As my Scotland trip neared it's conclusion I decided that I wanted to spend those final days back on the beautiful Isle of Skye.
On my way I decided to visit Eilean Donan castle, a 13th century stronghold which was destroyed in 1719 after a failed Jacobite uprising. An early 20th century restoration project brought the castle back to it's former glory and it has operated as a tourist attraction since 1955.
I approached the castle as the sun was going down and the waited for the time when the declining brightness of the sky matched the brightness of the artificial lighting on the castle, allowing for an even exposure. I used a 6 minute exposure to give the sky a more dreamy appearance.
Accomodation was not that easy to find on Skye at very short notice during the off season, which gave me a good excuse to stay at the excellent Cuillin Hills hotel even though it was (deservedly) a bit more expensive than I would have normally wanted. The location of the hotel on the north-east of Portree was a good fit for my purpose as I wanted to focus on shooting the Trotternish peninsula on these few final days.
The Trotternish peninsula is the northernmost part of Skye and it's unique features were sculpted by massive landslides (the largest known to have happened in the UK) which occurred after the last ice age.
As you leave Portree and head along the coast of the peninsula one of the first attractions that you come to is the Bride's Veil waterfall, a small series of hillside cascades which offer a view with the Old Man of Storr in the background provided you are willing to jump across the stream.
Continuing the journey you come to the beautiful Loch Fada with it's single lonely island.
The Storr (the mountain in the left-centre of the picture above) is the highest point on the peninsula and the iconic rock pinnacle on its lower slopes is known as the Old Man of Storr. The Old Man is clearly visible as you approach Portree and is recognisable feature from many vantage points in the area.
To the north of the Storr there is a vantage point where you can view Mealt Falls cascading down Kilt Rock. The vantage point is somewhat limited when it comes to photographic compositions, this is one spectacle which might be better viewed from the sea or the air.
Before visiting Skye one of the places I was most looking forward to was the Quiraing, possibly the most dramatic of the areas sculpted by those ancient landslides. It is unfortunate that the weather turned instantly unpleasant on each occasion when I made the meandering ascent to this spectacular location. I still spent many hours walking here with my camera but when the light is really against you there is not always a huge amount you can do about it.
I hope, one day, to be at the Quiraing in some better light as it was a truly stunning place.
On the opposite side of the Trotternish peninsula you can find a zone known as the Fairy Glen due to it's interesting but relatively small features, almost like a miniature Quiraing.
My short visit to this place was a bit odd. Firstly I was a bit concerned about ending up trapped there - the narrow winding road passed over a cattle grid and there were signs saying that the cattle grid would be replaced, causing significant delays for traffic, and indicating that the work would happen on that day... this contributed a bit of a rush to proceedings as well as a "this could be a bad idea" feeling. One of the things I like most about being out in nature is the peace and quiet, but my visit to the Fairy Glen coincided with the visit of an extremely loud family and their similarly high volume canine companion. I could hear every word of their exchanges from at least 300 metres away and that added to my irritation.
My time there was more based about maintaining maximum distance from the loud people than it was about photography, and the impact of that was obvious when looking at the images later. This is another place I should revisit in different circumstances, but I did at least have a bit of fun processing the images.
During all my time on Skye I was very much hoping that at least one morning would give me suitable conditions to take best advantage of the 45 minute climb up to the Old Man of Storr. On one of the days, early in my trip and very early in the morning, I made my way towards the Storr, hoping that the cloudy twilight would give way to something interesting.
An hour before sunrise, as I was approaching Loch Fada, there were some beautiful pastel colours in the clouds and heavy snow on even slightly higher ground.
The climb up to the Old Man of Storr is not a particularly challenging one, but it is steep enough for long enough that you certainly notice that you are doing some exercise, the elevation gain is about 300m to the Old Man himself, perhaps closer to 400m to get to the higher vantage point that offers some of the best views.
The climb starts from the car park and goes through an area where a non-native forest has recently been felled in order for indigenous vegetation to be re-established in it's place.
The path makes it's way steadily upwards, sometimes over rather boggy ground and sometimes requiring more of a scramble over loose rocks.
The sun rose as I was still climbing, but the most interesting light was still to come as the cloud and fog which were gathering over the area continued to act as a giant diffuser for the golden light of rising sun over the next hour or so, an effect which varied in intensity from minute to minute.
