Looking For Autumn In The Dolomites

On Saturday, October 14, I finally landed in Munich Germany.  It was a good four hours later than I had planned after British Airways bumped me from my connecting flight.  When I finally made it through to the baggage area, I was literally  the last one through the gate.  They turned off the lights behind me.  “At least I won’t have to wait for my bag” I thought to myself.

Wrong.  There WAS no bag.  After British Airways bumped me to the later flight, they obviously didn’t feel obligated to put my bag on my new flight and it was now sitting back at Heathrow.  “I’m sure it will be here in the morning” said the nice lady behind the desk as she closed up for the night.

The next day I had a decision to make:  Do I follow British Airlines protocol and sit around in a hotel room hoping that they will contact me with details on my baggage, or do I head out with the clothes on my back knowing that it could be quite a while before I am back in Europe with my camera?  For me the decision was easy.  There was no way I was going to let British Airways completely disrupt my trip and I decided at that point that I would much rather live like a hobo and come back with several SD cards full of images than sit around hoping that they would deliver my bag to the hotel I was in.  As it turned out, it was a full three days before my bag showed up in Slovenia.  In the mean time, I set off without my baggage for a sunrise at Neuschwanstein before heading to a destination that I had been wanting for photograph for at least 9 years.

There is a reason that the village of Santa Maddalena and the Val di Funes are among the most popular photos on Instagram, 500px and Flickr.  The teeth of this particular section of the dolomites are  so jagged and sharp and are in stark contrast to the lush green valley below.  One of my first stops when I finally arrived was the Church of St John which is nestled against the forest at the very foot of the Dolomites.


It was already late afternoon by the time I arrived, so I didn’t have much time to explore.  I knew the main overlook was somewhere above me in the hills, so after taking more than a few shots of the Church of St John, I made my way up some very tiny, one lane roads while hoping I wasn’t driving up some farmer’s driveway.  Several other photographers had arrived by this point and certain areas were beginning to fill with cars parked off the side of the road.  I hiked up a bit further…away from the crowd that was beginning to gather and smiled.  The photos absolutely don’t do this valley justice.  To sit in a pasture overlooking the grandeur unfolding before you as the sun sinks lower…and you hear the cowbells clinking all around you, and the church bells begin to ring…what a magical and timeless valley.  I found myself wishing I had more time to explore, but I still had a long drive ahead of me to my apartment in Slovenia, so I reluctantly packed up my gear and headed back to the autostrasse hoping I would be able to return again before heading home.

Fast foward to Wednesday of that week, when I ventured into Italy again.  I was looking for a good sunset location, but the clouds that had arrived that morning were now gone. My original backup plan was to drvie into Triglavski Park coming south from Kranjska Gora through some incredibly stunning alps, but they had closed off the road half way up for repairs.  Disappointed, I thought I would just keep heading West, possibly making it to Santa Catalina for the sunset.  On my way through the pass , I actually lost sight of the alps as much of the Dolomites were buried in late afternoon haze.  Realizing that I had probably made a big mistake, I pressed on.  By the time I arrived at Santa Catalina, google was telling me that it was only another 40 minutes to Tre Cime, which looked like an ideal spot to shoot the Milky Way.

As I pulled into the parking area below Tre Cime, it began to occur to me that I really had no idea what I was doing when it came to finding suitable Milky Way locations in the Dolomites.  I hadn’t really scouted for the Milky Way as I was thinking it was something I would only do if I had the time.  I was almost positive that I would be able to put the towers of Tre Cime into my shot against the Milky Way, but when I got out of the car, the Milky Way was now directly overhead and I was far too close to the mountains to pull them into the frame.  Instead, I grabbed what I could of the valley below before setting off to find Cinque Torre.  This also turned out to be a bust, and I reluctantly gave up around 2 PM and looked for a spot to pull over and grab some sleep.  Around 2 hours later, I set off to find the overlook that I wanted for shooting the Chapel at Colle Santa Lucia.

