Compression and patterns in the Austrian Alps & the Dolomites

A recent trip through the Austrian Alps and the Dolomites sees some practice in composition, specifically compression of landscapes, with an additional challenge being shooting primarily in black & white. Join me for some eerie landscapes and tall mountains!

The Austrian Alps and even the Dolomites in Italy are within easy reach of Munich, with a 1hr 44 minute train trip taking you to Innsbruck, a great place to be based for further exploring.

I recently spent a long weekend with my friend Conor (also a keen photographer) in Innsbruck and we took the opportunity to explore the northern part of the Dolomites as it is only about a 90 minute drive away. Whilst our day trip to the Dolomites was very mixed weather wise, we had better luck in the surroundings of Innsbruck. It was also right in the middle of low season, right after summer but before the hectic winter season, so all the key tourist spots were pretty much empty.

More on the location

The majority of the photos we took are of the Dolomites (or what can be seen of them), with some others being shot in the vicinity of Innsbruck. To get to the Dolomites we drove via the Brenner pass, a route which dates back to the Roman Empire. The modern motorway begins in Innsbruck and finishes just outside of Modena, and was built in the 1950s. As somewhat expected, glorious sunshine in Innsbruck does not always mean the same on the other side, and after driving over the Brenner Pass we were met with very different weather, with lots of foggy patches and rain. We also saw remnants of the bad rainfall which occurred a few weeks earlier, evident by lots of debris and damaged landscapes in many villages, as well as whole rivers clearly in the wrong place, humbling to say the least.

More on the film

I was lucky enough to get my hands on a pack of Fuji Acros film (as it is unfortunately now discontinued) so this was my primary stock for the weekend. I ended up shooting 3 rolls of it. The colour roll film was a roll of Kodak Portra 400, although I think in this instance Kodak Ektar 100 would have been better for the landscape colours.

Speaking of colours, I am actually glad I went for black & white as my main film, as the weather was so changeable I don’t think the colour shots did the scene justice. I also like how moody and sharp the black & white shots are, especially when you add lots of cloud and fog to the mix.

More on the photographs

The aim was to practice different compositions, in particular looking for patterns, lines, and compression in the landscape. I shot these mainly with my telephoto lens. I find traditional wide angle lenses can be really effective for architecture and subjects you are closer to, but with a large landscape scene they are in some ways too wide, taking in as much sky as the mountains and hills you are looking at directly.

All shots taken on medium format film and my Hasselblad 501c camera. I have left overall observations for the end of the post.

Overall observations

I am actually quite pleased with how these shots came out, particularly considering how difficult the shooting conditions were. The day trip to the Dolomites was certainly a nice drive with some great views, but the lighting and scenes were quite flat, with the mountains covered in deep cloud most of the time. This was very hard to photograph, but as always you need to learn to improvise and work with what you have. We were lucky in some places, with a great balance of low clouds in the valleys combined with the overpowering sight of the enormous mountain peaks. I will definitely come back to the Dolomites in the summer months, it must be incredible to see them in all their glory.

We had much better weather on the second day in the surroundings of Innsbruck, although the very bright light posed some new challenges regarding our photography. A bit on the technical side: I used an orange filter, which I found very effective for the darker landscapes we encountered in the Dolomites, but I did not find it that useful on the brighter views. The orange filter cuts out quite a lot of available light (approx. 2.5 stops in fact), meaning a strong tripod and a cable release is a must. I usually shoot landscapes at f11 or above, to make sure everything is in focus, this could result in quite a low shutter speed (Fuji Acros is ISO 100 film). I probably need a polarising filter next time if I encounter bright blue skies with plenty of sunshine.

In terms of the compositions, I really enjoyed the challenge of looking for new and different patterns as well as a gaining a slight obsession with “compression”. By this I mean scenes where you have multiple layers within a shot, whether than be rolling hills, or different layers of trees. I think some of the above shots would have come out really strongly on a bright day in colour, but I am still happy with the black & white, as there is sufficient contrast and tonal differences for some nice shots.

Oh, and I also need a sturdier tripod, but that’s for a future post.

Thanks for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed seeing some different perspectives. I have quite a few more posts in the pipeline, so plenty more to come!