The rocky pinnacle of the Old Man of Storr is 164 feet (50 metres) tall and stands proudly on the hillside. The area around it is surrounded by warning signs suggesting that one should not get too close due to the danger of rock falls. I usually pay attention to such signs but obviously not everyone takes the same approach. As I was loitering near such a sign a runner appeared around the base of the Old Man, coming towards me at a fair speed, dressed in shorts and a singlet (the temperature would soon be above zero after all), and rather irritated that some stupid photographer was standing on the narrow ledge which he had designated as his running track. He sprung off the path and proceeded through the boulder field without noticeably reducing his speed.
In order to get the best vantage point it was necessary to continue the climb up to a high plateau, slightly above the Old Man.
While making my way up to the higher ground there was a short period where the cloud intensified and the light was at it's most stunning and I was able to get the kind of shots I had been hoping for.
From the top of the plateau you can get a very good angle to see the individual rock towers, and the presence of other mortals helps to show the scale of the scene.
As you move closer to the towering rocks you can get a bit of a different view, but it is probably wise not to get too close.
Despite the early hour, and the snow, and the fact that it was very much out of season, I was not alone on this beautiful morning. A number of other photographers and a few tourists were also able to witness this beautiful spectacle. A visit to the Old Man of Storr in the summer would mean that you share the experience with many hundreds of other people, assuming that you could find a place to park your car in the first place.
Before bidding farewell to Skye I decided to make one more trip to the remote village and beach at Elgol. I always enjoy shooting at beaches and trying to make good seascapes, but it is also something that i am very much still learning.
Some of you may have noticed that I keep finding excuses to use very long exposures in my photography. At Elgol, as the weather deteriorated towards a dreary sunset, I became interested in the slipway beside the beach and decided that a 250 second exposure woudl calm the waves and the clouds to give me a peaceful and minimalist view.
My time in Skye was at an end and I had to start making my way back to Edinburgh airport to return to Finland. In a moment of nostalgia I decided to spend my last night on the other side of the country at the home of golf, the city of St. Andrews. I have played golf at St. Andrews dozens of times and visited on a few other occasions to observe professional tournaments, it is a place which is special to me, as it is to many other golfers across the world. At the same time my visit was tinged with a certain sadness as my back no longer lets me play golf on a reasonable level and I still feel that loss whenever I bump into reminders of my former hobby.
For the last hours before heading to the airport I left my cameras behind and took a long walk on the beach at St. Andrews, reflecting on the experiences I had enjoyed on what had been an excellent trip to my homeland.
Thanks for reading.
Until next time,
Water plays such a central role in your experience when visiting the beautiful country of Iceland.
Surrounded on all sides by the Atlantic ocean, the 4970km of coastline provides amazing opportunities for interesting seascapes, while fans of freshwater can spend countless hours visiting over 10,000 waterfalls. Water also plays a key role in providing electricity through hydropower (~73%) and geothermal power (~27%).
In this post I will share some water themed pictures from my autumn trip to Iceland.
Iceland's beaches are fascinating, beautiful, and in some cases very dangerous. It is wise to heed the warning signs in some popular places and to treat unfamiliar places with caution - never turn your back on the ocean.
Volcanic basalt rock which makes up much of the exposed rock in the whole country, leading to the beaches with black sand instead of the golden or white sand beaches that are common on geologically older land masses.
Some of the spectacular Icelandic waterfalls have become huge tourist attractions, but with over 10,000 to choose from there are chances to get some of the less popular ones to yourself, at least for a few minutes.
This trip took place in the middle of October and the autumn colours were strongly visible at that time, providing quite a beautiful colour palette at many locations. Iceland is generally not a land of trees and forests, but the abundant mosses and grasses cover the volcanic landscape with a blanket of yellows, oranges and reds at this time of year.
On this trip I made a first (and probably last) visit to one of the more popular tourist destinations, the waterfall at Svartifoss. Searching for a parking space took quite a few minutes, it was very full despite the massive capacity (I guess maybe 1000 spaces), but I followed the trail upwards through some nice scenery to the waterfall, surrounded by hexagonal columns of basalt. The area around the waterfall had a population density similar to downtown Manhattan which made photography somewhat challenging, particularly because many people completely ignored the fences and signs informing you where you could and could not go. I set up my shot and waited quite some time for a break in the rule-breaking human traffic... a wait which included being asked to take phone pictures of some of the trespassers... and eventually managed to get a shot. It was great to see Svartifoss, but I will not rush to see it again.
On the walk up to Svartifoss there is a vantage point for another waterfall, Hundafoss. The crowds did not seem to be so interested in it, but I thought there were some nice colours in the bushes near the top of the waterfall.
Moving water can create great interest in landscape photography, but sometimes it is preferable to have things totally still - a smooth and calm body of water can work as a perfect mirror. With a wide-angle lens, low to the ground, you don't need much more than a puddle to get a full reflection of your scene.
