As it has many times been mentioned by older landscape photographers, both Greeks and foreigners, our country has beautiful landscapes and pictures that do not fall short of anything corresponding to every corner of the planet, like those we every day admire in extensive articles on travel or on-line magazines. But many people abroad as well as many of our fellow citizens do not know that the Greek landscape is not only the blue seas and the beautiful island destinations but it also includes places like Epirus which hosts many of the mountains in Greece and is a blessed place with exceptionally mountainous landscapes comparable or even better to the northern European countries (see, for example, Scottish Highlands). Its mountain villages easily compete with those of Italy and France. Its nature with dense forested landscapes hosts wildlife (brown bears and wolves) and monasteries that are literally built on the edge of cliffs overlooking the gorge of Vikos and the surrounding mountains of Tymphi. Fred Boissonnas, a photographer who I admire and have studied in depth, spent a lot of time in the area at the beginning of the last century, with photographic instruments that today seem unthinkable. The beauty of Epirus rewarded him, helping him to create one of the most beautiful photo albums of its kind…
For this matter, I spent ten days in total on two trips that took place with the photographic team of the well – known photographer Vangelis Delegos about the same time, early November, to locate and exploit the autumn colors of the countryside, perhaps some fog and of course, if I was lucky enough, some rain and water in rivers and lakes.
Going up to Alpine lake of Tymfi (Dragon lake)
So starting out, the basic idea was to start with the most difficult part of the mission, the evening hike and the climb to Dracolimni of Tymphi, to take advantage of the twilight and the first morning light for the Astrakas peaks. I had the help of the accredited guide and photographer friend, Apostolis Demertzis, with more than 600 missions in Greek mountains (especially in the mountains of Epirus where they form his «playground»). The path has been excellently marked throughout, but because the climbing took place after 12.30 at midnight, with -5 degrees Celsius, with strong wind and because safety always preceded the “click”, choosing the corrent for the job, was the best choice for the trip.
In addition to photographic imagery, mandatory climbing equipment included properly isothermal clothing, shoes, gloves, walking shoes, an isothermal ice bucket with hot honey tea and natural meals for energy that would be needed during the ascent. The directions from Apostolis were more than excellent as the plan he made, having explained to him the purpose of my trip, was a detailed design from the mountaineering equipment that would have been needed until the exact time we arrived at Drakolimni. And it happened with outmost precision! We arrived shortly before 6.30 and after researching the area and seeing the possible angles I liked, I took off the drone so that I also have an aerial view of the area but also to locate the exact point of the sun’s appearance. The sunrise, due to the existence of mountains and peaks, is slow to take place, so this is something that each photographer has to figure out, as it gives us at least a little more time for twilight. In general, the use of filters did not take place because the atmosphere at this altitude (2050 meters) is extremely clean, offering high resolution images. In the area, the only animals I spotted that could be photographed quickly and easily are the wild goats that literally stood along the length of the vertical cliffs of the surrounding mountains. I took about 3 hours to get the photos I wanted before we started our descent…
The whole trekking project for Dracolimni’s photography lasted about 14 hours and is one of the toughest things I’ve ever done, testing my personal strengths a lot. No mater how many photos I can get up there, they can not describe at all the enchanting landscape I have experienced and enjoyed with my eyes. I will never forget the last steps before Drakolimni was revealed in all its majesty. A beautiful lake in an alpine landscape without vegetation, in absolute tranquility that you really did not hear anything but your own pulse. These images are now some of the most beautiful shots of my photo collection and are of particular value since I know personally how difficult it was to get. That was the biggest reward for me that day…
Zagorohoria – Vikos Gorge – Voidomatis river
The next day of my trip and after we completed the descent, I started to visit some of the Zagorohoria villages of Ioannina and the river Voidomatis, which I was lucky to get enough water for the shots I wanted to take.
