By Pete Elliott
The Dolomites are one of the most photogenic locations in the world for landscape photography, and are normally high on any photographers bucket list. The jagged peaks and contrasting landscapes make the perfect playground for photography, and with a whole host of activities on offer in the summer from hiking and mountain biking to Via Ferrata, there is plenty of opportunity for adventure.
After researching locations for a large amount of time we finally decided on route for a 6-day road trip through the Dolomites. This blog will include some tips and tricks on shooting in the Dolomites from my own personal findings when visiting some of the more famous locations.
- Venice and Innsbruck are the two closest major airports.
- June/September is the best time to visit, to avoid the crowds.
- Although it’s the Italian Dolomites, the main language is German, but also some Italian.
- Cortina D’Ampezzo and Val Gardena are the best towns to see The Dolomites, I would recommend splitting your time between the two.
- There are a whole networks of mountain refuges that are perfect for staying up in the mountains.
- The whole area is very well connected, with many of the photography locations/viewpoints accessible by lift or road, so it is suited to people of all abilities.
A Quick Word On Vanguard
When I travel, I travel as light as possible and only take the essentials. This is especially important for longer hikes and wild camping trips when I have tonnes of other equipment with me. For this trip I got to put the new Vanguard VEO 2GO 265CB Travel Tripod through its paces.
I am usually reluctant to take a tripod with me travelling, as it doesn’t often fit in my hand luggage, or hiking bag for the day and it is difficult to pack around. However, this tripod only weighs 1.35kg and folds down to 32.5cm whilst still extending to 150cm making it extremely versatile. I therefore had no reason to leave it behind, even on hikes of 15km or longer with 1000m+ vertical, this tripod had a place in my bag. It really is such an important piece of kit for getting sharp images especially when the light is poor.
Alongside this, the tripod was put through its paces shooting in all weather conditions, from extreme winds to thunderstorms. Never once did I have a problem with setting it up or it tipping over with my Fuji X-T3 mounted to it. I couldn’t recommend this more to traditional landscape photographers that want something light and portable, or run and gun photographers like me and need something lightweight and small that will fit into day packs with ease and that won’t add too much extra weight for long hikes.
VEO 2 GO 265CB in action
Seceda Mountain should be at the top of anyone’s Dolomites itinerary. If you are driving from Innsbruck you can also visit Val Di Funes for San Giovanni Chapel and the view across St Magdalena before reaching Ortisei but we shot those locations in the middle of the day and I wasn’t happy with any of the photos.
Located near Val Gardena, the mountain is accessible via cable car from Ortisei or by hiking. The lift is open from 15th June to the 13th October (2019) and costs around 30 euros for a return ticket. The lift is open from 8.30am to 17.30am (during June) so you if you want to shoot sunrise I would suggest getting the last cable car up and making use of the mountain refuges nearby, or camp. You can park in the parking garage near the station for 8 euros a day (Raplan Parking lot). You can also hike from here which will take about 2 ½ hours.
During summer the setting sun hits the north western side of the peaks giving them an incredible red glow (we just caught the last of this). The sun rises from the left of the Seceda in the spring and early summer and the right of the peaks towards the end of summer/autumn. Unfortunately we only stayed up there for sunset before hiking down, but it really is worth witnessing both if you have the chance. Leave plenty of time a have a good walk around at the top as there are plenty of compositions to be had.
Alpe Di Siusi
Second on the list and for our first sunrise in The Dolomites, we headed to the iconic Alpe Di Siusi.
Head to the Compatsch 49 parking lot which is the nearest parking area. If you attempt to drive any further down the road without a permit (or staying in one of the hotels) you will receive a hefty fine.
The walk is about 30/40 minutes up the road to where the huts start to appear under the peaks. Follow the road to Hotel Icaro and then past that to the Adler Lodge. This will give you the best views with plenty of cabins to shoot under the peaks of Sassolungo (left) and Sassopiatto Plattkofel (right). During the summer there should be wildflowers and often mist, giving you plenty of different compositions and a variety of photographs to shoot. The sun will rise to the left of the peaks in summer lighting them up and then flooding light onto the meadow shortly after.
Via Ferrata Ra Gusela
The view of Mount Averau from Rifugio Novulau
I won’t go into too much detail about the Via Ferrata routes as there is plenty of information out there. Both are beginner and the actual bolted sections aren’t very long, so if you’re doing your first Via Ferrata I would recommend either of these, although a certain level of fitness will be required to do both in one go as with the loop back to the car it worked out to be around 12km with 700m vertical. Starting at Passu Giau (plenty of free parking here) and going around the north east side of the peak leads to the start of the Via ferrata Ra Gusela. This includes a short 80m and 60m section of Via Ferrata that is manageable for beginners and will take around 2 hours for the whole route. This will take you to Rifugio Nuvolau. This would be a good spot to spend the night with the amazing views all around.
Near the summit
Via Ferrata Averau
This Via Ferrata was more technical – but still only a short 100m+ section on the bolted section before a scramble to the summit.
This Via Ferrata started from the North East Side of the mountain behind Refugio Averau. There was one slightly difficult section on it but it was still manageable. It took us around an hour and a half to reach the summit of Averau. The views from the top were some of the best I have ever seen. With stunning peaks in all directions you won’t know where to point your camera. Leave plenty of time to enjoy yourselves up here as it really is absolutely stunning, and you are unlikely to be surrounded by tourists. Just on a word of warning, pack plenty of layers with you and a head torch, and make sure to leave immediately after the sunsets to get back safely. The majority of people would advise against a summit for sunset but it is doable if you are prepared. There is also space to camp on top if you wanted to stay the night. The way the setting sun makes the peaks glow red really is spectacular in The Dolomites.
