Photographing in the Italian Dolomites

In the Realm of the Pale Mountains

Photographing in the Italian Dolomites

The Dolomites, a UNESCO’s World Natural Heritage site since 2009, are one of the world’s most fascinating mountain ranges. Once known as “The Pale Mountains” for the white color of their rocks, the shapes of these majestic peaks have often been compared to natural cathedrals, pinnacles and needles – a fact evocative of the almost religious sense of wonder that these mountains have instilled on men over the centuries with their superbe grandeur.
The best period for visiting and photographing this area is from mid May to mid October. In May and June the fields are green and dotted with flowers, and trees are blooming, while in the weeks across September and October fall foliage colours reach their peak. However this region is so impressing that also in less ideal seasons will provide the conditions for unforgettable holidays and photographic tours.

*please click on the pictures if you want to see them larger

A small lake, just slightly bigger than a pond, Lake Antorno is without any doubt the best vantage point for photographing the Tre Cime di Lavaredo (Drei Zinnen in German) either at sunrise or sunset. The Cadini di Misurina group and Mount Piana are also visible from this place. I took this picture on beautiful clear evening of mid June, this image is stitched from four vertical frames.

Wild horses in the fields surrounding the Lake of Misurina, in the Dolomiti d’Ampezzo area. Many wildlife species live in the area of the Dolomites, such as deers, chamoises and ibexes, foxes, wolves and brown bears.

Croda da Lago and Lastoi de Formin as seen from the Cinque Torri. Taken at sunset from the fields surrounding the Cinque Torri group, a small massif of five peaks in the Nuvolao range, not far from Cortina d’Ampezzo.
This area was theater of fierce fightings between Italian and austro-Hungarian troops during World War I; the trenches and shelters are still there nowaday and have been recently restored to create interesting historical itineraries.

A view at sunset of Croda rossa d’Ampezzo (Hohe Gaisl), Dolomiti, a massif placed at the border between Veneto and the province of Alto Adige / South Tyrol. Taken from the plateau at the foot of Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen group

The Castle and the small village of Arnaz (Schloss Buchenstein) nearby Livinallongo, with the peaks of the Settsass/Conturines range in the background.

The Dolomites are not only about majestic peaks and ranges. There are also many beautiful forests, streams and lakes. This is Lake Ru Freddo, a small lake at the feet of Croda Rossa d’Ampezzo.

A view of the amazing peaks known as Sasso Lungo and Sasso Piatto as seen from the small town of Canazei, with the rapids of Rio d’Antermont in the foreground.

The jagged rocky peaks of the Dolomites known as Sasso Lungo and Sasso Piatto, emerging from the green prairies of Passo Sella, an high altitude pass linking Canazei to Selva di Val Gardena.

Monte Cristallo, one of the many massifs in the dolomiti Bellunesi, under some ominous clouds. Taken about 1 hour before sunset on an evening of mid June, from the plains surrounding the Tre Cime di Lavaredo/Drei Zinnen.

A classic view of the Odle range, an amazing dolomitic massif placed at the top of Val di Funes/Vilnosstal in Alto Adige/South Tyrol in Italy, with the small, wonderful chappel of Saint Johann in the foreground. It had be rainy and overcast most of the day, but the sky cleared off right in time for sunset, contributing a unique drama and mood to this stunning scenery.

Some suggestive sun rays hit the small chappel of Saint Johann and the surrounding grass fields, as the sky starts to clearing-off after a mighty summer thunderstorm. Taken at the top of Val di Funes on an evening at the end of June, this is stitched from five vertical frames.

Just another amazing peak of the Dolomites, known as Sass de Putia (Peitlerkofel in German) and it’s placed exactly at the intersection between Badia and Funes valleys at Passo Erbe, in the region of Alto Adige/South Tyrol, Italy.
It looks very steep and jagged from this side, and this sounds very funny because actually this is one of the easiest climbs in the entire Dolomites, if you take the trail from the opposite side.

A flaming sunset at Lake Antorno, with the groups of Tre Cime and Cadini di Misurina in the background.


