Tips for Creating Stunning Photos in the Dolomite Mountains (2022)

Would you like to photograph a natural area that includes some of the most beautiful mountains in the world? A place that lies in the heart of Europe and is for the most part easily accessible? If you said yes, then you should come, visit, and photograph the Dolomite mountains.

If you are considering a photography trip to the Dolomites, this article will give you some useful information. You’ll get a list of locations that you must absolutely visit, suggestions on where to stay and how to move around, tips on equipment to take, and safety.

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No travel in your future – no problem. Just consider some of the tips and how you can apply them to any mountain range nearest to your location.

Read more: How to Create More Interesting Mountain Photography

Where are the Dolomite Mountains?

The Dolomites (also known as the Dolomite Mountains, Dolomite Alps or Dolomitic Alps) is a mountain range that was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2009.

It occupies an area of 15,000 square kilometers in Northern Italy, close to the Austrian border. It straddles the regions of Trentino-Alto Adige and Veneto. This position puts this mountain range just a short drive away from several major airports, such as Venice, Milan, and Munich in Germany.

A good network of roads, lifts, and well-marked mountain trails makes it easy to reach some of the most beautiful spots. This fact has made the Dolomites popular not just with photographers, but also with hikers, skiers, and climbers. As a consequence, many locations have become crowded, especially during the summer and ski season.

It can be difficult to find something that’s not already been photographed a million times. However, if you are willing and able to go off the beaten path, and make some extra effort, there are still many locations that are waiting to be fully explored.

The geological history of these mountains has made their appearance unique.

Unlike the typical mountain range–which usually follows a general east-west or north-south direction–the Dolomites appear more like a series of isolated rocky massifs rising from verdant valleys, with no apparent connection between one another.

Their composition is also peculiar, as they are mostly composed of dolomite rock (calcium magnesium carbonate), a mineral that can be found elsewhere in the world, but nowhere exposed with such abundance as here.

The Dolomites indeed get their name from the mineral, which in turn is named after its discoverer, French geologist Déodat Gratet de Dolomieu.

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What makes the Dolomites so visually stunning is the way that this type of rock reacts to light. It shifts to different colors as the sun changes its elevation during the day and as atmospheric conditions mutate.

In turn, the way the peaks rise, sometimes vertically, above the surrounding landscape and their isolation from each other make it possible to create really striking compositions with ease.

Making the most of your time in the Dolomites

This section will help you figure out when to go, where to go, and what to take along with you on a trip to the Dolomites.

When to go

Winter can be a magical season to visit the Dolomites, when the landscape is covered in snow, if you don’t mind the cold. In recent years, due to climate change, snowfall in the early winter has become rarer and it’s not uncommon to witness a brown landscape intersected by stripes of white where artificial snow has been plastered on the ski slopes.

Not the best, photographically speaking, and also more expensive, being prime ski season. If you want to see pristine snow covering the ground, I would recommend going in late winter, from February to late March, when the wet season can bring lots of precipitation.

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When temperatures are at the lowest, you can also photograph spectacular frozen waterfalls, sometimes dotted with ice climbers, like at the Serrai di Sottoguda.

Early spring, right after the thaw, can be disappointing. The land is brown, with patches of dirty snow in the shaded areas, and muddy, with bare deciduous trees. The greener pastures won’t return until June, so I’d rather avoid this season, but it can be cheap and uncrowded.

Late June and July can be spectacular, with long days and mostly sunny warm weather. The main attraction of this time of the year are the colorful wildflowers that are blooming everywhere.

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August is the month when most Italians and many Europeans take their summer vacations, so prices will be high and everywhere will be super crowded. It is therefore best avoided. While September can still give you long and warm days, the wildflowers will already be gone.

You don’t get a lot of fall color from most trees in the Dolomites, except for the larches. Those are the only conifers that are deciduous and start turning a brilliant yellow around mid-October. At this time the valleys and slopes can literally explode with colors, especially when the yellow of the larches mixes with the dark green of pines and firs.

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This is also the time when the entire region almost shuts down completely for two months, waiting for the beginning of ski season in December. The people who have been working hard in the tourism sector for 10 months take their deserved vacations at this time.

