'Scenic Europe' - Behind the Scenes

Following the release of the two 'Scenic Europe' themepacks by Microsoft, I have received encouraging messages and questions from a number of people across the world. Overwhelmed by this feedback, I was thinking that some of those appreciating the themepacks may be interested to learn more about the locations depicted in the images. For those interested in such 'Behind the Scenes' information, the following article provides some interesting background on locations, motifs and shooting conditions of the 13 images covered in the first themepack. You like the photographs and you would like to obtain a gallery-quality canvas print for your home or office? Well, here is good news: For each of the photographs I provide a direct link to the fineartinternational.com store. Getting a gallery-like canvas print is now only one mouse-click away! If you want to use one or more of the photographs commercially, e.g. for book projects, advertisement campaigns or commercial websites, please do not hesitate to contact me.

The first themepack Scenic Europe contains 13 images covering scenes from Switzerland, Germany, Corsica, Scotland, Sardinia, Sweden, France and England. In the following, the 13 scenes are discussed in the order of their occurence in the themepack.

  1. Scene 1: The Old Town of Chur, Switzerland




    With a bit more than 30,000 inhabitants, the town Chur is the capital of the Swiss canton of Graubünden, which is situated in the Eastern part of the Swiss Alps. Being one of the oldest continuously inhabitated places in Switzerland, the history of Chur reaches back close to 6,000 years. The old city of Chur dates back to medieval times and is listed in the Swiss Inventory of Cultural Property of National and Regional Significance. The photograph included in the themepack shows the Arcas square in the medieval part of the city. The row of houses to the left in this picture have been built directly against the medieval city wall, which dates back to 13th century. Situated in the Rhine-valley, Chur is famous for the impressive mountainscapes that surround the town.

    After returning from a snowshoe hike up the Brambrüesch mountain, I shot this photo in January 2013 shortly after sunset. On this day, the weather had been far from being nice. In fact, we had to return early from our hike due to excessive snow, fog and wind. The combination of these weather conditions with the warm light of the street lanterns and the colourful hourses created a special, darkish atmosphere, which I intended to capture in this shot.

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  2. Scene 2: Rolling green hills near Einsiedeln, Switzerland




    The town of Einsiedeln is situated south of Lake Zurich in the canton of Schwyz. It's name referring to the German word for 'Hermitage', Einsiedeln is well-know for the Benedictine abbey situated in the mountain valley surrounding the town. The hillsides and pastures surrounding Einsiedeln belong - at least in my opinion - to the most iconic places of Switzerland. The tree and statue on the particular hill depicted in this photograph overlooks the Einsiedeln monastry, the Siehlsee, the surrounding forests and Alpine mountains. The original monastry - later destroyed by a fire - was erected in the 10th century already. Back then the valley was filled with thick and dark forests which - as suggested by archeologic evidence - had been used for hunting by humans since more than 11,000 years. Following the winding path up this hill, I couldn't help thinking about Hobbiton in the Shire, as described by J.R.R. Tolkien and depicted by artists like John Howe and Alan Lee. Since John Howe actually lives in Switzerland, it is tempting to think that pastures and rolling hills as shown on this picture may actually have inspired - through his illustrations - the common imagination of the Shire.

    This photograph was shot on a beautiful and sunny autumn day in September 2012. I specifically wanted to capture the contrast between the blue cloudy sky and the rolling green hills. The little red house on the top of the hill serves as a contrast both in color and shape and perfects this peaceful rural scene.

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  3. Scene 3: Sunset at the Gulf of Porto, Corsica




    My fascination for Corsica, the 'Island of Beauty', started when I was cycling around the coastline of the island in 2009. Out of those roughly 1,000 km, the most vivid memories that remained were about the gulf of Porto. This dramatic landscape, along with its unique marine ecosystem on the island's western coast has been awarded the status of a UNESCO World Natural Heritage site in 1983. The photograph shows the Mediterranean coast close to the village of Porto. The mountains at the horizon are the peaks of the Scandola peninsula, a specially protected and mostly inaccessible area widely known for its red cliffs and rich marine life that contains seagulls, cormorants, sea eagles and dolphins. The area offers phantastic opportunities for hikes through the mountains, with peaks rising up to 2000 m and offering spectacular views above the island and the sea below.

