Behind the Camera: ‘Nuclear Powered’ – Cemlyn Bay, Anglesey


Isn’t it funny how there are cool places right on your doorstep that you’ve never visited? This is how I felt when I ventured to Cemlyn Bay on the north-west coast of Anglesey the other day. Here was a place about 30 minutes away from where I live that I knew existed, drove past regularly, but that I had never actually been to.

Cemlyn Bay is an odd place.  You have a bay, a lagoon, a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a nuclear power station all grouped cozily together.  My initial visit was during the daytime, but the mix of nature and nuclear physics intrigued me, as it’s a pretty diverse use of the land. Land use is a sensitive topic – as a photographer I’ve come to the conclusion that there are people who don’t like power stations, others who don’t like wind turbines, others that don’t like pylons, but they all like being able to plug stuff in and make it work at the flick of a switch. There is currently strong opposition in the area to the building of a new power station next to this one.

I had a crazy idea that it would be a good place for night photography. Maybe some star trails over the power station.

With Lyrid meteors were supposedly in the air and signs pointing to possible auroral activity, I returned with Kat a few nights later with the idea of a night shoot.

Going anywhere for the first time is always a gamble, especially at night. I’d sort of thought that the nuclear power station would make for unusual background interest to a night shot, but I’d underestimated in the daylight how bright the place would be at night. I suppose there’s no shortage of electricity there! The site was less than a mile away from me, and it was as night sky friendly as a major city.

After a few test shots I ascertained that I could capture stars despite all the artificial lighting, but it was a balancing act. Let in enough light to get the stars nice and bright and the power station became a featureless mass of light. Go the other way and meter for the power station, and the stars winked out of existence.

In the end I decided that I would take separate exposures, metering for the power station in one and everything else in the other. A 5 second exposure at F8 and ISO 1600 gave me a good shot of the power station, while a 30 second exposure at F2.5 and ISO 1250 gave me good stars and let me catch some meteors. I helped the foreground pop a little more with a splash from my LED flashlight. I shot a bunch of sky shots and picked the best one – the one with the shooting star – and blended it with the power station shot manually using Photoshop.

By the way, I’m not convinced that the meteor I caught is a Lyrid (which peaks on the night of April 22/23) as it’s not at the right angle to the radiant point for the Lyrids, but something made a fiery entry through the atmosphere at just the right time!

Oh, and the sky and water DOESN’T glow green around this area! It’s in fact yellow, thanks to the intense lighting, but I thought green gave it a NU-CLE-AR feel! This effect I pulled off with a little split toning in Lightroom. Sure, not the most politically correct effect to apply, but I like it.

On the way back from taking this shot I came across Britain’s Civil Nuclear Constabulary, an armed branch of the police force who protect these sites. I must have drawn attention to myself, probably with the light painting! 😉 All was cool though, and it’s good to know they are keeping a watchful eye on things.

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