As a consequence, many hotels and restaurants are closed and lifts generally stop operating before mid-October, leaving you with hiking as the sole means of reaching certain locations. However, you can still find food and lodging and the crowds are really thin, meaning you may have some places basically to yourself. I really love visiting the Dolomites in this season.

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Where to go

The Dolomites cover an area that is not that large, especially compared to North American standards.

At about 15,000 square km, their surface is less than twice the size of Yellowstone National Park. Nonetheless, it can take half a day of driving to go from one end to the other, going through many towns and over many mountain passes, even if roads are generally really good.

If you are only going to stay there for two to three days, visiting places all over the map can be impractical. I would recommend selecting an area that has a good number of nearby locations and limiting yourself to that.

For example, if you’re staying in Canazei, you have the Catinaccio, Sella, and Sassolungo groups really close by, as well as the famous Carezza Lake. But should you decide to also see the even more famous Braies Lake or the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, you have to consider a drive of more than two hours just to get there, with no traffic, and more than two hours again to return.

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For the same reason, if you are staying for longer, I do not recommend booking accommodation at just one place as driving around will eat up a lot of your time. When I go to the Dolomites for a week or longer, I usually divide my days between two locations, spending half of the time in the eastern section and half in the western region.

A good base for the former is Cortina d’Ampezzo, which offers a lot of accommodation opportunities and is close to places like Tre Cime, Cinque Torri, Passo Falzarego, Passo Giau, and more.

For the latter, you can stay in one of the towns of Val Gardena, like Ortisei or Santa Cristina, from where you can reach the Alpe di Siusi, Val di Funes, Seceda, Passo Sella, and more with relative ease.

Other places that are convenient are Val Badia, especially Corvara, and the upper parts of Val di Fassa, notably Canazei and Vigo.

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In any case, you will need a vehicle to move around freely. As I mentioned above, roads are generally in very good condition, so any vehicle will do. You will not need a 4×4 and it is forbidden to drive off-road basically everywhere, so there is no reason to consider an ATV or jeep.

A compact car is actually the best choice, especially if you need to drive on narrow mountain roads or find parking. In fact, many of the locations mentioned below can be photographed right by the side of the road.

A campervan is also a popular choice for many visitors, but keep in mind that free camping is not allowed anywhere.

What to pack

The Dolomites is an area with a significant historical background, being at the crossroads of many communication routes between the north and the south of Europe since ancient times.

This rich history left many traces behind in terms of monuments ranging from castles, abbeys, churches, and patrician palaces. These can be great photographic subjects, especially when contrasted with the natural landscape.

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Even so, the main attractiveness of the Dolomites undoubtedly lies in their sheer natural beauty, which is sought after by landscape and nature photographers from around the world.

If you are one such photographer, you probably already know which lenses to bring so there would be no point in suggesting a specific range of focal lengths. You will definitely find something suitable here for any lens that you own.

If you are also into photographing wildlife, you already know that you need very long telephoto lenses. While not especially abundant, many species of deer, ibex, marmots, and especially birds coexist with humans in these lands.

If you are thinking of investing in some new gear before coming to the Dolomites, my main recommendation would be to spend money on a really good tripod, if you don’t already have one. A tripod that allows you to place your camera really low to the ground, when you want to make tiny wildflowers prominent in your photographs, is a must.

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It is essential that you have clothing and footwear adequate for the mountains. As already mentioned, some views can be photographed from the side of the road, but others require some hiking that can range from easy to challenging.

Make sure you have a good pair of hiking boots and warm, layered clothing at all times of the year. It is not uncommon for temperatures to drop below freezing in the early hours of the morning at high elevations, even in the summer.

Locations

In the following sections, I will describe some of my favorite locations in the Dolomites and provide some tips on how to reach them, best time of the day and year to photograph them, and some other suggestions.

When locations happen to be inside a bilingual area, I have listed toponyms in Italian and German, like in this: Sassolungo / Langkofel.

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Of course, I cannot hope to give an exhaustive overview of a region that is so rich in opportunities in the space I have available here. But you can find additional articles about the Dolomites on my website if you want more.

Dolomites Landscape Photography Masterclass workshop: In case you’d like to explore them with an expert guide and photographer and make sure you come home with the best pictures you can possibly imagine, you might want to check out my Dolomites Landscape Photography Masterclass workshop that I will be leading in the fall.

