Landscape Photography from The Dolomites

Updated: Feb 19

Finally, I'm getting around to sharing my images of The Dolomite mountains. Also known as the 'Italian Alps', the Dolomites sit at the North East of Italy, meeting the border with Austria. They've been popular with hikers and climbers for decades, and in recent years the secret reached landscape photographers, who now also flock there from all over Europe. What appealed to me about the Dolomites was the scale of the place; the huge characteristic rock formations rising high up above the valleys below.


Once again I was joined by friend/photographer/enabler Elliot Hook, who was equally keen to try a mountain location new to us. We decided to go in September to avoid the crowds of the summer while still having warm(ish) days, and before the weather makes things logistically prohibitive. We stayed in a combination of 'Rifugio' mountain huts (for access to mountain viewpoints at sunrise & sunset), and valley campsites (for flexibility, and to keep costs down).


I think there's a good mixture of styles and subjects here, so I'm pleased with that. I love dramatic mountain photos, but I also enjoy semi-anonymous mountain layers, and treescapes, and I managed to get a little of everything in this trip.

Mountain Vistas

First and foremost, the great thing about the Dolomites is the accessibility of relatively high-altitude viewpoints. I like to photograph mountains from all perspectives, but the opportunity to shoot across or down on summits of 2,000-3,000m+ is rarely as convenient as in the Dolomites.

These first few photos are from the Piz Boe mountain hut, which sits at 3,152m, and serves a good chocolate cake. There was snow at the summit during our visit, and the temperature was below freezing at sunrise. But the views were well worth it.

A massive 7-shot panorama of the mountains south, from Piz Boe in the Sella Massif.
Piz Boe Panorama
Mountain ridges at sunrise, Dolomites, Italy.
Dolomite Ridges

Looking East, amongst the layers of ridges you can see the popular Lagazuoi mountain hut (2,835m), where we also stayed a night.

The mountains of the Dolomite region, at dawn. Lagazuoi mountain hut is visible on the left
Dawn on Lagazuoi

Piz Boe was really fantastic as a view point, and we probably had our best light of the week on this sunrise.

The mountains of the Southern Dolomite region, as seen from Piz Boe mountain hut.
Dolomite View from Piz Boe

I couldn't quite get the angle I wanted on this ridge. The tough pale rock is so characteristic of the Dolomite region. But it really bothered me how the peak was neither comfortably above or below the horizon. As I manoeuvred myself around the small area of plateau available, this was the best angle of found. I took a few photos of this ridge, and this was my favourite because of the way the dawn light provides some separation from the background; alleviating the horizon problem to some degree.

A pointy ridgeline illustrating the characteristic rock of the Dolomite region.
Dolomite Rock

This is the Cadini di Misurina mountain range, visible from the Tre Cime area or, more often, Instagram. It's a striking and impressive sight, but we unfortunately didn't get the conditions to achieve the kind of Mordor-inspired shot for which it's famous.

Cadini di Misurina in what can only be described as disappointing conditions
Cadini di Misurina

I can't quite be sure which mountain this is, but it loomed over our campsite, and was the main background feature from Sella mountain pass.

Misty mountain view from Sella Pass.
Misty Dolomite Mountain

I like the anonymity of this shot. It could be anywhere, and it's not really of anything in particular - just a mood and an atmosphere only accessible from high in the mountains.

The pastel sky and cloudy layers seen from Lagazoui at sunset.
Cloudy Sunset - Lagazoui

At times the Dolomites can look like another planet entirely. I think both this shot, and the one above could easily be CGI backdrops in a Star Wars film.

The Dolomites can look like another planet entirely sometimes
Dolomites - Another Planet

In reality, all three are taken from the aforementioned Lagazoui hut. Below is a panorama featuring a few classic landmarks, taken in dramatic dawn light, and yet I think it's a bit of a mess. I don't even know why I'm including it here. I guess because it should be good. But the practicalities of achieving a balanced image when the sky is so interesting yet there's no direct light on the foreground, are so challenging it's very hard to make something of it. Maybe I'll revisit the processing of this one at some stage.

Panorama shot from Lagazoui. Fine Art Landscape Photography, Dolomites, Italy.
Lagazoui Panorama

Hmm. Another mess that I couldn't let go. I need to be a better editor. It's Monte Antelao, which is just a perfect mountain, looming over the Cortina valley. Again there's colour in the sky, and nothing on the foreground. Not a great photo. But a great view nonetheless.

The impressive pyramid mountain 'Antelao', which looms over the town of Cortina below.
Monte Antelao over Cortina d'Ampezzo

Ah, and this is the the reverse of the photo earlier, looking back at Piz Boe and the Sella Massif, from Lagazoui. A bit of an ugly sister, the view from it is considerably better than the view of it. But the light is interesting here.

Looking West to the Sella Massif and Piz Boe hut, from Lagazoui mountain hut
Piz Boe and Sella Massif

This is Marmolada; the highest mountain in the region. It's an interesting shape, but it's not an easy one to get a good angle on. This isn't the most dynamic composition, but the light makes it work - just about, I think.

Marmolada, the highest mountain in the region. Looking pretty awe-inspiring at sunrise
Marmolada Dawn

Trees

I was pleasantly surprised by how much forest area there was in the Dolomites. It makes a nice contrast to the brutal granite that would dominate without the welcome calm and familiarity of the trees.

A lone tree in Gardena Pass, against the characteristic granite rock of the Dolomite region
Gardena Tree #1

I took this one from our camp site. You can't get more convenient views than that. I really like it too. It looks simple at first, but I think it offers a lot aesthetically. Again it features the classic granite rock, with the forest unfolding below, offering a hint as to the scale of the mountain behind. As much as I enjoy being on a mountain top, this view feels more like my natural environment; surrounded by trees, with mountains emerging above.