    Following my bike tour in 2009, I returned to Corsica in June 2013 to explore in more detail the area surrounding the gulf of Porto. This photo was shot on a day with strong west winds which had churned up the sea and created huge waves crashing against the rocks. A neutral density filter was used to capture the motion of the waves shortly before the sun sank below the mountainline at the horizon. In this photograph, I specifically like the contrast between the warm sunlight and the cool sea with its rough water surface.

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  4. Scene 4: The Cuith-Raing on the Isle of Skye, Scotland




    Without any doubt, the Isle of Skye is a dream location for anyone interested in landscape photography. Its dramatic and bizarre landscapes and mountains, its dynamic weather with continously changing light conditions, as well as its rich cultural history qualify it as one of the places that - beyond being just beautiful - actually have a unique character. The picture shows the so-called Cuith-Raing (or Quiraing), a spectacular mountain landscape in the north of the island's Trotternish peninsula. Despite its ancient appearance, the landscape of the Cuith-Raing is surprisingly dynamic, with frequent landslips continuously reshaping it until today.

    To fully cherish this jewel of Scotland's Hebridean islands, in April 2013 and together with a colleague I went on a 140km trekking tour across the island. This tour took us from the northernmost point of the island, across the Trotternish peninsula, along the bay of Portree, through the Sligachan valley and the Cuilin mountains to the southern coast of Skye. Looking back, the photo shown above was shot shortly after leaving the Cuith-Raing. The dramatic lightning of the landscape is due to the sun breaking through the clouds that had just cleared from a rainstorm. Close to the center of the image, the hiking trail passing through the Cuith-Raing can be seen as a narrow line passing below steep rocky walls.

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  5. Scene 5: Blue Hour in Wasserburg at Lake Constance, Germany




    Situated on the northern shore of Lake Constance, the town of Wasserburg dates back to the 8th century. The name Wasserburg means 'water castle' and refers to a little island in Lake Constance which was home to a castle already in the 8th century. Following destroyal in the middle ages, the current castle dates back to the 16th century. In addition, in the 17th century, the island was connected to the mainland by a causeway, thus forming a pensinsula which is now popular among tourists. Today, the Wasserburg pensinsula is famous not only for the Wasserburg castle and a church, but also for its hotels, restaurants, its ports as well as a sailing school. The peninsula offers a phantastic panoramic view over Lake Constance, which - with a length of 63 km, a width of up to 14km, a shoreline of more than 270km and a depth of up to 254m - is Europe's second largest lake.

    The picture shows the peninsula of Wasserburg during the so-called Blue Hour, the time between sunset and night which is popular among photographers for its unique bluish light color. The picture was shot in May 2012 during a sailing holiday on the Wasserburg pensinsula. I used a 10 mm wide-angle lens as well as an angle viewfinder that allowed to conveniently compose the image despite the shooting angle being very low above the ground.

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  6. Scene 6: Capo Caccia, Sardinia




    The Mediterranean island of Sardinia is well-known for its rich cultural heritage as well as its wealth of natural beauties. Located at the north-western coast and surrounding the bay of Porto Conte, the cape 'Capo Caccia' is a particularly impressive example for the island's natural beauties. The cliffs of this rocky peninsula reach more than 100 meters above the sea level and are beautifully covered by typical Mediterranean flora. The bets way to explore Capo Caccia is to hike to the southern most point of the peninsula and then descend to sea level via the more than 650 steps of the 'escala del cabirol', the so-called goat's stairway. Down by the sea, you will find the entrance of the Grotto di Netuna, a huge cave that is more than 4 kilometers long and which contains a 120 m wide salt water lake as well as spectacular stone formations.

    While descending from the cliffs via the 'escala del cabirol', I shot this photo of three Mediterranean flowers against the background of the blue Mediterranean sea in July 2011. I chose a large aperture to get a small depth of field which would render the sea in the background out of focus. I specifically like the round, soft highlights of the water surface in the background and how they correspond to the three flowers in the foreground.

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  7. Scene 7: Breaking through the clouds near Oberurnen, Switzerland




    South of Lake Zurich in Switzerland, the Alpine foothills - or Prealps - are the northernmost indications of the spectacular and well-known Alpine landscapes further south. Their summits reaching between 1000 and 3000 meters, the Prealps are a popular recreational area which offer numerous hiking opportunities and which can be reached easily from down-town Zurich in less than an hour. One of the regions popular among the people from the Zurich area are the Glarner Alps in the canton of Glarus. Situated between Lake Zurich and Walensee, the Glarner Alps are not too frequented by tourists and are known for having preserved their pristine character.

