I will be honest—I don’t often shoot photos at night very often. After my trip to Italy in May, I plan to remedy that in the future. Walking the streets at night in two of my favorite cities, Venice and Siena, has me resolved to shoot more at night. Being a landscape photographer, I am often up well before dawn to catch a sunrise. By the time night comes around, I am usually pretty tired and spend it in my room relaxing and getting ready for the next morning’s shoot. Observing our workshop leader Nathaniel Smalley and his terrific night photos motivated me to spend my evenings out on the streets. I think of all of the photos I shot in Italy (and trust me, there were a lot), and some of my favorites are the ones I shot at night. Maybe it is the age and architecture of the cities that make them more photogenic to me or it is something new to shoot and someday master. I now see things in a different light (pun intended). This scene was just one of many that I shot and, shooting in a busy city like Venice, it took patience. Gondolas and boats still are active there and I think I waited fifteen minutes before the water became actually still. It was definitely worth the wait.
Bow Lake, just off of the Icefields Parkway, is always reliable for terrific experiences and photography for me. I have seen it in almost all conditions, from frozen one day in June to totally melted a couple of days later. I’ve been there during snow storms in June and beautiful sunny days in the same week. It was at Bow Lake where I had an experience with a grizzly that I was lucky to walk away from. It is one of the most visited lakes on the Parkway where tour buses regularly visit. If you get lucky and time your visit, a glass-like surface is your reward. A couple of weeks ago, we had a sky with great clouds but, unfortunately, there were too many of them. They covered the sky and the sun battled to break through. The sun kept teasing us and would partially light up Crowfoot Mountain. Well the sun never lit it up fully, at least while we were there, but even partially lit, it was still a beautiful scene.
After spending time in Tuscany and Cinque Terre, my buddy Mike Louthan and I, along with Nathaniel Smalley, headed to the Dolomites for five days. We started toward the Dolomites from the Venice area and we headed north toward our destination. About 90 minutes later, we stopped in Pieve di Cadore for our first real views of the Dolomites. The town, located in the Province of Belluno, is known as the birthplace of the famous Renaissance artist Titian as well as being the natural gateway to the heart of the Belluno Dolomites. Here was our first glimpse of what was to be a characteristic of the Dolomites Region: huge mountains towering above Italian towns, both large and small. From our vantage point, the craggy mountains jut into the sky and clouds and contrast greatly with the town below. The primary mountains that can be seen are the Marmarole and Spalti di Toro.
I have been lucky enough to have visited Banff three out of the last four years. Banff is one of, if not the best, location that I have ever visited. There are so many absolutely great locations to experience, let alone photograph. If you asked me what my favorite location is, I would probably answer “the last one I visited”. One thing is for sure though, the road connecting Banff National Park to Jasper National park is always the star of any trip to the Canadian Rockies. The Icefields Parkway is a 143 mile drive and it has so many sights and stops along the way that it is impossible to drive straight through without stopping. From towering mountains on either side of the road to numerous pristine mountain lakes to glaciers to amazing wildlife, the Icefields Parkway has it all. Whenever you see a best drives in the world list, it is almost always in the top five. One of my favorite compositions is the “road shot” that usually acts as a leading line to an amazing subject, in this case Crowfoot Glacier and Mountain.
One of the most memorable experiences that I had on my recent trip to Tuscany was visiting Cinque Terre. This region of the Italian Riviera consists of five fishing villages and there is little or no car traffic except in the most northern of the villages, Monterosso al Mare. The main mode of transportation is by train or by foot along the trails connecting the five villages. The highlight of my stay in Cinque Terre was getting what I consider to be the quintessential photograph of Cinque Terre, that being the harbor of Vernazza from high above on the trail. We decided to photograph the harbor at night, so we started out from the center of Vernazza and began the arduous trail up. To say it was challenging was an understatement. I walk five miles every day and am in pretty good shape. We reached one overlook where a small family was situated and continued upward. As we continued up, our breathing became more ragged. Our much younger workshop leader and guide told us to hang on while they went up to see how much further the next overlook was. Turns out that the higher overlook was totally overgrown, and we then headed back to the first one to set up. Waiting for darkness allowed us to catch our breath and take in the beautiful harbor from above. As you can see in my long-exposure photo (28 seconds) the effort was so worth it. Next was the climb down and a very late dinner.
