On our way to our first hotel in the Dolomites this past May, we approached the small town of Borca di Cadore (population 809). That was our first look at the magnificent Mount Antelao, which is the highest mountain in the Dolomites (aka King of the Dolomites), measuring a little over 10,000 feet. The only problem is that the mountain, along with the low clouds, seemed to be playing a game of hide and seek with us. At first glance, all we saw was a glimpse of the peak, but then the clouds would move slightly, giving us a better look before the clouds covered up again. We pulled over and decided to play a waiting game with it. I think this was the most the mountain wanted us to see before we decided to find another mountain to play with.
About 68 miles west of Key West, Florida, in the Gulf of Mexico lie seven islands that make up Dry Tortugas National Park. It is unusual in that 99% of its area is made up of water that make it ideal for snorkeling, scuba diving, swimming, fishing and kayaking. The other unusual fact is that it is home of a massive, unfinished fort, Fort Jefferson. The fort is huge, being the largest masonry structure in America, comprised of over 16 million bricks. Construction began in 1846 and was thought to become a fort that would aid in suppressing piracy in the Caribbean. It was used during the Civil War as a holding place for Union soldiers that had committed mutinous acts. The fort ultimately was never finished due to fears that the island might not be able to support the weight that finishing the fort would require. Walking around this huge fort is certainly a trip back in history. Every crook and cranny has something of interest. Each casement window, like this one, has a different look to discover.
Sometimes scouting doesn’t always result in a new, undiscovered location and it is always good to have a solid backup location, just in case. This proved true on one of our sunrise shoots in Tuscany. We were staying at a farmhouse complex and we decided to head out before dawn to see if we could find a good sunrise location. After searching a while, we didn’t find anything that looked like it would work out. Fortunately, the day before, we had shot the Tuscan landscape from a high hill with a great big oak tree on top, so back we went. The clouds were threatening but we saw pockets of clear skies around us. After we trudged up the hill, the rains came for a bit. That was fortuitous as, when the rain stopped, we were treated with a double rainbow. The second rainbow is not visible in the photo above but was clearly visible to our naked eyes.
Exploring. That ‘s what photographers do a lot of. Even when we don’t know where we are going. We don’t worry about getting lost. We are looking for experiences and, if an interesting subject unexpectedly appears, we take advantage of it. As we were walking the streets of Siena in May, we wandered through the streets and noticed that there was some kind of sponsored lunch being planned near the entrance of a building. They had lots of great looking food and we were wondering what was going on. People seemed to be going in and out of the building at random and we decided to check out was happening there. The door we entered led to a staircase which, of course, we went up. There we stood in this cool looking hallway with a ceiling made of arches, which the indoor lightning highlighted beautifully. Of course, I captured a photo.
On our way out, we found out that we were in a University building that I have since found out was Siena University. We had been in a historic building that is one of Tuscany’s oldest, being in existence since the year 1240. No wonder the architecture inside was so impressive.
The name Death Valley conjures up visions of a vast desert that can reach temperatures as high as 134˚ Fahrenheit. While these visions are true today, picture the landscape above being underwater some 5 million years ago. That's right, the whole area was once covered by Furnace Creek Lake at one time. During several million years of the lake's existence, sediments such as lava from nearby volcanos, gravel from nearby mountains and saline muds formed on the bottom of the lake. When local mountains began to be formed, they impacted the weather to become more arid, causing the lakes to dry up. Over time, erosion began to carve the rocks to what it looks like today.
The Grand Canal is the major thoroughfare that runs through the central district of Venice. This 2.4 mile channel runs from the lagoon by the Santa Lucia Railway Station to the basin at San Marco Square. Along the banks of the canal are more than 170 buildings that were built from the 13th to the 18th century. Visitors and residents alike flock to the many stores and restaurants that line the canal. There are four bridges that cross the canal, but it is the oldest and most famous bridge, the Rialto Bridge, that people flock to, especially at sunset. People line the bridge to take photos and videos of the scene and, when we were there, it was about four people deep to get close to the edge.
Fortunately, our guide in the Dolomites, Mauro Riva, told us about another and much better way to view the canal at sunset. Seems there is an observation roof on top of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi that is above the Rialto Bridge that anyone can go to to see the canal from above. The downside is that you must make reservations in advance and you only get 15 minutes on the roof. The Fondaco dei Tedeschi was first constructed in 1228 and later rebuilt between 1505 and 1508, after its destruction in a fire. It is now a high end department store, which to me is rather sad, but it historically served as a home to German merchants. In any case, we had a wonderful view of the Grand Canal and the soft light from the setting sun was perfect.
