After leaving Val Gardena we headed east, first through Passo Sella which sits between the peaks of Sassalongo and the cliffs of the Sella towers, then following the hairpin roads twisting up and down valleys across Passo Pordoi and down to the village of Arraba where we stopped for lunch. After that we continued to the Passo Falzarego, somewhere I was interested in seeing as on my next trip here I’d like to stay at Rifugio Lagazuoi, a mountain hut perched at 2700m with panoramic views across all of the local peaks. It was only open for a few more nights before the end of the season when we were there and unfortunately was fully booked, but next time I’m in the Dolomites I definitely plan to stay here and spend a couple of sunrises and sunsets shooting from the top.
We arrived back at Cortina d’Ampezzo and continued north east to Lago Misurina, which will be one of our bases for next years’ workshop, and then continued on to Lago Antorno. I’d booked a room in the small hotel here, which is pretty basic but well located for shooting the lake. I spent the afternoon exploring and then shooting the sunset with beautiful light hitting the peaks of Tre Cime.
The lake has wonderful views of the peaks of Tre Cime to the north and the Cadini group to the south east, but the arrangement of trees on the edge of the lake means that there are only a couple of places where you can get effective compositions and to compound this there’s a small footbridge between the lake and a small pond alongside it which people like to include in their composition. This means that most people tend to shoot from the same place and if you want to shoot from the waters edge you end up in their shot, so there’s an element of turn taking and cooperation involved. At sunset there weren’t really enough people there for it to be a problem, but at sunrise the next morning it was quite busy with around 8 photographers trying to work around each other. Fortunately everyone was pretty good natured so it wasn’t too much of a problem and we were treated to a lovely sunrise. I decided not to include the footbridge in my composition and focus on the lake and the flora there.
That afternoon we headed up to Tre Cime to explore. It’s only a 15 minute drive from Lago Antorno, but the road is pretty steep with some very sharp turns. We arrived at the Rifigio there and had a fantastic lunch in the restaurant with panoramic views out across the Fadini peaks. The Tre Cime, take it’s name “the three chimneys” from the fact that the peak is split into three towers, and walking around the base of the peak seeing the towers reach vertically into the sky it’s hard not to be impressed. The rifugio is at around 2000 meters and from here there’s a path that circles the peaks, as well as numerous trails that lead deeper into the park and it’s otherworldly landscape. There are so many different compositions and locations here that you could spend weeks photographing the park and never get bored but I particularly wanted to shoot from the east looking along the line of the three peaks towards the setting sun. This meant heading up the slope towards one of the old trenches and caves that date back to the First World War, and although the hike was relatively straightforward the cold and wind were pretty biting which made hanging around waiting for the good light to come a little uncomfortable. I passed the time by shooting time lapses and bits of video but mostly hunkered down into the trench trying to get out of the wind as much as possible. It really was pretty intense up there, but it was well worth it and the views in pretty much every direction were amazing. It’s possible to shoot the peaks to the north, the Cadini group to the south east and the main peaks of the Tre Cime to the east from pretty much the same spot and I seemed to be constantly switching position between the three views and using my X-T20 (which I always carry as a back up camera) for the telephoto shots so I didn’t have to change lenses in the wind. Unfortunately the sky above the Tre Cime never really fulfilled it’s potiential, but for the other views I was treated to some wonderful conditions
Despite the cold and wind it was a fantastic night and it’s one of those locations where it’s really hard to pull yourself away from. However when it started to get dark I switched on my head torch and headed back down to the main trail to meet my wife at the Rifugio before heading back to our hotel
The next morning we set off to our final base in the Dolomites, the town of Pescul in Val Fiorentina from where I planned to shoot the peaks of Civetta and Pelmo. We crossed over the Passo Giau before turning south into Val Fiorentina
It's an incredible pretty valley between steep hills and wherever you, are the peak of Pelmo looms over you. We spent some time relaxing in our room, which after the poky shoebox we’d staying in next to Lago Antorno was incredibly welcoming, and I checked the map trying to find the best way to access the location I’d picked to shoot Civetta from because between seasons there's no chair lift or cable car access and I wanted to find the best path. In the end the best way was to drive down the valley, loop around Monte Crot, and then along the track to Malga Fontana Freda, leave the car there and then hike the remaining 4km up the grass covered ski slopes. There’s an altitude gain of around 400m, and it took us around 45 minutes to make the walk up to the top of the ridge that sits between the peaks of Civetta and Pelmo. On the first evening I left it a little late to set off so the sun was almost setting by the time I reached the top, but still the view across to Civetta was wonderful.
The next day we spent hiking around the valley and exploring the beautiful hamlet of Toffol before setting off on the same route as yesterday, but this time much earlier as I wanted to shoot a small film for my Youtube channel and make sure I had plenty of time to shoot both Civetta and Pelmo. I’d originally hoped to be able to shoot both scenes from the same location, but on the previous night I’d realised that they were about 8 minutes apart, which makes it tricky to shoot both in peak light. We set off from Malga Fontana Freda again, stopping to shoot along the way, and when I reached the top I was amazed at the light streaming through the mountains into the valley and onto the cliff walls of Civetta’s peak. I captured some shots here as well as some video clips.
It was the kind of scene that’s hard to walk away from, but it was my last night in the Dolomites on this trip and I really wanted to get some shots of Pelmo too, so I headed back down the trail to where I had a clean view of the mountain’s peak and shot the very last light of day there.
We then packed up and headed back down in the half light towards where we’d left the car, but the alpenglow on Pelmo’s peak kept getting stronger and stronger even though the sun had gone down more than 30 minutes before. Despite the fact that we were rushing a little to get back to the village before the only restaurant (and consequently our only chance of food for the rest of the day) closed, I couldn’t resist shooting another panorama. I realised that this lower point of view gave me a much better composition of the peak, but if I’d stayed here it would have been impossible to get the shots of Civetta in that amazing light.
We headed back to the hotel, had a final dinner, then the next morning left the mountains heading south to Venice.
If you’re interested in coming to visit the Dolomites with me, take a look at my 2018 Landscape Photography Workshop. Alternatively you can sign up my newsletter for more information about workshops
You can see images from my trip to the Dolomites in my Italy gallery here, and also the video I made about shooting Civetta and Pelmo below.