Photo Marathon in the Welsh Valleys

Last weekend I took part in the Rhondda Cynon Taf Photo Marathon. For those of you not familiar with the place, it encompasses a few glorious southern Welsh Valleys, which grew towns to support the local coal mines. Thatcher put paid to the industry and the valley towns have struggled ever since.

The photo marathon was in its fourth year and participants were able to create their twelve photos of twelve subjects, over twenty-four hours anywhere in the world. The competition is organised by father and daughter team Alan and Gaby, who are local to the area.

The first four subjects were issued at 10am and were: Open, Look Down, Three and Man Made. I started in Swansea and I had the creative support of Dinah and Mabel. Help is most welcome for ideas, inspiration and semi-willing models. Here are my first four topic photos.


We had the idea for Open wandering down to the park to walk the dog. Having an idea and executing it is the challenge of all photo marathons and when you’re working with a dog this is doubly so. The plan was for Dinah to hold Mabel’s ball above me and for Mabel to look up with her mouth open. Easy huh? Nope. She barked, moved, looked the wrong way and insisted on it being thrown. Models! Eventually, when she was hot, tired and panting she produced the pose you see here. Result.

Look Down

Lower down in Clyne Gardens is a short tower. When I saw the topic title I thought we’d give it a look down, from its not so lofty heights. This time I was more adventurous and opted for two models. They actually behaved pretty well, but other touring locals also wished to ascend the tower, and often got in the shot. Patience Lee.


The idea of using these participants from our Christmas Nativity scene was Dinah’s. I imagined using a beach to create the impression of a desert scene, it only remained to find the right location. This was created on Swansea Bay beach, in the sand dunes, by carefully choosing a scene that didn’t have any grass in shot. All that remained then was to arrange the kings as if they were travelling towards the viewer, across the desert, and to wait for some sunshine.

Man Made

I struggled with this one. Ideas about floaters were poo-pooed, as was visual commentary on the environment. Time pressure to complete before the next set of topics came in created this idea. I liked the idea of using a macro lens and creating a close up of the insides of a plug. First I had to find one I could take apart, so many are designed as one piece nowadays. The result speaks of one our greatest inventions, a game changer and yet is simple in composition.

A few minutes later the next four topics came in. Despite having twenty-four hours to complete I had resolved to attempt in completion in twelve hours. The morning would just be too pressured if there were a few topic photos still to create. The second four were: We’re all in this together, Green, Frame it and Pattern. Here they are.

We’re all in this together

Once upon a time there was a Cardiff photo marathon. They had this topic too. I do believe that I went in to a pet shop and took a close up of a very full fish tank. It was very colourful! This time, we sacked the dog and attempted to line up two mirrors opposite each other to create infinite version of Dinah and I. The wind blew one of the mirrors over and a new creation was born.


Something environmental was always going to be the intention for Green. Maybe many other participants would follow. There were also bound to be others who used the colour. I decided to do both when Dinah flourished our recycling bags under my nose. My macro lens was combined with a wide aperture to create the green blur of grass and focus on the words printed on the bags.

Frame it

As soon as we read this the topic title Frame it, we were always going to use our round window. It’s one of Mabel’s favourite look outs and against the blue background creates a graphic image. The only problem was getting the dog in place and the bright sunlight behind me. I was perched on a step ladder, on the lawn outside, facing the window. My ambition was to frame Dinah in one quarter and the dog in another. Dinah was well behaved. Mabel was more of a fidget. Eventually, we succeeded and the frame was also dead centre to create a symmetrical composition.


The simpler the topic, the more challenging it is. We discussed dozens of alternative ideas, tried a few, but nothing was graphic or imaginative enough. I had the idea to create a multiple exposure in camera, and was stood by the kitchen window when I looked down. The sun was creating a lovely shadow of a wine glass on the white top. I set the camera in Additive mode, lowered the exposure and chose an extreme red white balance. The second layer was yellow and the third blue. After a few attempts I was happy. If you would like more about the techniques used take a look at my videos.

It was quarter to five, time to drop the dog off. We were combining the photo marathon with Dinah’s Mum’s birthday. She actually lives in the Rhondda and I had hoped to create all of the photos up there, but dog sitting arrangements changed. Friends stepped in, when others had changed their plans, and agreed to look after the crazy hound. The first time she had stayed with them. Brave! We dropped the dog and scooted up the M4, arriving just after the final four topics dropped: Home, Surprise us, Less is more and Closed.


This was Ann’s (Dinah’s mum) idea. She has had a hedgehog hotel in the garden for several years. It used to be well frequented, but was unfortunately vacant this Spring. Instead a ceramic version was produced and used. All that was required was some tight framing. Simple and effective I felt.

Surprise us

By now I was a little tired. Nine hours of creative endeavour will do that. The topic Surprise us was wide open and called for an imaginative idea. Fortunately somebody came up with this suggestion. The Kiwi umbrella was unfurled and held up by Ron (Ann’s partner) to bite. I immediately saw the possibility of using his silhouette to create a more inventive image, and we moved to a location where that was possible. I’d already realised I would need to use some fill flash to light Ron’s face in the strong backlight. Only when I created the first few images did I realise that I also needed to move myself to create a less distracting background. I stood on a chair and we were away.

Less is more

Less is not more, let’s be honest. Especially where cake is concerned. However, Ron had made this fantastic lemon drizzle cake, it had to feature somehow. The idea was to cut a thin slice, but when faced with a whole cake Ron failed. More is more. It was delicious too.


By now I was exhausted and had drunk two beers. Inspiration was a distant cousin. When faced with the topic Closed others contributed. I can’t even remember who’s idea this was, but don’t they look hilarious? Not unlike League of Gentlemen! At least it was all done. All that remained was a little editing and to post the final images in the morning.

Well done Gaby and Al, what a great event. I highly recommend it. Maybe next year we’ll make it to the Rhondda. Don’t forget the Awards Night is Friday 30th August and the exhibition is open 2nd – 6th September. Both events are at The Factory, Porth, CF39 9PP.

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