During the majority of the time I was on this trip, I had less than ideal conditions for shooting the alps.  In order of best to worst, the worst possible conditions would have been a low cloud ceiling and rain, at which point I wouldn’t have been able to shoot the peaks at all. I had clear skies during the entire time I was shooting the Dolomites,  which is a step up from low clouds rain, but not what you are really hoping for as a landscape photographer. I had seen some stunning shots ahead of time of this area with partly cloudy skies and the forecast earlier in the week had predicted clouds, but the haze and cloudless skies from the day before persisted into the following morning.  But even on a clear day, the view from above Colle Santa Lucia was incredible.

After shooting the Chapel, I headed further South to grab a couple of shots from Alleghe, which was a small village that I had discovered while scouting.  Between the architecture and the towering peaks above the village, it was very similar to the town of Hallstatt in Austria, but perhaps a bit smaller. Again, partly cloudy skies and some sunlight would have done wonders for my shots, but I knew I had to keep moving if I was going to hit several other locations in the Dolomites before heading back to Slovenia.

After shooting Alleghe, I waffled a bit in terms of where to head next.  The haze in the valley seemed to be getting worse, but I still wanted to head further West to grab some shots of a few more chapels that were on my scouting list. I decided to keep heading West and keep exploring the Dolomites, even if it meant getting back to my apartment later.  It was now Thursday which meant Friday would be my only day to head to Croatia and I knew that by Saturday I would be headed back North toward Munich.  Google maps was still spazzing out on me, but it hung in there long enough to get me pointed toward Seis and I began the long, narrow ascent over the pass.

As I crawled my way up and over SP 251  I continued to pass jaw dropping views at almost every turn.  After 40 minutes or so, I came down into the village of Corvara In Badia which was probably one of the most serious looking ski towns I had ever seen.  Chair lifts covered the length of the valley and a large prominent banner welcomed skiers to what looked to be some sort of Olympic Trials.   I continued my way through town and hung a left, heading now down SS 243 .  I have seen hundreds of shots of the Dolomites, but I couldn’t remember seeing photos of the large massifs that now rose up on my left.

The hairpin turns returned as I made my way up and 30 minutes later I was at the top of the pass. As soon as I hit the top, I found a place to park and rattled off several more shots in all directions.

As i made my way down into the next valley, I looked at my watch.  It was still very hazy as I continued down into the valley and I knew I would have bad light and haze to work with even if I made it to the chapels on my list.  I began to wonder if the light would be better back in the higher elevations…especially around some of the lakes that were still on my list.  After arriving in the valley below, I made a U turn and began looking for the quickest way back to Lake Missurina.  Surprisingly, Google found a quicker route which took me back through Austria and then across back into Italy.  As I drove back across into Italy, I could see that the haze had already made its way up and that my light was probably going to suck.

The light at Lake Missurina was indeed pretty bad and on top of the bad light, the wind was now blowing and the surface was too choppy for a sunset reflection shot.

As I was running out of ideas, I decided to double back to Lago di Braes, which was also on my list.  I wasn’t sure I could make it before sunset,, but I was out of options at this point.  I arrived at Lago di Braes just as the last light of the day was hitting the peaks above me.  One of the key characteristics of this lake that draws hundreds of visitors a year is the color of the water which is almost emerald green at times.  I looked for several different compositions before heading to the area above the boathouse which seems to be the go-to spot for photographers.

It was nearly dark by the time I got back into the Opal Mocha and headed back to Slovenia.  Not much sleep on this particular trip, but I figured I could always catch up on the long flight back home.


Next up: Slovenia

2 thoughts on “Looking For Autumn In The Dolomites

  1. Laurie R

    I really enjoy reading your stories and seeing your pictures. Thanks for sharing.

    • William McIntosh

      Thanks for reading and for your encouragement Laurie! 🙂

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