When all of the tourists have either headed to their hotels or are dining out at one of Venice’s amazing restaurants, the streets and footbridges become eerily quiet after what was probably a hectic day. I am sure that this is the time of day when the residents of this popular city can finally relax and enjoy the peace and quiet. Walking around at night is such a different feeling and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing Venice in this light (or lack thereof). As I took in this scene of a small footbridge, I was attracted by the lights in the home next to it. I imagined the family there was sitting around the dinner table talking about their day.
Cinque Terre (Five Lands) is one of the most charming places that I have been to. Comprised of five fishing villages along the Italian Riviera, when you walk the streets, you feel that you have been transported into the past. Each village has it’s own unique feel and charm to it and, if you asked me which was my favorite, my answer would be whatever village I was currently in. The day I took this photo, Manarola was my favorite. Manarola was founded in the 13th century. Early settlers used the terraces for farming. Over time, homes were built starting from the cliffs surrounding the village until they ultimately reached down to the Mediterranean Sea. The Cinque Terre villages were poor until they were discovered by tourists. Today, the tourist flock there, especially during the summer with the majority being day trippers. Our few days there was certainly not enough and I would love to go back and stay for an extended period of time to get a better feel of what life is like there.
Wandering around the canals of Venice in early morning often results in unexpected finds. On our last day in Venice before heading back to the States, Mike Louthan and I decided to head to a part of the city where we had not been before. Turns out that we ended up in a quiet neighborhood where the tourists don’t visit often. There are no attractions there that we saw, just schools, churches, homes and narrow canals. It was nice to see how the residents live peacefully away from the craziness of vacationers. As we walked along one canal, the artsy part of my brain kicked in when I spotted this reflection of some homes in the still waters of the canal. It’s distorted shape reminded me of a painting that an artist might decide to create.
Tuscany is a region in central Italy that encompasses 8,900 square miles and is known for its landscapes and history. In fact, it is regarded as the birthplace of the Italian Renaissance. Within Tuscany are some of the most visited areas in Italy. On my recent trip to Italy, I was fortunate enough to visit and photograph one of those areas, namely the region of Val d'Orcia. This beautiful location is well known for its countryside and rolling hills, its farmlands and vineyards, and its farmhouses and villas. One of the spots that I fell in love with is the location known as The Villa. We visited it twice during our stay there, both times at sunrise. The first morning, we were shut out with clouds, so the sun did not make an entrance. The scene was so iconic that we visited it again, even though it was not on our planned itinerary. At first, we thought the clouds would cause a repeat performance of our first day, but patience prevailed and the sun finally broke through to show us this beautiful scene.
The town of Banff and the national park of the same name have their roots with the railroad. In the 1880’s, the Canadian Pacific Railroad built their transcontinental railroad through the Bow Valley. Three railroad workers discovered the hot springs on the side of Sulphur Mountain. Canadian Pacific, in an effort to attract more riders on the railroad, built the Banff Springs Hotel ,which put Banff on the map. Today Banff is a must-visit location, attracting visitors from around the world. There are so many spots that it is difficult to see it all in one trip unless you take a ride on the Banff Gondola. The gondola, built in 1959, is an 8-minute ride in a four-person car that rises almost 2,300 feet to the summit (7,486 feet) of Sulphur Mountain. From there you can see the town of Banff along with much of the surrounding area. I have been to Banff many times but my visit to the gondola last month was my very first time. I am now kicking myself for not doing it sooner. We had some great clouds and weather that made the trip and time on the observation decks so worth it.
Our first stop in the Dolomites was the town of Pieve di Cadore. The town is surrounded by the Marmarole Mountain Range, which are part of the Belluno Section of the Dolomites. Along the eastern edge of the town is a man-made lake, Lago di Cadore. The lake was created in the 1950’s when a dam was built on the Pieve River and it runs the length of six Italian towns. On the southern part of the lake, there is an observation deck which offers the view shown in the photo. It a beautiful and tranquil scene.
When planning last month’s visit to Alberta, one of my best friends, Jaki Good Miller, and I decided to head out early and see some spots in southern Alberta. Our initial plan was to visit Waterton Lakes National Park, which borders Glacier National Park in Montana. I had been there in 2006, but that was when my photography skills were not what they are now. Unfortunately, Waterton had a massive fire in September 2017. When I checked conditions in April, it was clear that the park was still not ready for our visit.
Thanks to fellow photographer Philip Kuntz’s amazing photos of the area south of Canmore, we had already planned to spend a couple of days in that area. We simply decided to stay a bit longer now that Waterton was out of the picture. I remember Philip referring to the area, Kananaskis County, as little Banff and he was spot on. From Canmore, we headed south on Route 742. It is a full day’s drive to its end if you stop and take photos, which we did many, many times. The road passes through Bow Valley Wildland Provincial Park, Spray Valley Provincial Park, and Peter Lougheed Provincial Park. We decided to head back on the Kananaskis Trail , which is a highway that provides a much quicker return to Canmore. Along the way, we saw some amazing scenery and just had to stop for this road shot.
