Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Mike & Sharon's Top Five Dolomite Hikes

Someone just asked me over on YouTube for hiking tips for the Dolomites, so I thought I'd put a "top five" together based on our own experience over the years. I've been a number of times over the years, starting with a trip to Kastelruth near the Seiser Alm for the kids' first birthday back in 2002. I'm going to use the German place names rather than the Italian ones for simplicity, since these are the ones I'm most familiar with. Since then, we've spent several 7-10 day holidays there in the summer, staying in Malga Ciapela, Corvara and Cortina where we've usually done a mix of hiking and via ferrata. I'll stick to the hiking here for simplicity's sake, assuming that if your into the climbing you'll have other resources to fall back on.

One thing we learned the first time we we visited is not to make the mistake of thinking that you can do all of the Dolomites from a single centre or in a single week. The distances on the map do not translate to normal driving times as the valleys are very steep sided and linked by fantastic pass roads. Do not stay near the Seiser Alm and think you can visit Tre Cime/Dreizinnen as you will spend all day on the road and be very disappointed. I'll probably edit this document in the coming weeks as I want to get this out relatively quickly and I'll flesh out some of the details later when I have time together with photos and links.

I'm going to assume that people reading this are used to rough trails and spending 6-8 h hiking and covering fairly serious altitude differences. Be aware that if you're coming straight from the UK that some of the higher trails, such as Piz Böe, are really quite high and may require some acclimatisation. Don't forget to check the weather forecast and dress appropriately. Make sure you're up to the tour before you start, some of these are quite physically demanding.

Although we've been several times, there are still a lot of places that we don't know at all, so this is just our personal top 5, there are other trails out there that have yet to be discovered by us. Let me know below if you have any favourite tours not listed here, or if you follow any of these suggestions, let us know what you thought.

5: Sellajoch to Col Rodella (2484 m)

A relatively easy tour to start with, walking from the carpark below the Sellajoch (2200 m) to Col Rodella underneath the brooding slopes of the Langkofel/Sassolungo through a grassy landscape.

4: Piz Boë (3152 m)

Piz Boë is a biggy with great views over the Marmolada and north to the Sassongher. Take the chairlift up from Corvara to Rifugio Piz Boë (2200 m). Follow route 672 up and then 638 back down. Check out the Strudel at Rifugio Franz Kostner al Vallon on the way back.

3: Lago di Federa (2040 m)

Great round tour up from Pocol (1500 m) up to Lago di Federa through the forest along route 431 or 434, then back over Forcella de Formin (2462 m) via route 435. Take time to take in the views from the lake; in the autumn when the larch are yellow the view from the western bank of the lake eastwards towards Sorapiss are stunning. Don't forget to stop for Polenta Saucisse with cheese at the refuge Croda da Lago.

2: Cinque Torri to Nuvolau (2574 m)

Either take the chairlift up to Rifugio Scoiatolli (2255 m) or drive up to Rifugio Cinque Torri. Up route 431 to Rifugio Averau at Forcella Nuvolau (2413 m) and then on to Rifugio Nuvolau. Back the same way (unless you're feeling adventurous ;). Great all-round views over the Tofana to the north, Cinque Torri, Croda da Lago to the east and Lagazoi to the west.

1: Tre Cime Round (max. altitude 2454 m)

You can't really go to the north-eastern Dolomites without visiting the Tre Cime, even if you do have to pay an arm and a leg for the toll-road up to Rifugio Auronzo. Get there early in the summer to avoid the massive tailback at the toll station. Park at the Rifugio and then walk anticlockwise around the Tre Cime peaks along route 101 to the Dreizinnenhütte and back via Col Forcellina. If you have time, walk south from Rifugio Auronzo up Monte Comadelle for great view northwards of the Three Peaks.

A: The One That Got Away

I've not done this tour yet, but it's top of my list for next time based on the recommendations of a fellow photographer: Cold di Varda to Rifugio Auronzo through the Cima Cadin di Misurina. This would have to be a one-way trip giving you great views of Lake Misurina and later of the Tre Cime

Tuesday, 31 August 2021

Raisting Slideshow

I thought I'd branch out and do something a little different. Here's a slide show of my Raisting 'best of'. Best viewed large:

Tuesday, 24 August 2021

Star-Hunting in the Dolomites

What is it about the Dolomites that draws us (my wife and I) back again and again? For some reason, this region has a hold on both of us and won't let us go. The impressive peaks, green meadows and constantly changing skies are like a drug, so when I saw an advert several months ago for a week-long astrophotography workshop in the mountains around Cortina, I just knew that I had to go. Once I had the hall-pass in pocket I registered and was very happy to be able to secure one of the restricted places.