Resources

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Landscape Photography in the Alps

 

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Dolomites Photography Tours


All Images Copyright Paolo De Faveri


A-photo-a-day #4 – Fireworks

Fireworks – The Ligurian coast off Bergeggi, Liguria, Italy

A mighty thunderstorm off the Ligurian coast near Bergeggi, Italy. This is a multiple exposure consisting of 5 shots of 15″, each with at least a bolt in it. Taken from a vertical cliff about 100 meters above the sea level, on a evening of November, a few minutes after sunset. Notes about the technique: I initially took a single exposure of 90″ of the same scene, with more or less the same number of lightning bolts in it. Unfortunately with 75″ of exposure the clouds were badly blurred, and that’s the reason why I opted for taking a number of faster exposures to be combined together. I noticed that the lightnings had quite a regular pace – more or less one every 10″ – so I simply realized that by keeping the shutter open for 15″, I would have easily recorded at least one bolt on each exposure. I did this for about 12 times, and then I chose the best 5 images to be stacked together. With this “trick”, I’ve been able to produce an image with more or less the same number of bolts as the one exposed by 75″, but with the clouds far less blurred.


Resources

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Seas and Oceans Landscape Photography

 

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Cinque Terre and Italian Riviera Landscape Photography Workshops and Tours


Image copyright Paolo De Faveri


A-photo-a-day #3 – Etherscape

Etherscape – Etang de Vaccarés, Camargue, France

Three wooden poles, probably the remains of an old wharf, emerging from the still waters of Etang de Vaccarés, the largest lake in Camargue, France. Taken on a rainy evening of mid April.

The ethereal effect comes from a very long exposure – about 4 minutes – combined with the rain: the long exposure has made the water perfectly smooth and blurred the clouds in the sky, whilst the rain provided a sort of natural flou filter to the entire image.

Fine Art Microscope Photography

– Microscapes –

Fine Art Microscope Photography

Whatever you choose for your experiments with microscope photography, with a bit of patience you will be rewarded with a completely new world of creative opportunities. Every slide is just like the surface of an unexplored land, and your microscope is like a space station that orbits above it. Each and every one of these lands is different and unique, and you will soon recognize that the possibilities are simply limitless.

*please click on the pictures if you want to see them larger

How it started out

I am a landscape photographer, and I am also a professional photographer, meaning with this that I work every day for making a living out of it. For this reason, I am usually very, very busy. If I’m not out shooting for my customers, I’m probably out shooting for my own projects. And when I’m not out shooting, I’m out in any case, maybe leading a private workshop or tour somewhere in the Alps, or in Venice, Tuscany, Cinque Terre, etc.

When I’m back home, I have a whole lot of other tasks to fulfill, such as processing and keywording images, staying in touch with my estabished customers and possibly finding new, updating my websites, marketing my websites and my photographs and services online and offline, writing a blog post, invoicing my customers, paying taxes (ouch!), updating my social network profiles by posting new stuff and commenting on others’, etc. etc. etc.

Anyway, there is at least a period every year that is relatively quiet for me, and this often happens to be in winter. I normally use these few weeks between December and January for dealing with unprocessed images that have remained sitting in my hard drives for too long, and for thinking about new projects.

Sometime ago, in one of these breaks, I started working at re-organizing and storing my archives of old 35mm and medium format slides and negatives, and I stumbled upon 4-5 boxes containing a number of 35mm slides that I immediately recognized as the pictures my father took with a microscope he purchased about 30 years ago.

My father was a photographer himself who loved the outdoor life, hiking in the Alps and taking b&w landscape pictures, and he happened to transmit to me all his passions. But he was also a man affected by an insatiable curiosity about everything, always eager to make experiments and learning new things. I remember he had bought this china-made optical microscope with the declared intent of taking pictures with it, but for some reasons it didn’t work out, and after a few attempts he gave up, and the microscope was stored on a shelf in my parents house’s basement, where it collected dust for decades.

 Despite the heavy vignetting on the corners, those slides looked very nice actually, with vibrant colours and wonderful textures and shapes, but when I gave them a closer look with a loupe magnifier, I finally realized why my father gave up with it; they were all unsharp.

One of the toughest problems one has to deal with, when taking pictures with an optical microscope, is the complete lack of depth of field. I think the native depth of field of a microscope’s objective lens can be measured in microns (1/1000s of a millimeter), and stopping down of course is not an option as microscope’s lenses have not a diaphragm. As far as the subject is perfectly flat, it is in some way possible to deal with this strong limitation, and if you perfectly nail the focusing distance, you can obtain something that is sharp enough. But the subject my father had chosen for his pictures was sugar dissolved in water and then dehydrated. Sugar crystals are solid objects with a thickness that can reach several tenths of a millimeter, way beyond therefore the capability of the microscope. 30 years ago, modern digital cameras with all their astonishing features that nowadays we give for granted, were probably only in the dreams of Mr. Steven Sasson and perhaps a handful of other scientists. The camera my father used for his microscope photographs was a superb slr camera, a Contax RTS II. But of course it had not a display with live view and 10x magnification. Focusing only through the viewfinder had to be a kind of a nightmare, and succeding almost only a matter of luck.

