Cinque Torri, Dolomites

It’s a beautiful place, this part of Italy. It’s easy to forget yourself here. You can become so entranced by the spectacular natural beauty off far-off peaks that you miss things close at hand. You don’t see them at first, the strange gouges that pockmark many of the trees. In other places, hikers occasionally kick up bullet casings and bits of barbed wire among the wildflowers.

Cinque Torri at Sunset, Dolomites, Italy
August 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 17 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/13, ISO 64, tripod.

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They are grim reminders of a dark part of the region’s history. From 1914 to 1918, a bitter — if little-known — battle raged here between the forces of Italy and Austria-Hungary. The terrain itself — marked by soaring, 3000 meter peaks — was treacherous, as was the weather, and men died of hypothermia as easily as they died from gunfire. The casualties were enormous — Italy alone lost more than half a million men among the craggy spires of the Dolomites.

Few people remember that fighting now, a century later. A popular spot for hikers, Cinque Torri is now lined with trails and signs pointing in one direction or another. Looking out over the Dolomites on a summer day, it’s almost impossible to imagine the horror that once took place here. The only sounds are birds and the voices of fellow hikers, and wildflowers bloom from a land once scarred by battle. It’s hard to imagine that that the region was ever anything other than surpassingly lovely.

I call this photograph the Valley of Peace. I chose that name because now – one hundred years after the guns fell silent – it’s a place of serenity. Once, countries fought over this land. Now, people from around the world come here for the sole purpose of admiring its beauty. This particular spot is a reminder to me that for all of the harm that humans may sometimes do, we still possess the ability to be deeply moved by the natural world and to look out over creation with a profound sense of wonder.

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Brunecker Turm, Dolomites

As a travel photographer, my work is often strictly planned. I research locales and book trips months in advance. I plan my itineraries well before I leave for a trip, so that I’m sure to include all of the well-known sites and scenic spots that I want to photograph. My travels take me to beautiful, historic, and beloved places, but I sometimes wonder if I spend so much time focused on work that I don’t get to fully appreciate the places I visits. I’m a lifelong traveler, but I sometimes forget to simply wander.

Winding path led up to Brunecker Turm mountain peak in Passo Gardena, Trentino Alto Adige, Italy
August 2018, panorama from 3 vertical shots, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16 mm, aperture f/14, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 31, tripod, ND 5-stop filter.

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On my recent trip to the Dolomites with my family, I decided to spend less time focused on work. My family was with me, after all, and it was their holiday as much as it was mine. I resolved to spend more time simply enjoying the place and taking in the natural beauty of the region than being focused on getting a great photograph. I decided I would wander.

This part of Italy almost compels you to wander. From the lovely Val Gardena Valley to the jagged peaks and spires of the Dolomites themselves, the region begs to be explored. So I put my itinerary aside and my family and I took to the trails and ski lifts. In winter, the area is a popular ski resort, but in warmer months, when the mountainsides are green and dotted with wildflowers, the lifts are full with hikers and explorers.

It was during our ambling through the countryside that I found a beautiful peak, which I later learned was called Brunecker Turm. I found it by accident during a day spent hiking with my family. It was one of those fortuitous accidents that happen sometimes when you travel, especially if you simply allow yourself to wander. You turn a corner or hike to the top of a hill and you’re greeted with one of the most beautiful things you’ve ever seen.

As it happened, a winding path led up to Brunecker Turm. I hadn’t planned on making photographs that day, but the scene was so picturesque and evocative that I couldn’t resist. That winding path up to a Dolomite peak seemed to me to represent not only my meandering path that day, but the varied paths that each of us takes through life. On that day, an early summer morning in Italy, I was profoundly grateful that mine took me where it did.

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Cinque Torri at Sunset, Dolomites

Sometimes beauty is deceiving. I’ve often found myself drawn to a particular place because photos and descriptions of it highlighted its beauty, only to find that reaching the place came with certain difficulties or even dangers. I’ve found myself perched on the edge of cliffs to capture a perfect image of the sea or traveling into the remote reaches of the desert, far away from civilization, to photograph a long-abandoned city.

5 torri, Dolomites, Alps mountains, Veneto, Italy
August 2018, panorama from 3 horizontal shots, focus stacking for foreground, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 14 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/10, ISO 64, tripod.