The week leading up to the trip I was busy studying the weather forecasts to see whether we were going to be in luck or not. It wasn't looking too good, but I wasn't overly concerned because even if we didn't get clear skies, this was the Dolomites. There would be photos a plenty to be had even in the worst weather. I wasn't wrong.

Tofana and Lagazoi || Olympus 9 mm, f/8, 1/200 s, ISO 200

Day 1 - Lago Misurina, d'Antorno and Rifugio Auronzo

One of the other participants picked me up early on the Tuesday morning and we headed off down to the meeting point at Lago Misurina, a popular lake nestled among the mountains with Punta Sorapis providing a dramatic backdrop to the essentially deserted hotel at the lake's head. The overcast weather on this first visit of the week to Misurina didn't really invite photos of the larger landscape, but there were plenty of mini-scenes waiting for our cameras. 

Reeds at Misurina || Olympus 86 mm, f/5.6, 1/320 s, ISO 200 
Several hours after we arrived, the rest of the group appeared and after working out where to leave the remaining cars for the week, we headed up to the more intimate Lago d'Antorno before driving up the toll road to Rifugio Auronzo. We'd parked at Auronzo many times over the years, but this was the first time I'd spend the night here.

Solitary Feather || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/30 s, ISO 200
After a general round of introductions, our instructors informed us what we could expect from the week ahead and I was excited to catch some new perspectives of places that were very familiar to me, as well as taking in a couple of new locations. It was interesting to learn that only a couple of us had any experience at all at taking nocturnal images - most were complete novices.

Cima Cadin della Neve || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/30 s, ISO 200
Our first evening saw us hiking a trail southwards towards Monte Compardelle below the imposing Cima Cadin della Neve to capture some evening shots. Golden hour gave way to the blue hour without much fanfare as the cloud cover was simply too thick for most shots. I quickly rediscovered my aversion for shooting photos in a huddle. Whilst everyone else seemed to be preoccupied with Cadin, I turned around and focussed on the Tre Cime, seeing them from an angle I had never had before. Shooting in the blue hour isn't always easy as the way the eye perceives light and the way the camera perceives light aren't always the same. I find that the best photos occur around the time where I think it's too dark for photography; I noticed this when I was shooting from the Kranzberg with Matthias back in May and the same happened here. This is pretty much the last shot I took before giving up for the evening. The lights are those of Rifugio Auronzo, our beacon for the route back.

Tre Cime and Rifugio Auronzo || Olympus 20 mm, f/8, 1/2 s, ISO 200

Day 2 - Auronzo to Locatelli and Back

If anything, the forecast for day 2 was worse than day 1. After breakfast we headed off on the well-trodden route to Rifugio Locatelli (a.k.a. the Dreizinnenhütte) via Forcella Lavaredo. We wanted to be out and back in good time since thunderstorms were predicted for the afternoon, conditions that we really didn't want to be caught out in. 

Chapel on the way to Forcella Lavaredo || Olympus 400 mm, f/6.3, 1/1000 s, ISO 200
It was strange being out in territory that I was very familiar with in the context of a bunch of strangers. I was able to demonstrate my local knowledge by introducing one of the guides to a tunnel affording a view of the Tre Cime that he hadn't previously been aware of. In return we became privy to a great panorama spot for taking shots of the Tre Cime together with Locatelli and Monte Paterno, a shot which one of the workshop leaders had previously immortalised with his image Magic Dolomites. Even if we didn't have the best weather, at least I know now exactly where to head to in order to capture something similar one day when the conditions allow it.

Dolomite Poppies || Olympus 12 mm, f/11, 1/200 s, ISO 200
The weather was so poor that evening that we didn't even venture out for the non-existent sunset. Stefan promised that he'd check the cloud cover at regular intervals during the night and wake us if anything promising came up - a really great service! There was a brief break in the clouds around midnight, but only a couple of people dared the elements to catch a glimpse of the stars between the clouds, but that was all it was.

