Capturing life through a lens - KATH SKELLON talks to the keen amateur photographers of Gwent.

THE striking image of Ebbw Vale town clock in the early hours of the morning and The Guardian sculpture towering over the former Six Bells Colliery site are among the thousands of images taken by keen photographer Alan Coles.

Mr Coles,55, of Ebbw Vale, is a member of Ebbw Vale Camera Club where he has been named photographer of the year in two out of three years.

“It was through my love of walking around Wales that I first picked up a camera to take photographs of the landscape,” said the father-of-two.

“It started with a small point and shoot camera and developed from there. With landscapes like the Brecon Beacons on my doorstep it is a location that anyone would envy. I also love photographing garden birds and have a great selection coming in to feed although I have been having a break from this type of photography while trying other stuff.”

His other passion is seascapes.

He said: “With the Welsh coast just an hour or so away, quick trips to the coast for sunrises and sunsets are never far away. I generally persuade my wife to come out for a drive on the weekends and after a spot of lunch somewhere we end up near the sea. She is happy enough to sit in the car with her Kindle while I search out the beaches.”

Mr Coles’ passion has taken him as far as Mulhacen- the highest mountain in southern mainland Spain as well as Scotland and Cornwall, but he cites his favourite place as the Welsh coast.

He said: “I was was born in Abertillery and love the Valleys.”

“As a kid I used to walk the hills and then 20 years ago I started walking again. Photography has been a big hobby of mine for the past five or six years and with a landscape like this around here, the views are fantastic.”

An image that captures Ebbw Vale features the town clock in a deserted town centre in the early hours of the morning.

Entitled ‘Just After Five’, the retired steelworker said it was one of the occasions when everything came together.

“You can rarely photograph the town centre where there are no people around but I got into such a position I could get the five round bollards in at the same moment the clock was at five past five.”

Such is his dedication that he waited patiently for two hours for the mist to clear to get the shot of the guardian sculpture at the former Six Bells Colliery site.

“It was taken on Boxing Day and I spent two hours waiting for the low-lying mist to clear enough to get the shot,” he explained.

“You just want to share that view with people.”

It’s a nice hobby to have and enjoyable when you take a photo that someone also enjoys.”

Mr Coles’ camera collection includes a Canon 50D which he uses to photograph birds as well as a Canon 5D3 for his landscape shots.

Among his photography accolades he recently won Best Nature photographer in the Welsh International Salon and a silver medal in the Scottish International.

In his four years at the club he has been named photographer of the year on two occasions and is also the club’s secretary.

Three times named photographer of the year at the club is Gary Howells,49, of Ebbw Vale.

As one of the most experienced members of the club Mr Howells took up the hobby as a teenager.

The Civil Servant, who has been a member of Ebbw Vale Camera Club for 25 years and is a committee member, said he began taking photographs as a teenager and has always enjoyed using wildlife as his subject.

He said: “I began taking photos with an instant Polaroid when I was about 15.”

“I would go up the mountain taking photos and even sneaked my camera into school.”

“I used to use my mum’s bathroom as a dark room to process my photographs and just progressed over the years.”

“I am an all-rounder. I love wildlife and also wondering into the village on holiday and photographing people, such as an elderly villager I came across when I was in Marmaris, Turkey. It’s fascinating to see people in their natural environment.”

His work has been published in a national photography magazine and has also featured in the BBC’s Countryfile calendar. Last year he was approached to have one of his images of a nest of skylark chicks featured in an exhibition in Russia and was asked again this year with an image of the interior of Gloucester Cathedral.

In 2011 he was named winner of Blaenau Gwent’s SNAP awards for his emerald damselfly, which recognise amateur wildlife and nature photographers.

“I particularly like the wildlife and insects. It’s surprising what you can discover locally,” said the father-of-two.

“There are an awful lot of ponds in Ebbw Vale and people do not realise what is there. I recently found a really rare dragonfly in Ebbw Vale.”

Mr Howells’ love of wildlife shows through in his work in macro. Add this to his award-winning portrait and landscape work and it is easy to see why he is the inspiration to those who know him.

Ebbw Vale Camera Club has around 25 members, ranging from age 18 to in their 70s. The club has had success in competitions and individual members have also been successful in UK and international competitions.

The yearly programme includes competitions between members, guest speakers, tutorial and practical evenings. This can be still life, portrait shoots or swapping tips and tricks for getting better shots.

Members meet on a Friday night between 7pm and 9pm at Ebbw Vale Learning Centre.