My night in fairytale Rifugio Nambino

Luckily, there are still places you are only allowed to reach by walking and Rifugio Nambino is one of them.
Located in the Adamello-Brenta National Park (Trentino, Italy), the mountain refuge sits right by Lake Nambino, which is frozen and covered in snow in winter.

The easiest way to reach Rifugio Nambino is from Madonna di Campiglio. You first drive to where the refuge's cableway is located (which is also where the road ends) and then hike up from there.
We found the cableway very handy as we could load our luggage on it, rather than carrying it all the way up. People cannot use the cableway, it is just for stuff!

The hike is supposed to be about 25-minute long, but it actually took us 45 min to reach Rifugio Nambino, as I was carrying a crate with our cat Alya in it (8kg overall) and we were also happy to stop from time to time to enjoy the snow and let our Newfoundland dog Coda discover new smells in the woods.
By the way, a big thank you to the owners and the staff of Rifugio Nambino for being pet friendly

After relaxing a little bit in our room, I started to wonder around the frozen lake to scout for compositions. Looking at the photo below, you can imagine it only took me about 10 seconds to realise that, if they persisted, the low clouds would prevent me to get the shot I wanted. 

While it is true that I had a single night to get my image, I was sensible enough to book a room up there, so that at least I had the ENTIRE night to fulfill my goal.
Remember the landscape photographer's motto: Never Give Up Until it's Over!
Indeed, I did not lose hope at all when, at first, the low clouds seemed to be willing to hang around the refuge forever.

In the end, I did not have to wait too long. Around 9h50pm the clouds cleared up, leaving just a translucent curtain of snow, that was invisible in the foreground and middle ground (due to the small aperture I used) and just created a little mist in the background, which I believe even adds something to my image.

Did the mist still make me pay a toll? Yes, it did! From the other side of Lake Nambino, looking at the back of the refuge, on a clear night you can enjoy a beautiful view of the Dolomites. Due to the weather, that view was entirely precluded to me.
Am I disappointed about it? Not at all! The night shot of Rifugio Nambino I got is more than I could have hoped for. As I write this, I am even considering to add it to my Portfolio and, more importantly, I had a great time there with my wife Dania, Coda and Alya.

As a final note, I would have actually felt more stressed if I had known the entire night was NOT there for me to capture a night shot of Rifugio Nambino. Starting from 11pm it started to snow pretty heavily and later on they even turned off the lights!

To learn more about Rifugio Nambino, please visit their website: www.nambino.com

Click my image below to access my Portfolio Website, where prints and wall art can be purchased, along with digital versions: 

Rifugio Nambino in the Dolomites

Cheers,
Enrico

Making great shots out of snapshots

Nothing to do with over-processing a single photograph. Rather, I am referring to a technique known as exposure blending, where two or more exposures of the same composition are used to create the final image. I use it mainly for interior design, exteriors and commercial spaces, although it can also be very useful for landscape photography.

Every winter I spend some time in the alps and I love to shoot buildings that I find particularly inspiring.
As an example, here you see my exterior shot of Villa Kofler Wonderland Resort, a beautiful hotel in Campitello di Fassa (Trento, Italy).
The shoot was also an opportunity to meet the owner Mr. Ivo, who made history as a climber in the area and showed me some absolutely stunning pictures of frozen waterfalls he took with his phone the day before!

Back to the main topic, I blended 10 exposures to compose the final image below.



Before I show you those 10 exposures, please have a look at a comparison between an average shot I took that day and the final image I pulled off from my entire shoot.

 Move the vertical slider left or right too see a complete 'Before' or 'After'. 

To me, the image produced by blending several exposures is far more compelling than the average one.

Exposure blending comes in handy in quite a few scenarios. For one thing, no matter how great the dynamic range of your camera is, there will always be scenes that exceed it, so that you end up clipping either the highlights or the shadows, or both. Clipping means that parts of your image become completely white or completely black, so that no information can be recovered from them.

When this happens, you are left with only two options:

  1. Take a single shot, with a combination of aperture, shutter speed and ISO that produces a good compromise.
  2. Take several shots (e.g. normal exposure, + 2 stops, - 2 stops) and blend them together in some way.

To get good results using the first method, you need to have a camera with an amazing dynamic range.
It goes without saying that such cameras tend to be expensive and, no matter how good, the result will always be some sort of compromise.

The second method has the potential to lead to perfection and is all about producing a single shot by combining two or more exposures. It also allows for much cheaper gear, as your camera does not need to have such a great dynamic range.
Several tools are available and HDR software is one of them (HDR stands for High Dynamic Range). These programs are usually easy to use, but there is a tradeoff as they do not provide full control over the final result.

If you do want to have full control (guess what? I do!), you are better off using exposure blending. 
The tradeoff here is that exposure blending requires a fair bit of post-processing. To tell you the truth, it sometimes involves a lot of post-processing, especially if you are blending a lot of images.

What you need to do is brush in and out parts of different exposures to compose a blended image in Adobe Photoshop or similar software, using masks to control what parts of each shot are going to be revealed in the final image.

There is actually more to exposure blending than simply being able to produce high dynamic range images with full control. For example, I love to take several exposures of the same composition at different times of the day. For my final image of Villa Kofler Wonderland Resort, I kept shooting the hotel for 1.5 hours, as natural light and artificial lights changed their intensity and quality from before sunset until it was completely dark.

While this is not intended to be a tutorial on exposure blending, here is a tip: if you are planning to get a final image as a blend of several exposures, it is important to shoot those exposures with that precise idea in mind.
What I mean by this is that you should expose for a single feature at a time, ignoring entirely how under or overexposed all the other elements of your composition are going to be in that particular shot, since you will expose them correctly in a different shot.

Now have a look at the bunch of snapshot-looking images I took to produce the final image of this hotel in the Italian Dolomites: 

 
Exposed for the mountain and nothing else.

 
Façade (pretty dark) + some artificial lights.

 
Façade, + 2 stops over (nice white!).

 
First artificial lights appearing on balconies.

 
Balcony lights + Christmas decorations.
 
Artificial lights again.
 
Terrace and artificially lit façade.
 
Best exposure for the sky.
 
Lights/shadows (electric blue sky not good).
 
Restaurant lights (sky pitch black, not good).

 

If you consider each shot in isolation, they all look pretty average at best. Nonetheless, each exposure had a precise purpose and was key to the final result.

I always stop shooting exteriors once the sky gets completely dark. Also, I am not at all a fan of electric blue skies. With no exposure blending planned, I would not have taken the last two shots in the sequence above.

Here is the final image again:

I reckon the result I achieved with exposure blending is well worth the extra time spent shooting and post-processing the images.

Cheers,
Enrico