As you might be able to tell from this photo, the title of this post is certainly tongue in cheek. When contemplating visiting the Dolomites in May, I checked the average temperatures for the region, and it seemed to be quite reasonable with an average low of 48° F and an average high of 73° F. When packing for the trip, I had to consider all of the places we would be staying, from Tuscany to Cinque Terre to the Dolomites to Venice. I was pretty sure I had packed properly. Tuscany and Cinque Terre were cooler than expected but not excessively. As the trip progressed, we started hearing that the Dolomites were experiencing the coldest and snowiest May in seventy years. While it was out of season for outdoor winter clothing, with the help of a guide, we found a store where we were able to get some warm clothing although the selection was limited. When we got to the Dolomites, it was clear that the new clothes would come in handy. On our last day we headed up toward Giau Pass, where we were to snowshoe to some terrific views. Unfortunately, we ended up hitting a significant snowstorm and had to ultimately turn around. On the way, we stopped to shoot this church, Church of San Giovanni Gualberto, where we shot some photos to record our visit to the Dolomites in the Spring.
No trip to Banff National Park is complete without an early morning visit to Moraine Lake. To me, it is the iconic location, even though Lake Louise (about 30 minutes east) gets all of the press and many more visitors. Don't get me wrong, during the summer season, Moraine Lake's parking lot is completely full, and you need to board a bus to get there. If you get there in the early morning hours, parking should not be a problem.
The reason I love this location is more about the mountains that surround the lake. There are ten mountain peaks that surround the lake, and this area is known as The Valley of the Ten Peaks. There are several popular places to shoot the lake, but I like taking the trail to the top of the rock pile to get the view that is shown in this photo. Lake Moraine has become just as popular as most of the iconic locations are. Many articles attribute that to the popularity of Instagram. It used to be there would only be photographers with serious cameras shooting from the rockpile, but last month it was as crowded as I have seen it, and the majority of people were shooting with cell phones. I guess that’s the price of posting images on social media.
Tuscany’s landscapes are quite diverse and are a primary reason that visitors flock to this region in Italy. Rolling hills with perfectly placed villas both large and small dot the scene. Trees are planted across the land with enough space between them to create patterns of all kinds. Of course, the ever-present cypress trees seem to lift themselves to the sky. Often the cypresses are planted on the top of the hills that accentuate the patterns of the landscape. If you are lucky like I was, you will get there when the setting sun bathes the Tuscan scene with wonderful soft golden light, which creates a magical atmosphere with layers of light and shadows that are so beautiful. When standing there experiencing this view, I thought that this could very well be what heaven looks like.
On our visit to Lake Louise last month, we arrived in early morning before the crowds were out in force. We knew it was going to be a short time before the tour buses showed up. Once I arrive at Lake Louise, I usually check to see if the boat house has opened yet. If not, I know that the brightly colored red canoes will be lined up in front waiting for visitors to take them for a ride around the lake. With any luck, the waters of this glacier-fed lake will be still enough to provide a mirror reflection. Fortunately, both conditions were positive and I was able to get this photo.
The Chapel of Our Lady of Vitaleta is a small sacred building is located on a hilltop in the village Vitaleta on the road that connects San Quirico d'Orcia to Pienza. It is famous, as it once was the home of a Renaissance statue of the Madonna that was sculpted by the artist Andrea della Robbia. The chapel is on private land and is reachable by walking on a long dirt road thanks to the owners allowing access to the chapel. We had been shooting the chapel from all angles and, as the evening got darker, the skies opened up creating a heart shaped opening that seemed to float above the chapel.
Wandering throughout the countryside of Tuscany is a wonderful experience. The landscape of the region is simply beautiful with rolling hills, cypress trees lining the road, and small Tuscan villages that are often situated on the top of hills. We visited a lot of these villages and each had their own special character and feel to them. One evening we headed to the town of Chiusure for dinner. The sun was setting and bathing the buildings with beautiful golden light. As I walked to the restaurant, I just had to take a few photos that showed the interplay between the light and the shadow on the scene. Chiusure is known for its artichoke festival and we were treated with a wonderful dinner featuring artichokes.
Two Jack Lake is a favorite stop for sunrises in Banff National Park and often warrants multiple visits. Why? The easy answer is Mount Rundle reflected when the lake’s water is still. The longer answer is that for all of the times I have been there, the cloud formations vary dramatically. I don’t know whether this observation is true or not but, when I visit, it certainly seems that way. On our visit last month, the clouds acted as leading lines to Mount Rundle and the reflection only magnified the effect.