• Mike Page

Solo Alpine Photo Tour

I was left to my own devices on Saturday morning, so I decided to head back to the Kenzenhütte region two months on from our first trip to see whether I could get some more shots of the chapel at the Wankerfleck as well as visit the Kenzenhütte and the nearby waterfall. I planned to get there to catch the 9:00 bus; the walk in to Wankerfleck is relatively uninspiring apart from the fact that the forest track takes along the Halblech/Lobenbach and I wanted to get in as quickly as possible. Even though the bus only takes 25 min instead of 2 h on foot, I got to the chapel too early and too late, if that's a thing; too early because the featureless clouds were still lingering around the summits and too late because the sun had already disappeared from the front of the chapel. In the end, the whole trip turned into more of a learning experience than a successful photo tour as you'll read below. I came away with some half-decent images, but I'm not sure that any of them are going to make it to the galleries.

Wankerfleck Chapel and Geiselstein || Olympus 28 mm, f/11, 1/60", ISO 200

I hung around the chapel for at least 45 min waiting for the clouds to break, a luxury that I wouldn't have been able to afford if this had been a mountain tour where time would have been of the essence. The shiny green of the beech trees in the mixed forest really stand out for me here as being a feature of the scene to hand and I'm liking this image more and more as I see the lines and shapes that appealed to me in the field. I'm not hugely analytical when taking my photos, tending to rely on my trained eye and instincts. Sometimes they let me down, other times they work. Here I'm happy with the result, especially the fleck of sunshine on the DAV edelweiss.

Having decided that the light wasn't going to get any better at this point, I headed up the road to the Kenzenhütte. Not too far up the road a noticed a set of water falls down below to the left. They were interesting enough for me to work my way down through the forest to attempt a few shots. And so we come to beginner's mistake No. 1. There's a button on the side of the M. Zuiko 12-100 mm lens that lets you switch image stabilisation on and off. Unfortunately, at some time I must have pressed it and so my test shots of the falls were sub-par. Even the most experienced photographers still make basic mistakes. In fact I came across a very apt cartoon recently; "the difference between a master and a novice is that the master has failed more times than the novice has ever tried". Normally, 1 second is no problem for Olympus in-body image stabilisation, but without...

Falls without IBIS || Olympus 28 mm, f/p, 1", ISO 200

It's not far from the Wankerfleck to the Kenzenhütte and so I decided to check out the Kenzen Waterfall first before circling back for lunch. The falls themselves are not all that interesting from a photographic perspective and so I looked around for some 'foreground interest' - photographer-speak for something that you can place at the foot of a photo to make the scene more interesting. The challenge for these shots is to maintain focus throughout the shot. Normally the closer an object is in a photo, the shallower the depth of field (dof) - the distance range within which objects are deemed to be acceptably sharp. Often, with focus on the foreground subject, sharpness will rapidly fall off towards the back of the scene. Generally speaking, depth of field is determined by three factors; distance to subject (closest = shallowest dof), length of lens (longest = shallowest dof) and aperture (lowest = shallowest dof).

Kenzer Waterfall || Olympus 8 mm, f/16, 1/20", ISO 200

A lot of photographers mistakenly claim that aperture is the only factor determining dof, which is false, but If the distance and focal length are fixed by the scene, then aperture is the only variable you can work with. Olympus and other m43 format cameras inherently have a wider dof than their full-frame equivalents. So for this scene I was switching between f/11 and f/16 to get acceptable focus from the foreground to the waterfall. To maximise the dof, I focussed a little beyond the white flowers (above) or the green leaf (below), knowing that under these parameters the extended dof would not only work to my advantage beyond the focus point but before it as well.

Kenzer Waterfall || Olympus 8 mm, f/16, 1/8", ISO 80

The spray from the waterfall carried over to the nearby foliage, including these primulas and lady's mantle. For such intimate scenes, shallow dof is less of a problem as it focuses (sic) the attention on the subject matter to hand. There are a number of ways the photographer can direct the viewer's eye on the true subject of the photo including composition, contrast, light, colour and focus. The eye naturally wanders to the sharp elements of an image.

Primulas in the Mist || Olympus 70 mm, f/8, 1/200", ISO 200

Before getting back to the hut, there was an area of marshland including the marsh marigolds reflected here in the water. Even though I was low to the ground for this shot, in retrospect I should have been even lower, maybe even have the camera at water level. There are several flowers that challenge even the most modern cameras; gentians, marsh marigolds, globe flowers, mountain azaleas and the like. Selectively desaturating the dominant colour of the pertinent flower helps to bring details back into the flowers.

Reflected Marsh Marigolds || Olympus

The Kenzenhütte is small and friendly and has a great, if limited, menu with an emphasis on local products. My litmus test for the quality of a hut's food is the mixed cold platter - the Brettljause. This a dish of (in this case local) cheeses and meats. The Kenzenhütte Brettljause was not the best one I've ever had, but probably as good as you can get in the northern Alps (sorry, you can't beat what Südtirol has to offer), and as good as my other local favourite at the Bärgunt Hütte in the Kleinwalsertal. Excellent quality, great quantity and value for money. An 8th of a litre of the 'house red' washed it all down very nicely.

Possibly the Second Best Brettljause in the Alps || Huawei P30 Pro

A clear example of an innovative kitchen at the Kenzenhütte.

Drinks at the Kenzenhütte || Huawei P30 Pro

After quenching hunger and thirst I had a good 90 min to get back to the bus stop and so I thought I could work a couple more of the intimate scenes I'd spotted in the forest, such as the wood sorrel and ferns growing on the top of an ancient tree stump. Those of you who actually read these things will know my fondness for ancient tree stumps

Sorrel and Ferns || Olympus 100 mm, f/5.6, 1/80", ISO 800

Normally, I'll avoid broken flowers and plants in my photos, and there were other snails and other plants, but this one caught my eye on a broken stem.

Snail || Olympus 100 mm, f/8, 1/40", ISO 800
Wood Sorrel || Olympus 57 mm, f/8, 1/30", ISO 800

The path crosses a bridge then, but the waterfall shots weren't flowing today despite the optimal light conditions, i.e. lightly overcast. The worst light for waterfalls is strong direct sunlight as the light/dark contrast overwhelms the dynamic range capabilities of even the best full frame or medium format cameras. The dynamic range of a camera describes the range of luminance values from dark to light that the sensor can represent. Photographers like to talk in terms of stops, a stop being a doubling or halving of the amount of light. A good camera can differentiate up to 14 stops of light. That's a factor of 16,348 from the darkest point to the lightest point. Impressive, huh? Sure. Until you realise that the eye is able to distinguish 18-20 stops - up to a factor of just over a million. So your eye is 64x better at distinguishing between light and dark than your camera. But I digress...

Back at the Wankerfleck, the skies continued to clear and the light on the beech trees was getting very interesting, but fleeting. It was one of those 'take a shot every two minutes' jobs and pick the best one back on the PC. The combination of clouds and light on the spring forest brought the scene to life.

Wankerfleck Chapel below the Geiselstein || Olympus 18 mm, f/11, 1/50", ISO 200

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