The Best Time to Visit the Dolomites
(and a bunch of other useful tips!)
If you are a landscape and/or nature photography enthusiast, Dolomites are one of the best places in Italy (and possibly in all central Europe) to go on a trip, period.
Sharp peaks, enchanted forests and turquoise lakes, the Dolomites have all of this and much, much more. You’ll feel incredibly small when wandering around in this beautiful area: don’t worry, that’s normal when you are surrounded by giants!
Immerse yourself in the wilderness of the Dolomites by taking a relaxing walk in some high mountain meadows or by going on a hike to some mountain lake; there are activities of every kind for everyone in this part of the Alps.
Photography wise, enjoying the sun go down while the last light of the day is hitting the peaks is something that you’ll remember for a very long, long time.
In this article I’ll try to cover all the most important topics that a lot of people are wondering when they are planning a trip to the Dolomites, hopefully by sharing some informations that cannot be found somewhere else!
1. Some Background Infos
The first thing we should do is to give a more specific definition to the word “Dolomites”: the Dolomiti (Dolomites in italian) are a mountain range located in the north-eastern part of Italy. They are part of the Eastern Alps and they spread through Trentino Alto Adige, Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia, three italian regions: their boundaries are considered to be the Adige river in the west, the Val Pusteria in the north, the Pieve di Cadore in the east and the Val Sugana in the south. From this description it may seem that they cover a pretty wide area, when it’s actually not big at all; if you are in the Dolomites, everything will be at most a two/two hours and a half drive from where you are. And it takes two hours not because of the kilometers, just because of the mountain roads and passes which will slow you down quite a bit.
The Dolomites are called like this because they are mostly made of a carbonate dolomite rock; the highest peak of the mountain range is the Marmolada, with its 3343m. From 2009 the Dolomites also became a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Photography aside, these mountains are famous all around the world for skiing during the winter season and mountain climbing in summer: actually, in the Dolomites there are many of the world’s most important and “desired” mountain walls among the mountaineers.
Now that you now a little bit more about where this mountain range is and other few general informations, let’s see together what kind of camera equipment is recommended when visiting the Dolomites!
2. When to Visit the Dolomites?
I will start by saying that you can’t go wrong when visiting the Dolomites, regardless the time of the year that you’ll be there; having said that, I’d also like to point out that, photography wise, there are some times that are better than others. Let’s see of what I’m talking about!
- Summer: if wildflowers and green meadows are what you are after, this is the season you should be there. Not all the wildflowers are blooming in the same period, so it’s quite hard to give a specific time to go there; if I have to pick the moment with more flowerings I’d say between the end of June and the first decade of July, that’s when I always try to be there.
Summer is also the best time of the year to go on all the possible hikes, since most of the snow has melted and all the trails are accessible.
The only “downside” of summer is the crowds; since it’s high season (specially July and August), you’ll probably find a lot of people around in all the locations: be sure to always be out early and late to avoid the crowds as much as you can.
- Autumn: this is the season of golden larches and the first snowfalls of the year, and probably my favourite one. You’ll barely see someone around, and the views with all the yellowish trees are just spectacular. If you are lucky enough to get the contrast between some snowfall and the golden trees, well.. You’ll come back from your trip with some incredible shots for sure!
- Winter: the cold season in the Dolomites generally means only one thing: snow, a lot of snow. Remember that this is a winter paradise for skiers, so you’ll also find some kind of tourism too (not as much as in summer though).
If you visit the Dolomites in winter you better be sure to pack a lot of heavy clothes to keep you warm during sunrises and sunsets, since it’s probably going to be really, really cold!
There’s one downside (a part from the cold): most of the trails are closed, so you won’t be able to visit many locations unless you are an expert alpinist or you are willing to take some really long snowshoes hikes to reach some popular spots. So, be sure to check if the locations that you are planning to visit are open in winter, otherwise you could be disappointed once you are there!
- Spring: this is the season I generally recommend the less to visit the Dolomites, honestly. Why? Because most of the trails are still closed due to the frozen snow still not melted, so you won’t be able to go on many day hikes; until early June you’ll barely see any wildflowers and at the same time you probably won’t get textures in the foreground because the snow is old and melting, not the kind of snow you would love to have in your shots. It’s a transition period when life comes back again in the mountains, but it takes time. If you really have to go there in spring, try to go in the last part of the season; if you are lucky, you may get the first wildflowers in bloom.
What about a Summer Escape?
Summer in the Dolomites is beautiful, with wildflowers everywhere. Follow us in one of our 7 days photography tours there!
3. Camera Gear
If you visit the Dolomites, specially during the warm season, you will likely go on as many hikes as you can; that means that you’ll have to put all your camera gear in your backpack and bring it with you in all those hikes. As a general rule, I like to suggest “the less the better” (even if I finish always with bringing every possible lens because “you never know”), since if you bring all of your camera stuff plus food, water and some clothes, well.. It’s going to be one heavy backpack, trust me. And it’s going to be magically heavier after one or two hours of hiking.