“But now things are different” I thought. So, I pulled the microscope out of the shelf, carefully dust it off, and got it back on track again. Here are a few samples of what I was able to get, so far.



Grand Canyon –  A view at the microscope of a mix of salt and sugar crystals on glass in polarized light. The “river” is actually a crack in the mass of sugar and salt, unveiling the glass beneath. A microscopic grand canyon in a colorful desert

A slice of the brain of an alien form of life perhaps? Not really, only acrylic glue in polarized light

Another take of the “renowned” Face on Mars. Again, no. Just sugar crystals in a bed of vinyl glue

A mix of sugar and salt cristals, in polarized light

Liquid Metal – White vinyl glue after a fast dehydration

  Craters and Canals – Vinyl glue again, this time subjected to a very slow (natural) dehidration

Sprayed drops of nails enamel on glass, forced to a fast drying up by mean of heat exposure (microwave oven)


Feathers – Big sugar crystals in polarized light

The Maya Dancer – Well, at least, that’s what I see in this picture! Crystals of aspirin drug (acetyl-salycilic acid) in polarized light.


Why taking microscope photographs

Well, because they’re nice of course! My main interest with microscope photography lies in discovering nice shapes and colours, and framing them into a beautiful, interesting and possibly eye-catching composition, that’s it.

Mine is not a scientific research. With only two years of chemistry classes attended at the high school more than 25 years ago, I’m not even remotely qualified for that! But it certainly is an artistic quest.

That said, I think what works best for my purpose, is either crystals tout-court, or in any case every material that through a dehydrating process produces crystals or something that looks similar. So far I made attempts with sugar, salt, vinyl glue, acrylic glue, nails enamel, aspirin, antibiotics, and I found they all work great in producing crystals or textures with nice shapes and details.

Preparing the slides

Preparing a slide with this kind of materials is very easy. For sugar, salt, drugs and similar things you just have to make a water solution, put a few drops on the slide and then let the water to evaporate. One thing that I noticed is that the shape and the size of crystals is strongly influenced by the rate (speed) of evaporation. A slow evaporation rate will usually produce big and multifaceted crystals. If you instead put the slide into the microwave oven and bake it for a minute or two at the maximum power, the evaporation rate will be extremely fast, and this will let on the slide only a thin layer of very small crystals. Both kind of crystals can work great when photographed, although they require a different approach because of the different thickness.

With things like glue or enamel the preparation process is a bit different of course, as you don’t need to make a water solution with this material, you will just put a drop or two of the substance on the slide, and then let it dry out. Anyway, putting this substances as well into the microwave oven can sometimes produce funny things, such as bubbles and craters.

Taking pictures

Once you have found something that looks interesting on the slide, it’s time to start shooting.

As I said, the main issue you have to deal with is the extremely shallow depth of field of the lenses of the microscope. Even if your subject looks perfectly flat, it probably is not. And if it is not, it will most likely fall beyond the capabilities of your microscope.

Extending the depth of field with the focus stacking technique

As you cannot stop down your microscope’s lens, there is only a way to overcome this problem: focus stacking. Instead of taking just one picture of your subject, you will take several shots of it, each of them at a slightly different focus distance so that every shot has at least something sharp in it. Afterward, you have to combine (stack) the sequence of shots into one image that hopefully will look sharp everywhere.

Before starting to shoot the sequence, remember to set the camera to manual, choose the shutter speed and colour balance that are more appropriate, and don’t change them anymore until you have finished, otherwise you will get images with different colours and brightness, that will not be easy to merge together.

If you shoot Raw, you have to do the same when you process the images, i.e. you need to choose a processing procedure once, and then apply it to the whole set of images.

When you have finished to shoot and process your sequence of images, it’s time to stack them together into one single image. There are many ways for doing focus stacking. For example, you can use the script of Photoshop that has been specifically designed for this: (Menu>File>Scripts>Load Files Into Stack…).

Honestly speaking though, I don’t think this Photoshop script does what it promises, it often produces alignment mistakes among layers, and sometimes it doesn’t identify correctly the sharp areas of the images to be stacked.

There are many third party tools that work great for focus stacking, some of them are completely free, and some are distributed as shareware software. Among these, the one that works best for me and that I currently use is Helicon Focus by Helicon Soft ltd. It’s a great tool, it manages to stack as many images as you like, it always succeed in identifying the sharp areas of each image, and the whole process is always flawless and quick.

At the end of the focus stacking process, you can open the stacked image in Photoshop and apply the final enhancements (contrast, saturation etc.)


