Tag Archives: Switzerland

St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland

Many of the destinations that I photograph are justifiably popular with tourists. I can’t blame them; they’re drawn to the same beauty that I am, after all. But sometimes, especially when I’m working, I like to escape the crowds. I like to see a place as it is, free of crowds and free of the commercialization that often intrudes into beautiful places.

View of St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland
January 2018, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 66mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 200, tripod.

St. Moritz is actually a small town; its fame far exceeds its size. But we were there just on the cusp of the main ski season, a time when the number of visitors to St Moritz may triple the town’s population. I quickly found that one of the best times to photograph the city was in early morning, before many of the guests were up and about.

I wanted to capture St Moritz — the actual, authentic place. I walked to a different part of the town, away from the center where most of the hotels and resorts were located. Then I walked a short distance away, just enough to give some perspective on St Moritz and its relationship with its environment.

From that vantage point, I could see the true scale of the mountains that surround St Moritz. It was the Alps — formidable and breathtaking — that gradually turned a pilgrimage spot into a holiday destination. From my spot just outside the town, I could see how tiny and insignificant it all is when juxtaposed against the mountains. It’s a theme I return to often in my work — our small place in the world — but viewing a still – sleeping St Moritz against the backdrop of the Alps, it wasn’t difficult to find myself thinking along those lines again.

I set up my tripod, and while St Moritz slowly came to life, I framed a shot that captured the majestic scale of the Alps.

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St Moritz in the Evening, Switzerland

As a photographer, I am almost always working. Even when I’m “officially” on vacation with my family, I can’t help but be drawn to beautiful, interesting places. I always have a camera with me, so even my down time usually results in at least a few photographs.

View of St Moritz in the Morning, Switzerland
January 2018, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 38mm, aperture f/8, shutter speed 30 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

My family and I made a trip to St Moritz for the holidays. Skiing is one of my favorite pastimes to share with my family, and St Moritz lives up to its reputation as a beautiful winter retreat.

But St Moritz is, as we quickly learned, much more than a winter ski destination. In St Moritz, it’s possible to experience any number of weather extremes — snow, storms, mist, and even sun — over the space of a day. Every day seemed to bring totally different weather than we’d had the day before. And there were more brilliantly sunny days than most people would ever expect.

In fact, the large number of bright, sunny days in St Moritz is one of the things that made the resort. For centuries, it was a popular spot for religious pilgrims who made the trek to drink from the area’s mineral springs. Pilgrims who made the journey to the springs were granted absolution from their sins. It was only in the mid-1800s that a pioneering entrepreneur, Caspar Badrutt, realized the unique appeal of a place that offered snow-covered natural beauty with 300 days of sunlight each year. Badrutt invited a handful of English friends to St Moritz during the winter, promising that if they loved the place as he expected, they could stay at his expense. If they didn’t like it, he would reimburse their travel expenses. The English tourists came, and as Badrutt expected, they loved the place, and a major tourist destination was born.

Like Badrutt’s English guests, I find the juxtaposition of snow and sun strikingly beautiful. But the most beautiful days in St Moritz were the ones when we had a snow storm followed by brilliant sunlight. The light that fell over St Moritz on those days — when sunlight broke through an atmosphere still heavy with snow — was enchanting and bathed the town in a fairy tale glow.

A view like this one, taken over St Moritz as the sun broke through the snow, is the reason that my family vacation became a semi-working holiday.

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Grossmunster Church in the Morning, Zurich

On my last day in Zurich, I decided to photograph Grossmunster again, this time from a different vantage point. This time, I wanted the statue of Hans Waldmann in the shot.

Grossmunster Church and Mayor Hans Waldmann Statue in the Morning, Zurich, Switzerland
June 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

A hero of the Burgundian Wars, Waldmann led the Swiss Confederates to victory against Charles the Bold. From a humble background, Waldmann eventually became one of the leading citizens of Zurich and was elected mayor of the city.

The statue, of a lordly Waldmann on horseback, would have been unthinkable at the time of his death. Though once a military hero, Waldmann’s imposition of high taxes made him unpopular and in 1489 he was overthrown by peasants from the surrounding villages. In April of that year, he was sentenced to death and beheaded.

By the twentieth century, Waldmann’s reputation improved. A number of Zurich citizens saw his death as little more than a political assassination. The statue of Waldmann, which overlooks the Munsterbrucke, was unveiled in 1937.

I went back to Grossmunster early in the morning. This time, I wanted to photograph the church will all the lines leading to it, making it the focal point of the photograph. The bridge, its railings, and even the eternally riding Waldmann all focus the viewer’s attention towards Grossmunster.

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Panorama of Zurich in the Evening

At night, Zurich sheds some of its serious, business-minded facade.

Zurich Skyline and Limmat River in the Evening, Zurich, Switzerland
June 2016, panorama from 3 horizontal images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 26mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 15 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

Though it’s a city of more than three hundred banks, it’s also a city which has been transformed by youth movements in the latter half of the twentieth century, and Zurich by night is a far different place than Zurich by day.

Still fascinated by Zurich, I decided to take another photo of the city’s skyline, this time from a different angle. I wanted a view of the city at night, with light reflected in the Limmat River. I found a spot further along the river, from a different bridge, with a more distant view of the city’s landmarks.