A forested mountainside, contrasted with the towering granite wall behind.
Dolomite Forest #3

From here on in, we lose any external context, as I took the opportunity to add to my Only Trees collection of frame-filling treescapes.

Pine forest of the Dolomites region. Fine Art Landscape Photography, Dolomites, Italy.
Dolomite Forest #2
A treescape from a hillside in the Dolomites.
Forest Light
Morning mist rises from the forest, snaking through the valley like a river.
Misty Forest
The overlapping layers of pine forest, which is so characteristic of this part of Europe.
Misty Forest Layers

Scenic

No, I don't know what this category means either. But 'Scenic' sounds better than 'Miscellaneous'.

Pastel skies during sunrise. Looking West from the Sella Massif, towards the Austrian Alps
Dolomite Pastels

Above, the pastel skies, looking West from Piz Boe. Below, a rare opportunity to look down on the clouds, with some pinky pastels again.

Pastel colours and rolling clouds, in the Dolomites
Dawn Mountains

More misty layers here. For me, this view doesn't quite work. There's a bit of a gap in the middle of the frame. You might say that's the nature of valleys, but in this case there's plenty going on all around the frame, except in where should be the focal point. Maybe some views are best enjoyed without analysis.

Misty mountain layers, looking East at dawn, from Tre Cime.
Mountain Layers

Below, a misty morning in Gardena Pass.

Morning sunlight pours through a valley to illuminate the mountains behind.
Misty Mountain Light

Here Sella Pass does it's best impression of Yosemite.

Sella Pass, in the Dolomites, doing its best to look like Yosemite.
Sella Pass

This is not the kind of photo I'd normally take; It's daylight, and it contains buildings. But there's a quality about the light that I enjoy, and I keep coming back to it for the retro-postcard feel it has about it. It's lake Misurina, with the peaks of Tre Cime behind.

Lago di Misurina, with the towers of Tre Cime looming in the background.
Lago di Misurina

Closer up, this is a climber tackling the centre peak of Tre Cime. It's tricky to get a good perspective on these climbers. From this distance, you can't really get much of the rock formation in whilst also keeping the climber recognisably large enough in the frame. But if you move closer, you lose the angle and have to look upward. Anyway, I do kind of like this photo. And good on him for wearing blue trousers and a bright green helmet, to help him stand out from the beige rock.

A brave climber tackles the Tre Cime Peaks.
Climbing Tre Cime

Last photo from the Tre Cime area, and this was the sunrise we were treated to on our first morning. It's a classic (read 'unoriginal') view, from Lago Antorno, as we wanted something easy on our first morning. I sometimes feel like the colours are a bit OTT here, but this is what it was like. A pretty epic welcome to the Dolomites.

Lago Antorno and Tre Cime at sunrise, on our first morning in the Dolomites. A classic shot and a great start to the week.
Lago Antorno Sunrise

Seceda

If you've used Instagram then you've probably seen Seceda. It's even signposted from the cable car with a little Instagram photo logo. So here's the classic view.

Seceda, shortly before the cloud came in to obscure the view.
Seceda Blues

And here's something vaguely different, from this very popular landmark.

Seceda Grasses
Seceda Grasses

To the right of the crumpled cliffs themselves is a little 'Mini Seceda', which I quite enjoyed. This is a close-up, but it features in some of the wider views I took too.

These rocks are probably enormous, but compared to the scale of Seceda, they seemed tiny.
Mini Seceda

The next morning, we were treated to a cloud inversion, and pretty much the dream shooting conditions (aside from the cold).

Seceda mountian rangue during twilight.
Seceda Twilight #2

As it warmed up the cloud would roll over the top of the cliffs, catching the sun on it's way.

Cloud blows over the peaks of Seceda, shortly after sunrise
Seceda Mist

Now come the two photos which have single-handedly delayed this blog post by 2-3 months. In these perfect conditions, I took some photos I'm really happy with. But I found all the direct light very hard to handle in post-processing, combined with the other features in this landscape. It's taken me ages to find a balance I'm happy with.

The Seceda mountain range, at dawn.
Seceda Dawn

As the sun finally made it over the horizon, this was my most memorable photo of the trip.

Seceda mountain range at sunrise. Fine Art Landscape Photography, Dolomites, Italy.
Seceda Sunrise

I think I'll be tweaking the processing of this shot for years to come, such is the scope and difficulty of the job. But I do like this one.

Reflections on the Dolomites

Looking back I'm reasonably happy with this collection of photos, I think. As usual, I followed the classic mindset:

  • Over-optimistic about the opportunities ahead of time.

  • Reasonably happy with my photos as I was taking them.

  • Disappointed in them when I got home.

  • But happy again a couple of months later, having reduced the set down to just the highlights.

As I mentioned during the post, there are some in there that I'll revisit in Lightroom in the future. There's a lot of scope and dynamic range available in a few of them, and in many ways I find that amount of choice a little paralysing. More than in previous trips, I found these photos influenced by the sometimes-garish aesthetic of Instagram, which is something I'd rather avoid. I've tried to process most of them in a way which is faithful to my memory of the scene, and hopefully more grounded in reality.

Overall, the Dolomites lived up to the hype. It's really something of a playground for landscape photographers. So many locations are just a short drive from each other, with a range of landscapes available from the subtle to the Seceda. There's a good choice of accommodation, from hotels and B&Bs, to campsites and mountain huts. And all very accessible, with great food around every corner. I'd like to visit in winter sometime, I think.


-

George

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