are warmer when you are standing in the cold river water.
Jeremy Walker is an award-winning professional photographer who works for advertising, editorial and design clients around the world. Find out more about Jeremy at www.jeremywalker.co.uk.