Be sure to use coupon code DPM200 to save €200 if you choose to book the workshop.

Alpe di Siusi / Seiser Alm

Extending for almost 60 square kilometers, the Alpe di Siusi / Seiser Alm is Europe’s largest Alpine meadow.

Imagine rolling green pastures (which will be covered by snow in winter) extending as far as the feet of some of the Dolomites’ most iconic mountains, dotted with wooden huts and trees, and you’ll get an idea of what this area looks like.

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The Alpe di Siusi offers an immense variety of spots that will let you capture the surrounding peaks, most notably the Sassolungo / Langkofel and the Sciliar / Schlern, from different angles and under varying light conditions. The most typical scenes will include some green (or snow-covered) hills in the foreground, beautifully lit peaks in the distance and if you are lucky, some dramatic skies.

Wildflowers in summer and wooden huts all year long can provide some interesting focal points in the near foreground. A couple small lakes can also work great for reflections when there is no wind.

You will naturally want to photograph the Alpe with the golden hour light that can be found around sunrise and sunset times.

The best times are when the sun is so low that its rays are almost parallel to the ground, so that the contours and the patterns of the land truly stand out, while the rocks above are bathed in warm light (this is called alpenglow). It’s a fleeting moment, whose timing can vary depending on your location and on which peaks are hiding the sun at different times of the year.

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I remember one morning, as I was waiting for the sun to come out and start lighting up the hills. As that happened, I started clicking the shutter, and realized that the sun would soon hide itself behind the Sassolungo. So I waited until it was right at the edge of the mountain and captured a sunburst effect by using a small aperture.

I then moved a few meters to my left, revealing the sun again, waited for it to hit the edge one more time, took a few images and moved again to the left.

I repeated this a few times and got a few nice pictures. The image above is my favorite from this set.

On the Alpe, you will typically be standing quite some distance from the mountains. So, having a telephoto lens is an invaluable tool to capture some distant details, like the first rays of the sun hitting the very top of the Catinaccio / Rosengarten jagged summit ridge and portions of the meadow below (see image below).

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There are many other subjects that can be photographed on the Alpe, including this group of elegant Haflinger horses that were happy to pose for me in front of the Sciliar one morning.

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While the Alpe di Siusi is a vast area, it is quite flat so no strenuous hiking is required. Distances can be long, though, and private cars are not allowed on the roads up there, unless you need to reach one of the hotels. So it might make sense to rent a mountain bike or an e-bike at one of the rental shops that can be found near Compaccio / Compatsch, where you have to park your car if you’ve driven up to the Alpe.

If you can, I recommend staying at one of the very fine hotels that exist inside the Alpe.

Staying overnight will give you the opportunity to shoot both sunset and sunrise without having to drive up and down the Alpe. Possibly just by taking a few steps outside your hotel, some of which are situated close to some of the best viewpoints, you’ll be ready to shoot.

The Cinque Torri

The Cinque Torri (Five Towers) are undoubtedly one of the most recognizable groups of rocks in the Dolomites.

They look as if some giant had smashed an impossibly tall spire, whose higher sections now lie in a jumble at the feet of what was once their base. As you admire them, you can’t help wondering how those rocks ended up at the top of that ridge in the first place.

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In season, you can reach the Cinque Torri with the chairlift whose departure station is along the road leading to Cortina, about 4km down from Passo Falzarego. The arrival is near Rifugio Scoiattoli and you can start shooting right as you step off the lift.

This is the most accessible option, but the chairlift only runs in summer and winter and from 9:00-17:00 approximately.

When the chairlift is not running, your best option is to follow the side road that departs from the main one a few kilometers further down.

This road is narrow and steep and you might have to negotiate passage with traffic coming the opposite direction, so be careful. The views from the road, when the clearings among the trees reveal the surrounding mountains are worth the drive alone.

Note from Darlene: The best plan is to have your own personal chauffer (mine is called husband) to drive so you can take photos out the window!

At the end of the road you will find a small parking lot near the Rifugio Cinque Torri and from there you have to hike up to reach Rifugio Scoiattoli on the other side.

