But how can you best discover and plan for such more remote photo spots?
Too much planning is often not effective
In my opinion, the most important thing is to also allow for a certain surprise factor. Too much planning often leads to a “cerebral” approach, which can be rather frustrating with the amount of unplannable factors such as light conditions, weather, wind and one’s own physical condition (anyone who has ever run into a hunger pang after a long climb and was no longer able to do anything but eat knows what I’m talking about). You try all the time to do everything right and according to your planning, but nature is not impressed by this in the least.
If the basic factors are right and you feel a particular location might be photographically worthwhile, then it may be best to just go for it and give it a try. Often great opportunities arise on location and not so seldom chance plays a role and enables photos in the form of sudden windows of sunlight or swathes of fog that could not have been planned at all – which makes them unique at the same time.
Use topographic maps
Start with a look at the map. Especially in Switzerland we have the invaluable advantage of access to excellent map material (which is unfortunately not the case in most other countries). Official hiking trails (even currently closed ones) can be shown and hidden, giving a good understanding of the accessibility of peaks, valleys, rivers or lakes.
Search elements for an interesting image composition
The latter is a good keyword: try to consider whether there are locations where you could include a body of water in your motifs. Don’t think too much about how exactly the composition might look like – reality will throw a spanner in the works anyway, for example in the form of small waves that make reflections impossible or a murky water consistency because until recently cows grazed at this lake. By the way, even the smallest puddle of only a few square meters of water surface can be used – here, for example, reflections are often even the easiest to put into practice.
In addition to rivers and lakes, striking mountain backdrops in the background can also play a decisive role in successful image composition. In the Engadin, of course, the Bernina massif is particularly suitable for this, but other striking mountain shapes such as Piz Julier, Piz Lagrev or the massif of Piz Kesch can also be integrated into image compositions.
For these considerations, tools such as Google’s image search can also be helpful in order to get an approximate picture of the conditions on site based on existing photos from the Internet.
Consider the sunlight
The best location is of little use if the light is simply not right. On the one hand, this can happen when the sun simply doesn’t shine due to clouds. Or it disappears behind other mountains and your location is in the shade.
For a basic consideration, the terrain topography plays an important role in sunlight. For example, is your planned location in a narrow valley running north to south and you want to shoot in the golden hour? In that case, you’ll probably have trouble seeing sunlight at all, because the sun disappears too quickly behind the western ridges.
For considerations like this, topographic maps and apps like PhotoPills can help you get an accurate understanding of where the sun or even the moon is at what time.
Plan enough time
In autumn the days are short, but the ascents in the Engadin are logically not shortened. On the contrary: if you are hiking with a heavy photo backpack and, in addition to your camera and lenses, you also have a tripod and all the other equipment with you, the ascent can take a little longer than usual and be strenuous.
After you have climbed more than 1000 meters in altitude for your photo location, you should also plan time for breaks and preparation on site. Putting on warmer clothes, eating and drinking, setting up a tripod with clammy fingers or mounting a panorama system: all these activities take time and it is more than unpleasant if you have to watch the sunlight fading and are only ready when the best light mood is already over.
If we want to photograph at higher altitudes and have a corresponding ascent ahead of us, we therefore always set off so that we have rather an hour of waiting time on location. We can then use this time for preparation, mostly also for a bit of freezing – or for a change of location if the planned location turns out to be unsuitable.