The Italian Dolomites are a photographer’s dream and our photography guide to the Dolomites will make sure you get the most from your trip. The Dolomites are spread over a large area of South Tyrol and it can be hard to figure out where and when to shoot. From the rugged peaks of Seceda to the rolling hills of Seiser Alm, in this guide we have it covered.
My first trip to the Dolomites was in Autumn, with the leaves changing and the crowds dwindling, it makes for a perfect time to go. I was fortunate to be accompanied by a few Italian photographers who were born and raised in the area so had lots of insider knowledge which is always a huge help.
Lago di Braies
We are kicking off our photography guide to the Dolomites with the iconic Lago di Braies. The sheer beauty of this lake and the ease of access have seen this lake shoot to fame. As a result, it is now heaving with photographers and tourists alike. Even an hour before the sun comes up, you will more than likely find 50 to 100 photographers and influencers lining the shore, clambering on to the boathouse and scattered up the hillside. Before I arrived in the Dolomites this was the spot I was most looking forward to seeing. Whilst its beauty is undeniable the crowds and people arguing as they jostle for position did somewhat ruin it. Don’t let me put you off though as it is worth clapping eyes on what may just be the most beautiful lake in Europe.
Getting there: Easily reached by heading south from San Vito where the road will end at a large car park. From here it is just a few minutes walk to the lakeside.
Best time to shoot: It has to be first thing in the morning. Anything later than that and you will barely be able to move with the crowds. Plus the light is best first thing anyway.
Top tip: Don’t just shoot the classic boathouse view. Explore the lake for some fresh and original compositions.
Next up on our photography guide to the Dolomites is Seceda. Located in the heart of the Dolomites, the jagged peaks make for some stunning images. Whilst easily accessible via the cable car from the village of Ortisei there is a catch. The cable car doesn’t run until after sunrise and closes before sunset. All is not lost but it does make things a little more difficult to photograph at peak times. You can, of course, hike it but it’s a long way and not a hike I would fancy doing in the dark. Seceda still makes for some great shots almost any time of day but if you really want those first or last thing images then there are a few cabins or the Refugio that you can stay in. But these are only open during the peak summer season. Your final option is to pack a tent and camp in the wild.
Getting there: There are hiking trails from the North & South but these are not for the faint-hearted. By far the easiest option is the aforementioned cable car from Ortisei.
Best time to shoot: Seceda looks stunning at almost any time of day but sunrise has got to take it for me. The sun rises behind the mountains and gives a lot of separation between the peaks.
Top tip: Seceda looks really dramatic in poor weather so if the conditions are not looking great don’t let this stop you.
This quaint little village of Santa Magdalena is a must-visit and plays host to two of the Dolomites most notorious photo locations. The stand-alone St Johann Church loomed over by jagged peaks looks like a scene from a fairy tale. There is also the viewpoint that looks back across the village and to the mountains. This is home to a perfectly placed cherry tree that turns bright orange in Autumn making the perfect piece of foreground interest for your frame.
Getting there: the village of Santa Magdalena is easily accessible from all directions. For the church, there is a car park right on the bend across the road from the Church. Park up here and you will see a purpose-built viewing platform. Space is limited so you want to get here in plenty of time as it is a popular location. For the viewpoint, you will need to park up in town and make the 20 minutes walk along Magdalenaweg Road to reach the viewpoint. The road is closed to all cars bar residents and there is no parking at the viewpoint so don’t be tempted to be lazy.
Best time to shoot: Both locations look best during Autumn when the colours of the leaves and trees turn bright orange and yellow. As for sunrise or sunset, its all down to personal preference, conditions and the location of the sun at the time of year you will be visiting.
Top tip: If you are short on time and only have one session available its possible to get some nice images from the viewpoint in the later afternoon before quickly heading to the church for sunset and blue hour.
Sesier Alm is a large alpine meadow in the heart of the Dolomites. The rolling hills are scattered with log cabins and guarded by the large granite face of the mountains. There are two very popular spots that most photographers head to for peak times. But there are hundreds of amazing compositions on the plateau. It’s pretty easy to explore as its pretty flat so hit the trails and explore.
Getting there: It’s very easy to get to Seiser Alm but cars are not permitted to drive around Seiser Alm except to reach your accommodation. Once on-site, it’s all walking.
Best time to shoot: This place looks equally amazing at sunset or sunrise so it’s worth making an overnight stop to capture both.
Top tip: Accommodation on the plateau is more expensive but it’s well worth those extra pennies for the killer views.