Zagorohoria, settlements inspired by the harsh Epirus nature, architectural works of renowned stone masons and arched bridges, have managed to remain untouched through centuries. Being 46 in total, I had to choose some of them, based mostly on photographic criteria and dedicate them all the available time. What I finally visited was Dilofo, Kipoi, the Small and Big Papigo with their picturesque sights and their beautiful aesthetics, the village of Vikos where I enjoyed the view of Mount Gamila at the time of the sunset, Tsepelovo, probably the most beautiful of all, Vradeto, from which I started an easy hike for about 40 minutes to get to the balcony of Beloi with a panoramic view of the gorge of Vikos and the surrounding mountains of Tympis, Vitsa with nice panoramic shots in the village and finally Monodendri and the monastery of Agia Paraskevi built on the edge of the gorge.
All the excursions started at about 6.30 in the morning, hoping to get some fog in the surrounding meadows. I have been lucky for some days and I have had the opportunity to take such a shot. I can not say the same thing about the bridges as well as the dates that I was there since they had no water to be able to capture them the way I wanted, so I got some pictures from my archive and some evening shots that we did with the rest of the team, with long exposures, which turned out to be an interesting and rare material.
Artificial lake of Aoos
I did not know the artificial lake of Aoos River and it was probably one of the biggest surprises in this series of trips. The scenery in some places reminded me of Ireland, which I had the opportunity to visit years ago. The lake is centrally located and the route that can be reached covers the whole of the area, passing through the forest of the Pindos National Park or Valia Kalda. At several points on the way I met horses and I was able to take pictures with my telephoto without disturbing them. The day was rainy and in places had fog, giving me interesting frames in the forest. At the estuary the lake has a nice bright blue color that is very beautiful, especially in the cloudy days, where the dynamic range in the lighting is balanced. The use of polarizing filter helped me in some water reflections and ND in some streams that end up in the lake to get the “blur” of water movement.
If you get familiar with the area, you will certainly not be disappointed, especially if you are a landscape photographer. The environment and the colors of nature are amazing all year round and access is very easy as it is only a 20 minutes drive from Metsovo.
The last night of the journey was reserved for Ioannina, the largest city of Epirus and capital of the prefecture, with a distance of about 4.5 hours (using the new “Ionian Road”) from Athens. They are built on the shores of Lake Pamvotis and immediately captivate the visiting photographer, with the tradition and the history that hide in the streets and the neighborhoods of the city. I had many choices to photograph within the settlement, in archaeological sites, well-preserved mosques and the old market, places for portraits, street photography or photojournalism. Getting out of town, on the way to Ligiades, I found the opportunity for panoramic shots of the lake island, with the city of Ioannina in the background. In the months from November until usually and early April, in the early morning hours, the lake is usually covered with fog, giving a nice photographic effect. The tripod was a good choice here because I had to shoot at low ISO to get the least levels of “noise” as in a foggy frame the sensor translates enough information into “grain”, which is not necessarily bad.
After the first hours of the morning and after the light “hardens”, it is a good opportunity to visit the island of the lake, to walk in the narrow streets and small harbors, as well as photograph the boats that go all the way to and from Ioannina. On the island you will find beautiful architecture on houses that deserve photography. In general, in Ioannina I needed about two days of work to be happy with the material that I finally gathered.
In closing, I would like to try to describe the emotions that I felt by this Epirus mission. A sense of photographic completion combined with admiration for Epirus that managed to integrate into the difficult mountainous landscape, with minimal to no negative interference in nature over the centuries. But the feeling of dissatisfaction was also intense, because at every step that I discovered something extraordinarily beautiful, there was at the same time a strong feeling that something else, even more impressive and wondrous, was hiding further, deeper, giving the lasting promise of many photographic subjects to reveal, that they demanded more effort and time. Perhaps this is the unique and unexpected way of Epirus to make you want to visit again as soon as possible…
- Camera: Sony RX10 IV | Sony A7R mark II | Sony RX100 Infrared
- Drone: DJI Mavic Pro
- Lenses: Sony-Zeiss FE 16-35mm F4 | Zeiss Batis 18mm F2.8 | Sony FE 85 F1.8
- Filters: Hoya ND & CPL | Benro Filters
- Tripods: Benro
- Backpack: Benro
- Outdoor Clothing & Hiking Gear: OutdoorWay
1st Publication: Photonet Magazine EISA, issue 207 (in Greek) – You can order a copy here!