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.
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.
Looking East, amongst the layers of ridges you can see the popular Lagazuoi mountain hut (2,835m), where we also stayed a night.
Piz Boe was really fantastic as a view point, and we probably had our best light of the week on this sunrise.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
This is a tighter shot, taken once the sun was up, creating a haze over the misty valley.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
No, I don't know what this category means either. But 'Scenic' sounds better than 'Miscellaneous'.
Above, the pastel skies, looking West from Piz Boe. Below, a rare opportunity to look down on the clouds, with some pinky pastels again.
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.
Below, a misty morning in Gardena Pass.
Here Sella Pass does it's best impression of Yosemite.
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.
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.
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.
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.
And here's something vaguely different, from this very popular landmark.
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.
The next morning, we were treated to a cloud inversion, and pretty much the dream shooting conditions (aside from the cold).
As it warmed up the cloud would roll over the top of the cliffs, catching the sun on it's way.
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.
As the sun finally made it over the horizon, this was my most memorable photo of the trip.
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.