The Happiest I Had Been For a While.
Sounds a bit negative, this blog post title, but it really isn’t.
Back in autumn 2019 (ahhh pre covid19, what a time!), I went off on my own to Italy for just over 2 weeks on a photography trip. The idea behind it was to test my body and mind and push myself to levels i hadn't been at mentally or physically since 2016, and come back with some bangers :)
After struggling for many years with a neurological disorder which had stunted my ability to travel, or do very much at all really, i wanted to get out hiking again, wanted to explore busy cities and spend whole days with my camera in hand.
It was a resounding success.
In this post i wanted to look at a few of the images i took on one particular day on this trip, how i took them and what they mean to me.
Just over half way through the trip i found myself high up in the Italian Dolomites/Alps in a place called the Val Gardena. This is where you will find famous spots such as Seceda, Alpe di Suisi and Tri Cime, all mecca destinations for landscape photographers. However on my second day up here we had extremely thick fog/mist roll in. This meant that there would be zero visibility up on the mountains, so i needed a plan B.
I was chatting to the lady that owned my guesthouse over breakfast and she told me about nice trails up in the alpine forests on the reverse slope of Seceda, and how easy they were to get to! Photographing woodlands is a great option when you have such foggy conditions, so i took the Rasciesa cable car up from the town of Ortisei to the start of the trial.
It was so damn quiet.
As soon as i walked off from the cable car station into the woods, i was overwhelmed by the silence. The only time i had witnessed silence like this was when i was camping out in the middle of the Wahiba Sands on the Arabian Peninsula. At first it was eerie, but i soon realised that this was what i had been craving for so long... peace.and.quiet.
I walked for a few hours through alpine meadows and woodland, made friends with Donkeys (their bells being the only thing you could hear apart from the creaking trees) then stopped and had my packed lunch. This was bliss, so blissful that i hadn't taken my camera out of my bag for at least 3 hours. It was time i did.
The woods were so shrouded in thick fog still that no matter what direction you looked in, they looked eerie and magical. For my first shot i looked for a fallen/leaning tree as i thought this would add drama to the shot. I found the below tree leaning against another in a slight clearing, perfect, i thought. I set up the tripod, dialled in my settings (ISO200 f11 /1/15sec) and made the shot. Although i do like it, the composition was missing something. So i moved on.
The shot i made next was of a similar tree, leaning against another, framed on both sides by more trees. There is space behind the subject tree, so it is isolated against the foggy background and a clearing in front for some foreground interest. Again, dialled in the settings (same as above) and made the shot. This was a bit better, the tree was more isolated as a subject and was also framed (a great trick to make a picture more dynamic) but the foreground was a little lacking. I thought if this shot was what i came away with i would be happy, but it wasn't great.
I carried on walking towards the cable car station to get back to town before dark when i noticed another clearing, this time with some fallen trees. Again, i set up the tripod, framed the shot and made the capture. I liked this one more, it ticked all the boxes for a good composition. It was broken down into thirds (dark edges either side of a lighter area), it had leading lines (your eyes are pulled down the clearing into the distance past the subject fallen trees) and the exposure was dead on for a moody, atmospheric feeling.
Again, i thought that this was the shot of the day, and carried on to the cable car as it was getting dark, then i spotted yet another clearing. This wasn't as obvious of a location than the others, but something just jumped out at me. I think it was the way the light was cast over the area, the colour of the grass and moss on the forest floor and its general mood over any actual compositional points. For the last time of the day i lined up the shot and took two frames, one landscape and one portrait, just to cover all bases. For me these are my favourite of the day, they are not as 'perfectly' composed as other shots but the mood conveyed in them is what i was seeing that day in the forest.
After i packed up my camera and made my way back to town, i loaded the images onto my laptop and started editing. I was so happy with the photographs! But i was also just happy full stop. I had pushed myself and ended up in the most perfect location, doing what i loved again. I had an incredibly peaceful day and felt relaxed and content (especially after a day of feeling unwell down in Florence 2 days prior).
For me these photos represent my happiness on this trip, the success that it ended up being and the calm i felt.
If you are feeling troubled, have a creative block or generally just feeling a bit down, i suggest finding a local forest or woodland and taking a walk (with or without a camera!). I strongly believe in the Japanese theory of Shinrin-Yoku, or forest bathing, as a way of therapeutic relief from stress, anxiety, depression or even aches and pains.
Thanks for reading, check back soon for more posts about my photography and mental health, i will also write about techniques and gear!