I wanted to just post a blog about the recent tour I ran for Light & Land to the Dolomites in June 2019. It’s an area I know very well having made nearly 20 trips there in the past few years. I’ve been lucky enough to visit at various times of the year and along with deep winter, the early Summer is my favourite time.
The views on this trip start from your approach into Innsbruck on the plane. Nestled between the mountains, Innsbruck is a small but busy city of around 300,000 and it offers a very scenic route in on the flight path. I’d arrived a few days earlier so met up with the group at Innsbruck and we made the drive (also full of great views!) down into Italy and to our base in Colfosco.
Only 2 of the members of the group had visited the Dolomites before, one a number of times and the other just briefly some years back. For the other members of the group it was their first taste of this stunning area. The closer you get to Colfosco in the Alta Badia region, the more amazing the views get so there was lots of anticipation for the coming days of photography.
We arrived in the early evening at the hotel so after dropping the bags in our lavish rooms (also with amazing views!) we walked up the road to a small viewing point just to familiarise the group with our ‘home’ location. As is the case in new places there were lots of “oohs” and “aahs” as the sheer scale and jagged nature of the mountains became apparent up close and in the late evening light. However, we had a very early alarm call (4.10am) so it was soon off for dinner and bed.
The following days provided a variety of shooting scenarios. From early morning sunrise sessions, through to high altitude cable car rides and even some inner landscape detail shoots. I feel it’s important to pace the trip correctly, with ample time to explore each scenario and vista and really get to know the area.
During our first day we were treated to a stunning sunrise at Val Gardena, this spot is probably amongst the most well known on the trip. The near panoramic views make it ideal for sunrise and also sunset at certain times of the year. Our first morning was something of a gift and it really was one of those situations where you had to be fully attentive not only to what was happening in front of you but also to everything else around you. Having experienced a number of sunrises here I was happy to help prepare the group for where the light would be and when, then at the time it’s a case of working with each individual to help them craft something based on their vision and reaction to the scene.
Later that day we visited the Passo Pordoi cable car which takes you up over 3,000m to Sasso Pordoi for some simply stunning views of the surrounding Sella Group of mountains and the impressive Marmolada. Here we discussed how to deal with such grand scenes with seemingly never ending vistas. Learning how to distil the scene succinctly into a coherent collection of shapes, lines, light and form. Essentially it’s about really being selective about what is and isn’t in the frame. Usually you’ll need less than you think.
When the view stretches for miles in front of you, and if you’re at altitude looking across or down (as opposed to up at it) one strategy is to deploy the longest lens you have. This helps cut-out vast swathes of unnecessary visual ‘clutter’ and we talked about how in my opinion it’s sometimes important to compose differently when using longer lenses. It can be helpful to look for very bold, strong shapes and elements that split into 2 or 3 distinct groups.
In the image above you can see by just selecting a small segment of the mountainside we can still afford the frame some ‘space’ visually between the mountain and the clouds. Essentially this breaks the scene into 3 roughly triangular shapes, which in themselves offer some dynamism because of the angle and this matches the jagged nature of the rocks. Using Black & White in this scenario also helps deal with some of the haze you can experience at higher altitudes and more importantly it allows for a common relationship in colour/tonal weight between the mountain and clouds, the sky is also allowed to be essentially blank so as to not pull the eye and again to compliment another element, the snow. Essentially you are dealing with quite literally shades of Black & White!
Although this area is obviously well known for its huge mountain vistas, I did want to help the group explore their visual creativity by spending some time on the inner landscape. I’ve found a small but interesting area with a series of waterfalls and small rapids in a nearby mountain steam and so we spent a good couple of hours here exploring. The idea very much being that in these scenarios the image doesn’t always immediately present itself. There’s a couple of ‘obvious’ shots like there would be in the big vistas, but I really wanted to encourage the group to seek out and craft their own images using the flow, energy and shape within the water.
Sometimes you have to practice what you preach and so after making sure everyone was in full flow with their image making I took a few moments to shoot the image above. The aim of this location and indeed of making this image, and sharing it with the group, was to really encourage them to consider not only the obvious scenery when on a trip but also to consider the unseen.
During our Light & Land trips the aim is not only to give you a great few days experience in a location, but also to furnish you with the inspiration, skills and enthusiasm to go back to your own patch and create some unique images. Finding a small stream locally could afford you similar opportunities when you know how to look and how to start crafting well balanced images using energy and flow.
