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,
You can also find me here...
At 0345 my alarm sounded. I did not even have to open my eyes in order to judge the weather conditions, the wind was hurling raindrops with remarkable ferocity against my west facing window in the Fron Deg Guesthouse. A beautiful sunrise seemed monumentally unlikely. On days like this it can be overwhelmingly tempting to stay under the covers and start the day with a lazy breakfast instead of some foolish adventure. Six or seven minutes later i was on the road, heading towards a location near Barmouth.
After a 30 minute drive, the final section of which took me up a rather narrow track, I started hiking through a forest in the darkness, following a trail which should deliver me to a viewpoint. The rain was intermittent, but did not cause much hardship while I was under the cover of the tree canopy.
As the ambient light began to reveal more of my surroundings I got my first few glimpses of the Mawddach estuary through some gaps in the trees. As the trees gave way to heathery scrub at the top of the hill the full panorama revealed itself, but the weather conditions were ugly and boring. I took a few shots, without much enthusiasm and then got distracted by some interesting rocks and tried to find abstract patterns to photograph.
At least I had got myself out of bed, and had a nice morning walk. I decided to head back for breakfast. I walked back down the hill a bit... then changed my mind and decided to use the time to practice shooting timelapses, something I have been meaning to get into. I set a timelapse going and then resumed my seach for patterns in the rock. A few minutes later I looked up and saw that the sun was starting to fight it's way through the clouds... a magnificent sight.
My timelapse was still running, and indeed it had captured the progression of this elemental battle as raged above the estuary, driven on by the westerly wind.
Timelapse photography involves shooting a large number of images of a scene and then using those images as frames in a video. The resulting footage has some noticeable differences to normal video content, the most striking of which is that it can be used to show changes over a significant length of time in a relatively short clip. The timelapse above is made from 900 images, captured once every 2 seconds over a period of 30 minutes, the resulting footage has a duration of 30 seconds.
I have done some experiments with this kind of work over the past few trips and start to be more proficient with both the capturing and processing of timelapse footage. I think that there will be the occasional timelapse to be seen in my future posts.
There is nothing much better than the feeling you get when sitting down to a good breakfast with the thought that the day has already been worthwhile. The morning routine following a sunrise excursion has a familiar pattern - cereal, sausage, bacon and eggs, toast, orange juice and coffee... probably more coffee... copy the morning's pictures to my laptop, charge batteries, shower, get dressed and head out exploring.
My next destination was a bit of a drive away, I followed the road along the coast, around the Mawddach estuary and into the countryside to Dolgoch Falls.
This beautiful forest waterfall has an excellent cafe (the Dolgoch Tea Rooms) nearby and some possibilities for a bit longer walks nearby.
I sometimes get asked about how my images are processed, and that seems to be one of the major topics of debate in the photography community as well as in the looking at photography community. A few weeks ago I wrote down my own thoughts about such discussions in a short article that you can read here.
As a follow up to that article, for those who prefer to see some concrete examples, I made another post showing a before and after comparison for two finalised images (including the one above).
For the final couple of days of this most enjoyable trip I moved my base of operations to the town of Llandudno, where one of the attractions is a grand old pier.
Most of the places that I found interesting in this area were beside the sea. There are many beaches and coastal areas, each with different characters and features. The long, west-facing, rocky beach at Dinas Dinlle was a great place to watch the sunset and it also has a decent fish and chip shop right next to the car park... what more could anyone possibly want?
Another feature of this area is remarkable castles, two particularly fine examples are preserved at Conwy and Caernarfon, both of which date from the 13th century.
By this stage of my journey the constant late night-busy day-early morning routine was starting to have a cumulative effect. In autumn and spring it is quite possible to go on almost indefinitely shooting both sunrise and sunset every day, but in summer the period between those is just too short to get enough sleep. It was something of a relief to have the possibility to get to my sunrise destination the next morning with a 400m walk from my accomodation instead of a long journey.
On my final full day in Wales I decided to explore along the north coast, stopping first at Llandulas beach where there are some interesting coastal defences. Thousands of huge concrete blocks, shaped something like jacks (from the classic game, it's just a matter of time before modern youngsters leave their devices behind and return their efforts to games like this), are piled up along a 7 mile stretch of coast.
The most obvious, and already much photographed, landmark to add to any picture of these sea defences is Raynes Jetty, a structure extending out to deep waters in order to allow cargo ships to be loaded with the products of the nearby Raynes Quarry.
At the most northern extreme of the Welsh mainland you can find the golden sands of Talacre beach and their crowning glory, the Point of Ayr lighthouse which sits out in the surf, about 50m offshore, at high tide but can be approached on foot across the sand at low tide.
My first visit to North Wales was a most enjoyable one, and I am sure that i just scratched the surface of what it had to offer. I hope that I can return one day, maybe in some better conditions so that I can explore more widely in the mountains of Snowdonia.
Thanks for your attention and support!
Until next time,
Enter your email address to receive notifications of new blog posts