Castles in the Clouds
Any visit to the Bavarian Alps is not complete without having a look at one of the many castles that look proudly down from prominent positions on the mountainside. On my short September trip to Germany and Austria I made a point of visiting three different castles, despite the weather (as usual) making it's best efforts to discourage me.
The first of my castles was on the Austrian side of the border, Hohenwerfen Castle is an 11th century fortress overlooking the market town of Werfen.
I had the impression that the castle was best seen from above so I made my way up to the overflow car park at Eisriesenwelt (an ice cave on the mountain opposite) to look for a vantage point. I had the idea that I might also visit the ice cave but once I understood that all photography was prohibited there I rather lost my enthusiasm.
The weather on this particular day was relentlessly miserable - windy, raining and cloudy - so i decided that the best approach would be to capture some timelapse footage of the castle and the nearby forest while the low clouds rushed through the scene.
The mountains and hills near to Werfen are not amazingly high but they rise very steeply which makes for some impressive views, but the thick cloud made it quite difficult to make much of the opportunity.
I returned to Berchtesgaden (after visiting the Erlebnis-Therme Amadé to warm up a little) and drove up to the summit of Rossfeld (the subject of my previous blog) to see whether there were any views through the clouds. The high vantage point allowed for some panoramic views as usual and there were just enough gaps in the cloud cover to allow some shooting.
The dreary weather produced scenes which were rather devoid of colour so I decided to embrace that when working with the images and aim for an "aerial footage from World War Two" kind of look.
The following day was slightly less wet but still quite overcast. I decided to visit the Wimbachklamm gorge for the first time in a few years.
The particular geology of the Bavarian Alps seems especially likely to generate spectacular gorges such as this, but perhaps it is just the case that they have just been made more accessable to visitors in this area than many others.
Shooting in a gorge such as this is a challenging activity. Typically such places are accessable only via a narrow ledge or an artificial walkway attached to one of the gorge walls. There will be a sturdy barrier to prevent dangerous falls but usually the path itself is pretty cramped and there is a flow of people along it. Setting up a tripod is likely not a luxury that will be available for you. Another constant difficulty is the spray from the rushing water, this requires attention between shots and also makes changing lenses a dangerous activity (you do not want the camera sensor to get a bath every time you change a lens). Being properly prepared and being able to adapt to what you find becomes much more important than usual.
As is often the case in places like this I found myself looking for more intimate scenes. Selecting a single interesting detail or a tiny fragment of a wider scene is an excellent way to produce images that are not like every other image that has been taken at a particular place. "Different" is quite easy... but when you also want the image to look good it gets harder. A good portion of the images that I come up with in this way seem to fall flat with an audience, but that is fine, in the end I think it is more important to try to satisfy myself rather than others when I produce my images.
Another of the beautiful highlights in the Berchtesgaden region is the lovely Hintersee lake. This is another place that I have returned to many times, as much because I love to be there as for any photography related reasons.
The lake itself is shallow and beautifully clear, filled with green-blue alpine meltwater, it is surrounded by mountains and is relatively sheltered. Perhaps those factors are helpful in some way for "trees growing on a rock in the middle of a lake", or perhaps it is a coincidence, but either way Hintersee has plenty such trees adding to it's charm.
Hintersee is a popular destination for photographers and hikers, a number of trails lead to and from this lovely lake and it is usually relatively easy to park.
My few days in Berchtesgaden were soon over and I made my way to my next home base in the Austrian village of Reutte. Upon arrival I found the owner in a state of considerable distress because my room was not ready - the indiviuals who had checked out earlier in the day had left the place in a truly terrible state. Sometimes I really wonder what is wrong with people that they can act without basic respect for others. The owner kept mentioning the nationality of the people who had left the mess, but I do not think that any country is entirely free of assholes so I do not see that it is relevant to the story. We agreed that I would delay my check-in by a number of hours.
My reason to be near to Reutte could be found just across the border into Germany. The village of Schwangau, near to Füssen, is the location of a number of spectacular buildings.
Lets start with the very beautiful Hohenschwangau Castle.
A castle has been on this site in the Allgäu Alps for many centuries, the earliest known records mention it's presence in 1397, but by the time the site came into the possession of King Maximillian II of Bavaria in 1832 it was in a dilapidated state. Maximillian began construction of the present day castle in 1833 and it was completed in 1837 with further additions being added periodically until 1855. This beautiful and perfectly situated castle was Maximillian's official summer and hunting residence.
My Finnish readers will be familiar with the attraction of a summer cottage, something which is traditionally passed down through the generations. Bavarian castles are similar, but Maximillian's son and successor King Ludwig II was not satisified enough with the castle he inherited in 1864. Construction of his own castle, Neuschwanstein, began in 1869, funded by his personal fortune and some personal loans.
The castle is a magnificent sight from the village below, overlooking the area from it's perfect vantage point, but even better views are to be found by making the steep hike up to the Marienbrucke bridge, crossing the wobbly bridge (nervously in my case), and continuing up a mountain trail for a while. The view of the castle with the village in the background is stunning and there are also clear views of the mountains to the south of the castle.
Neuschwanstein Castle has always been a magical place for me, having visited it as a 3 year old in 1978. It was nearly 40 years before I returned for a second look (a first look with my camera) and I have returned a couple of times since then. The castle itself is a major tourist attraction with more than a million visitors every year, so you will not get the place to yourself, but if you aim for sunrise or sunset times then you can get good access to the different viewing locations.
