Over the past couple of years I have looked at a huge amount of photographs as I study the work of other photographers and try to understand what they have done, how they have done it and why I like or don't like it. One pleasing side-effect of this process is that I start to become somewhat familiar with many different destinations despite never having been to them myself. This familiarity then fuels my desire to visit those places which look like they would provide most interest for me, and for my camera.
One of the places which most quickly became familiar to me in this way is Lake Bled in Slovenia. A small island sits in the middle of this beautiful mountain lake and the catchily named "pilgrimage church of the assumption of Maria" occupies almost every square metre of the island. The resulting views give a real fairytale feeling such as you can also experience when looking at Neuschwanstein castle or the Maria Gern chapel.
Slovenia must be one of the most beautiful countries in Europe and although I have only visited twice it is already one of my favourite destinations. It is far enough south to enjoy significantly warmer weather than Finland, it has magnificent mountain scenery (the Julian Alps and the Karawank mountains) and it also seems to pack a large amount of natural wonders into a very small area. Once again the flights are also very convenient from Helsinki, the flights are about 2.5 hours and the departure from Helsinki is a bit after 0800 (allowing a pretty full day on arrival) and the return leg is in the mid to late evening (allowing a pretty full departure day).
Compared to the Garmisch trip I was quite lucky in two important ways. The first and most important one was with the weather which was simply beautiful. Warm and sunny days with some interesting sunset and sunrise colours on more than one occasion, I could not ask for more. The second positive improvement was in the rental car. As I am without salary until further notice I am trying (not often very successfully) to be conscious of places where I might save, and the rental car selection is one of those. I booked the most inexpensive car I could, "Ford Fiesta or similar", which cost the princely sum of €86 total for the 4 days. I had specified that it should be an automatic gearbox and it turned out that this detail was crucial. The only automatic that they had available when I arrived at the rental car office was a 2 litre BMW X4, so had to reluctantly accept that as my "Ford Fiesta or similar" 👌😁
During the trip I visited the spectacularly situated church of St Primus at Jamnik, the waterfalls at Sum and Savica, the gorges at Mostnica and Vintgar, the Vrsic pass, the Soca river and the beautiful Lake Jasna as well as spending some time at lake Bled.
A fantastic trip with a huge amount of highlights packed into 3.5 days.
Not wishing to be discouraged by the dodgy weather in my Garmisch trip I tried to keep the momentum going with a trip to Pohtiolampi near to Tampere in Finland to visit the Osprey centre and to photograph Ospreys catching fish from their well-stocked ponds.
I met up with my friend and former colleague Mika Grönroos, a keen nature photographer, and we spent a Monday evening and Tuesday day in the upper hide overlooking a small pond. From this position we could observe gulls attempting to catch the fish while floating on the surface of the water, Grey Herons stalking about in the shallows ready to strike with their long beaks and Ospreys utilising their dynamic "dive, splash and grab" techniques... these different methods were all effective, none of the birds were going hungry.
By far the highlight of the trip came in the Tuesday afternoon when an Osprey, diving from 15 metres height, managed to grab a fish with each foot, coming away with two tasty snacks in a single dive, an amazing display of skill and coordination.
The Osprey centre at Pohtiolampi was a great place for this activity, and I recommend it for any photographers or nature lovers who would like to get a closer view of the magnificent osprey on the hunt.
Increasingly depressed with the Finnish summer weather, and determined to make a start on my "following my interests" activities I headed for the Bavarian town of Garmisch-Partenkirchen for a 4 night trip. One practical thing that makes Bavaria an even more attractive destination is the sheer perfection of the Finnair flight schedules from Helsinki to Munich. You can leave almost every day at 0800, which is early enough but not ridiculous, which gets you into Munich before 1000, so even allowing for hassles with baggage and rental car you can still easily be hurtling along the autobahn towards your chosen destination by 1130. On your departure day the early evening flight gives you almost a full day for activities but still gets you into Helsinki before 2300.
My intended photographic targets for this trip were mainly mountain lakes, with mountain ranges in the background, and my pre-trip research highlighted Geroldsee, Eibsee and Frillensee as three such possibilities as I headed for the area dominated by the Zugspitze mountain, the highest peak in Germany at 2962m altitude. I also wished to revisit Neuschwanstein castle in Fussen, a place that I had been to twice previously in 1978 and 2016, I did not wish to wait another 38 years for my third visit.
When photographing in natural light (rather than in a studio or indoors) then the best thing that you can hope for is interesting weather. The weather does not have to be good, it can be spectacularly bad, but one way or another it should be spectacular in order to get the best results. The beautiful colours of those moments before sunrise and after sunset are a highly prized target, but sometimes a horrendous storm can be even more interesting. In this case, hoping to include mountain peaks in my pictures, it was most important that the skies were at least partly clear otherwise the verticality would disappear.
I landed in Munich in beautiful weather, my baggage arrived safely and I picked up my 1.2 litre Skoda Rapid (a slightly ironic name as I was to find out) and hit the road for Garmisch, about a 90 minute journey. With 68 kilometres to go I was passed (at about 200km/h) by a lime green Lamborghini and I had the feeling that this trip was definitely going to the right direction. That feeling did not last very long however as the storm clouds gathered overhead... and it started to pour with rain. It rained and rained and rained and rained. For all 4 days. Almost without stopping. Its difficult to take pictures of the mountains when you can't see the mountains!
Despite the less than ideal conditions and poor forecast I was determined to give myself every chance. Each morning I left the hotel at 0430 and drove to a suitable sunrise place, ready for the best light which would have been between 0530 and 0630. Each morning I got soaked through, didn't see the mountains and didn't see any sunrise colours... but if there had been a break in the weather (or even an interesting cloudscape instead of a uniform grey curtain) then I would have been ready and waiting to catch it.
My days were spent exploring. The journey on a cogwheel train and cable car to the summit of the Zugspitze was fascinating even though the visibility at the top was less than 100m instead of more than 100km. The walk around Eibsee and the small detour to nearby Frillensee gave some beautiful views, even in the pouring rain. A visit to Fussen allowed some planning for future photography, but the front gate of Neuschwanstein castle was covered in scaffolding which rather spoiled the view from my preferred directions and the view of St. Coloman church was not quite the same when the mountain range in the background is totally obscured by grey mist. One unplanned highlight of the trip was a visit to the Partnachklamm gorge, a fascinating kilometre long stretch where the water has cut through the rock over the millennia, easily accessible by well maintained walkways.
On the final evening there were some minutes around the sunset where the clouds cleared enough to view the mountains behind the beautiful Frillensee lake... and a rainbow completed the picture nicely.
Overall I very much enjoyed the trip, and took many hundreds of pictures... although almost none of them were the pictures I was planning for.
The journey has begun.
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