Kotor, Montenegro is not a large town by any measure, but it packs a photographic punch. Walking the streets of the old town there are many churches, narrow alleys and colorful storefronts to satisfy the eye. It's a maze of medieval beauty where you could easily get lost taking in the sights. But my favorite sight was visible from almost any square in the city - the mountainside church of Our Lady of Remedy. This is our guide to photography at the church at on the trail approaching it.
To get to Our Lady of Remedy, you must first make your way to another church, St. Mary Collegiate. Behind the church there is an alley with an arch over it. Go down the alley and continue uphill. The route to the church requires a short hike, so make sure you pack water and dress appropriately for the weather. If it is hot out and you plan on taking photos, consider taking it slow so you don't find yourselves drenched in unsightly sweat. (Read our tips on photography in hot weather.)
If you are looking for photos of the rooftops of the old town, don't wait until you get to the top of the mountain. The higher you get, the more the old town becomes obscured by the slope. The first fifteen minutes of hiking provide the best views of the domes and chimneys.
Also, you will eventually come to a fork in the path. One way goes uphill, and the other goes down hill. The downhill route is a dead end and it is a little out of the way, but it does provide a second angle on the old town that you can't really get anywhere else. A few minutes down you can see the back of the St. Tryphon Cathedral, with the bay and the port in the background. I didn't see anybody else go down that way while we were there, so I'm going to go ahead and call this view a hidden gem.
On the way up you will encounter a number of ruined structures. Don't worry, you won't miss any of them since they are right next to the stairs and not at all concealed from view. Whether you are exploring the ruins or climbing the stairs. Don't forget to stop and smell the flowers. We were there in March, and the entire mountainside was coated in beautiful purple and yellow blossoms. I recommend using the flowers as a foreground if you are taking portraits on your hike.
Though the old town disappears into the corner as you climb, the higher you get the better your view of the bay of Kotor becomes. The photo above was taking in mid afternoon, but as always, you are better off closer to sunset since you will get a better angle on the light and better color in the sky. Just be aware that in the mountains the sun dips out of sight long before the color starts to change, so plan accordingly if you are taking portraits.
Behind the Scenes:
Our favorite photo shoot we did in Kotor was the result of multiple hikes up to Our Lady of Remedy. One early in the morning, and the other late in the afternoon several days later. I had scouted the mountain ahead of time and assured Dannie that the trail had stairs and that she could wear a dress up to the church without too much difficulty (no heels though).
We headed up just after sunrise so that by the time we got there the sun would have crested over the mountain behind the church, giving us some light to work with. We also hoped that by starting out early we would avoid the crowds, such as they are in March. It was a cool morning, but the exertion of climbing the stairs was more than enough to keep us warm.
At the church there is a platform with view overlooking the bay. We got a few shots of Dannie and Lisa at this vista before I climbed ahead for what I was really after, a shot with the whole church in the frame, overlooking the beautiful town of Kotor.
This is a classic angle on Kotor, and even though I've seen it before We knew that our album wouldn't be complete without it. I like this photo a lot, but we decided to climb the mountain again later. Even though there were few tourists to contend with in the morning, the light was not ideal. It came in directly behind the camera, creating the same unflattering flat look that you get with on camera flash. I remembered from my afternoon scouting trip that later in the day the light came in from camera left.
Also, we thought Dannie and Lisa looked pretty small in the frame when they were down next to the church. There was a stairway just after the church where they could stand for a shot with the whole scene in the background. I had warned Dannie that this might not be ideal since she has an uneasy relationship with high places, and this particular stairway is very steep and narrow compared to the rest of the hike. But having found a shop with fabric identical to the dress she was wearing, her creative instincts were overriding her survival instincts that day.
In late afternoon, the light was much improved over the morning. I could stand on the mostly shaded side of my subjects, and a white stone wall behind us created the perfect natural bounce light to fill them in. To take in the full scene I shot wide using a Nikon 24-70mm lens.
Here's the part where Dannie got creative with her extra fabric: The first hike we wore the red dress at it's natural length (just pass the knees). You can see it in the photos where Dannie is sitting. We were deeply inspired by the view, and decided that a long dress flowing in the air would really make the shot. But hiking in a super long dress with a baby and no assistant was going to be tough (safety first)! So she wore the same dress, but carried a few extra supplies in her backpack. Once we got up above the church, Dannie tied about three extra meters of cloth around her waist and let it drag behind her on the stairs. I took a photo of her like that with her hand on the wall. Then she grabbed the cloth and tossed it into the air behind her. We did a number of takes with my camera set to rapid fire to make sure we got a good shot with the fabric billowing in the "wind."
Then Dannie picked from hundreds of photos of flaring red cloth to find the best one, and layered two images on top of one another in Photoshop. The result is a pose and a dress epic enough to match a world class view like the bay of Kotor.
When we travel we often get inspired by our surroundings to create a larger than life fantasy shoot. As artists, we like to challenge ourselves to find creative ways to turn those fantasies in our minds into real photos. Traveling with our baby does create logistical challenges during our photoshoots, but it also provides us with inspiration and motivation. One of our favorite family activities is showing our Instagram account to Lisa and letting her point out Mommy and Lisa in the photos. Then we remind her about our visit to that place and what made it special to us. We hope as her mind and vocabulary grow, she'll understand more and more about the stories we tell her. For now, Kotor, Montenegro will be remembered (by Lisa) as the place with all the Meow Meows (cats).