Photographing the Drama of Italy’s Dolomite Mountains

The jagged peaks of the Dolomites are a true photographer’s paradise

By Vieri Bottazzini – learn more about Vieri’s photo workshops here

As a landscape photographer living in Italy, I’m very lucky. While I’m not “local” to the Dolomites, I can be in the mountains in a few hours.

I first visited the Dolomites as a young boy, and have come back many times since. I started photographing the area seriously in 2018, going back five times since for a total of about two months there.

A May sunset at the beautiful San Giovanni church in Ranui in Italy’s Dolomites
A May sunset at the beautiful San Giovanni church in Ranui

Photography Workshops or by Myself, I Love it All

Whether I’m leading a workshop or shooting for myself, I am always happy to be in the Dolomites.

The mountains cover an impressively vast area and offer an endless variety of views, locations and landscapes.

Sometimes I’m looking for fresh approaches of iconic shots of the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, or the San Giovanni church in Ranui. Other times, I’m exploring rarely visited locations, where I’m completely free to create images no one has ever seen.

Sunset on Tre Cime di Lavaredo, with Rifugio Locatelli in Italy’s Dolomites

Sunset on Tre Cime di Lavaredo, with Rifugio Locatelli

Favorite Seasons to Photograph the Dolomites

I love to photograph the Dolomites in autumn, as late in the season as I can go before many of the facilities shut down. The light is better, I get the beautiful fall colours, and there are far fewer people around (often nobody). You’ll see that many of these shots were taken in September or October.

My second choice would be late May / early June. Spring and early summer in the mountains, valleys and pastures provide a sparkling, irresistible palette.

I’ve also been there in the winter which of course gives you beautiful snow-covered mountains. However, it does take extra planning because the snow drastically limits your access. Many roads and trails are simply not passable. But, there’s still plenty to shoot and spectacular vistas.

For a first-time visitor then, I would recommend fall or spring.

You’ll notice I haven’t mentioned summer. It is of course beautiful then too, despite the possibility of haze in the air, but the area is jammed with vacationers. Accommodation is more expensive, restaurants are packed, and even if you’re up early in the morning, you’ll likely find people in front of your lens. But, if summer is the only time you can go, by all means. I’m sure you’ll be back for a repeat visit another season.

A sunrise view of Passo Giau, with its characteristic triangular peak

A sunrise view of Passo Giau, with its characteristic triangular peak

Choose Your Photography Gear Wisely

As far as your camera, lenses and tripod are concerned, for the mountains I would recommend keeping your bag as light as possible. After a few miles of hiking, every pound starts to count.

The choice of lenses is very personal, of course, since it determines the look of your images.

To keep things to a minimum I’d recommend that you reset your kit before every hike according to each location. You’ll want to plan ahead, knowing what you’re going to shoot so that you’re carrying appropriate lenses. Try not to be tempted to take everything. There are no donkeys here to carry your equipment!

Sunset on the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo in Italy’s Dolomites

Sunset on the famous Tre Cime di Lavaredo

For some locations, I’d go with a 24-70mm lens only. For other locations I would carry just two lenses: a wide-angle zoom such as a 16-35mm, and a long zoom, for example a 70-200mm. The latter would also be my to-go kit for locations I am visiting for the first time, especially when hiking is expected.

For me, a stable carbon-fiber tripod is a must, given the possibility of windy conditions and uneven terrain. I wouldn’t recommend the small travel tripods with center columns and very thin legs, but if that’s the only tripod you have, then by all means bring it – any tripod is better than no tripod.

Sunset on Torre Dei Scarperi, looking north from Tre Cime’s west access

Sunset on Torre Dei Scarperi, looking north from Tre Cime’s west access

Photographing Mountains – Choose Your Location by Your Fitness Level

Happily, the Dolomites offer unparalleled photography locations for people of any fitness level.

There are good spots from roadsides, parking lots or short, easy hikes that will give you memorable images.

However, since we’re talking about mountains, some walking and hiking will be necessary to get off the beaten track to the best photography locations.

While I am not saying don’t go unless you are young and fit, my recommendation would be to be honest with yourself about your own physical condition before heading out.

When I’m leading a workshop in the Dolomites, I always make sure ahead of time that everyone in our group is comfortable with the effort required to get to our locations.

On top of the Piccolo Lagazuoi, looking north, around sunset in September
On top of the Piccolo Lagazuoi, looking north in Italy’s Dolomites, around sunset in September

Take Appropriate Precautions Before Your Trek

Never, ever underestimate the mountains, especially if you plan to hike far from “civilisation”. The mountains can be a very dangerous environment, and one you need to be prepared for. Check the weather forecast, and keep in mind that the mountains often make their own weather and that conditions can change rapidly and unexpectedly.

When in doubt, don’t attempt things you aren’t comfortable with. If you plan on a medium to long hike, let your hotel or local mountain services know where you’re going and when you expect to return.

A misty sunrise on the shores of Lago di Dobbiaco

A misty sunrise on the shores of Lago di Dobbiaco

Photograph and Enjoy the Dolomite Villages and Towns

Although this region, South Tyrol, has been part of Italy for over a century now, for many years it belonged to the Austro-Hungarian empire and before that, various German duchies.

That gives you a delightful mixture of Italian and Tyrolean culture, with unique architecture and interesting food and wine choices (the local wines are extraordinarily good and not expensive). After a day of shooting, you do not want to miss dinner here – eating and drinking in South Tyrol is truly fantastic!

I look forward to seeing you in the Dolomite mountains. It’s an experience that will stay with you for a lifetime.

A perfect reflection on Lago di Dobbiaco, on a misty October sunrise

A perfect reflection on Lago di Dobbiaco, on a misty October sunrise

Vieri Bottazzini

Vieri is a Fine Art landscape photographer. His photography has been described as “a poetic journey in landscapes of endless beauty, landscapes he could capture the inner spirit of, by going past their mere appearance in an aesthetic voyage of discovery of our planet’s deepest nature”.

A passionate teacher with over 25 years of experience, Vieri believes that his exclusive European and North American workshops are the best way to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for photography.

Vieri is a Formatt-Hitech Signature Artist & Brand Ambassador and a Qualified Associate of the BIPP.

Deeply committed to the protection of the environment, Vieri partners with Eden Projects, Nature First and Leave No Trace to support reforestation and educational projects.

Vieri Bottazzini

Vieri is a Fine Art landscape photographer. His photography has been described as “a poetic journey in landscapes of endless beauty, landscapes he could capture the inner spirit of, by going past their mere appearance in an aesthetic voyage of discovery of our planet’s deepest nature”.

A passionate teacher with over 25 years of experience, Vieri believes that his exclusive European and North American workshops are the best way to share his knowledge and enthusiasm for photography.

Vieri is a Formatt-Hitech Signature Artist & Brand Ambassador and a Qualified Associate of the BIPP.

Deeply committed to the protection of the environment, Vieri partners with Eden Projects, Nature First and Leave No Trace to support reforestation and educational projects.

1 Comment

  1. Jimmy Greene

    I love this article, it certainly has put this location on my to do list thanks very much.

    Reply

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

RELATED ARTICLES

CONTRIBUTE

ExploreDiscoverShoot is a community of landscape and travel photographers and filmmakers.

TAKE PART & GET PUBLISHED!

You’ll get more exposure and live links to your work.

Recently Added

Most Popular