I am always drawn to these reflection shots (I sometimes feel like I do too many of those) and usually manage to spot opportunities for them, perhaps trying to rely on that a bit less would make me pay more attention to getting interesting foregrounds for my pictures and give better results... something for me to think about in future.
My journey continued round the southern coast of Iceland and when I passed through the tunnel just past the turn-off to Stokksnes (see previous post) I was into new territory, in previous trips I had not gone further around the coast than Vestrahorn.
The coastal road (still highway 1, the road that goes right round the whole country) goes through quite beautiful scenery between Vestrahorn and its less well known twin - Eystrahorn.
Eystrahorn has a rather similar shape to Vestrahorn, the mountains are a little higher and maybe more dramatic, and there is a similar bay in front of the mountain backdrop. The bay cuts in from the left when facing the mountains whereas it cuts in from the right at Vestrahorn, so if you see a "Vestrahorn picture" where the ocean is on the wrong side then you probably actually saw an Eystrahorn picture.
Continuing round the coast, moving north up the east side of the country, the waterfalls just keep on coming, one after another. I stopped at the side of the road to shoot this next one, it was very beautiful but as far as I can tell it does not have a name... in another country perhaps it would be more of a highlight.
My Iceland trips have usually been arranged at quite short notice and that has led to a variety of different accomodations... not all of which I would be desperate to revisit. The east of the country starts to be remote enough to at least slightly reduce the amount of visitors and those who do venture there are probably doing the full circle around the country, so maybe this is an area which is more passed through than stayed in.
I spent one night in the small town of Djúpivogur at the Hótel Framtíð, which proved to be a perfect place to stay with a good restaurant and very comfortable rooms. The price:quality ratio was much better than any of the other places I stayed on this trip and I definitely recommend it for anyone who visits this area.
While having a morning cappucino in the reception area of Hótel Framtíð I was surprised to hear a familiar voice addressing a group of asian people that had been gathering nearby, it was Mads Peter Iversen. I have never met or spoken to Mads, but I have listened to many of his YouTube videos, he has a lot of great material about different locations, including practical information such as where to park and all the other things which it is hard to prepare for without seeing a location.
I was interested to hear how he explained the coming day to his workshop group, and I thought I might say hello after he had finished his business, but he disappeared before I had an opportunity. Anyway... check out his channel, he is a good explainer and a great photographer also.
Back to my waterfall hunt... I continued round the coast on a day where the weather slowly deteriorated.
My new "furthest point anti-clockwise around highway 1" came when I visited Folaldafoss... yet another waterfall, by which time the weather was a full-on snowstorm. Normally I don't like to have any people in my images but on this occasion I felt like it helped the picture to include the guy making a video call live from the scene.
It is always a little sad to be making my way slowly back towards the airport instead of heading out into the unknown, but in Iceland there is always something interesting to shoot.
The interest is there no matter the time of day, as darkness falls the possibilities for stars and auroras arrive.
On the morning of my final day I decided to head for one of the most popular tourist destinations, the mighty Gullfoss waterfall. My idea was to try and beat the main traffic of the day by arriving well before any bus tours starting from Reykjavik could hope to be there.
Gullfoss is a remarkable sight. The Hvítá river makes a sharp turn and falls down into a deep canyon with an average of over 100 cubic metres of water per second cascading over the falls.
Following the path down to the rocky platform was a treacherous affair as the mist generated by the falls coats every surface in ice, there was advice to use crampons on this path and that was good advice. The view once you get closer to the drop into the canyon made quite an impression due to the enormous power of the water.
As much as I like trying to capture the grand wide views of these places, my favourite pictures usually come when focusing on a more intimate part of the landscape, giving an almost abstract impression and making it hard to identify the location.
Another advantage of these more intimate landscape shots is that there are still possible compositions, even at very famous places, which have not been shot a million times already, so there is more chance to come up with something interesting and original.
My final stop in this Iceland trip was in the geothermal area area at Geysir, the place which gave rise to the english word geyser. The original Geysir geyser is largely dormant now, but a number of its neighbours are still active to some degree, the Strokkur geyser being the most impressive and reliable of those, bursting forth every ten minutes or so.
The difficulty with photographing a geyser, especially these geysers at Geysir, is that for 99.9% of the time the geysers are just a hole in the ground surrounded by mud, fences and people... not an ideal recipe for a great composition. The best that i could come up with was to find a "least unattractive" patch of mud as a foreground and then try to time it so that I could catch the geyser in full eruption (waiting until it seemed to be "due" and then shooting continuously).
Well, that's it for this time. Next time I will conclude my Iceland trips with a post focusing on ice.