    After moving to Switzerland, this photo was shot on my first hike in the surrounding area of Zurich in October 2011. We had started very early in Niederurnen on a foggy autumn day to make it up to the lovely and pristine Niederurnertal, which is surrounded by the peaks of the Wageten, Brückler, Hirzli and Planggenstock mountains. After a few hours of walking, we passed out of the foggy valley, unveiling a beautiful autumn landscape with warm colors. This photo was taken at exactly this point and shows a pasture with one of the little shacks that are typical for the Swiss alpine areas. I specifcially liked the soft quality of the light, the rolling green landscape as well as the color contrast between white, green and blue.

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  8. Scene 8: Sunset at the Baltic Sea near Malmö, Sweden




    The unusally long twilight during the Scandinavian summer generates numerous opportunities for photographers. This time of the day is particularly beautiful near the Baltic Sea, Europe's largest inland sea whose western most part borders Germany, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. In the northwest, it is connected to the North Sea via the Skagerrak, the Kattegat and the three Danish Straits of Storebælt, Lillebælt and the Øresund. The easternmost Øresund strait is home to the Øresund bridge, Europe's longest road and rail bridge which - spanning the Baltic Sea on a length of 8 kilometer - connects the Danish capital of Copenhagen to the Swedish city of Malmö. With the sea extending to the west, Malmö offers nice places to watch how the sun sinks into the Baltic Sea.

    Staying in Copenhagen in June 2013, I took the opportunity to cross the Øresund bridge and visit the Swedish city of Malmö. I shot this photo while walking along the seaside of Malmö in the evening. The sun had just set and the twilight generated beautiful blue colors. I climbed down a dike and set up my tripod close to the water edge. The use of a neutral density filter allowed me to use a long exposure time which generated the special, soft texture of the water surface.

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  9. Scene 9: The Trotternish Ridge on the Isle of Skye, Scotland




    The Isle of Skye is undoubtedly one of Scotland's jewels and among all the island's numerous natural wonders, the Trotternish Ridge is certainly the most remarkable one. Located on the island's nothernmost peninsula, the Trotternish ridge is a cliff which reaches up to 700 m high and extends over a distance of more than 20 miles. A hike along the ridge is extremely exhausting and - due to the harsh and quickly changing weather conditions - not completely unperilous. Nevertheless, if you accept the challenge you will be rewarded by spectacular views over mountains, steep cliffs, bizarre rock formation, dramatic valleys and the beautiful Scottish sea.

    Looking to the south towards the bay of Portree, the picture was taken on one of the numerous peaks of the Trotternish Ridge. We had been starting out very early that day in order to be able to finish the 36 km hike from Flodigarry to Portree. The conditions were far from perfect, with a west storm almost blowing us over the edge of the cliff. The view on the trail ahead and how it passes numerous mountains along the edge of the ridge certainly didn't help our motivation, particularly since we were heavily packed with equipment for a two week camping trip. Nevertheless, carrying the photography gear and a set of lenses on this hike certainly paid off despite all the troubles. This particular photo was taken using a 10mm wide angle lens and taking a very low shooting position. I particularly like the depth of the image, which is generated by the rocks in the foreground as well as the cliffs extending towards the sea and the horizon.

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  10. Scene 10: Chateau du Haut-Kœnigsbourg in Alsace, France




    Located close to the German border, the Vosges mountain extend roughly 100 km along the western bank of the Rhine in the French departement Alsace. Its cultural and economic capital Strasbourg is home not only to the European parliament but also to numerous other international organisations. As such, Strasbourg and the surrounding region play a major role in the European unification process. In fact, this can be seen as a strong symbol, as the Alsace region has a difficult political history of its own. Marking the border between Germany and France, the last centuries have seen numerous struggles for control of the region between the neighboring states. Over the last 400 years, in a series of annexations and wars the official language has switched back and forth between German and French no less than five times. During one of the phases of German rule in Alsace, Emperor Wilhelm II gave order to restore the castle of Haut-Kœnigsbourg, which is situated at a strategic position in the Vosges mountains. Its name referring to the German words for "King's castle", the castle had been erected around the 12th century. It was besieged, looted and destroyed during the Thirty Year's War in the 17th century and fell to ruins over the next 250 years. It was then restored to its original beauty and reopened to the public in 1908.