My trip to Banff and Jasper National Parks seemed like it was blessed by Mother Nature as we wandered through the Canadian Rockies. It seemed that every time we visited a lake, the waters were very still, and we were able to get some great reflection photos. Even the lakes that were rippled, the wind stopped blowing when we got there and stayed that way until we left. The one morning when we headed out to visit Vermilion Lakes for sunrise, it had rained during the night and as we drove toward the town of Banff, the weather was atrocious. Low hanging clouds, rain and cold was everywhere. I think everyone in our group didn’t think that there would be any photography being done that morning. As we got close to Banff, the skies seemed to open up and, miracle of miracles, the sun came out over the lakes. This was the first time I had shot Vermilion Lakes in the early morning hours and, as you can see, the landscape was beautifully bathed in the soft early morning light.
My recent photo trip Tuscany with Nathaniel Smalley Photography (very highly recommended) was quite the experience for me. My grandparents on my mother’s side immigrated from Italy and it was wonderful to visit their homeland. I have visited Italy a couple of times before but that was on cruise ships where you get to see many places but only get a day in each place. This trip allowed me to get more immersed in the Italian culture. After meeting in Florence, we spent three day in Siena before heading to Val d’Orcia for another three nights. Val d’Orcia is in the heart of the Tuscan countryside. We stayed at a farm and used that as a base to drive to various locations in the area. Very close to the farm (I believe it is part of the farm’s property) is this very high hill where a beautiful oak tree sits at the top. The tree is a great subject to photograph, but I found that it is not the only subject that was available. Once you climb up to the tree and turn around, you are blessed with the view in this photo – a stellar example of the Tuscan Countryside.
One of the easiest and most popular spots in Jasper National Park for both visitors and photographers alike is the famed Pyramid Mountain. Located just a mere 4 miles from the town of Jasper, it can be seen from just about anywhere in the vicinity. There are two lakes that lie at the foot of Pyramid Mountain, namely Patricia Lake and Pyramid Lake. Sunrise is the best time to photograph the mountain, as the lakes are very still during the early morning hours and the mountain is often reflected in the lakes. That was our plan on our first morning in Jasper, but it seems that Mother Nature had different plans for us. As we approached the lakes, low hanging clouds and low hanging fog created a great atmosphere, but Pyramid Mountain was nowhere to be seen. It then became a waiting game to see if the sun would clear off the clouds and the fog. In this battle, the clouds and fog won but not before the top of the mountain became visible for a brief moment and I was happy that I could capture the scene.
Getting up at o’dark thirty is always a challenge to anyone but the benefits to a photographer are well worth it. On our second day in Siena, we all decided to head out to see the city while it was still dark and without the throngs of people that are usually there. Wandering around with no particular plan, we happened upon some great narrow streets that gave us views that were more photogenic than they are during the daytime.
A little more than an hour after we left our hotel, we came upon the Piazza del Campo during the blue hour. The Piazza is considered one of Europe's best examples of a medieval square for its beauty and architecture. It serves as the meeting place for visitors and locals alike and is the principal public space and historic center of Siena. This was the first time I had seen the Piazza totally vacant of people. We stopped at this short alleyway to the Piazza where we could see the Palazzo Pubblico (town hall and seat of the Siena government) that was built in the 12th century and the Torre del Mangia (tower) that was built in the 13th century. The tower was built to be the exact height as the Siena Cathedral to symbolize that the state and church had equal power.
Being one of the last photographers home from a trip to Banff National Park, I am a bit behind everyone else's posts. I must say that their work so far is stellar and that I have the great benefit of shooting with excellent photographers that I also call friends. I will try to post different compositions so as not to repeat their work. I believe that this photograph of Waterfowl Lake qualifies as that. In fact, on my previous visits to this pristine lake before 2016, I had never shot from the southern end of the lake. Back then, after shooting the scene from the Icefields Parkway, I spotted something red at the far end of the lake. I decided to check out what it was and started the long walk to the end of the lake. Turns out that the red was another photographer who was just leaving. She was kind enough to show me the trail down to where she had been. When I got to the end, I stood and looked at this exact view. This spot is, in my opinion, the best place to shoot Mount Chephren and also get the peaks to the north in the composition. I told my fellow photographers that it was worth the walk. Several of us headed down to this spot and worked the shoreline looking north.
