A birds-eye view of the Alps with first snow: In Thin Air

I capture many of my mountain landscapes using conventional composition rules. So, mountains in the background with other elements in the foreground and/or middle to lead the eye to the peaks and to complement them. I do like to challenge rules though and love trying different approaches. One of the things I like to do, for instance, is to go to a higher altitude in the Alps and shoot the surrounding mountains with a birds-eye view of the Alps.

In thin Air, autumn snow in the Swiss Alps

A landscape, featuring the Swiss Alps of Engadin with first autumn snow and snow-dusted mountains peaks bathing in the morning light.

Using a wide-angle lens up on a mountain is fun, however, I often also use longer focal lengths to get closer and to create more “intimate” photographs. I usually point the lens downwards a bit, compose tightly and avoid including too much sky. I love the perspective you get by shooting in this manner. It provides a bit of a “birds-eye view” and gives the viewer the feeling of flying into the Alps. I published a mountain landscape photograph titled Come Fly with Me a while ago which had that same perspective. That photograph is another excellent example.

For the birds-eye view of the Alps in this photograph titled In Thin Air, I went up Diavolezza mountain. Diavolezza, which is Italian for “She-Devil”, is a mountain near Pontresina in Graubünden, Switzerland. I went up to an altitude of 2978 metres (about 10.000 feet), which gave me a spectacular view in various directions. The mountain in the foreground to the left is called Piz Alv and has an altitude just a bit lower than the height I was shooting from. The mountains in the back are a touch higher though.

I was fortunate that morning. The mountains were bathing in the soft morning light, and there was fresh snow on the mountain peaks. Besides that, there was fog above them to add some mood. I photographed this mountain landscape using a 70-200 f/2.8 Nikkor lens on a Nikon D800E. The settings were: 92mm, ƒ/10, 1/125s and ISO100. No filters were used. I hope you like it!?

Click on the photograph if you would like to buy a print or licence of In Thin air.

Cheers, Johan 🙂

242 thoughts on “A birds-eye view of the Alps with first snow: In Thin Air

  1. Hope OHara says:

    I am drooling.. thank you for sharing part of your work flow with us.. never really thought of pointing the camera downward. will have to give it a try..because I really like the perspective you have going on here.. and the texture is ..well..like I said.. I am drooling.. but then I am used to bringing a coat and some tissues when I visit you.. “smiling”

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Too much honor Hope! 😀 You are very welcome Hope! I love this one a lot myself as well. One of my favourites of last year! 

  2. Matt Stonier says:

    Wow wonderful shot, love the perspective the colours and tones, feels as if I’m right there on the top with you! Defiantly given me some inspiration for my mouintan shots. Thanks for the info on it as well as a brilliant shot! 🙂 

  3. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    gPatricia: thanks again Patricia!
    @Aidan: thank you and you are very welcome! Glad ou stopped by 🙂
    @E.E. Giorgi: I do my best Elena! Thanks 🙂 

  4. Ben Locke says:

    stunning light and detail, and an interesting read too. I still have quite vivid memories of the Alps from childhood trips. Would love to return one day.

  5. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Yasmin: thank you very much Yasmin! It’s always a challenge to come up with one you know 🙂
    @Thierry: 😀 merci Thierry!! I have much to learn as well !!!!

  6. Thierry Bouriat says:

    I already back on your mountain … Johan :-))
    Spectacular and beautiful at the same time.
    I have much to learn !!!!

  7. Yasmin Simpson says:

    As always dear+Johan your work is stunning!.
    So glad that you enjoy go up a mountain and shoot the surrounding mountains from there, I am not pretty sure if I can do it, I get dizzy very fast so I rather to wait at the bottom and try to find a flower, is the reason that I love warm weather… :). Have an excellent weekend.

  8. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Baldur: thanks for the compliment Baldur and you’re welcome!
    @Jens: few people indeed seen to have that problem. Pitty!
    @Jean-Michel: merci Jean-Michel 🙂 Always a pleasure seeing you stop by! 

  9. Baldur McQueen says:

    Excellent shot, Johan – and some very good tips there (now all I need is mountains!!! 😉 Love the movement in the snow blowing from the peaks further away – and all those tones, textures and shadows in the mountain next to us. Brilliantly done.

  10. Athena Carey says:

    ah ha – so this is what you meant by “intimate landscape”. I get it now. 😉 It sort of gives me the sense of flying Johan. :D

  11. Tom Tran says:

    I do love this birds eye view you presented, Johan. It’s very neat how the the band of snow was just on the mountains in the background. I’m curious as to how long of a hike did it take to get to where you were?