Tre Cime di Lavaredo
This is the crowning jewel of the Dolomites and quite possibly the most well-known mountain group in the Alps. If you could only visit one place in this region, the Tre Cime should be it. The landscape is simply stunning and should not be missed. It’s a long hard hike from the nearest Refugio but when you clap eyes on the three peaks, you won’t care one bit.
If you visit whilst still open (they close for winter) I would recommend staying at the Rifugio Auronzo. Simple but in a great location, this Rifufgio is about as close as you are going to get to the three peaks without camping. Your other option is to stay on Lago di Misurina or even Cortina and make the drive up.
Getting there: From the parking lot, the trail heads east in the shadow of the three peaks before heading up to the Paternsattel pass. From here you follow the ridge along the basin until you are almost directly opposite from where you set off.
Best time to shoot: Sunset is great and far easier to achieve as you can start the hike in daylight rather than the middle of the night in order to make it for sunrise. The sun sets to the side of the three peaks and casts a lovely glow adding plenty of depth to your images.
Top tip: Set off in plenty of time and don’t forget your head torch. One way or another you will more than likely be hiking in the dark.
After leaving Tre Cime you will come to Lake Misurina in the valley below. The lake acts as a perfect mirror for the surrounding mountains.
Getting there: Easily accessible on your way to or from Tre Cime on route SP49.
Best time to shoot: Sunsets look incredible when the sky lights up a bright red.
Top tip: Get right down to the lake edge to get that perfect reflection.
Next up in our photography guide to the Dolomites are the Earth Pyramids. These bizarre natural formations located near the town of Bolzano are still relatively unknown but well worth a visit. They only cover a very small area but are quite incredible and totally unique. I have only been here once and they were shrouded in mist and fog. But if anything I feel this only added to the atmosphere and mystery of the place.
Getting there: The pyramids are well signposted from Bolzano and not hard to find. From the parking area, they are an easy 20-minute walk through the pleasant farmland.
Best time to shoot: Unless you have a lot of time in the region I wouldn’t bother to shoot a sunrise or sunset here. We visited after a failed morning at Lago Braies and whilst the pyramids were shrouded in the mist I managed to get some images I was really happy with.
Top tip: Explore angles and play with your depth of field for some dramatic and atmospheric images.
The Giau pass plays host to two perfectly located Rifugios approached from either side by the typically bendy roads you would expect to see and surrounded by the jagged dramatic peaks. It’s just a short walk up a ridge to one of the most stunning 360-degree views in the Dolomites. You can walk along this ridge and find your perfect composition.
Getting there: Easily accessible from Cortina, just head south East on SP638.
Best time to shoot: Personally I prefer the afternoon light on the mountains but that doesn’t mean sunrise isn’t amazing. It’s a matter of personal taste and conditions. I’ve never seen it but I imagine that a stormy day with the sun peeking through and rolling clouds would make the Giau pass look incredible.
Top tip: Head east along the ridge and use the bendy road as a great lead into your image.
Lago Federa didn’t come up on my research of the area so I didn’t feel it was essential. But having visited it is now an essential location in my photography guide to the Dolomites. Its a fairly steep 1-hour hike but that also means the crowds are kept away. The lake is a true wilderness with just a small Refugio. You arrive at the lake on the Refugio side but if you head around the lake to the opposites side you can make a final hike up the bank to be rewarded with a view of the lake and forest backed by a Matterhorn like peak.
Getting there: Head to the small village of Campo di Sotto and pick up the road into the closest parking spot. The road closes in the summer as it can’t accommodate more than a couple of cars.
Best time to shoot: Sunrise takes it here. The first light hitting the mountains as the reflections in the lake become visible make for a spectacular vista.
Top tip: Don’t neglect the endless compositions available from the lakeshore.
This is my favourite view in the entire area and my final location on my photography guide to the Dolomites. Unparalleled 360-degree views for miles The mountain top is accessed via cable car and there is a small
Rifugio Lagazuoi (closed in winter) that you can stay at. It gets pretty busy so you want to stay there book early. It’s also about the only feasible way to be at the top for sunset and sunrise. I’ve never had the opportunity to capture a sunrise or sunset from here but I know it will be quite special.
Getting there: Easily accessible from the cable car. Not so easily accessible with hiking.
Best time to shoot: Sunrise or sunset will both be amazing and I’ve seen images to prove it. Unfortunately not mine. Well worth a visit any time of day though.
Top tip: Explore your angles. Lagazuoi has a range of different compositions so spend some time having a good look around.
So there you have it, our Photography Guide to the Dolomites. Use this list to capture stunning photos and don’t forget to share them with us.
Jordan Banks is a successful travel photographer with almost 20 years of experience shooting assignments and campaigns for some of the worlds leading brands and companies. Why not join him on his Croatian photography tours
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