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In the Dolomites, I was once again drawn to a deceptively beautiful and serene location. Cinque Torri, another of the range’s famously scenic locations, was my next destination during my family vacation this summer. Cinque Torri didn’t even require a lengthy hike — it was accessible via a ski lift, and I sailed up over the mountain terrain, gear in hand, ready to photograph another remarkable Dolomite landscape.

The view from Cinque Torri was as beautiful as I anticipated. Some of the peaks in this region soar to more than 10,000 feet before plunging down into rocky valleys lined with wildflowers.

But the stunning views from Cinque Torri also revealed a dark and violent history. It was here, during World War I, that the forces of Italy and the Austro-Hungarian Empire clashed in some of the fiercest fighting of the war. A short distance from the peaks that enchanted me were trenches, tunnels, and barbed wire where fighting once raged. These remnants of war are now an open-air museum, completely harmless, but they felt ominous to me, reminders of the terrible atrocities that humans can inflict on one another.

I settled on a location to photograph, with the great peaks in the background. In the foreground, I focused on the vivid purple wolfsbane flowers that grow in the Dolomites. Like Cinque Torri, the flower is beautiful but deceiving; they are lovely to look at but they harbor a deadly poison, and it struck me that the flowers were a perfect metaphor for Cinque Torri. I got my photographs and started back down the trails, pondering the nature of beauty.

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Lago di Sorapis, Dolomites

The Dolomites continued to charm me. My family and I spent days in the mountains, and each day revealed more enchanting, tucked away places. After a few days in the mountains, I found what must be one of the most ethereally beautiful places in the entire range, the Lago di Sorapis.

Sorapis Lake Dolomites Italy
August 2018, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 14 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 1/15, ISO 64, tripod.

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Getting to Sorapis requires a three- or four-hour hike from the parking lot all the way to the lake. It’s not particularly difficult, but there are places along the way where the drop is quite steep and the view — while beautiful — might be a bit too vertiginous for some. But these places are few and for most of the hike, I was too distracted by the incredible views to give much thought to falling.

It’s a spectacular place — I was surrounded by mountains for virtually the entire hike and the air was crisp with the scent of evergreen. I wouldn’t call it untraveled, but the hike to Lago di Sorapis is generally less populated than some of the other trails in the Dolomites. Surrounded by the region’s natural beauty and having the trail virtually to ourselves gave the hike a serene quality and I was in no hurry to leave.

At the end of the long hike, we reached our reward: the mystical blue waters of Lago di Sorapis. The lake is a milky, powdery blue, and its color, combined with its relatively remote location, makes you feel that you’ve wandered into a setting from a child’s storybook. I timed the hike to that I would arrive at the lake shortly before sunset, and the dimming sunlight gave the lake an even more magical quality. Though the hike had been long and I was tired, seeing the otherworldly beauty of the lake left me invigorated and I was grateful for the experience.

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Tre Cime di Lavaredo at Sunset

The Dolomites have inspired and intrigued travelers for centuries, or possibly for millennia, as they are believed to be more than 200,000 years old.

3 Cime di Lavaredo at Beautiful Sunset
August 2018, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 17 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 0.4 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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They are lovely and quite unexpected, as they don’t look like what you imagine the Alps to be. Most people picture snow-capped peaks and vast seas of evergreen when they think of the Alps, but the Dolomites are different. When touched by early morning light or sunset, they seem to glow with a deep rose hue. At such moments they seem out of place, like formations that belong in the Badlands of the American West.

But no matter how the sunlight hits them, they’re beautiful. From any angle at any time of day, the Dolomites’ formidable peaks have the power to leave you awestruck. The famed architect Le Corbusier described the Dolomites as “the most beautiful architectonic work in the world.”

I could hike the many trails through the Dolomites endlessly, enchanted all over again with each new view. But I knew I wanted to photograph the famous Tre Cime de Lavaredo, three peaks that are one of the most famous parts of the range. I wanted to photograph Tre Cime at sunset, when I believed the light would be the beautiful. This required some effort. To reach the park from Cortina, it requires a drive of 40 minutes, and then a hike of another 40 minutes to reach the best viewing point. I was determined to get there in time to see the sun set over those striking formations.