On this particular visit I enjoyed weather which was firstly too pleasant and then too unpleasant to be ideal for photography, but I still very much enjoyed the experience.
Another grand building, down on the valley floor, is the lovely Pilgrimage Church of St. Coloman, named after an Irish monk who stopped at the site on the first stages of his ill-fated 11th century journey to the Holy land (he was hanged in Austria shortly afterwards having been thought to be a spy due to his strange appearance).
I have seen beautiful photos of this church, it really suits a snowy winter scene, but every time I have attempted to photograph it the weather has been fairly miserable. When the light is not cooperating then some other tactics are needed to bring at least a little interest to the photographs.
On my final day of this trip, the weather was quite horrible - hammering down with rain, quite windy, and not very good visibility. When trying to photograph Neuschwanstein these conditions are actually very interesting, the castle itself is right around the cloud line on the most miserable days and this can give a deeply atmospheric feeling to any images you might capture before you get completely soaked through and miserable.
I spent a most enjoyable couple of hours in the meadows near to the Tegelberg cable car shooting timelapse footage of this castle in the clouds. Although it was very wet it was not very cold so I decided to use my waterproof jacket to protect the camera from the rain instead of protecting msyelf, accepting that I would be soaked to the skin as a consquence.
I have always loved spending time in Bavaria, and I hope I will have many chances to be there again.
I would like to thank all my readers for supporting my blog with their likes, shares and comments, I appreciate it very much.
Until next time,
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By the Sea
As this year has progressed I started to get the urge to spend more time by the sea with my camera. My happy childhood days were spent almost exclusively on seaside golf courses so maybe that partly explains why I often feel magnetically drawn back to coastal areas, I also find the seaside to be a most interesting environment for photography.
In order to scratch this growing itch I headed for the Northumberland coast in the north-east of England which has beautiful and varied beaches and various other points of interest.
When photographing scenes containing motion I think that the choice of shutter speed is the most important creative decision when it comes to selecting your camera settings for the shot. With a very short exposure you can freeze things in place, with an intermediate exposure you can blur the motion while retaining some detail of the path which things have followed through the frame, while with a very long exposure such as the picture above you can give a very soft and relaxing feeling to the whole image.
The area of Northumberland is full of historical interest, many castles and grand houses decorate the countryside - visual reminders of some very different times. Many of these fortifications are coastal and can be used as background interest in photographs on the nearby beaches.
While impressive structures can be of great interest, there is also a fascinating world in miniature on many of these beaches. Ancient geology, shaped by countless millions of tidal cycles, provides an infinite variety of shapes, textures and colours for the small scenes that play out at your feet..
At the start of the 1940's, as Britain stood alone (western europe being under the under control of the nazis) preparations were made on beaches and landing grounds along the whole of the eastern coast in case it was necessary to repel an invasion. In many places some remnant of these defences can still be seen today.
Compared to some of Northumberland's attractions, even the oldest castle seems like a newfangled creation. A drive to the middle of nowhere followed by a walk through the fields brought me to an ancient stone circle dating from the early bronze age some 4000 years ago.
The monuments we erect have certainly evolved over the last four millenia. Sean Henry's bronze sculture "the couple" at Newbiggin-by-the-sea features a pair of 5 metre tall figures staring somewhat impassively out to sea from their perch on top of a breakwater about 100 metres offshore.
The coast is an ever changing environment, often the day to day differences are imperceptable but as time marches on the cumulative change can be remarkable. In the town of Seaton Sluice there is a small sea stack, about 50m away from the beach, which is called Charlie's Garden. It is so named for the simple reason that it used to be a part of the mainland and at that time the plants on this piece of land were maintained by a chap called Charlie. If Charlie were around today he would find that the logistics of tending his plot had become somewhat more complicated.
The tides on the Northumberland coast are pronounced with a difference of over 4 metres between low tide and high tide. This makes a remarkable difference to many locations, especially where the sea is shallow close to the coast. St. Mary's Island, near to Whitley Bay, demonstrates this phenomenon quite clearly - at low tide you can walk along a narrow road to the island and it's lighthouse while at high tide it is a true island, about 100 metres offshore.
The remains of an old jetty can be seen near to the road which leads to St. Mary's Island, they seemed to make a perfect subject for a very long exposure (6 minutes in this case) image as the sun rose above the horizon, leading to a very minimalist composition. I have started to do an increasing number of very long exposures during this year, they require some small calculations as the camera does not take care of the settings automatically for exposures over 30 seconds, but when you want to get truly smooth seas then 30 seconds often isn't long enough. There is no other way to get this effect in camera, although it can be done absolutely convincingly in the computer by someone who knows what they are doing (and quite horribly by someone who doesn't).
Along the coast, near to Howick, it is possible to find another peice of history. In the 19th century Earl Grey (yes, that Earl Grey), who was the prime minister in the 1830's, built a bathing house on the rocks where he might spend time with his sixteen children. Earl Grey's bathing house still stands to this day and can even be rented as a holiday home.
There are many attractive little towns along this coast, but Alnmouth (at the mouth of the river Aln) was the highlight for me. I watched an unusually nice sunset from a vantage point on the other side of the River Aln, with a number of boats resting on the surface of the estuary waiting for the incoming tide to lift them up once again.
This was my first visit to Northumberland but I hope it will not be my last.
Until next time,
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