A sequence of six images, each one focused to a slightly different distance…

microscope_sequence…and the resulting image after the focus stacking process, perfectly sharp everywhere.


 The equipment

 

The microscope

For starting taking microscope pictures, you’re not going to break your bank😉.

You only need an optical microscope that is good enough, i.e. it has an acceptable optical quality, it is sturdy enough for bearing the weight of the camera, and with a powerful halogen bulb as the main source of illumination. There’s a wide range of microscopes designed for students and amateurs that will work great, and they normally sell between 250 and 500 EUR.

Mine as I said, was made in China in the 1980’s. I cannot tell anything about the manufacturer, as the company name is only written in Chinese characters. Anyway, the model ID as reported on the user manual is XSP-13A. Funny enough, I recently discovered on the internet that it is still available today, exactly the same model of 30 years ago!

Microscope_full_set    Microscope_full_set_disassembled

My microscope photography equipment

The adapter

For mounting the camera onto the microscope, you need an adapter ring. This is basically a tube with a threaded ring on the microscope side and a bayonet ring on the camera side.

Mine is a custom-made adapter, with a Contax bayonet as my father’s camera was a Contax. So for using it with my Canon cameras I had to add another adapter ring. It can accommodate one eyepiece inside, the smallest that I have with a 5x magnification. Using an eyepiece is not a smart idea though. Sure, it will dramatically increase the overall magnification, but it will also produce a lot of vignetting (the eyepiece diameter is much smaller than the sensor) and it will also add a whole lot of new chromatic aberrations.

Microscope_adapter_bellow

My custom-made adapter (with a C/Y batonet), and my old macro bellow

The camera

I normally use my Canon Eos 70D for my microscope photography. The 70D has a swing-out LCD screen that makes it possible to focus while sitting, and this can be more relaxing at times.

I have tried to take pictures with my 5D MkII as well, but it didn’t work because I always have vignetting as the camera sensor is too big for the size of the main tube of the microscope, which is only 32 mm. Sure, the adapter produces some magnification (it works like an extension tube after all) but this is apparently not enough for my 5DMkII. There are in any case adapters specifically designed for full frame cameras, for example those of Mecan Imaging.

Microscope_live_view

The live view of my Eos 70D is of great help when trying to focus on the smallest details

Other stuff

For taking good microscope photos, you absolutely need a polarizer filter. Seeing a slide in polarized light makes a huge difference, as the polarizer will dramatically increase the overall contrast of the scene, and it will also pull out wonderful colours, that are rather invisible without it. For polarizing the light, simply place the polarizer between the light source (i.e the halogen bulb) and the slide.

A bellow can sometimes help in reducing the vignetting issue when using a full frame camera, although in my case it wasn’t enough to completely resolve the problem. I used it with the 70D too as another way for increasing the magnification, and it worked great for this purpose of course.

Another useful accessory is a potentiometer or variable resistor, that allows to reduce the power and thus the luminosity produced by the bulb.

This is very useful when you have very bright areas on your slide. At full power these areas would probably be rendered as white by your camera sensor. Dimming the light can sometimes help to avoid this issue and also to discover subtle details in these very bright areas, otherwise invisible.

Finally, a remote shutter switch can help a lot in reducing vibrations.

Microscope_bulb_polarizer Microscope_potentiometer

The rest of my equipment: a powerful halogen bulb, a circular polarizer, and a home-made power transformer with a potentiometer


Resources

Paolo De Faveri Landscape Photography

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Microscapes – Fine Art Microscope Photography Porfolio

 

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Fine Art Landscape Photography Workshops

A-photo-a-day #2 – San Quirico’s Cypress trees


San Quirico’s cypress trees

The most photographed bunch of cypress tress in the world is atop a hill not far from San Quirico d’Orcia, a nice medieval town in Orcia Valley, Tuscany. Taken at dawn at the end of April. I had noticed the clouds were travelling fast in the sky, so I decided to record this motion with a very long exposure, using a 10 stops ND filter.

Val d’Orcia, the heart of Tuscany

Photographing in the heart of Tuscany

The amazing rolling hills and villages of the Orcia Valley

 

Val d’Orcia has always been loved for its unique scenarios. A UNESCO’s Mankind Heritage Site since 2004, this land probably represents the most successful example of how human interaction with nature can turn into magic and create incredibly beautiful landscapes.
For centuries, painters have been deeply inspired by these gently rolling hills, with their changing colors in the seasons, patchwork of wheat, corn and sunflowers fields, scattered farmhouses and dirt roads lined with cypress trees.
Today, the Val d’Orcia remains one of the most photographed and filmed areas of the world, and its enchanted views have been featured in many famous movies such as Ridley Scott’s The Gladiator, Anthony Minghella’s The English Patient and Franco Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet.
The best period for visiting and photographing this area is probably from March to June, when the fields are green and dotted with flowers, and trees are blooming. However this place is so impressing that also in less ideal seasons will provide the conditions for unforgettable holidays and photographic tours.
Words simply fail for describing how beautiful this region is. You really have to come and see with your eyes!