Locatelli alle Tre Chime || Olympus f/8, 1/250 s, ISO 200

Day 3 - Auronzo to Scoiatolli and the Cinque Torri

There's a song from my childhood titled "Hello Muddah, hello Fadduh." The text describes a fictional letter home from a child who's been sent away to camp for the summer, complaining about the weather, the other kids, and generally begging to be allowed to come home on promise of best behaviour. The letter closes with an update that the weather has taken a sudden swing for the better and implores Muddah and Fadduh to disregard the rest of the letter. So it was with day 3. We awoke to mist clinging to the mountains and clearing skies. We were of course all out on the balcony overlooking the valley and Cima Cadin della Neve before breakfast, snapping away. I even had a chance to sneak in a time-lapse of the fog fingers creeping through the peaks.

Mist Time Lapse

Misty Mountain Hop || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/100 s, ISO 64
Sun Breaking Through || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/60 s, ISO 64
As the Mist Lifts... || Olympus 16 mm, f/9, 1/80 s, ISO 64
Rifugio Auronzo || Olympus 9 mm, f/16, 1/100 s, ISO 200
The prospect of better weather changed the mood of the whole group and we were suddenly cautiously optimistic about the prospect of getting some astrophotography in that night. Stopping at the lakes d'Antorno and Misurina on the way down to re-capture some of the images of day 1 in better conditions, we finally headed off to Cinque Torri.

D'Antorno Revisited || Olympus 15 mm, f/8, 1/160 s, ISO 200
Dolomite Reflections || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/250 s, ISO 200
Lago Misurina || Olympus 100 mm, f/10, 2 s, ISO 200

The car park at the bottom of the chair lift up to the Rifugio Scoiatolli was full to overflowing, but we managed to squeeze the minibuses into a gap on the access road. Before heading up the mountain, our guides took us to the tiny Lago Bain de Dones, an otherwise fairly non-descript woodland lake that afforded some beautiful reflections of the Tofana range opposite us. The excessive rainfall of the previous 24 h had rendered the water extremely muddy and flooded the path at the lake's edge, forcing us to detour through the undergrowth. Maybe under better conditions the lake would have been a worthwhile photo op, but I wasn't able to get anything decent out of it.

Tofana || Olympus 10 mm, f/8, 1/200 s, ISO 200
Given the state of the car park, it was no surprise to find the restaurant at the Rifugio heaving with people. The hut itself is absolutely beautiful and a very welcome change to the more functional Auronzo hut. The food, too, was exceptional, meaning that we will very definitely be back here some time in the future. We spent the afternoon shooting the cr@p out of the eponymous Five Towers and scouting the area below the hut for suitable spots for capturing the Milky Way that night. We still weren't 100% certain of the cloud levels; Clear Outside was still indicating a 15% chance of high cloud (or was it low cloud?) - hardly surprising given the previous day's weather. Even as the sun was setting, there were still clouds on the horizon.

Big Skies over Croda da Lago || Olympus 10 mm, f/8, 1/200 s, ISO 200

Broody Skies || Olympus 86 mm, f/8, 1/13 s, ISO 200 
Our mood over dinner was on the exuberant side. Finally we were going to have a crack at taking some astro images. I've never sat at a table in a mountain hut in the evening with so little alcohol being consumed. We were all being exceedingly abstemious, bearing in mind the need to stay awake and alert into the wee hours, or at least we were until one of our party spotted an extremely rare bottle of red wine on the wine list that he had to share with the group. I don't think I've ever drunk a wine with a list price closer to three figures than two, and it was very nice, but not something I'd ever think about buying for myself.

Cinque Torri and Rifugio Scoiatolli || Olympus Panorama, f/2.8, 6 s, ISO 800
After dinner, we headed out to the various spots that we'd scouted earlier in the day. When Sharon and I had passed by a closed Scoiatolli in autumn a couple of years ago, we had the impression that it stood on a cliff-edge. This couldn't be further from the truth. Below the Rifugio there's a warren of WW I trenches and hideouts. Most of the others had scouted a spot lower down the slopes, giving them a panorama shot with the Cinque Torri centre picture. My spot was significantly higher up with  the Cinque Torri framing the left hand side of the picture, followed by the beautiful ridges of Croda da Lago and the peaks of Nuvolau and Averau because this composition had a much more personal connection to me. 

Scoiatolli and Nuvolau || Olympus 12 mm, f/3.4, 240 s, ISO 800
I don't think I necessarily got the better composition, but I got some astro shots that I was pleased with, both with the tracker* and without. My single image (above) was taken with the tracker, the panorama (below)  without due to time constraints. We only had around half an hour or so to shoot the Milky Way before the core dipped below the horizon. Three rows of 10 photos for the panorama at 30 s each meant a total of 15 min of exposure. Had I used the tracker, it would have taken me upwards of 2 h to catch the same data, not to mention taking a further set of foreground pictures without the tracker for still shots of the mountains.

