Sharp peaks, enchanted forests and turquoise lakes, the Dolomites have all of this and much, much more. You’ll feel incredibly small when wandering around in this beautiful area: don’t worry, that’s normal when you are surrounded by giants! Immerse yourself in the wilderness of the Dolomites by taking a relaxing walk in some high mountain meadows or by going on a hike to some mountain lake; there are activities of every kind for everyone in this part of the Alps.
Photography wise, enjoying the sun go down while the last light of the day is hitting the peaks is something that you’ll remember for a very long, long time. In this article I’ll try to cover all the most important topics that a lot of people are wondering when they are planning a trip to the Dolomites, hopefully by sharing some informations that cannot be found somewhere else!
1. Some Background Infos
From this description it may seem that they cover a pretty wide area, when it’s actually not big at all; if you are in the Dolomites, everything will be at most a two/two hours and a half drive from where you are. And it takes two hours not because of the kilometers, just because of the mountain roads and passes which will slow you down quite a bit. The Dolomites are called like this because they are mostly made of a carbonate dolomite rock; the highest peak of the mountain range is the Marmolada, with its 3343m. From 2009 the Dolomites also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photography aside, these mountains are famous all around the world for skiing during the winter season and mountain climbing in summer: actually, in the Dolomites there are many of the world’s most important and “desired” mountain walls among the mountaineers.
Now that you now a little bit more about where this mountain range is and other few general informations, let’s see together what kind of camera equipment is recommended when visiting the Dolomites!
2. When to Visit the Dolomites?
– Summer: if wildflowers and green meadows are what you are after, this is the season you should be there. Not all the wildflowers are blooming in the same period, so it’s quite hard to give a specific time to go there; if I have to pick the moment with more flowerings I’d say between the end of June and the first decade of July, that’s when I always try to be there. Summer is also the best time of the year to go on all the possible hikes, since most of the snow has melted and all the trails are accessible. The only “downside” of summer is the crowds; since it’s high season (specially July and August), you’ll probably find a lot of people around in all the locations: be sure to always be out early and late to avoid the crowds as much as you can.
– Autumn: this is the season of golden larches and the first snowfalls of the year, and probably my favourite one. You’ll barely see someone around, and the views with all the yellowish trees are just spectacular. If you are lucky enough to get the contrast between some snowfall and the golden trees, well.. You’ll come back from your trip with some incredible shots for sure!
– Winter: the cold season in the Dolomites generally means only one thing: snow, a lot of snow. Remember that this is a winter paradise for skiers, so you’ll also find some kind of tourism too (not as much as in summer though). If you visit the Dolomites in winter you better be sure to pack a lot of heavy clothes to keep you warm during sunrises and sunsets, since it’s probably going to be really, really cold! There’s one downside (a part from the cold): most of the trails are closed, so you won’t be able to visit many locations unless you are an expert alpinist or you are willing to take some really long snowshoes hikes to reach some popular spots. So, be sure to check if the locations that you are planning to visit are open in winter, otherwise you could be disappointed once you are there!
– Spring: this is the season I generally recommend the less to visit the Dolomites, honestly. Why? Because most of the trails are still closed due to the frozen snow still not melted, so you won’t be able to go on many day hikes; until early June you’ll barely see any wildflowers and at the same time you probably won’t get textures in the foreground because the snow is old and melting, not the kind of snow you would love to have in your shots. It’s a transition period when life comes back again in the mountains, but it takes time.
If you really have to go there in spring, try to go in the last part of the season; if you are lucky, you may get the first wildflowers in bloom.
3. Camera Gear
Dolomites can be a quite demanding location for your camera gear, I won’t lie about it; summer storms are not uncommon up there and of course snowstorms should be taken into consideration from October to late April. Oh, and I didn’t mention that sometimes the wind gusts can be really strong too! Let’s see specifically what it is highly recommended to have with you and what is not useful during a trip to the Dolomites.
– Wide-angle lens: you shouldn’t have any doubts about bringing this lens with you, never. This will be by far your most used lens during your trip, whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter, so be sure to have always a lens in the focal range of 14-35mm in your backpack or on your camera. During summer you can use wildflowers as a foreground, while in winter you can play around with snow textures; these two ideas are just the first that came into my mind, there are many, many other ways to use your wide angle!
– Standard-zoom lens: is it even possible to go on a trip without something in the 24-105mm range? I honestly don’t think so. Even if it won’t be your main lens, you’ll probably end up snapping some great shots with it, trust me. Almost all the lenses in this focal range are not that heavy too, so you don’t have any excuses: bring your standard lens with you!
– Telephoto lens: here it comes the big “if”. If you looked on some photographic websites for Dolomites shots, you probably saw that a lot of them are close-up of mountain peaks, taken during some dramatic light conditions. And yes, those shots are beautiful. For example, the photo that you can see up here under the “Lenses” title is made at 500mm; it was taken during a cold April morning, and sunrise wasn’t that great with no clouds in the sky except for a few really far, really low on the horizon. I decided to switch from the wide angle lens to the telephoto to zoom in a lot and that’s the result! It feels like a storm was raging all over the place with those dark clouds, while the truth is that it was a sunny morning.
This is just an example about how having a telephoto lens with you can help a lot to vary your Dolomites portfolio. If I had to pick a focal range, I’d say to have as much focal excursion as you can, so superzooms like 200-500m, 150-600mm, etc would be perfect in my opinion. The hardest part will be to choose whether leave it in the hotel room or in the car during the longest hikes or put it on your back.. But that’s a choice I’ll leave to you!
4. How to Get to the Dolomites
Of course the latter is cheaper, but as a landscape photographer you’ll have to give up on so many occasions that I can hardly tell you it’s worth it at all, honestly. The only way to roam around as much as you can and visit all the places is by car; whether you go with your own or with a rental one, the car is the most comfortable way to travel in the Dolomites.
CHECK OUT OUR ALL-YEAR ROUND PHOTO WORKSHOPS IN THE DOLOMITES