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Thank you Gemma !
      Tom: thanks Tom! The hike wasn’t that impressive this time. I took a cable car up and from there hiked up a peak which is a few hundred metres higher 🙂 

  12. Scott Horwath says:

    Beautiful shot +Johan Peijnenburg and I really like the linked ‘come fly with me’ even moreso, it is a very intimate view with almost frightening feel of isolation!

  13. Julia Anna Gospodarou says:

    The detail, the clarity and the beautiful colour in this shot makes me sit and watch in awe. Wonderful image Johan!!
    Nice name of that mountain too :)

  14. jens Ceder says:

    Well it is lovely! Only problem for me is that I get altitude sickness (it is all about genetics) if higher than 3000m, so not higher than this for me, at lest not for extended period unfortunately (as I learned climbing Mt Kinabalu).

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Thanks Jens ! Isn’t it a matter of acclimatization for you, so staying for instance on 2000m for a while before going up?

  15. walter gawronski says:

    A beautiful shot Johan , I would not have considered anything longer than about 50mm for landscapes, another day, another lesson :)

      • Johan Peijnenburg says:

        Many thanks for the compliments and sharing Wes. Thank you as well Walter !

        I always regret it when I leave the 70-200 at home when I go up a mountain. It’s a pain to lug up, but you get used to it. I did order the new 70-200 f/4 though as it is half the weight …. now let’s hope it is any good :D

  16. Paul Turkowski says:

    I really like the “view from up the peaks” Johan and the embark on eye height by viewing those mountain photography. Well done!

      • Paul Turkowski says:

        unfortunately not white…I´m with the skiboots on – still waiting for the snow! :)) I hope you can send some from the west-side? 😉 

        • Johan Peijnenburg says:

          Unfortunately it is rather green here as well at the moment Paul. It is getting colder each day, but we will only get sun in the coming week 🙂 

  17. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Sophie: 😀 thank you Sophie! Been busy?
    @Anette: thanks Anette! You will have to make some more altitude metres in the Alps then 😉 

  18. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Mike: great feedback +Mike Sh! Thank you fior that. Hope all is well with you!
    @John: lol, most of it was done with the cable car. The last 300m up was by foot with a bit of climbing 🙂
    @Dane: many thanks Dane! Yes, there is always mystery in my shadows! 

      • Johan Peijnenburg says:

        well I do quite some hiking up and down to get my shots. It’s getting worse every year! And obviously the best places to shoot are always further away and higher up without shortcut options 🙂 But it is fun! 

  19. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Sumit: thank you Sumit!
    @markus: hey Markus! Thanks for the compliment and for stopping by!
    @Emanuele: yes … or free as a photographer 😉 Thanks! 

  20. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Johan: glad you like it Johan and sorry about the lack of fresh air coming through. Already told you you have to come to CH for that!
    @Patrice: thanks for the kind words Patrice! Hope all is well in Paris!? Or is it stil Ethiopia?
    @Ada: what a great comment Ada! Tnx!
    @Syuzanna: thank you 🙂 Why are you too late? 

  21. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Giuseppe: many thanks Giuseppe! Thanks a million for the share as well!
    @Lilia: dank je wel 😀 Yes, this is my high altitude office. Today I was in my lake office again!
    @Wes: thanks for the “wow” and the share Wes. Highly appreciated! 

  22. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Randall: thanks for the feedback Randall! Glad you like the image! 🙂
    @Michael: many thanks Michael!
    @Hope: hey Hope! Glad they do. Very nice to hear! 🙂
    @George: thanks again George! Looking forward the the old images 😀 

  23. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @David: thank you very much for the compliment David!
    @Alex: glad you like it Alex. Thanks!
    @Meg: it definitely was Meg. Thank you! 

  24. Johan Swanepoel says:

    The “bird’s view” does work very well Johan . Awesome capture! I would love to feel a cool breeze of fresh air on my face while looking at this (instead I have to settle for the humming of computer fans :))

  25. George Marquardt says:

    This works so well to show depth as well as altitude; Thanks for showing us this; now I have to go back and take a new look at my old photos! 

  26. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Kerry: thank you Kerry 😀
    @Gaurav: many thanks Guarav for the compliment and catching up 🙂
    @Bill: it was crisp morning that day. It rained the day before and that is good news as the haze goes away. Thanks for the kind words! Glad you like it :)

  27. Robin Griggs Wood says:

    Things are great, Johan … thank you for asking. I’m about ready to start my next mentorship for photogs, which is always exciting … ;o)
    I hope all is well with you, too!

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Very good to hear! Good luck with the new mentorship! Many people were very positive about it previously! All is well here as well. Using November the mud month for catching up with stuff and then I am off again into the snow in December. Jay 😀 

  28. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Dominique: dank je wel! Thanks for the vote of confidence:) Glad you like it!
    @Aileen: about 10.000 feet or 3000 metres Aileen 🙂 Tnx! 