*A (star) tracker is a device that allows photographers to take long photos of the stars without having the points degrade into lines due to the earth's rotation. Normally the limit for an exposure before star-trailing occurs is (500 / focal length) s - approximately 30 s with my m43 8 mm lens. In order to get anything worthwhile, I have to increase the ISO setting on the camera to 6400, resulting in a lot of excess noise in the images. With the star tracker I can shoot for 4 min at ISO 800, resulting in a much more pleasing image with significantly more colour and less noise.

Milky Way over Cinque Torri || Olympus 8 mm, f/2.8, 25 s, ISO 6400
As I reached the end of my 30-shot panorama,  the clouds started rolling in and it was time to head back to the Rifugio, but not before taking a couple of last snaps of the Great Tower.

Cinque Torri by Night || Olympus 12 mm, f/3.3, 10 s, ISO 6400

Day 4 Scoiatolli to Passo Rolle

The night was short. At 4:30 am we were up again to shoot the dawn over the Towers. The sickle moon put in an appearance over the Great Tower as the first colour became visible in the sky. 

New Moon in the Dolomites || Olympus 12 mm, f/8, 1 s, ISO 200 

Then it was off to attempt to capture sun stars and flowers. At least that was the brief. I stopped off at a suitable looking patch of Adenostyles (yes, I did have to look that up) to wait for the sun to rise. As it happened, I was spot on with my positioning to catch the sun rising between the towers. In the end, I preferred this shot of the warm sun's rays coming through the gap rather than the sun star shot itself.

A New Day Dawns || Olympus 10 mm, f/16, 1/100 s, ISO 1600

Just One More... || Olympus Panorama, f/8, 1/160 s, ISO 200

After a hearty buffet breakfast back at the hut, we headed to the chairlift to carry on with out tour of the eastern Dolomites. Our goal for day four was a mountain lake above Passo Rolle in the south-eastern corner of the range. We spent a rather fruitless evening looking for more flowers to feature as foreground for the dominating peaks of Cima della Vezzana. Unfortunately all of the suitable species were over at this time of year. Clouds were also passing through, making shots of the pinnacles above us very elusive as well. The clouds put paid to any attempts at another evening of astrophotography and we arrived back at our accommodation a little dejected.

Day 5 Passo Rolle to Brunico via Lago Carezza

After a lazy breakfast we all piled back into the minibus for an arduous drive up and down the passes all the way to the northern edge of the Dolomites via Lago Carezza and Bozen, followed by short trips to Lago di Braies and the stone pyramids at Platten. It was a long day that tried all of our patience with closed roads, misleading directions, late lunches (I don't do well with low blood sugar!), complicated light and everything in between. Had we not all gotten on so well I think day 5 would have broken us as a group, but we survived the mixed bag that day 5 presented us with and ended the day having pizza (first time of the week) in a restaurant that we had pretty much to ourselves in a village just round the corner from the farmhouse that we stay at.

Lago Carezza was interesting, full of influenzas taking selfies and the usual tourists. In contrast to scarce flora at Passo Rolle, the rosebay willow herb was still out in force at the lake. The tips of the Diamantiditurm were engulfed in cloud, but the pink flowers contrasting against the turquoise water of the lake were irresistible.

Lago Carezza || Olympus 16 mm, f/8, 1/80 s, ISO 200

After a late lunch in Niederdorf the road to Lago di Braies was open. We arrived just as the rain started, but this actually enhanced the charm of the lake as well as chasing off all the tourists. The boats are so photogenic here, particularly with the beautiful blue waters. The dull light made long exposures easy to set up, smoothing out the lake surface.

Rowboats at Braies || Olympus 9 mm, f/8, 5 s, ISO 200
Lago di Braies || Olympus 9 mm, f/8, 5 s, ISO 200
Before heading back to the farm, we detoured up to the earth pyramids of Platten, an interesting rock formation revealed overnight by a flash flood in 1882. 

The Platten Pyramids || Olympus 25 mm, f/8, 1/40 s, ISO 200

Day 6 Lago di Braies to Lago Misurina

On our last day, we were up again for dawn at Lago di Braies. My photos in the rain from the previous afternoon had much better colour than anything from this morning session. Having waited in vain for some dawn light we headed back to Brunico to pack and grab some breakfast before returning to Misurina to pick up the cars.