The park permits you to spend one night in the park in a tent if you have nowhere to go and if you leave in the morning, so I decided that we would bring a tent and make a night of it, since we would be there at nightfall, anyway. We reached the best vantage point shortly before sunset, and I began to set up my gear. As the sun began to descend toward the horizon, I realized that all the extra effort was worth it. Tre Cime was stunning in the late afternoon light, like a landscape from another world. The time of day that Da Vinci referred to as “the golden hour” was a truly remarkable time to see Tre Cime. No one spoke; it was a moment that seemed to demand silence, reverence. I took my photos then sat in wonder as twilight settled over the Dolomites.

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Cortina d’Ampezzo in the Evening, Dolomites

Earlier this year, my family and I went on a holiday to the Italian Alps. Many of you know that my “family holidays” often involve at least some working, since I never leave home without a camera and the temptation of photographing a new place is usually too much for me to resist. By now, my family expects this and understands that I am never completely on vacation.

Cortina d Ampezzo, Dolomites
August 2018, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 22 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 4 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

After spending several lazy days swimming and sunbathing at Lake Garda, we moved on to the more arduous part of the trip, which involved hiking mountain trails in the Dolomites. Before we ventured too far up the mountain trails, we spent a few days in Cortina d’Ampezzo, a ski resort town that is only a couple of hours from Venice but feels worlds away.

Most people know Cortina, as it is commonly called, for its proximity to the slopes and the excellent skiing to be had there. But the transformation into a major ski destination has only happened comparatively recently in the town’s history, which is far longer than many people realized. This small town has a history stretching back some thousand years, and walking along its steeply winding streets, you get the sense that it was proud of its stunning natural beauty long before the skiers and tourists came and made it famous.

So once again, I found myself on a family vacation, camera in hand, charmed by my temporary home. The spire of the Basilica Minore dei Santi Filippo e Giacomo is visible from almost any point in the town, and I naturally found myself drawn there. As luck would have it, it was a moody day and dark clouds were moving over Cortina. Few people were out, so I stopped and framed a shot with the spire as the focus. There are some modern elements in the photo, like the shops on the street, but I framed it this way to capture some of the town’s historic beauty. I like the idea of a proud little city that was here long before the skiers came.

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Lake Garda and the Town of Malcesine

As a photographer, I’m fortunate to see some of the world’s most beautiful places. I’ve had the great fortune to photograph remarkable natural scenery as well as remarkable man-made structures, brilliant testimonies to the human urge to create.

Malcesine on Lake Garda
August 2018, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 24 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 88 seconds, ISO 31, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

The downside to being a photographer, however, is that I don’t often get to explore these locations as ordinary travelers would. I don’t have the luxury of time and my focus on getting the photographs means that I can’t simply admire the beauty of a place; I have to look at it with a technical eye in order to make the photograph work.

But very occasionally, I take a break and travel the way that everyone else does — purely or relaxation and time to spend with my family. After spending several weeks traveling through the United Kingdom, I arranged for a holiday in Italy with my family. We began our holiday at Lake Garda, one of the most scenic of Italy’s lakes. Ringed by picturesque towns and villages and lush countryside, Lake Garda is one of the most popular destinations in Italy.

We chose Malcesine, a small town on the eastern shore of Lake Garda, for our holiday. Even though the purpose of the trip was primarily to rest and enjoy time away from work, I confess that part of my reason for choosing Malcesine was its beauty. I’d seen enough photos of the town to know it’s one of the most picturesque towns along the coast and I wanted to work in a few photographs on what was officially a family holiday.

Malcesine did not disappoint. Located at the narrow end of the lake with mountains making a dramatic backdrop, the town was made to be photographed. During the day, I enjoyed time with my family, but in the early evening, when the crowds of tourists began to diminish, I found a spot along the shore and set up my tripod. It’s one of my favorite times of day to make photographs, especially when the image includes water — I think the reflection of light on the water’s surface is enchanting and Malcesine was no exception. The town is beautiful in the daytime, but in early evening light it was stunning.

The work of a photographer never stops. Even on holiday, we are always looking for another beautiful image, and Lake Garda has them in abundance.