  29. Aileen Sorenson says:

    What a beautiful work! Love those snow-capped on the mountains, and very nice texture and details. What is the elevation here? 

  30. George Marquardt says:

    This looks fabulous Johan, wish I was there! I do like this perspective; it still gives a nice sense of depth by using a longer lens.

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      thanks! Yes, that is the challenge when using a longer focal length: still getting enough depth to give some idea of magnitude. Hope I succeeded !? 

  31. E.E. Giorgi says:

    Majestic, as always. Though not as successful as you in this task, I’m a believer in challenging the rules and trying different approaches. :-)

  32. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    Vitor: thanks for the awesome Vitor and for stopping by!
    Chris: now that is a place I would love to shoot one day Chris! Thanks for the kind words! 

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      hey Andy! Thank you. Everything is getting in better shape lately yes 🙂 I lived in The Netherlands with no mountains until 4 years ago. I can assure you that the muscles of my legs look quite different nowadays 😀 

  33. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    Thank you very much Sandy !
    @Nikola: thank you Nikola! Yes, I know. I am looking at this on a large monitor 😀 

  34. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Philipp: life is boring without breaking rules once in while, but I don’t have to tell you that 😉 Thanks for the kind words and stopping by!
    @Jerry: glad you like it Jerry! Still can’t live without colour, so with me it’ll always be a mix 🙂 

  35. Jerry Johnson says:

    Johan, your colour photos are appreciated as much as your monochrome work by yours truly. 🙂 This photo is outstanding and it most certainly gives me that bird’s eye view which allows me to pretend that I have trekked to some far off land and climbed into the sky to enjoy the majestic panorama below me. Thanks for sharing this!!

    btw – I also enjoy your commentary!

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      thanks Jan! You should consider that a area next time when you come to CH. It is great for photography, especially in Autumn! Have you been there?

        • Johan Peijnenburg says:

          It takes a bit of planning Jan. It’s on the east side of the country tugged in between Italy and Austria. The whole region is pretty high up (about 1500 metres on average) so Winters are long. Timing is everything :)

  36. Wilfried Haferland says:

    A very fine image of Piz Alv! Looking a bit down is the right perspective for this mountain… and I really like the details. Obviously not too bad, your copy of the 70-200mm 😉 Thanks Johan!

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Thanks Wilfried. I thought you would appreciate this 😀 Yes, by now I know how to handle the 70-200 on the D800e. Have to be careful with it though 🙂 

  37. Johan Peijnenburg says:

    @Dominique: yes indeed I had Dominique! Plenty of weather like this over there in Engadin in October! Will be there a lot coming year 🙂
    @Stefanie: many thanks Stefanie! It looked great in B&W as well, but the colour really added to it. Glad you like it! 

  38. Dominique Dubied says:

    Very nice light you had Johan !
    I love this kind of weather when the sun succeeds to enlight a part of the landscape despite the threatening clouds :)

  39. Michel paulin says:

    Great image; love the “contrast” between the snowy background and the Piz Alv peak.
    Great capture
    Bravo, vraiment superbe

  40. Jan Andersen says:

    Wonderful image Johan – I guess I will have to go to the mountains some time to make my own.
    I was in Graubünden back in 1975 , and with a 50mm standard objective I could certainly not make an image like this.
    Looks like worth trying out . . .
    In the mean time I may try to scan some of the really old ones and see if I can make a decent image or two from them – they were made with a “cheapo” camera at the time .

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Thank you Jan! It is definitely worth the visit Jan. I will be visiting the area a lot next year for a few photography projects 🙂
      Yes … film …. I also have many in a few boxes somewhere. I already have troubles keeping up with digital images … I never get around to the old film ones ….

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Thank you Elizabeth! You know it is even better to see them in real life first thing in the morning 😉 Way more mountain images in the pipeline so stay tuned :D

  41. Ced Bennett says:

    I love this shot. As you say, a quite different perspective.
    A long lens for a mountain range landscape — what a great idea! Thanks. 

    • Johan Peijnenburg says:

      Thanks for the compliment! Yes, just try it. It’s a great way to emphasise the beauty of a mountain and it’s mood. 

  42. Aamir Shahzad says:

    The Strategy adopted by you has definitely given a unique and interesting look to the scene , with foreground now of the rugged peak full of details.
    The closer cropped up look was probably the best approach here.
    The image here and the one referred to are treat to watch.
    Moreover thanks for the background geographical information 

          • Johan Peijnenburg says:

            It’s addictive Vishal! Once you did something you want more and more difficult 😀 Wilfried Haferland is from Switzerland as well and a friend of mine Vishal. We go shooting together quite regularly (but never enough)!

            The mountain we climbed was the Breithorn in Zermatt, just next to the Matterhorn :)

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