One of my photo-goals for 2021 was shooting a Milky Way panorama that I was happy with. I'd managed to get good arches both on the Kranzberg and at Raisting, but wasn't happy with the results because of the light pollution. Bagging shots that I am happy with at Cinque Torri made the whole trip worthwhile in my estimation.

We had a good week with mixed weather. It was no-one's fault that we only got one evening of astrophotography during the six days. The company was very welcome and I hope that we will be able to keep in touch with the other participants. I might have wished for a bit more instruction and feedback from our workshop leaders, but I still picked up some new tricks and discovered some interesting new spots to shoot from in better conditions. Would certainly do it again.

Saturday, 24 July 2021

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

So I've been playing about a bit with PhotoPills recently, a really geeky photographer's planning App. There's a steep learning curve, but once you've got the gist of it, it's really quite useful, particularly for sun/moon-set/rise shots and astrophotograpy. I'm not a huge fan of shooting the full moon - it can be a bit bland because the crater shadows are so short (like shooting terrestrially at noon), but if the moon is positioned well, it can still give usable results.

Full Moon and Kloster Andechs | Olympus 400 mm, f/6.3. 1/2 s ± 2 stops, ISO 400
Back in June I already tried shooting the full moon rising behind Kloster Andechs, a local landmark. Unfortunately I got my planning slightly off, meaning that the moon was much further south of the monastery than I'd envisioned, it was a day past full moon due to cloud cover the night before and despite having clear skies at home, there was a cloud bank low on the horizon to the east, obscuring the view and it was quite dark.

Obscured by Clouds | Olympus 123 mm, f/5.7. 60 s, ISO 400
Back home I went over the PhotoPills planning again and found out what my problem was. There are a number of variables that have to be entered; position of the subject, position of the photographer, time, etc. The App determines the distance between the two as well as the elevation distance and you can then select the precise time at which the moon will be at the correct elevation and work out the optimal place to stand in order to fine-tune the position to shoot from. It turned out that I'd taken the elevation into account and then used the wrong line in the map - the one 

Come July and the full moon fell on a Friday again, always good for a late shoot, plus moonrise was 8 minutes after sunset, meaning that there would still be a significant amount of ambient light to shoot with; it wouldn't just be a bright moon against a dark background (🥱). Back in PhotoPills I realised that I'd forgotten all the steps necessary to plan the shoot, so it was back to their helpful YouTube tutorial for a quick refresher.

  1. Subject to be photographed
  2. Standpoint to shoot from
  3. Second panel of Planner
  4. Altitude difference standpoint ⇾ subject
  5. Dial in Moon height using time slider (8)
  6. Line indicating direction of moonrise
  7. Line indicating direction of moon at selected time
  8. Time slider (magnified view).

Slide the time slider back and forth to give the correct elevation to match the altitude difference (4) and then reposition the standpoint pin (2) to position the moon direction line (7). Simples!
Getting into position about a half-hour ahead of time we discovered that the place on the lake shore that we'd worked out in the App was obscured by 2 m high reeds and so we backtracked 150 m north to just outside the Wasserwacht by the Pavillion at Utting. Waiting for the moon to appear we scanned around us for other motives. The sky colours were getting really pretty and pastelly at this stage and so I whipped out the smartphone for this grab. Actually one of my favourite of the evening in the end.

Pastel Tones | Huawei P30 Pro Smartphone
Moonrise came and went and we didn't see anything. Check the App. Oh yes, we have to wait for it to rise sufficiently to be seen behind the 173 m higher horizon to the east. I'd figured that into the planning, but I'd been looking at the moonrise time rather then the time that I'd dialled into PhotoPills. Bang on 21:33 we saw a red-pink glow on the horizon north of the monastery. Our move to a clearer spot had pushed the moon further north than I'd hoped for.

Ah, There She Is! | Olympus 150 mm, f/5.7. 1/3 s, ISO 400 
Starting with the moon 'upstream' of the monastery was much better than downstream, however, since it could only move into constellation and not out of to start with. It was now a waiting game, waiting for the moon to come into a good position, adjusting the tripod position every now and then to make sure the reflection of the moon's light was unobstructed - it would have been messy to have it interrupted by the boats or jetty at this stage. Avoiding this meant repositioning the tripod every five minutes or so.