In Jasper National Park, there is an easy way to get up close and personal with a glacier. At the end of Edith Cavell Road, there is a big parking area (it is new this past year) that leads you to a trailhead that takes you to Angel Glacier. The signs are a bit misleading as they state that the trail is 45 minutes long. That is true if you do the full loop trail. If you want to see Angel Glacier, there is an overlook about 15 minutes out that gets you as close to the glacier as you can get. It used to be that you could actually walk up to the glacier itself. In recent years, access has been roped off. Regardless, the short hike is well worth it. When It was originally named, the glacier had the appearance of an angel with out-swept wings. Glacier melts over the years have separated the wings from the main part of the glacier. After viewing the glacier, head back to the trailhead to get this great view of the surrounding mountains and the northern end of Cavell Lake in the valley below.
Finally back from a travel-filled May and June. A total of 35 days shooting with both old and new friends. The only problem is having to go through thousands of photos to find the best ones. Don’t get me wrong, it is a good problem to have and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.
One of the most visited locations within Banff National Park is Lake Louise. The lake is home to the Victoria Glacier and visitors to the lake come from all over the world to see it. The lake was made popular in the late 19th century, when the Canadian Pacific Railway erected the Chateau Lake Louise on its shores to attract people to travel by rail to the then remote Canadian Rockies. On my first visit to Banff in 1994, I remember seeing the lake’s beauty, especially in the early morning light. Back then, you could visit the lake in early morning and have it mostly to yourself. Fast forward twenty-five years and you have to arrive before 9 am or you might not be able to park anywhere near it and instead need to take a shuttle from the highway. The one thing I remember from that first visit were the bright red canoes sitting alone on the lake waiting to take some lucky visitors out on the lake to get closer to the glacier. In my many visits since then, the crowds have taken over and getting any decent photos of the canoes was virtually impossible. Earlier this month when we stopped at the lake, the crowds were not nearly as bad as they have been in recent years. I am not sure why, but I wasn’t complaining. The canoes, for the first time since my initial visit, were free of people and the sun was lighting them up wonderfully. The scene took me back to 1994 and I had to capture it.
Yesterday, I posted a photo of a shelf of books located in the State Archives of Siena. In the writeup, I neglected to make mention of the amazing artwork that can be found on the walls and ceilings above the shelves. It is quite beautiful and you could tell that a master artist painted them. Looking up at this mural, you would swear that the columns and stonework were real, not a two dimensional rendering. I could only be impressed with the mastery of the painter who created it and how long it must have taken him.
One of the stops that was scheduled for the group was a visit to Archivio di Stato di Siena (Archives of Siena) to explore some of the documents that included over 60,000 parchments dating from 736 to the present year, the resolutions and statutes of the Republic and the correspondence and records of the judicial and financial administrations of Siena. My first thought was that it might be somewhat interesting, but, from a photography standpoint, that it would not be a place that I would be capturing a lot of photos. That mindset ended when I walked into the first room of the archive. Shelves dominated the room with books upon books on them. One room led to another. The age of each book could easily be determined by looking at the binding. The differing book covers were mesmerizing and you could actually see the advancement of materials over time by just looking at the bindings. I ended up taking more photos than I imagined and left with a great impression of the archives as both a resource and a photographic subject.
When packing for my trip to Italy, I thought I packed enough clothes to cover all the climates I would encounter at the various locations we would be visiting. Tuscany and Cinque Terre were unusually cool for the time of year but my wardrobe was up to the task. We were watching the forecast for our Dolomite leg of the trip and realized that we were ill prepared for it from a clothing standpoint. The Dolomites were experiencing very cold weather and lots of snow, so much so, that it was setting records not seen for 70 years. At first, I was disappointed that I wouldn’t be seeing those green valleys with those quaint villages amid the towering mountains. The ruggedness of the mountains covered with snow quickly changed my mind. On the day that I captured this photo, we had run into a big snowstorm as we neared one of the passes and ultimately turned around. No it wasn’t what I expected, but it sure was beautiful.