I would like to thanks all my readers for liking, sharing and commenting on my posts during this year and to wish you peace and happiness during the festive season.
In October I made my 3rd trip to amazing Iceland and during that trip I made multiple visits to the Stokksnes peninsula to photograph beautiful Vestrahorn. As this is one of my absolute favourite destinations I decided to give it a blog post all of its own.
When flying to Iceland you will probably land at Keflavik, the main international airport, which is right on the south west corner of the country. Stokksnes on the other hand is right on the south east corner of Iceland so you need to travel just over 500 more kilometres to get your first view of the beautiful peaks of Vestrahorn. It is worth it.
Many Icelandic hot-spots receive an overwhelming number of tourists, no matter the season, and that creates a lot of challenges for photography as well as for the local environment. Vestrahorn seems to suffer slightly less from that for a few reasons.
The result is that this place has a less frantic feeling to it than many other destinations and allows you to relax into your task a bit more easily.
Over the past 18 months I have been entering some online photography competitions on various different platforms, including "GuruShots" and "Photocrowd". This has sometimes been a boost for my photography as it has encouraged me to shoot more and I have also found that the results provide feedback of a sort... and in other ways it has been a distraction because all the time spent entering the competitions could instead be spent taking more pictures. One of the most positive things has been that I have got to "know" (mostly through related facebook groups) a few other photographers from all over the world who participate in the same competitions. On this trip I had the opportunity to actually meet one such friend/rival in person at Vestrahorn.
Unnur Arnarsdóttir is an Icelandic landscape photographer who lives just a few kilometres away from Vestrahorn and has a number of very beautiful images from this part of the world. In my opinion her pictures from the Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon are as good as any of the many thousands of images I have seen from that famous location. I encourage all my readers to go and have a look at her pictures on flickr. Unnur's other hobby might also provide benefits for anyone who is starting to feel the bite of winter, her Etsy store contains a variety of items hand knitted from Icelandic Lopi wool.
Unnur and I met at Vestrahorn in the late afternoon, hoping for interesting colours in the sky after sundown. The atmosphere of our planet did not quite perform to its full potential on this occasion but we were at least treated to some soft and gradually darkening shades of blue.
After my previous visit to Vestrahorn I realised that every single one of my Vestrahorn pictures had the entire set of mountains in the frame, which seemed to be a rather limited interpretation of the possibilities. This time I tried to also find at least some compositions which did not need to include the whole mountain range.
The hundreds of small dunes on the black volcanic sand beach, each covered in long wispy grasses, provide many different possible foregrounds in your composition, although getting just the right arrangement of dunes in the frame is rather challenging.
One thing that I worry about is whether the dunes will survive many more years of visitors, there were many areas where the banks of dunes had hundreds of footprints and the grass was getting rather trampled... without the grass roots to provide some structure and solidity to this shifting landscape it might be too easy for this environment to disappear on the wind.
Searching for the perfect shot needs to be balanced against being respectful of the beautiful places that photographers like to visit. I have started to pay more attention to the potentially damaging behaviour of tourists and photographers and I have also seen some consequences as more and more areas are fenced off or obviously damaged at different locations. The role that photography plays in this is also a concern, beautiful pictures from beautiful places just encourage more and more people to visit those places and the rise of social media has just accelerated the whole cycle.
If, for some reason, the tidal reflections and the grassy islands in a sea of black sand don't appeal to you, then there is still the possibility to be fascinated by the waters of the Atlantic washing relentlessly into the bay on the eastern side of the area. This is one of the more subtle and gentle beaches in Iceland allowing you to operate under the fear of getting slightly wet rather than the fear of getting slightly dead which keeps you on your toes at places such as Reynisfjara.
There is something fascinating and hypnotic about shooting seascapes. Every wave is unique and the pattern of its arrival and departure provides a personal fingerprint of a moment that will never be repeated. A slightly longer exposure can give a sense of calm by blurring the water while also showing the patterns of movement... but with a too long exposure you can lose all sense of the dynamic action.
As you move further away from the mountains you come to a rocky area at the end of the beach and the ground rises to a higher plateau where an air defence radar station is situated. This radar station is one of four which jointly provide coverage of the whole of Iceland and a sizeable surrounding area. From the top of the hill you get a more panoramic view of the bay.
As the light faded away we went back to our cars and I talked with Unnur for a while before she headed for home. It was a great pleasure to meet her! I decided that I should go back out into the darkness and try to get a few more shots as the stars started to appear.
A few hours later I was back among the dunes at Stokksnes again, waiting for the moment when the sun first hits the top of the mountain, bathing it in a warm glow while the lower parts of the scene remain in shadow.