Moon and Andechs | Olympus 138 mm, f/5.7. 1/2 s, ISO 400

With  as spectacle like this, we weren't the only 'togs out of course. Not sure whether this chap was a planner or an opportunist staying at the local campsite. I always go out of my way and exchange a few friendly words with anyone out shooting. I seem to get two types of reaction; folks are either really ultra friendly and chatty or they give the impression that you're treading on their toes, poaching their photos. It isn't a competition and generally we can only learn from each other. I'm always happy to promote other's photos on social media too if I see merit that deserves sharing. We need to be building each other up, not tearing each other down.

Photographer's Paradise | Olympus 169 mm, f/5.8. 0.8 s ± 2 stops, ISO 400
As we watched the moon rise, we could see the transition in colour from red to orange to yellow. Just like the sun, the more atmosphere the light reflecting from the sun has to travel through, the redder it appears as the shorter wavelengths of light get bounced off into space. Now we could zoom in with the Olympus f/5.6 100-400 to catch a couple of full frame images. Believe it or not, I've toned down the saturation of the moon here as it looked simply too artificial.

Moon and Andechs: Exposure Blend | Olympus 400 mm, f/6.3. 0.8 s ± 2 stops, ISO 400
As the distance between moon and monastery increased, so the size of the two elements in the picture as I had to zoom out as well as the contrast in brightness as dusk slowly arrived. Our work here was done. Almost. Sharon actually spotted this composition of the light playing on the water next to the jetty. And with that we were done.

Moonglow Reflected | Olympus 400 mm, f/6.3. 1 s, ISO 400
Do you have a subject that you'd like to shoot at full moon some time? Want some help planning exactly when and where to stand to take that shot instead of using trial and error? Drop me a line and we'll see if we can set you up.

Monday, 5 July 2021

My Latest Muse - It's Serious!

Hi folks, I know it's been a while - no posts for the whole of June 😲. I have been busy shooting, honest, but not much worth blogging about. Plenty of photos, but few words to go with them. I do have a new muse though. It's alright, Sharon knows about her. In fact she didn't even mind me creeping into bed at 2 am Saturday morning having spent the entire evening with her. It's a place, not a person and I've lived a 35 min drive away for the last 18 years and only just got round to visiting.

Science and Faith in Tension || Olympus 12 mm, f/9, 1/25 s, ISO 200, 14 shot pano 
The place in question is, unusually for me, a flat piece of ground, albeit within spitting distance of the mountains. What makes it special is the buildings - it's a satellite communication centre, an arable area spotted with massive 32 m diameter parabolic antennae. What makes this place special though is that it's also home to a beautiful little 600-year old Bavarian chapel; St. Johannes d. Täufer (St. John the Baptist). The whole site is so delightfully incongruous, firstly with the massive satellite dishes set in amongst the farm fields and then with the combination of the dishes and the ancient tiny church. Add a backdrop of the Alps - you're pretty much looking directly at the Zugspitze, Germany's highest mountain and I feel like the whole thing is a microcosm (or is that macrocosm) of my life - science, church, mountains.

Satellite Centre Raisting || Olympus 44 mm, f/8, 1/400 s, ISO 200 
Despite the 'incongruousnous' of the place, it works, there's tension between the elements, but there's also harmony. Visually, the tiny chapel easily holds its weight against the dozens of satellite dishes. This feels like my life to a certain extent, I live in multiple communities; my work community is very science laden with friends who are sceptical about people of faith, some parts of my faith community, my church, are wary about too much science, other communities I belong to are salt of the earth Bavarians where I live or people who share our love for the mountains. Here in Raisting it all comes together.

St. Johann d. Täufer, Raisting || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/250 s, ISO 200
I've been down here three times in the meantime and I don't plan on stopping any time soon. The first time was to try an astro-shoot, the second after a massive rain storm came through and the third to try to catch the blue hour and some more astro shots. Given the right conditions, shooting the Milky Way here could be quite interesting. The trouble is, the dishes are quite well lit at night, obliterating any long exposures for the foreground. Add to that that both times I've been to shoot the stars there have been residual clouds reflecting light from the surrounding villages and you get a frustrating constellation (no pun intended, honest). The night sky is really dark and getting the best out of it requires long exposures to collect as much light as possible. If you've got wisps of cloud, even if they're not visible to the human eye, they catch the light being cast up from the villages below and as you'll see at the bottom of this post, it gives the night sky an ugly orange cast.

