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Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd

Alpine Walks

Having previously enjoyed a Swiss mountain holiday in the Jungfrau and Eiger region, my wife and I were keen to return last year. We are far from being expert climbers but we do enjoy walking in the Alps which offers stunning views and spectacular mountain photography. The best time to go I reasoned was in June with fewer crowds and just before the hot and busy summer hiking season began. In spring, many mountain peaks are still snow covered and wildflowers are in abundance. More importantly, the winter ski lifts that stopped running at the end of the ski season in April have enjoyed a well deserved break for maintenance and have started running again. Taking a lift to a high elevation to begin a walk along a ridge line or descend back into a valley makes spring hiking fun and relaxing rather than a test of uphill walking stamina and endurance. For a photographer this convenience allows me to concentrate on mountain images rather than straining to climb uphill with heavy photographic gear.

Switzerland is the obvious choice for alpine mountain scenery as is Austria and northern Italy. All three countries offer an abundance of towns and villages to use as a base for several days of spring walking. The Bernese Oberland in Switzerland is dotted with small villages, cog railways and a variety of lifts that make getting around between mountainous areas relatively easy. In the south of the country on the Italian border, Zermatt with its iconic Matterhorn is another central location as is St. Moritz in the east with its beautiful lakes and iconic scenery. Across the border in Austria, Innsbruck and its hinterland of alpine towns extends northward into Germany and each area offers its own cultural interpretation of mountain life. Conveniently for travellers, all of these areas are connected by a super efficient rail network too.

From my early days of working summer photography jobs in the Rocky Mountains in places like Banff and Lake Louise, I learned that the key to good mountain photography was to simplify my gear and take only what I needed. In this way I could walk long distances without a heavy backpack weighing me down. These days I limit myself to three lenses  - 16-35mm, 24-105mm and 70- 200mm and use two camera bodies so I don’t have to stop and rummage in my pack to change lenses. In an earlier blog I wrote about the effectiveness of using telephoto lenses in the mountains of New Zealand so I rarely use my very wide angle 16-35mm lens. Fast and heavy lenses are not necessary for mountain scenery so small lightweight f/4 lenses are ideal. The new generation of super light, mirrorless cameras also work well in keeping weight down too. The best camera to use at any given time though is the one you have at hand. After a long day of mountain walking you will wish that camera to be lightweight, easily accessible and capable of obtaining great quality and detail without weighing you down.

by Ian Lloyd