The top of the ridge here is gently undulated, so you can comfortably explore the area to find unique angles to shoot the towers from and use the direction of sunlight to your advantage. In summer, wildflowers will provide some valuable foreground interest.

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Aside from the Cinque Torri themselves, the area gives great views of the surrounding mountains, most notably the Tofane and the sawtooth profile of the Croda da Lago (above).

The Tre Cime / Drei Zinnen

If there is a mountain group that symbolizes the Dolomites and is easily recognized all over the world, this must be the Tre Cime di Lavaredo.

The name, meaning Three Summits, literally describes their appearance as three huge slabs of rock with impressive vertical faces, when viewed from most angles. The German name, Drei Zinnen, which translates to Three Merlons, is equally descriptive.

The Tre Cime can be reached from two main directions. From the south, the road that departs outside the town of Misurina will take you straight to Rifugio Auronzo, which is so close that you can basically touch them from its parking lot. Be warned that, while the road is very convenient, it is a toll road and quite expensive: 30€ at the time of this writing.

A cheaper alternative is to take one of the shuttle buses, but that won’t be a good option if you want to be there before sunrise or long after sunset. Of course, you can always spend the night at the Rifugio.

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Once you have arrived at the Rifugio, you have the option to walk either east or west. Both are good options, but if it’s your first time over there, I recommend going eastward, that is to the right when looking at the Cime.

An easy hike along an unpaved road, that only starts climbing towards the end, will take you to Forcella Lavaredo in about 30 minutes, where the photo above was taken. This is a saddle that offers a good viewpoint of the Tre Cime, which is very close and therefore requires a wide-angle lens to be captured in its entirety.

It works equally well at sunrise, with the sun behind your back, and at sunset.

You can also get a good view of the Cadini di Misurina to the south, but those are farther away, so require a clear day with little haze and a long telephoto to be brought closer.

From the Forcella, the trail leads downwards again to reach the Rifugio Locatelli / Innerkofler, on the northern side, and then loops back to Rifugio Auronzo. The whole loop is about 10 km long and is decidedly easy.

The main draw of the area to the north of the Tre Cime are three small lakes, from which you can get great reflection shots. Again, you’ll be standing very close to the peaks, so an ultra-wide-angle lens is necessary to capture both the summits and their reflections.

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The lakes can be found near the Langalm hut. A small stream flows beside the hut and, if you follow it down for a few meters, it enters a small gorge. From there, by carefully placing your tripod really low (watch out for slippery rocks) you can get a good photo of the Tre Cime framed by the sides of the gorge, with the stream flowing in the foreground (image below).

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Without hiking the whole loop, you can reach Langalm from Rifugio Auronzo by walking westwards (to the left). It takes about half an hour on easy terrain.

The alternative trail to the Tre Cime departs from Val Fiscalina, near the town of Sesto in Pusteria (Sexten). While this is a beautiful hike, it is quite long and requires two-and-a-half to three hours of walking and a sensible amount of elevation change. As such, it is a great experience for excursionists, but not so much for photographers, since going up for sunset means going back down in total darkness, unless you want to spend the night at the Rifugio Locatelli.

The view with the rifugio in the foreground and Mount Paterno and the Tre Cime in the background is worth a visit (no pictures here, since I still have to be so lucky to get there with the right conditions) but can be reached more easily from Rifugio Auronzo to the south, especially if you’re based around Cortina, Misurina or Dobbiaco.

Due to their elevation, the high chances of getting clear skies, and the relative distance from major light pollution sources, the Tre Cime are also very suitable for night photography.

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Lago di Braies / Pragser Wildsee

Imagine a tranquil alpine lake of a beautiful emerald color, surrounded by forest-covered slopes and rocky peaks.

Add a photogenic wooden cabin on stilts and a row of small boats strung across the lake. Make it extremely easy to reach and you’ll have the Dolomites’ most instagrammable location: Lake Braies.

This location has been photographed so many times that it’s almost impossible to capture it in an original way. Serious landscape photographers, who usually favor the golden hour, might be disappointed to learn that being at the lake at their favorite time of the day means that the sun will be hidden behind the mountains that rise steeply from both the eastern and the western banks.

I had the best experience at Braies a few years ago, at night and with a full moon. The moon was going to rise late at night which meant that by then the selfie crowds would have already left.