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Westgate Towers, Canterbury

As a travel photographer, one of the things you learn early in your career is to be adaptable and to be prepared for things not to work as you had planned. With travel photography, it’s virtually unavoidable that at some point, the plans you made to photograph a beloved landmark or incredible bit of nature will go awry. You arrive and with no forewarning, find a place closed for repairs or a landscape ravaged by a sudden change in the weather.

Westgate Tower Canterbury
July 2018, focus stack from 17 images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 20mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

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In the summer of 2018, I made a trip to the United Kingdom. One of the places I most wanted to see in England was Canterbury Cathedral. A site of great historical and literary significance, the cathedral is also a remarkable and beautiful structure, and I was excited for the opportunity to photograph it. On arriving in Canterbury, I was disappointed to find the beautiful old structure almost completely surrounded by scaffolding for repairs.

I was determined not to leave Canterbury without capturing at least part of the historic city. But I’m not a fan of scaffolding in photographs, so I found a spot near the Westgate Towers where roses lined the walkways. The towers are the oldest surviving medieval gates, a remnant from a distant time when Canterbury was guarded by seven gates. The Westgate is the largest of the seven and was the most important, as it guarded the road between London and Canterbury.

The city no longer needs to be protected by stone walls, but the Westgate Towers remain – a picturesque reminder of England’s history. And for this photographer, they also served as a reminder to be adaptable and to think on my feet.

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The Shard and London Bridge

London, I’ve found, is a city that has a curious ability to continually reinvent itself while maintaining its history. London has a strange talent to be at once a thoroughly modern city and also one that preserves and honors its past.

London Bridge Skyline and London Shard Skyline
July 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 18 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 121 seconds, ISO 64, ND 5-stop filter, tripod.

Along the Thames, a river as storied as the city itself, you see this — the past interspersed with the present. The London Eye taking tourists up above the vaunted Houses of Parliament and Big Ben. The beloved dome of St. Paul’s framed by the concrete and steel of the Millennium Bridge.

But one of my favorite photographs from my short stay in London focuses on a more modern view of the city. I set up my tripod across the river from the Shard, one of the city’s newest landmarks, which was just completed in 2012. The Shard, with its angular lines and spectacular height, is unlike anything else in the city and is immediately recognizable.

I situated this shot with London Bridge leading to the Shard and the waters of the Thames taking up much of the frame. One of the best ways to see any city, I’ve found, is by water. Rivers tell stories and the Thames has a multitude of them. As I often do when photographing water, I used a very slow shutter speed and ND filters to give the water a smooth, glassy look against the backdrop of the city.

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St. Paul’s Cathedral and Millennium Bridge, London

London is a city that has captivated people for centuries. In whatever time one imagines, London has always seemed to be the center of the world. From Roman Londinium to Medieval London to the Victorian London of Charles Dickens to Mod London of the 1960s, the city has always seemed to be the thriving, humming center of things.

Millennium Bridge London and St Paul's Cathedral London
July 2018, single shot, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 45 mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 41 seconds, ISO 31, tripod.

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For a photographer, London is a wonderful city to explore. Every street, every bend in the road, reveals another landmark or iconic view. It’s hard not to be transfixed by history when you’re in London; there are pubs in the city that are older than many countries. What is London, if not a city for the ages?

This view of London is one of my favorites. In one image, the resilience and timelessness of London is captured through two iconic images: the Millennium Bridge and St. Paul’s Cathedral, built by Christopher Wren. One, a symbol of twenty-first century London, the other built in the years following England’s bloody civil war; the work of one century framing a view of another century’s masterwork.

Look at almost any photograph of London since the medium was developed and you’ll likely see St. Paul’s on the city’s skyline. The remarkable structure took decades to build, from 1675 to 1710. Like London itself, the cathedral embodies the steely resolve of the English people. Nazi bombs damaged it — one even landed in the nave itself — but the cathedral, guarded by brigades, withstood the war.

Sir Christopher Wren, who designed the cathedral, is entombed inside. For his grave, a simple marker with a Latin inscription that translates to: “Reader, if you seek his monument, look around you.” No other words are necessary for the man who designed one of the city’s most beloved landmarks.

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