Throughout the next couple of days in Alta Badia we visited various wide vistas and some more intimate scenes within the valleys. I did just want to pick out one location in particular which is up at the Rifugio Lagazuoi above Passo Falzarego. This area (as seen above) offers spectacular panoramic views and we were lucky to have some interesting cloud and passing weather in our morning session here.
However, this place has a great deal of history to be considered, and I was delighted that we had booked a tour with local guide Andreas. Fully decked out in his Austrian WWII outfit, Andreas told us the full history of this particular mountain pass and some of the horrific events that had occurred here in WWII.
The Austrian troops had dominated early on because of their superior positions at the top of the mountain, but over a period of time the Italian troops tunnelled away and eventually ended up blowing a huge part of the mountain apart to try and break the Austrian position. This battle played out over many months and through a couple of cold, bitter winters during which they had record levels of snowfall. Our visit in early June saw some snow still on the ground and it was pretty chilly, you can’t begin to imagine months on end of freezing temperatures in clothing that is far below todays standards for insulation.
Knowing this history highlights the importance of looking beyond the stunning aesthetic nature of some of these locations. We discussed how as a photographer you might consider some of these stories to reflect or represent the location in a different way visually. In the image below for example, just imagine being a young 18/19 year old soldier, commonly from other parts of Italy, being stuck in this freezing cold, desolate feeling place. Days or weeks could go by in the Winter with no sight or sound of anything except these freezing peaks and the constant threat of gunfire or explosions.
My belief is that if you can start to connect to some part of a locations history either geographically or with human stories, there is a much higher chance of starting to create meaningful images that go beyond the ‘of’ and consider the ‘about’.
Throughout the next few days we carried on exploring the Alta Badia region. At this time of year there really is great variety in the shooting subjects and conditions as you can hopefully see from the small selection of images here in the blog. Even during mid morning and mid-afternoon there can be great light which really moulds and sculpts the rocky features of these mountains.
As we approached the final afternoon and evening of the tour we moved from our base in Colfosco to the Alpe di Siusi area. This area is the largest high-altidue alpine meadow in Europe. It’s become very well known due to its incredibly picturesque scenery and the fact that essentially it’s cut off to cars and through traffic. This creates a peaceful experience for you to explore on foot and using the provided bus service.
After arriving at our exceptional hotel in mid afternoon we headed out to explore this area. At this early summer time there are flowers in the fields and the grass is vividly green with great undulations in the fields.
After a pleasant afternoon strolling and picking out shapes, and moments of fleeting light in the landscape we headed back to base for refreshments and re-energising before the evening sunset shoot. I’ve been in this location a number of times, BUT I’ve never experienced the kind of sunset we were about to witness…
The early part of the evening saw some nice side light and because there was still some weather rolling around the peaks I could tell we might be in for something special. The group had been finessing their compositions and waiting patiently for a couple of hours. We’d had some good image making possibilities already and there was the odd murmur about dinner…however, I decided we should really hang on to not miss anything. As it happened we were then treated to a mad 15 minutes of passing light, rain and resulting rainbows that stretched out above the view in front of us.
As mentioned earlier in this blog, I’m one for seeking out images, looking in lesser known places and really trying to craft a scene using shape and flow. However, sometimes there’s nothing wrong at all with letting something incredible just unfold in front of you! Although we’d had some time to finesse compositions and preferences, when this light unfolds in front of you it’s easy to loose your calm! It’s in these moments it really pays to know your camera settings, know how a polariser can affect a rainbow, and have your framing ready. What’s most important though, is to sometimes look up from the camera and soak the scene in with your eyes, never let the frame get in the way of a life experience.
As you can imagine we headed back to the hotel on something of a high and we had a great final evening together praising our luck with the weather and also enthusing about this amazing part of the world.
We still had one final sunrise together and true to form for this trip, the weather delivered once again. After a rather tame start, the side light flooded across the meadows and lit up the side of the mountains. I find this is typical of how the Dolomites works, the final day is something of a tease, reminding you why it’s so important to come back again and enjoy this spectacular scenery…why not join me in 2020 on our next tour here! (More Info)
I’ll leave the final thoughts about the tour to one of the guests who kindly took the time to fill in some feedback. You can see all the reviews via the Feefo website.