There were a lot of clouds on this morning, providing very interesting conditions as the sun came and went every few seconds with different parts of the scene being illumiated in turn. Mixed conditions like this sometimes offer the best opportunities for photography.
I required 2 cappucinos from the nearby Viking Cafe just to get acceptably awake before spending my day doing other things (stay tuned for details in upcoming posts) but I was back once again at Vestrahorn for the sunset... and this time the light was more cooperative. It started well before sunset with some lovely pink highlights in the wispy clouds.
As the sun neared the horizon I tried to catch the moment when the grassy dunes were illuminated for the last time that day.
The sun soon passed out of view below the horizon in the west and beautiful orange and pink colours intensified in the east.
Over the following hour the orange and pink turned into purple before finally giving way to a normal night with no trace of what had just happened.
I thought at the time that I was leaving Vestrahorn behind for this trip... but a couple of days later a remarkable aurora forecast (Kp 6) made me take a 3 hour detour in the late evening. I was a little late for the most active and well defined auroras, but it was still a magnificent sight.
Well, I hope that you have enjoyed this post from Vestrahorn. You can follow my future posts by returning to this site, signing up to my mailing list (below) or by following my new photography page on Facebook.
Until next time!
As autumn began I decided to make an arctic road trip, returning to Norway, one of my favourite countries, and heading further north than on any of my previous travels.
I had initially planned this as just a Lofoten trip but I was able to leave a few days earlier in order to spend some time in the Senja area which is just to the south of Tromsø in the far north of Norway. My route took me north through almost the entire length of Finland before crossing to Norway near to Kilpisjärvi and heading to my accomodation at Hamn i Senja. At the northern extremes it is possible to cross directly from Finland to Norway, missing out Sweden entirely. The 1430km journey took about 17 hours of driving time.
The journey was not a difficult one at this time of year (mid-September) with the temperatures above zero and the roads in good condition. The main hazard was provided by the reindeer which became an increasingly common site after crossing the Arctic Circle at around the half way point of the journey. The terrain was made more beautiful by the autumn colours, at the cost of providing better camouflage for any large mammals that might loiter near the margins of the highway. Slowing down, or stopping completely, was required on 6 or 7 occasions to ensure safe passage for car and for animal.
Eventually I arrived at Hamn i Senja sometime after dark.
One major attraction of being so far north in such a sparsely populated area is the greatly enhanced possibilities to see the northern lights, aurora borealis. If you have not spent your time chasing the northern lights before then you might not know that there is an aurora forecast that you can follow, based on geomagnetic activity. This forecast is expressed as a number (between 0 and 9) known as the Kp index. The "normal" level of activity ranges from Kp 1-4 with 5 or higher indicating increasing levels of geomagnetic storm.
The further north you are (south in the case of the southern lights, aurora australis) the more likely you are to be able to see auroras. In order to have a good chance of seeing auroras in France or Germany you would need an exceptional Kp index of 8 or 9, whereas from the north of Scotland or the south of Finland you have possibilities when the Kp index is around 5 (maybe once or twice per month).
Hamn i Senja, at a latitude of nearly 69.5 degrees, is in the zone where a Kp index of 1 or 2 already brings aurora opportunities, hugely increasing your chances to see those magical lights.
Although I was a bit tired from my drive, I never like to pass up an aurora opportunity, so out I went, happy to find that the auroras were already dancing across the sky.
Aurora photography is something of a challenge, and it pays to have done it a few times before. It is such a stunning sight when you first see bright and well defined auroras in the sky, the associated excitement and feeling of wonder easily leads to pointing your camera at the auroras without any regard for how you compose the frame overall - leading to ratehr poor pictures which just happen to have some green lights in them. It pays off to think of auroras as an enhancement for a composition which would work without them.
Usually I like to scout for a few possible aurora enhanced composiitons during the day to be prepared for whatever happens in the evening, but on this occasion I had just arrived so I had no idea where would be best. I decided to just see what I could do with the immediate area of my hotel rather than searching randomly in the dark for new places.
Eventually I tore myself away from the show and got some much needed sleep. At this time of year the shooting schedule is quite demanding as ideally you need to be in position for sunrise (before 0600), sunset (around 2000) and auroras (2200-0300) which rather cuts into the times when sensible people like to sleep.
After a few hours of rest it was back to business for the sunrise and I headed for the the rocks near to the Tungeneset picnic area from where there is a good angle to photograph the peaks of Oksehornan ("the Devil's Teeth"). I found a rock pool which provided good reflections.
