“Oh man, I think there is way too much snow here to hike!” – That were the words of my friend Rob when we finally, after an 8 hour drive from the middle of Germany, arrived in the Italian dolomites. When leaving rainy Germany in a southern direction, we first have been really optimistic, because as soon as we crossed the main row of the Alps, the weather changed to a mixture of clouds and sun, which would give us the perfect conditions for a photography trip.
Unfortunately, when we entered the valley near Toblach, where our first overnight stay was planned, we ended up in deep snow, already from 1000m above sea level. We had planned to stay some nights in the mountains, at around 2000m, and now it was not sure, if we could even reach that altitude.
What first looked like the end of our plans was in fact the best thing that could have happen to us. Of course we had to do some modifications to our tour, but after all the weather gave us the opportunity to witness something great: In the lower parts of the valley there were still those amazing colors of the trees, especially of the larches all around, but as we went higher and higher, the seasons changed into deepest winter, where everything was covered by snow. We were lucky to be exactly in between the seasons, and we could define the speed of the change simply by changing the speed of our climb.
So we did what we always did: we packed our backs, and started our tour. Another advantage was, that there was nobody else around. On the first day we haven’t met any person at all. This gave us the silence that we needed to really get together with nature. We hiked up in the deepest snow, which was very exhausting, but once we reached your point of interest at sunrise, everything payed off.
It was my first serious outing with my new Fujifilm X system. Coming from a DSLR kit, I decided earlier the year to completely switch my gear and totally go for the mirrorless system. I guess the reasons are pretty much obvious: It is just more lightweight, smaller and the lenses are absolutely incredible. The factor weight should play a big role during this journey: While being on earlier trips (i.e. in iceland) we mostly moved by car and had maybe one hour hikes, right now we had to walk for hours in deep snow, and especially that deep snow does not match with a lot of weight. For me being maybe 10kg more in weight than my buddy it was already challenging enough not to sink in too much (Yes, snowshoes would have made it easier, but we hadn’t any at this time!). But it was not only the camera and the lenses that weighted less, I was able to use a smaller carbon tripod, a smaller set of filters and so on. There are some more advantages, one that I especially like, is that my new camera has a countdown during long exposures and bulb mode, such a simple thing, but none of my DSLRs had it!
Speaking about image quality, in my opinion the Fujifilm is absolutely on par with all the full frame DSLRs, especially for landscape photography, where I do not depend on autofocus. Last month I did some prints in 1m size from the 16MP sensor of the X-T1, and it was absolutely fine.
During the last photography journeys I always decided to do at least one series of pictures, because in my opinion it is simply more powerful but also challenging to produce a series of photographs than a lot of single images which do not refer to each other. So for me it was very soon clear, that the theme of this series would be the change of the seasons which we could witness during this few days.
So I started taking pictures at around 1400m, where orange trees could still be found, with some snowy mountains in the background. When I start such a journey, it is always a little bit of a challenge to compose my frames. I always need some time to build up my composition, and the first picture is mostly the one that I need to work the most on. In this case, I started to frame the composition of “1400m” before sunset, but the final image I took was about 30 minutes after sunset. I try not to press the shutter too often, I am more a fan of framing and working and then, when you think you are satisfied, press the shutter one single time. For me, that was one of the things that improved my photography the most. When we hiked higher and higher, we saw less orange trees, but more rocks and of course, snow. In a few photographs I tried to document the mixture of those three elements. Nearly all pictures where done during sunset or sunrise, it is not a secret at all that the light is simply the best at these times.
Especially for one photograph I worked very hard. To take “2100m” it was necessary to start at 4 a.m. in the morning and to climb up for two and a half hours in freshly fallen snow at -10°C to finally reach a viewpoint. I set up my tripod and waited for the sun to rise, fortunately there was a little bit of mist in the valley which emphasized the rays of the upcoming sun. When telling that story to friends and family, most people say, wow, you are totally crazy, but for me, that experience is something outstanding. There is nothing comparable to this. The camera is such a powerful tool, it is able to make you do things that you only admitted in your earlier life!
With every meter we moved upwards, the weather, the light and the emotions were changing. Above 2000m it really started to become winter. I love snow, especially when it’s freshly fallen and untouched, because it gives space for some very minimalistic, even abstract shots, which in this case exactly reflected the feelings that I had in that altitude. When there wasn’t any noise, nobody around you, it was like you could literally hear the snow falling down.
I was ending up with a series of nine photographs, starting with a composition of orange larches at 1400m and ending with pure snow at 2400m. I decided to crop them in a classic 4x3 format, and the basis for the post processing is the Fujifilm Velvia film simulation, which worked great with the orange tones of the trees.
So all in all, the journey ended in a different way than expected, but not in bad way. In fact, the conditions turned out to be better than you could have imagined. It was a great experience to hike in deep snow, it was so exciting to see the colors changing from orange to white, and the mirrorless system did exactly what I had expected. It will be on my side on the upcoming tours!