Via Ferrata Merlone
We had settled on Via Ferrata Merlone, which summited Cima Cadin. We didn’t know at this point it would be the highlight of the trip.
To start the hike to the base of Via Ferrata Merlone we parked in a car park in the forest just before you reach Lake Antorno. It is sign posted for Rifugio Fonda Savio. From here it is a fairly straightforward hike up to the Rifugio which took us around 1 ½ hours. Once you reach a plateau half way into the hike you should be able to see the hut above you, as well as the daunting peaks of the Cadini Di Misurina area. Once you reach the hut the Via Ferrata is well sign posted. If you do not fancy the Via Ferrata the hike to the hut is still an option for a short hike, giving good views of Tre Cime National Park.
We were told to allow 4 hours to summit and descend the Via Ferrata but had no plans of doing this. After seeing some people camping on Averau the night before we had decided to camp on Cima Cadin that night. It takes around 30 minutes to hike to the base of the Via Ferrata from the hut. From here the route takes you straight up an exposed 400m rock face to the summit. The route is a combination of ladders and some climbing sections. Although exposed the route is very secure, however there were few sections that got the blood pumping so it’s not for the faint hearted. Due to us climbing late in the day we didn’t run into anyone else, but you should take extra care if this Ferrata is busy.
It took just over an hour of climbing to reach the summit, and on reaching it we were blown away. The view of Tre Cime De Lavaredo is something else, and definitely refreshing to see it from another angle other than the Tre Cime Circuit. We made dinner and enjoyed golden hour and the sunset up here shooting 100’s of photos before settling down for the night.
Waking up to an incredible sunrise setting the sky on fire all around us
We started day 4 at a classic location, Lake Misurina. Due to the sun rising so early, we managed to descend from Cima Cadin and still reach here whilst the water was calm. There is free parking in the Spar car park and a public toilet here. With the mountain backdrop this really is a stunning spot for sunrise, and also very peaceful at this time.
Lago Di Sorapis
After seeing this place on Instagram we were convinced it was photo-shopped, but decided to find out ourselves. We weren’t disappointed.
We arrived at Misurina Passo Tre Croci at 6am to start the hike. There were only two cars parked along the road here but from what we’d heard it gets busy very fast so, as with most hikes we did, I’d recommend forcing yourself out of bed early to beat the crowds. There is plenty of parking all along the road here even if it is busy. The hike to Lago Di Sorapis was fairly straight forward and took about 1 1/2 for us. The views along the way are also very impressive.
Upon arriving it was clear that the photos we had seen were not photo-shopped, as the lake was the most incredible turquoise blue colour. In fact it was so inviting we had to go for a quick dip. Just a tip, lakes made of melt water are ABSOLUTELY FREEZING, in case you hadn’t figured that out!
Make sure you walk around the lake taking in all the angles, it really is stunning and takes about 30-40 minutes to walk the full loop. We had the place to ourselves for around 30 minutes before anyone else arrived, also the water was extremely calm in the morning giving almost perfect reflections. It really makes that early alarm so worth it.
This place is a must see whilst in The Dolomites; however we had avoided it over the weekend due to it being so crowded. Late on Tuesday seemed to be a good time to go.
We had intended to hike to the park from Parking Fischleinbachtal but after discovering it was 1000m+ vertical and it being our last day we decided against it. This is a good option if you want to spend a few days here.
We took the toll road to Rifugio Auronzo which cost 15 euros for the day (car price). From here we set off on the Tre Cime Circuit South-East. Our first photo spot was a pretty well-known location, overlooking the peaks of the Cadini group. You can see the peaks from the car park so just follow the path south/south east past the Rifugio and then up along the ridgeline you can see in the distance. The Hike should take around 40 minutes to reach this insane spot. It’s a really good spot for sunrise if you get the chance.
Lago Di Braies
The spot is very well known so you’re unlikely to have the whole place to yourself, however like most places that are popular it’s for a good reason, and it shouldn’t put you off spending some time here on a trip to The Dolomites.
There is plenty of parking here, and it cost us around 12 euros to stay overnight in the car park and leave at around 11am after shooting sunrise here. The perfect reflections from the surrounding peaks and the photogenic boathouse and boats make it a photographers dream. The boat house isn’t open till 9am unless you pay, and unfortunately we left before this. It takes around an hour to walk around and is definitely worth it. It gets busy here at about 7am so I would get here as early as possible.
So that’s it. We had the best time on our 6 day trip to Italy, got ridiculously lucky with the weather and didn’t get nearly enough sleep. I couldn’t recommend it more to anyone who loves photography and wants an adventure and could have easily spent a month here. As I mentioned earlier we rushed the eastern side of The Dolomites, but there is plenty to do that I haven’t mentioned here. I hope this blog helps some of you out with your future trips.
Pete's Gear for his trip to The Dolomites
- Fujifilm X-T3
- Samyang 12mm, Fuji 16-55mm and 55-200mm lens
- VEO 2 GO 265CB
About the author
Vanguard Ambassador Pete is a 25 year old landscape and travel photographer from the South Coast of England. Although he loves to shoot around Hampshire and Dorset, he is happiest when he is out in the mountains. Driven by exploring new places and meeting new people he loves to capture authentic moments as he travels, and likes to share his experiences with others.