My exercise for the day came from a climb up Segla mountain, a sail shaped peak with a sheer 600m drop on one side. Here my research had failed me slightly, I had seen many great pictures from Segla but had not realised that in order to get the best view of Segla you should climb the neighbouring peak of Hesten... by the time I was on top of the wrong mountain I did not have time or energy to climb the right one.
It was a very beautiful day and it was great to be able to admire the views to various directions... without ever getting remotely close to the edge of the cliff.
The trail up to Segla was quite steep but not particularly difficult, although it was easy to see that it could be a bit more dangerous in slippery conditions. Even though it was the wrong mountain when it comes to getting the more famous view it is a popular and attractive hike and I recommend it to anyone who happens to be passing through Arctic Norway.
After safely descending and remembering to eat (sometimes difficult to remember when I am on a trip, far too easy to remember at all other times) I headed back towards Hamn i Senja, checking out some possible evening aurora compositions and other points of interest on the way.
As I waited for the evening I was keeping half an eye on both the weather forecast and the aurora forecast, both of which can be easily followed on any smartphone. I use an app called My Aurora Forecast to check the Kp index and AccuWeather to guess whether the skies will be clear enough, there are dozens of other apps which probably do just as good a job. It is important to follow both forecasts because even with the strongest auroras you are not going to see much when the sky is completely overcast.
On this occasion the aurora forecast looked good but the weather forecast was indicating only a small window of clear skies. I set out to try and be in position if an opportunity came my way. I usually look for reflection opportunities when considering possible aurora locations, and I still feel that to be a good route to strong aurora photographs, but on this occasion I took a different approach and headed for the nearby Senjatrollet amusement park... an attraction based on trolls, as we all know trolls are terrifying man-eating monsters that come out at night.
I managed to survive my encounter with the trolls and drove along a mountain road to the beach at Ersfjord where I had seen some tidal pools earlier in the day that might be used for aurora reflections, but by this time the auroras were fading away and the clouds were gathering, there were no further opportunities on this occasion.
The following day it was time to leave Senja behind and head south to Lofoten, a distance of a bit over 200km as the crow flies but over 500km by road (those pesky mountains and fjords!).
The weather was highly variable during this part of the journey, ranging from beautiful blue sky to fully miserable overcast and rainy conditions. As usual there were many temptations to stop, one of which came at this waterfall framed by autumn colours which I was able to spot from the road and then navigate towards on foot through a wood.
There is a certain electricity pylon, near to a certain bridge, some kilometres before reaching the town of Svolvaer, where I have seen a white-tailed eagle perching almost every time I have driven past. On this occasion there was a change in that situation, but to a positive direction, there were two white-tailed eagles sitting there!
In a now familiar routine I parked in a lay-by and tried to find a good position to photograph these magnificent birds without unduly disturbing them, all the while looking out for the moment when one or both decided to fly off to other parts of their territory. They were both sitting rather close together and when one upped and left the other had to take evasive action to avoid getting a wing in the face.
It seems like this "flapping in the personal space of another avian" would be a breach of etiquette in polite eagle society but the other eagle did not seem unduly concerned as it smoothly handled the situation.
With that eagle excitement behind me I continued into Lofoten, that magical chain of islands which is becoming quite familiar to me these days, this being the 4th trip there in less than 20 months. I would stay the first night in Leknes before continuing to my usual accomodation in Reine. I chose Leknes as an intermediate base as it is the closest town to the spectacular beaches at Haukland and Uttakleiv and would make it easier for me to be at one of those for the trio of active times (sunrise, sunset, auroras). After checking in to my accomodation I headed for Uttakleiv.
The sunset on this evening was quite an attractive one, cycling through a wide selection from the colour palette as the day came to an end.
Each time I have visited this dramatic beach I have found some better ideas for how to photograph it, but it is still a bit of a difficult location.
The auroras were still visible on this evening but they were not that strong and not in the right place in the sky for my chosen spots, I did a bit of searching for alternatives without any huge success.
After a good night's sleep, skipping the sunrise based on the (weather) forecast and resting up ready for the rest of my trip, I was ready to leave Leknes and continue towards Reine. I shall leave the rest of this trip until my next post, but before I sign off here is one final picture from a small lake near to Leknes.
Until next time!
Over the past few years I have seen many images of the jagged peaks, alpine meadows and beautiful lakes of the Dolomites and a visit to that area in the north of Italy has been high on my wish list... at the end of August I finally got my act together and organised a short trip to the area.
I took an evening flight to Venice and stayed overnight in a guest house at Ponte Nelle Alpi... in a violently horrendous thunderstorm. The guesthouse was on the top of a hill and very exposed to the elements. The rain hammering off the window, the howling wind and the thunderclaps directly overhead meant that I did not get much sleep. The coffee at breakfast was most helpful in my recovery and I continued my drive north.
