Having spent time in the Dolomites in December and January before I was prepared for bitingly cold days, knee deep snow and beautiful winter scenes. On this occasion however we were met with 10 degree warmth and very little snow in sight (other than the pumped variety on the slopes).
However, this area is beautiful walking country and we took to the local pathways in search of great light and great views. It's true to say though that this trip was not just a photographic jaunt but also a family holiday. Often in my experience the two things don't always go hand-in-hand. If I'm on location alone I would normally get out very early, often with only a loose plan for the day that would vary depending on the light and weather. This may include hours of walking, hours of sitting still in a favoured location waiting for the light to develop or sometimes moments of rest usually in a car or on a bench juggling the pros and cons of where to go next. Suffice to say it's difficult to 'sell' this sort of day to a non-photographer family member who may be on holiday with you. After all most people don't like to stand around watching someone else stand around watching the sky!
So, rather than heap expectation onto the trip I try to just reduce my goals and treat it as a holiday first and carry only light gear with me. On this occasion instead of taking Camera body, 3 lenses, heavy tripod etc I took just the camera with 1 lens and a lighter tripod. Of course this can limit your choice of composition but sometimes it can also free you to travel further and also force you to be more creative when viewing a scene and only having 1 lens to make the most of it.
I've visited this same area a few times now both in Summer and Winter but this was photographically a strange mix of the two. Often we had clear blue skies and sunshine but with none of the grass, flowers and 'feel' of Spring or Summer. Instead it was the darker more muted colours of an Autumn that had well and truly passed but had not yet been covered in the cloak of Winter.
Bearing in mind the often cloudless blue skies and the fact that most of my time outdoors was in 'normal' daylight hours I found it often beneficial to avoid large parts of the sky in the compositions. Looking for shapes and balance in the images was a more important exercise for me and proved a good way to combat the conditions.
The impressive peaks in this area make for excellent views, both of the wider sweeping vistas and also the more intimate scenes. Commonly these simplified views are becoming more of a feature in my work, and it can be seen above where I spotted this lone tree being illuminated in the last light of the late afternoon. Deep in the valley below this final kiss of light onto the hulking mass of rock signaled the end of another short day of light tucked behind these massive peaks.
The woodland in this area is managed by the local people, commonly used as a resource for fires, building and more, the treeline also provides a modicum of protection from the crumbling rocks and when winter really comes it can also provide a barrier against snow fall or possibly avalanche although from what I read this is of limited use. Suffice to say this alpine style woodland is very dense and often as this treeline meets an area that has been cleared you see the contrast above between the tightly packed trees and a sudden open space that feels a little unusual. Due to the very high peaks surrounding some of these woodland areas and the tightly packed nature of the trees, you often see areas of snow that cling on for weeks due to the lack of sunlight actually able to reach them.
One of the most eye catching elements of this particular area and indeed the Dolomites in general is the jagged nature of the rock. This area once formed part of a seabed some 240 million years ago and the area is known globally for it's amazing geological importance.
“These mountains, whose peaks rise above the reign of the clouds […] are made up of different species of rocks. The basements, the thickness of which varies, incline differently, bringing them closer or further away from a vertical position, nevertheless directed towards a central point. Their prolongation leads to the formation of sharp points, broken crests and jagged angles that characterise and indicate from afar mountains known as primitive […]”.
This excerpt is from a letter written in 1791 by Dolomieu - the scientist after whom these mountains are named.
In more recent years, and with seemingly increasing temperatures, the progressive cycles of freezing and thawing of the ice in these mountains throughout the Winter and Summer have created a greater tendency for portions of rock to detach and eventually break off, thus leading to the collapse of certain peaks and sections.
No doubt this area is beautiful and impressive in its size and grandeur but like everything on this planet it's also transitory and temporary, one wonders just how the rising temperatures will continue to affect and change these geographically historic areas of our earth, and what affect that will have on the local community.