The Vanishing Act: Photographing the Dolomites
By Noel Casaje
The world-renowned Dolomites in northeastern Italy have always intrigued me ever since I started getting serious with landscape photography. When the opportunity came to visit the UNESCO World Heritage Site, even if for just a few days, I did not hesitate one bit.
The Dolomites did not disappoint. They took my breath away. These limestone alpine peaks are truly impressive, they rise like walls that the trails seem to take you directly beneath them. In some instances, you have to retreat several steps to capture these mountains in their entirety, even if you are already using an ultra-wide lens.
I've been to many epic mountain regions but the Dolomites are simply in a league of their own. Visiting during October allowed me to photograph them at the peak of autumn. I was also excited since autumn normally brings with it mercurial weather, so I was anticipating epic clouds and dynamic light due to the changing of the seasons.
However, in the five days we spent photographing the region, the weather was unusually perfect. Skies were clear with hardly any cloud in sight. I kept hoping for those epic clouds but I was left to deal with what was given to me instead.
Nonetheless, these soaring peaks are truly majestic, with or without clouds, that I could say the Dolomites are now among the top two of my favorite places to photograph.
Of all the peaks in the Dolomites, Tre Cime di Lavaredo (three peaks of Lavaredo) are probably the most iconic. After reading a forecast of partly cloudy skies, we quickly jumped at the opportunity to photograph these beautiful peaks. It was almost 4 in the afternoon when we started hiking up from the trailhead. What is usually a 90-minute hike to the classic vantage point got dragged out because it was impossible not to keep stopping at the breathtaking landscape under a perfectly beautiful day. We took our sweet time looking for compositions and of course, selfies!
After two hours, we finally reached the classic viewpoint. We still had a few minutes to spare so I switched to my telephoto to capture the other distant peaks in the area. A few moments before sunset, I noticed two huge boulders that I could use to frame Tre Cime di Lavaredo. I quickly moved to position my camera, visualizing how I would execute my shot as I was scrambling to get in place.
As soon as I got to the boulders, I noticed a thin veil of fog around Tre Cime. Since space was a bit cramped, I quickly installed my ballhead on the Platypod, as a tripod would have been cumbersome on the uneven, jagged area I was standing on. The foreground element was just a few inches in front of my lens so I had to do a focus stack in order to ensure a tack sharp image. Midway through shooting the focus stack however, the mountain got completely swamped by a thick white fog.
I was lucky to have the Platypod with me as it allowed me to quickly set up and take shots. Had I chosen to use my tripod, I would have surely missed the moment and come up empty and disappointed.
You can see in the BTS shots the wall of cloud that blanketed the mountain. It all happened very quickly. I literally had a minute's window to photograph the peak before it got swallowed by the mist and disappeared completely — a true photo finish. I was lucky to have the Platypod with me as it allowed me to quickly set up and take shots. Had I chosen to use my tripod, I would have surely missed the moment and come up empty and disappointed.
Looking back, this was my first and only shot of Tre Cime from that vantage point.
Thank you Platypod!
Noel Casaje is Nikon 100 photographer and avid student of light. Follow Noel for more beautiful images on Instagram!