As I got to higher ground I found that the storm had completely disregarded all thoughts of it still being summer and had dumped 10-15cm of snow on all ground above about 1600m altitude.
I drove to Misurina lake but did not find that to be too photogenic, so I continued along the road to Lago D'Antorno which was more to my liking. I find that in order to get good reflections it is best to use lakes that are rather small (ponds and puddles are also acceptable) in order to keep your subjects more immediate and prominent in the frame.
Both of these lakes are on the road which leads to Tre Cime di Lavaredo and my idea was to drive up the steep toll road and maybe do the circle hike around those iconic peaks. The car parks at the top of the road, holding at least a thousand cars, were already full (about 11am, on a slightly unpleasant day) and as a result they were operating a "one in one out" policy on the toll road with a sizeable queue. Instead of joining the queue I returned to Lago D'Antorno and decided to follow the toll road on foot. I had read an account from another photographer of doing the same thing in deep snow in winter and he described it as an easy hike taking about 40 minutes so I was quite confident. I am not sure what kind of physical specimen wrote that other blog but I can say that apart from the smooth road surface there was nothing whatsoever which was easy about that hike - an unremittingly steep slog which took me at least an hour and three quarters and left me extremely tired, despite the beautiful views.
After spending so much effort on the climb I decided not to do the 4-5 hour circle hike around Tre Cime, the clouds were looking rather dark and moody and I did not want to get stuck in a storm, so I decided to retreat back down the road and check in to my accomodation.
I chose a hotel close to Cortina D'Ampezzo as my base for the trip on an "it looks like it is roughly in the middle of the places I want to visit" basis and I was happy to find that it was in quite a beautiful spot.
As a location it also turned out to be quite good as it was quite close to what turned out to be one of my absolute favourite spots, the top of the Giau Pass. As the day ended to skies cleared and sunlight bathed the snowy ground.
Although I usually do at least some research on specific locations before embarking on my trips I find that there is no substitute for actually viewing a location in person. With mountain locations especially it is hard to reliably translate "kilometres on the map" into "time taken to travel" and plans made without knowledge of the terrain can easily turn out to be unrealistic. I decided to treat this trip as a scouting mission, meaning that I would try to visit as many sites as possible in my 3.5 days in order to understand where to focus in a future "proper" photography trip.
The next morning I was out of my room at 0430, ready to try and do some astro photography at the Giau Pass and then wait for the sunrise, but I faced an unusual difficulty - I could not get out of the hotel! The door was locked and bolted, the reception was empty, there was no bell, there was nobody around and there were no other exits. I made some noise (enough too attract the attention of anyone who would be there, but not enough to wake the hotel residents) and waited around for 15 mins to see if anyone came along... but no. Trapped. I went back to bed.
Three hours later the day began properly and I drove up to the top of the Falzarego Pass.
From here it was possible to travel by cable car to Lagazuoi, a 2835m peak. Although this was the second highest altitude I have reached (without the aid of a plane that is, the Zugspitze summit being my highest point) it was still possible to look up from Lagazuoi to even taller peaks in the surroundings.
From Lagazuoi it is also possible to look down on a much more famous neighbour, the small cluster of peaks which make up Cinque Torri, a kind of natural monument in the middle of nowhere and a popular destination for climbers.
Near the summit of Lagazuoi you can get a closer look at some fortifications dating from the Great War over a century ago. The front line in the battles between Italy and the Austro-Hungarian empire went right through this area and all over the Dolomites it is possible to see evidence of the desperate struggle which took place between the opposing forces in the harshest of environments.
There is a lodge at the top of the cable car route where you can eat something, get some coffee or even stay overnight. These Rifugios are a feature of almost all easily accessible peaks and mountain areas in the Dolomites and make it a lot easier and more comfortable to spend time in what would otherwise be the wilderness. On this occasion there was some construction work ongoing at Rifugio Lagazuoi and while I was there a helicopter was constantly shuttling materials up and down the mountain without ever landing. It was impressive to watch.
It was time to continue my journey, starting by entrusting my life to a few rather insubstantial looking wires as the cable car made its descent.
I made my way to the Gardena Pass, another spectacular tour through mountain peaks by way of hundreds of hairpins.
My objective was the Seiser Alm, a vast mountain meadow surrounded by peaks. There are many different ways to reach the Seiser Alm, but during the day it is forbidden to drive there, you have to approach by cable car. I had partial directions to get to the spot I was aiming for - I took the cable car to Compatsch and then a bus to Saltria... but then I was not quite sure where to go next. I wondered around for an hour or two but I don't think I found the best views.