    Driving frequently to my home village in Germany over the weekenend, I had passed by Chateau du Haut-Kœnigsbourg numerous times but never actually stopped to take a picture. When passing the castle at dusk in September 2012, I stopped for a short break at a service area close by the foothills of the Vosges mountains. Dark clouds where coming in from behind the mountain peaks, creating a dramatic scene and great contrast to the illuminated castle. I went to the car, grabbed my camera, a 300mm tele lens and tripod and took this shot.

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  11. Scene 11: View over the Lago Maggiore, Ticino between Switzerland and Italy




    Imagine it is March, you are fed up by winter and you long for an early start of summer. At least if you are living in the northern parts of Switzerland, then there'S no better place to go than to the Ticino region. Due to its location between Switzerland and Italy just south of the Alps, spring and summer typically take an early start there. And being situated just at the shore of the beautiful Lago Maggiore, you can easily mistake cities like Ascona or Locarno for Mediterranean towns. Ascona, which is located right at the border to Italy and which can be seen in the very left of this picture, is just two hours away by train from down-town Zurich which makes it a popular location for weekend trips. Apart from the lake and beautiful valleys like Maggia or Verzasca, the mountains around Lago Maggiore invite hikers to take tours that offer phantastic views of the surrounding landscapes.

    Attending a conference on Monte Veritá near Ascona in March 2013, I couldn't resist taking the opportunity for such a hike to the surrounding mountains. This photo was shot on one of the peaks close by Monte Veritá and shows Locarno, Ascona, the Lago Maggiore as well as the Bosco del Sasso mountain area. I chose a low shooting angle in order to capture the rocks and grass in the foreground and generate the impression of depth.

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  12. Scene 12: Albert Dock in Liverpool, England, United Kingdom




    A sailing ship in the middle of a city is certainly an unusual sight. In the case of Liverpool this unusual sight is actually quite usual if you happen to walk around the Albert dock. At the time of its opening in the 1840s, the Albert dock was a wonder of mondern technology. Not only was it one of England's first building complexes that were built completely without wood to prevent fires, its revolutionary design also allowed ships to be moored directly at the warehouses, thus significantly simplifying the process of loading and unloading. Over the next decades, the Albert dock remained an important economic center in Liverpool, with thousands of sailing ships passing its lockings and heading out onto the Mersey estuary and then on towards the Atlantic. However, its importance vanished soon as larger steamliners - increasingly replacing the much smaller sailing ships - didn't fit through the narrow channels. Eventually decommissioned after World War II, today the Albert dock is part of UNESCO's World Heritage and it has become one of England's most visited tourist attractions.

    Being in Liverpool for a conference, I shot this photo in June 2012. Due to its latitude of 53 degrees north and the date around the summer solstice, dusk still hadn't passed away at 11 pm in the evening. This allowed me to capture the beautiful colors of twilight and the crisp reflections on the water surface. For this shot, I used a tripod and a 50 mm prime lens which I stopped down to the maximum in order to produce the nice star-like point lights.

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  13. Scene 13: Tree against setting sun, Hunsrück, Germany




    Showing the Hunsrück - the region in southwestern Germany where I grew up - the last photo in this themepack is a slightly more personal one. The Hunsrück area not only offers a beautiful hilly landscape which is abundantly covered with dark, almost mystical forests. It also has a rich cultural history dating back more than 20,000 years. Even today, the forests are full of witnesses of the Celtic civilisation, which reached its peak in the region about 2,500 years ago. Not far from where I shot this picture, one can easily spot a Celtic barrow in which the people of ancient times used to bury their most important peers. Numerous treasures containing daedal golden jewelry and weapons have been found during the last centuries. Walking through these woods, admiring the traces of the ancient past while enjoying the pristine nature will certainly remain one of my favorite distractions.

    I shot this photo on a hike through the forests close to my home village Lampaden back in February 2008. We had just left the woods at the right time to see a nice sunset with a beautifully colored sky. I specifically liked the silhouette of a pine tree - a typical tree for the Hunsrück area - at the edge of the forest and how it contrasted with the colorful sky. I thus chose a low shooting angle to frame the sky with the silhouettes of the tree and the grass.

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Please stay stuned for a forthcoming article covering 'Behind the Scenes' information on the second themepack Scenic Europe 2