Stormclouds at Sunset || Olympus 8 mm, f/5.6, 1/25 s, ISO 200
I'm not going to show any photos from the first trip, they're just not worth it. I arrived late, set up where I thought there might be a nice view and shot into glaring spotlights all evening. The second time was quite special though. I went down with the whole family on the tail of a June thunderstorm. After eating at the delightfully Bavarian Gasthaus Drexl, we emerged to see the setting sun firing up the stormclouds that were slowly disappearing eastwards. What we hadn't expected were all the storks we saw. Sharon had glanced up as we left the Gasthaus and initially thought some silly bugger had posted a plastic bird on a scrappy nest atop their chimney, but then it moved and then we saw the chicks. Over the course of the evening we must have seen a dozen or so of the birds out in the fields, presumably looking for frogs and mice to bring back to their young.

Stork Parent || Olympus 100 mm, f/6.3, 1/800 s, ISO 200
The parabola dishes catch the evening light very satisfyingly, their structure catching the golden rays and reflecting them back. Some of the installations almost look like families with mum and dad towering over a clutch of infants.

Mum, Dad & The Kids || Olympus 29 mm, f/8, 1/60 s, ISO 200
The dishes are also thankful subjects for a monochrome treatment of the images. Here the combination of textures and tones screamed for a monochrome conversion. I pulled out the whites and blacks to make sure the image covered the whole gamut of black to white, added some dramatic contrast to the already moody clouds and sharpened the photo a little to arrive at this hangable composition.

Satellites and Storm || Olympus 13 mm, f/5.6, 1/80 s, ISO 200
My third trip was after a week of rainy storms had formed an impromptu lake in the middle of the fields allowing me to capture this reflection of the dishes dwarfed by an ancient oak tree. Getting low to the water let me catch some of the antennae with the mountains behind.

Satellite Reflections || Olympus 28 mm, f/6.3, 1/800 s, ISO 200
This time I was meeting up with a fellow photographer from Munich. Without him I would never have stepped behind the ancient chapel, but I'm so glad that I did just after the sun had set. Catching the colour of the last rays through the church windows together with the silhouette of the southwesternmost dish was a great start to the night.

Faith and Science at the Blue Hour || Olympus 8 mm, f/5.6, 1/5 s, ISO 200 
One of the nocturnal summer phenomena that I've only recently become aware of, thanks in part to Alyn Wallace's informative "What's in the Night Sky" YouTube series, is that of noctilucent clouds. They can be seen throughout the summer night, mostly to the north as these high altitude ice clouds catch the last of the sunlight. According to Wikipedia, these are normally only visible from about 50° latitude, meaning that they can be seen from the very northern tip of Bavaria. We seem to have had some luck in recent weeks and I've seen several photos of them in and around Munich and saw them myself when trying to catch the moon rising behind Andechs monastery a week previously. Being so far south I could only just see them dancing on the northern horizon, but they're definitely NLCs!

Noctilucent Clouds at Raisting|| Olympus 8 mm, f/2.8, 5 s, ISO 200
Having said that this next and last photo would never see the light of day, I am actually going to post it here. For one it highlights (sic) the problems of astrophotography in areas with urban light pollution, even when it's as sparsely populated as the area south of Dießen. Even the slightest amount of cloud catches the street lights and reflects their garing orange glow back to the camera as you can see here. But the reason I decided to share this image is the excitement that it gives me. This is a 3 min exposure at ISO 800 and not only can you see the beautiful textures of the galactic core, but also star colour is becoming visual. This is a quantum leap forward in my astrophotography, made possible by my Move Shoot Move star tracker, a device that sits between the tripod and camera and, when pointed at Polaris, rotates the camera at the same speed as the earth. Without it, my maximum exposure time is 25 s before the stars start to become streaks. With it I've been able to capture up to 8 min exposures with the stars remaining pin sharp. This allows me to lower the ISO and increase the colour information captured on the sensor. The downside is that, as you can see, with the camera moving even this slowly, any ground becomes blurred. Normally this would be overcome by taking a second similar exposure with the tracker turned off, but I had some technical issues with the untracked images and so this is about as good as it gets under the circumstances.

Milky Way Core || Olympus 8 mm, f/2.8, 3 min, ISO 800
This is definitely not the last you'll be seeing of the Erdfunkstelle Raisting from me; there's a lot more motherlode to be mined here. Watch this space!