When visiting this area again, and especially in order to get to the best places at the best times for photography (sunrise, sunset, night) I think that a totally different approach would be needed. Normally I like to have a single base and then travel to different locations, but in the Dolomites there would be huge advantages to staying in a different Rifugio every night in order to be as close as possible to your subjects.
This was a very long day... some 4-5 hours of driving as well as multiple cable car journeys and about 20km of walking... so I was happy to get back to my hotel and get some rest before the morning.
The next day I also planned a long journey, heading this time a bit further north before circling round to an area near to where I had been the day before and returning via the Gardena and Falzarego passes. My first stop, before 6am, was at Lago di Landro.
From there I continued to Lago di Dobbiaco having first satisfied the demand from my rental car which instructed me to add at least one litre of oil "immediately".
The final part of my morning lake trilogy was the famous Lago di Braies, a very beautiful place but also a horrendous tourist trap. My advice to anyone wanting to enjoy this place is to arrive very early in the morning or very late at night, it was slightly uncomfortable already when I arrived at 0830 and by the time I had completed the easy hike around the lake it was absolutely swarming with what seemed like many millions of people.
Having gladly removed myself from the multitudes at Lago di Braies I made my way to the next famous destination, the church at Santa Maddalena. This was a location I had been looking forward to perhaps more than any other, but it was a place where the experience did not quite measure up to the expectation. It seemed to me that the place had not quite made peace with its status as a tourist attraction. It has managed to embrace some aspects of that, such as charging a few euros for a parking place, but the overall feeling is one of being a bit unwelcome. The church is in the middle of a field, but according to the signs it is prohibited to walk around in that field which rather limits your chances for photography. There is a tiny platform that you are allowed to stand on in the corner of the field, which means that everyone who obeys the local rules will end up with almost exactly the same picture as each other. Drone photography is also prohibited there, which is another limitation. I think that if they would accept that the place is and will be a tourist attraction and make a little bit more effort to be accommodating, while also charging a bit more money for parking if necessary to make it a sensible business, then everyone might end up being more happy.
The whirlwind tour continued and it was time for the next destination. It had been nearly 20 hours since I took a cable car journey so I decided to fix that by ascending to the spectacular peak of Seceda (2519m).
This mountain provides some other-worldly views as it looks like the ground has just been ripped apart at the seams, on the one side pleasant green meadows slope steeply upwards and on the other side there is a vertical drop of hundreds of metres.
After another rather exhausting day it was very easy to fall asleep... and a bit of a struggle to avoid doing just that while driving back to the hotel.
My final morning in the Dolomites was reserved for completing my mission to Tre Cime di Lavaredo, having had a false start in that adventure on the first day. The toll road does not open until 0600 which makes it a bit of a challenge to be in position for the sunrise in the summer, but I was the first one through the gate on this day and determined to make the best of it. I parked in the massive car parks near Rifugio Auronzo and started the circle hike around Tre Cime by around 0615.
The hike, which took me about 5 hours, could be thought of as a tour of different Rifugios. The trail starts at Rifugio Auronzo and then (in the direction I travelled) leads you to Rifugio Lavaredo, Rifugio Locatelli (Drei Zinnen Hutte) and Malga Langalm before completing the circle at Rifugio Auronzo. Each leg of the journey takes about an hour.
The temperature was something of a challenge during this hike, it was 3 or 4 degrees when I started before the sunrise and 31 degrees when I finished about midday... luckily I had pretty much expected this and had dressed on a "I will warm up eventually" basis, accepting to be a bit cold to start with in order to have the benefit of not having to carry extra clothing in the second half of the hike.
The trail is easy to follow and well maintained, but there are some noticeable changes in elevation at various points, requiring quite a lot of ascending and descending even though it is roughly level overall.
By the time I was approaching the Drei Zinnen Hutte, about half way round the hike, a coffee was definitely needed. I stopped for 20 minutes to recharge my batteries. This mountain lodge is in an amazing location on the mountain plateau.
This was the most spectacular place on the circle hike in my opinion, but the views in general in all directions were quite amazing and I highly recommend the route to anyone who has the opportunity and capability to experience it.
With that, it was time to make my way back to Venice Marco Polo airport. This was my first visit to the Dolomites, but I truly hope it will not be my last. Whenever I get a chance to return I think that these hectic few days have provided me with some good lessons for how to make a successful second trip. The key for that would be to stay in a number of well selected Rifugios rather than one central hotel and accept the slight inconvenience of regular check in - check out as a price worth paying for being in the right place at the right time.
Until next time!
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