Having built the foundations of my photography career as a travel photographer, I have spent many years working and living all over the world. During my travels I was lucky enough to visit some of the world’s most amazing landscapes, and got to know my favourite locations very well. One of these places was northern Italy, when I decided to live in Venice for 6 months. It’s a long story, but basically a budget airline was offering flights for 1p (including tax) to a selection of European cities, and Venice was on the list. At the time (2003), I was contracted to work in London every Sunday, so it meant commuting back and forth every week. The airline promotion allowed me to book 26 return flights - flying out to Venice every Monday morning, and back every Saturday evening for six months, for the total cost of 52 pence - yes you did read that correctly. It didn’t matter if I never used them, but once I had them I was determined to get my money’s worth!
The first thing I needed to do was to find somewhere to live, so I flew over for the day to look at four apartments I had found online. The first of these was situated half way between Piazza San Marco and Rialto Bridge - two of the world’s most iconic landmarks. It was less than a three minute walk to either, and the apartment seemed perfect, so I took it without ever viewing the other apartments on my itinerary. A couple of weeks later and I was collecting the keys and moving in. I didn’t even unpack my bag before excitedly heading out to explore the maze of narrow streets and canals. If you’ve ever been to Venice off season, then you’ll understand my enthusiasm for the place.
Over the next few months, I got to know Venice as well as anyone, and made a couple of local friends. One of these had a second home two hours north in the mountains, so I spent some of my free time there, skiing and also hiking. I was amazed by the beauty of this small section of the Italian Alps known as the Dolomites. A world heritage site, these peaks are rivalled only by the southern Andes of Chile and Argentina for their drama and majesty. I remember writing an article for a travel magazine where I referred to them as the Yosemite of Europe - a description which I continue to use to this day, as it seems to fit perfectly.
When I decided to hang up travel photography boots, I settled on the Isle of Skye where for the past few years I have been hosting workshops in some of the most amazing scenery in the UK. As good as this is, it cannot compete with the Dolomites, so it was always my intention to use the knowledge I had of the place and introduce other photographers to the area. This year I finally got around to achieving this, when myself and my colleague Harry spent a week in the mountains planning a trip for next year. We worked out the best places to stay with a small group of photographers, ensuring that we would be able to get everyone to the best locations for the crucial times of day when the light is at its best. On Skye (or anywhere in the UK), photographing a sunset or sunrise from the top of a mountain requires either a long hike in the dark, or an uncomfortable night camping. Neither of these are practical with an inexperienced group, but the Italians have got their act together. Mountain refuges litter the Alps, offering a comfortable bed and food for anyone adventurous enough to be up on the ridges and summits as night falls. I always knew the use of these refuges would be the key to a successful photo holiday - allowing photographers to be in great locations to make the most of dawn and dusk light. We’re not talking luxury hotels, but the mountain refuges are clean, comfortable and offer good food. Their big selling point however is their location, and both Harry and I found ourselves wanting to include the refuges in our photos, as they added a sense of scale and a focal point to the enormity and drama of the Dolomites’ landscape.
Appreciating that many photographers aren’t mountain goats, we knew we had to keep all the hiking to a reasonable grade - easily achievable by someone of average fitness. This ruled out some locations, but by using cable cars and private road access, we have worked out how to get people as close to the refuges as possible, leaving just a 1-2 hour relatively easy hike to get on location. One of the places we discovered is so good that I said to Harry, “If we bring photographers here for just one night and then tell them we are leaving the following day, we will have to drag them down the mountain kicking and screaming.” so we’ve decided to add an extra night at this particular location. I won’t disclose too much information, but it is truly world class, and the very definition of a photographer’s paradise.
Access to the region needs to be via the closest international airport, and this of course is Venice. So what better way to start and end a photo holiday than a night in one the most iconic cities in the world. With my local knowledge and contacts, people can be sure to be in the right location at the right time, and will see the city in a very different way to the masses. It’s always exciting to have the opportunity to show fellow photographers some of the best places I have been to in the world, and this is right up there among the very best.
Details of this photo holiday will be announced in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out if it is something which you may be interested in joining.