Though taking the photo from a different vantage point, I again framed the shot so that the iconic steeple of Fraumunster is central. I used a long exposure to smooth the water of the Limmat so that the light is reflected nicely. Against a deep blue sky and gathering nightfall, I found the city particularly lovely, with just the suggestion of the energy that hums beneath its staid exterior.

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Zurich Skyline and Limmat River

After spending several days in Zurich, it’s a bit strange to me that it doesn’t get the attention of other European cities.

Zurich Skyline and Limmat River in the Evening, Zurich, Switzerland
June 2016, panorama from 4 vertical images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 8 seconds, ISO 31, tripod.

It’s Paris, London, and Barcelona that the tourists flock to. Even in Switzerland, Zurich is often unfavorably compared to Geneva, Lucerne, and Lugano. Perhaps it’s because of Zurich’s role as the country’s business and financial center; there is no mistaking the city’s buttoned-down, serious vibe. But I found the city to be lovely and was charmed by it immediately.

After photographing some of the city’s most recognizable landmarks, I decided to return on another evening and take a panoramic shot of Zurich at dusk, when clouds and the fading daylight made for a particularly lovely light. In my research on Zurich, I’d found few panoramic shots from the river, which is an especially beautiful view of the city.

I wanted to capture this beautiful city and its landmarks in one photograph, and frame it in such a way that it’s those landmarks that viewers notice, rather than the sky or the river. I wanted the verdigris spire of Fraumunster and the iconic double towers of Grossmunster to be the focal point of the photograph. To capture this view, I used a 5-stop ND filter to achieve a long exposure so that the river would be smoothed, focusing the viewer’s attention on the skyline. I am happy with the results of my experimentation, and I think viewers can see why I find Zurich so charming.

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View of Zurich from Lindenhoff Hill

While I found Zurich enchanting by either early morning light or in the faint shadows of early evening, on this day I chose to photograph the city in midday. I chose to set up my tripod on Lindenhof Hill, the famous point that overlooks the city.

View of Zurich and Limmat River from Lindenhof Hill, Zurich, Switzerland
June 2016, single image, focal length 16mm, aperture f/6.3, shutter speed 251 seconds, ISO 100, 15-stop ND filter, tripod.

Lindenhof has been the site of a Roman fort and palaces built by a grandson of Charlemagne, but now it is one of the city’s most popular spots. It offers one of the best views of the city and is almost always crowded with people — locals and tourists alike — enjoying Zurich from its best vantage point.

Although it was midday, the weather was overcast and heavy, lavender-gray clouds hung low over the city. They made a dramatic backdrop for the city skyline. I wanted to make the most of the dramatic sky, so I decided to use a very long exposure of about 250 seconds. To get the shot, I used a 15-stop neutral density, allowing 32,000 times less light into my lens. With such a long exposure, the hustle of a city at midday is barely noticeable; instead, it’s still and ethereal. The river is mirror-like and the clouds are blurry and evocative.

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Fraumunster Church in the Morning, Zurich

After photographing Fraumunster Church by twilight the day before, I decided to go back and photograph it again in early morning light, before the city awoke and the tourists descended.

Panorama of Helmhaus and Fraumunster Church in the Morning, Zurich, Switzerland
June 2016, panorama from 2 horizontal images, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 17mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 13 seconds, ISO 100, tripod.

It’s difficult not to be impressed by the lovely church, its spire instantly recognizable over Munsterhof Square, a lovely public space built improbably on the site of a pig market.

Aside from its blue-green spire, it’s the windows of Fraumunster that capture you; long, thin panels by Marc Chagall, each done in a predominant color. A person can’t help but be awed standing underneath those windows, bathed in blue light created by the hands of Chagall.

I woke early, while the city was still dark, and while most of Zurich still slept, I carried my equipment along the Limmat. The sun was beginning to break by the time I reached the Helmhaus and began to set up for the shot. For this one, I wanted a wide shot with the Helmhaus in the foreground and the lovely, green-spired Fraumunster in the background. Shooting from a slightly elevated position, I used a panoramic technique to capture the old city from this vantage point. In the faint light of a new day, the church was particularly charming.

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Fraumunster Church in the Evening, Zurich

It’s not the largest or most elegant church in Europe. It pales next to Notre Dame or Westminster. But among the churches of Zurich, it is certainly one of the loveliest and most recognizable, its thin spire dominating the skyline over the Limmat River.

Fraumunster Church and Limmat River in the Evening, Zurich, Switzerland
June 2016, single image, additional exposures for highlights, focal length 16mm, aperture f/11, shutter speed 5 seconds, ISO 64, tripod.

The church has occupied this spot near Paradeplatz since AD 853, when it was built by King Louis the German as an abbey for aristocratic women. Perched at the west end of the Munsterbrucke, the pedestrian bridge crossing the Limmat, Fraumunster is a landmark in the medieval part of Zurich.

Though the church has ancient origins, its most characteristic feature (aside from its verdigris spire) is the stained glass windows by Marc Chagall installed in 1970. The artist was in his 80s when his five windows were installed in the church, each one depicting a different Biblical story. Each long panel was created in a dominant color, which has the effect of bathing the church in brightly colored light.

In the late evening, when I came to Fraumunster, the bridge and the church are draped in the soft glow of twilight against a backdrop of dramatic clouds. I photographed the church from the behind the gentle curve of the Munsterbrucke and let the church’s spire form the focal point of the photograph, with the lighting of the bridge and the street for subtle illumination.

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