Dolomites can be a quite demanding location for your camera gear, I won’t lie about it; summer storms are not uncommon up there and of course snowstorms should be taken into consideration from October to late April. Oh, and I didn’t mention that sometimes the wind gusts can be really strong too!
Let’s see specifically what it is highly recommended to have with you and what is not useful during a trip to the Dolomites.
As I was just saying up here, the weather in the Dolomites (like in every other mountain place in the world, probably) can get really bad, really quick; you should be prepared for this kind of weather conditions with a weather sealed camera, or at least with some kind of camera protection.
There’s not a specific type of camera that I would recommend more than the others for the Dolomites; I might suggest to go for a full-frame camera (reflex or mirrorless) instead of APS-C or micro 4/3, but this just my personal opinion. If you don’t have a full-frame camera, don’t worry; you will still be able to capture some incredible photos!
Remember the say that I mentioned in the chapter intro, “the less the better”? Well, you should apply it a lot when thinking about what lenses to bring with you. Generally, I like to bring all the lenses with me for the trip, then I’ll select one or two to bring on the most demanding hikes and leave the others in the hotel room or in the car. This selection process is the most difficult part though, since you never know what you’ll find during the hike, and you may just need the lens that you left in the car (it goes always this way!).
Let’s see a few recommendations for each kind of lens:
- Wide-angle lens: you shouldn’t have any doubts about bringing this lens with you, never. This will be by far your most used lens during your trip, whether you visit in summer, autumn or winter, so be sure to have always a lens in the focal range of 14-35mm in your backpack or on your camera. During summer you can use wildflowers as a foreground, while in winter you can play around with snow textures; these two ideas are just the first that came into my mind, there are many, many other ways to use your wide angle!
- Standard-zoom lens: is it even possible to go on a trip without something in the 24-105mm range? I honestly don’t think so. Even if it won’t be your main lens, you’ll probably end up snapping some great shots with it, trust me. Almost all the lenses in this focal range are not that heavy too, so you don’t have any excuses: bring your standard lens with you!
- Telephoto lens: here it comes the big “if”. If you looked on some photographic websites for Dolomites shots, you probably saw that a lot of them are close-up of mountain peaks, taken during some dramatic light conditions. And yes, those shots are beautiful.
For example, the photo that you can see up here under the “Lenses” title is made at 500mm; it was taken during a cold April morning, and sunrise wasn’t that great with no clouds in the sky except for a few really far, really low on the horizon. I decided to switch from the wide angle lens to the telephoto to zoom in a lot and that’s the result! It feels like a storm was raging all over the place with those dark clouds, while the truth is that it was a sunny morning. This is just an example about how having a telephoto lens with you can help a lot to vary your Dolomites portfolio.
If I had to pick a focal range, I’d say to have as much focal excursion as you can, so superzooms like 200-500m, 150-600mm, etc would be perfect in my opinion.
The hardest part will be to choose whether leave it in the hotel room or in the car during the longest hikes or put it on your back.. But that’s a choice I’ll leave to you!
Maybe you are more an autumn person.
If peaceful and silent landscapes are what you are after, you should go for this autumn photography workshop then.
I know what you are thinking. Don’t, don’t even try. The tripod will be fundamental, regardless of the time of the year you’ll be there, so don’t think to go there with an ultralight, unstable tripod because a good one weights too much. I personally found that the Dolomites are one of the places where the tripod is more required: it’s not even for the weather (well, also for that, but not the main reason), since summer storms aside there are many places around the world with much worse weather conditions. It’s because I always find myself using complex techniques in the Dolomites, such as multiple exposures or focus stackings to have everything in focus from the foreground to the background.
Do you see the shot above here? Well, that’s a vertical panorama with a focus stacking for the flowers. Painful to shot and painful to edit, trust me; my point is that I could never get that shot without the tripod.
And I bet that you want to take these kind of shots too, so prepare to always have some space for a good tripod on your back, because you are going to need it!
For personal experience, the only filters that I would bring with me on a Dolomites trip are a set of ND and GND filters, with maybe a circular polarizer. This is a highly personal choice, since it depends on the way you shot; I know photographers that had never used a filter in their life (but still, they got some incredible photos) and photographers that are pretty much always putting some kind of filter in front of their lenses.
As far as I’m concerned, I just love to put on a ND filter to slow things down only if there are things to slow down; for example, in the photo above here I decided to use a filter for the sky since the clouds were moving really fast, and it turned out that I like that smooth effect a lot more than the still shots!
4. How to Get to the Dolomites
As you would expect from a mountain place, Dolomites are not that comfortable and easy to reach.
The two best served airports “close-by” are Milan or Venice, otherwise Bozen airport could also be a valid option. From there, you’ll have two option to reach the Dolomites: by car (highly recommended) or with public transports. Of course the latter is cheaper, but as a landscape photographer you’ll have to give up on so many occasions that I can hardly tell you it’s worth it at all, honestly. The only way to roam around as much as you can and visit all the places is by car; whether you go with your own or with a rental one, the car is the most comfortable way to travel in the Dolomites.
Everything's great, but where?
We created a guide with the most beautiful photography locations of the Dolomites. Give it a look!