*please click on the pictures if you want to see them larger

Rainy clouds above the Chapel of Vitaleta. The Chapel of the Madonna of Vitaleta is a rural small church placed atop a hill in the country side between Pienza and San Quirico d’Orcia. Taken on a windy and rainy early morning at the beginning of May. The ominous sky adds a lot of drama to such an enchanted, small rural scene.

Sunrise on a foggy morning at the Belvedere d’Orcia, probably the sweetest spot for photographers of the whole Orcia Valley, from where one can enjoy an extraordinary view on the famous rolling hills, the Mount Amiata and the medieval towns of Pienza, Castiglione and San Quirico. Belvedere is a small hamlet of the municipality of Castiglione d’Orcia, and it is ideally placed at the centre of the valley. Taken at dawn on a foggy morning at the beginning of May.

Cypress tress aligned along a country road atop a hill nearby San Quirico d’Orcia. Taken on a very foggy morning at the end of April, moments after sunrise.

The rolling hills nearby San Quirico d’Orcia, as seen from the vantage point known as Belvedere d’Orcia, on a misty morning of mid May.

The most photographed bunch of cypress tress in the world is atop a hill not far from San Quirico d’Orcia, a nice medieval town of the Orcia Valley. Taken at dawn at the end of April. I had noticed the clouds were travelling fast in the sky, so I decided to record this motion with a very long exposure, using a 10 stops Neutral Density filter.

Another view of the Vitaleta Chapel, this time photographed on a foggy morning at sunrise.

A closer view of the Belvedere d’Orcia, one of the iconic places of this amazing hills. What you see here in the far background are not clouds, but rather some thick fog and a flank of Mount Amiata shining in the warm light of sunrise.

Stormy clouds approaching an enchanted rural scene of the Orcia Valley. Taken at sunset from the road between San Quirico d’Orcia and Bagno Vignoni.

Piazza Pio II (Pius II Square) is the key point of the beautiful renaissance town of Pienza , declared world heritage site in 1996 by Unesco. Pienza was rebuilt from a village called Corsignano, which was the birthplace (in 1405) of Enea Silvio Piccolomini, a Renaissance humanist who later became Pope Pius II. Once he became Pope, Piccolomini had the entire village rebuilt as an ideal Renaissance town. Intended as a retreat from Rome, it represents the first application of humanist urban planning concepts, creating an impetus for planning that was adopted in other Italian towns and cities and eventually spread to other European centers. Taken on a cold, foggy morning at the beginning of May, this is stitched from seven vertical frames.

The most famous zig-zagging road in the world is at La Foce, a small hamlet not far from Montepulciano.

Another amazing view on the rolling hills –  with the fortress and tower of Radicofani in the distance – can be enjoyed from the bastions of Pienza. Taken at sunrise on an early morning at the end of April.

 

An overcast day in the hills surrounding Monticchiello, just another of the many small towns and villages of the Valley.

Beautiful puffy clouds in the sky above green wheat fields. Taken on a sunny morning at the end of April in the hills surround San Quirico d’Orcia.

A farm house floating in an ocean of fog. Taken from the bastions of Pienza on a very foggy morning at sunrise.

A small pond encircled by beautiful yellow rape flowers, a typical springtime view of the hills between Pienza and Montalcino in Valdorcia, Tuscany, Italy

A lonely oak tree in the green crop fields on the hills nearby Montalcino.

 

The Mount Amiata, visible from everywhere in Val d’Orcia, is a quescient volcano, the highest and largest of Italy. Taken at sunrise from the small hamlet known as La Foce, not far from Montepulciano.


Resources

Italy Photo Workshops - Fine Art Landscape Photography Workshops, Tours and Adventures by Paolo De Faveri
Join me on a fully customizable, off-the-beaten-path, ‘one-on-one’ or small group photo tour in Tuscany. Learn new skills, experiment with advanced techniques, develop your artistic vision, all while enjoying  in the good  company of a qualified local photographer an enthralling outdoor experience in one of the most unique hills region of the world. Paolo De Faveri’s workshops are specifically designed for single participants or small groups of maximum three students, and they are intended for people who looks for intensive, full immersion courses.