Located in the center of Tuscany, Siena is famous for its medieval cityscape and the Palio, a horse race held twice a year. Our very first day was a long one with train ride from Florence and a cab to our hotel. Talk about a room with a view, the hotel’s advertising slogan, “A window to Siena” more than lived up to its billing. After getting situated, we headed out and explored the city streets. After walking the streets for hours, we had a late dinner (an early dinner for Italians) and then back to the room. I wanted to get a view of the city at night and once I walked onto our balcony, I immediately left and came back with my camera and tripod. Siena proved to be just as beautiful at night as it does in the daytime.
When I travel on a photography trip, I am typically out in Mother Nature photographing mountains, lakes and amazing landscapes. My recent trip to Italy with Nathaniel Smalley offered me a mixture of cities, history and landscapes. Part of our visit in Siena, we visited the Siena Duomo complex to climb to the top of the unfinished facade of the Duomo Nuovo (New Cathedral). We also decided to explore the museum (Museo dell'Opera Metropolitana) that houses major artwork by artists such as Donatello and Pisano. My favorite part of the museum that really captivated me was this display of statues and stained glass. The statues are the work of Giovanni Pisano, Donatello and Jacopo della Quercia. The masterpiece for me is the Maestà altarpiece and Stained-Glass Rose Window created by Duccio di Buoninsegna. The lighting was wonderful and created an atmosphere worthy of these works of art.
Earlier this week, I posted a photo of an alleyway where I was able to catch a passing gondolier. That is not the norm. Many of the alleyways are seen from a footbridge and often have tons of activity on them, whether it of people walking around; boats (not always pretty ones) tied up along the water; gondolas passing through and under the footbridge (one gondola makes a great subject, multiple gondolas do not); or ripples left by boats and gondolas. For me, I prefer quiet scenes where there is no activity and the water is so still, it looks like glass. They are much harder to find and when you find them, you better shoot fast for fear that something or someone will ruin the moment. On my two visits to Venice, I have found that simply wandering the city is the best way to find these spots. If you hear or see people, head the other way. If you see stores or restaurants, head the other way. When you hear nothing, the likelihood of finding that special place is much higher. So, following my own advice, I found this spot that had the perfect reflection - I couldn’t find it again if I wanted to as I had no idea where I was. It was a moment in time that I was happy to experience and capture on digital film.
I have long had the Dolomites on my bucket list and finally was able to check them off the list last month. Over the years, I had often heard that the Dolomites were also known as the Italian Alps and that is technically true. Ask the locals whether they are one and the same, you might get a different answer. So a little research was in order to determine the difference in terms.
The Alps are the most extensive mountain ranges in all of Europe, encompassing eight different countries including Italy. The Alps are so massive and cover such a large area that trying to classify them into sections have gotten no further that the broad names of Eastern Alps and the Western Alps with the center being in Switzerland. Northern Italy is where the Alps are and the Italians have used a similar naming scheme that divides the “Italian Alps” into the Northeastern and Northwestern sections. The Northeastern section of the “Italian Alps” are known as the Dolomites. The Northwestern section is simply known as the Alps.
We spent all of our trip in the Dolomites. No matter what the name, the Dolomites are simply gorgeous. There are towering mountains with many small villages that can be found mostly in the valleys but, in some cases, well up on the mountains. On our way to our first hotel, we passed the small town of Borca di Cadore (population 809). As soon as we saw it, we had to stop and I took this photo. The town is dwarfed by Monte Antelao, which is the highest mountain in the Dolomites (aka King of the Dolomites), measuring a little over 10,000 feet. To illustrate how massive the overall Alps are, Antelao only ranks as the 282nd highest mountain of the 537 peaks over 3,000 meters (9,843 feet) in the Alps.
Walking the streets of many Italian cities amid the architecture and history just captivates your mind’s eye. Siena, for example, was founded sometime between 900 and 600 BC. Think about that for a minute. That means the streets that I was walking on could have been around for over 2,500 years. I don’t know about you, but that boggles my mind. Think of all that might have happened on them over that timeframe. How many people walked on this street. The amount of history they have seen, both good and bad. While many of the surrounding buildings were not around during that whole time, they are still old enough to have a lot of stories to tell. As I took in the great curved architecture that surrounded us, I noticed this one lone tree silhouetted against the background. I started to wonder how old it was, how it survived over the years and many other questions that I knew would be unanswered.