I checked a couple apps to get an idea of when the moon would rise and how high it would be in the sky. I discovered it would have been pretty low on the horizon, but hopefully high enough to clear the peaks. According to PhotoPill’s Augmented Reality mode, the moon was going to show herself for less than one hour in the V between the mountains to the back of the lake.

Just as the moon was about to appear, clouds started to gather in the southern sky. But luckily some break remained, through which the moon shone on the lake for a few minutes at a time.

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If you didn’t know this story, you would be justified in thinking that the photo above was of a sunrise or sunset. Actually, all the light in it is coming from the moon, except for the one that brightens the back of the cabin, which is coming from the windows of a nearby hotel.

If you’re uncertain whether to visit Braies or not, I recommend you go at least once, but go during a moonlit night, if you want to get some unique pictures.

Val di Funes / Villnösstal

This remote valley is not overly popular with tourists, due to the lack of major skiing areas, but has always been a photographers’ favorite. This is due to the incredibly scenic backdrop provided by the Odle group, whose nine jagged peaks rise majestically at the end of the valley.

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One of the two prime photo locations is the view of the church of Santa Maddalena, pictured below. While this specific spot is by the side of the road, the road itself is private and there is no space to park, so I recommend leaving your car at the parking lot in the village and walking up. It will take you no longer than 10 minutes.

This location works well all year long, with the verdant lawns in spring and summer, the yellow larches in the fall, and snow in winter. Since the mountains are facing north-west, they are best illuminated on summer afternoons.

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The second spot will let you frame the delightful church of San Giovanni in Ranui against the Odle again. There is a parking lot right below the lawn where the church is situated. Walk up the road from the lot and you’ll see the church to your right.

There is a wooden platform built specifically for photographers that can get quite crowded. Don’t go over the fence, as the lawn is private property. Since the church is about 200m away, a telephoto is recommended, if you want it visible in the frame.

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If you want to get close to the church, there is a path that departs from the road past a farmhouse. You can enter the Val di Funes from the west, by taking the Chiusa exit on the A22 motorway, or from the east, from Val Badia via Passo delle Erbe / Würzjoch, which is a very scenic drive.

Mountain photography tips

Remember to try both horizontal (landscape) and vertical (portrait) orientation for composing your images. Try vertical to capture the height of a mountain peak, or a reflection below them.

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Keep your eyes opened for wildlife and livestock, not just for driving safety but for photography opportunities too.

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Use a low camera angle to capture reflections on still water. Remember to remove your polarizing filter because it could actually eliminate the beautiful reflection.

However, a polarizer is an invaluable tool in some situations.

The fall season, when the colors are most vibrant, can also be quite wet, with morning fog and occasional rain. When that happens, the wet foliage can reflect a lot of the sunlight, create glare and make colors appear duller.

Judicious use of a polarizing filter can remove much of the unwanted reflections and make colors more vivid and saturated. This is one effect that cannot be replicated at the computer, so make sure you always carry polarizing filters for all your lenses in your backpack.

Note from Darlene: Buy a polarizer that fits your largest lens (check the filter size inside the lens cap). Then buy step down rings to adapt that one filter to fit all the rest and save yourself a ton of money and room in your bag!

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Dolomites Landscape Photography Masterclass workshop: In case you’d like to explore them with an expert guide and photographer and make sure you come home with the best pictures you can possibly imagine, you might want to check out my Dolomites Landscape Photography Masterclass workshop that I will be leading in the fall.

Be sure to use coupon code DPM200 when you checkout to save €200. (Discount expires March 31st, 2022)

For something interesting, watch the video below of a couple that uses a historical process, ambrotype, to make images with a custom-made view camera.

Conclusion

If you are passionate about landscape photography but have never visited the Dolomites with a camera in hand, you are seriously missing out.

With their captivating natural beauty, the Dolomites have something to offer for everyone. If you have a partner or friends who are not into photography, but they appreciate nature and the mountains, they will love every minute of their stay there. There are moments when even I put the camera down to observe in awe the light moving across the faces of those peaks and the changing colors.

Add to that, the fact that the people who inhabit those valleys have made hospitality one of their most prominent virtues. The food is also great and together you have the perfect combination of reasons why everyone would want to come to the Dolomites.

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