The Story Behind The Image: The Rossfeld Panorama Strasse

In this series we talk about how we came to make some of our favourite images. We’ll concentrate less on the equipment and technique used and more on the how and why the image came to be. This time, we’re heading to Bavaria in Germany for the story of one of our more unexpected images.

It was our first trip to the Alps in deep Winter. To coincide with the visit, a weather front had blown across Europe from Siberia leading to uncharacteristically cold weather and at times, the temperatures outside on the trip dropped as low as -26C during the day – by a long way the coldest weather we had encountered up until that point. None the less, this trip would turn out to be an important one for us. Our first experience of the Alpine Winter cemented our love for the deep snow and frozen landscape. We set off on that trip thinking – perhaps even knowing – that it would be special, but we didn’t realise just how profoundly it would impact us and set the course for our work over the coming years.

Much of the work we were planning on producing was in Austria but, for a variety of reasons, we wound up staying just over the border in Bavaria, Southern Germany. Of course, we factored in a bit of time to explore Germany in the snow too and, at the recommendation of the host at our self-catering apartment, we went on quite a few wonderful hikes through the snow. We were still just walking through the snow in our regular boots at this stage, so sadly the hikes were shorter than we wanted – but that was enough to give us a taste for what was possible! The following year we returned with snowshoes and were able to move deeper into the winter landscape.

One thing that’s difficult about photographing in the snow is that scenes often naturally tend to be very monochromatic. During the day, there’s often little colour in the sky and foliage naturally seems to lose some of its vibrancy in the colder months. If there’s snow in the air it can act like a sort of diffusing filter, blurring and distorting detail in your images too. You can use all of this to your advantage, of course, but as this was our first experience of an environment like this, we were worried that our images from the trip would be a little ‘samey’.

One evening, we’d finished our hike and still had an hour or two of daylight left. We decided to go on a mountain drive rather than just heading back to the apartment. In the hills near Berchtesgaden, we started to see signposts for the Rossfeld Panorama Strasse – basically a scenic road. We’d never heard of this before but decided to check it out. Having paid a small entrance fee at an automated kiosk, we entered the road. We did not have the ‘full’ experience of the road: heavy snow meant that the full route was closed and we had to turn back on ourselves at one point. However, as the light faded that evening we were treated to something truly spectacular. For a few short moments, the snow took on a visibly blue tint in its shadows whilst the sun, as it neared the horizon, cast pink and gold tones in the sky. We are all used to vibrant colours just before and during a sunset, but this was different – there was something softer, more pastel about it and, critically for us, we had found the colours our previous images from the trip were lacking.

That visit to the Rossfeld Panorama Strasse was necessarily cut short by the setting sun, but we returned to a few days later – also towards the end of the day, but with a bit more time to spare – and were treated to an equally impressive (and surreal) light show, this time with a strange – almost unearthly – orange glow creeping into the haze.

That chance drive up a mountain road lead us to see a whole new side to the Alpine landscape and how, for just a few moments, the light can truly transform. It’s one of many details that will always stick with us from that trip.