I’ve made a terrible mistake. I finally had the opportunity to hike up to the magnificent Drei Zinnen, the crown jewel of the Dolomites. I was fortunate enough to experience a sunset and sunrise there. The light was fantastic, clouds wrapped around the peaks. Magic. A dream come true. I took so many images. The horror came in the morning; I realized I shot all of them in basic JPEG.

It was what I wished for my birthday. To hike around the magnificent Drei Zinnen and take photos of the peaks lit up in the evening sun. So we headed towards South Tyrol and after roughly six hours of tedious driving (some crazy people on the road I tell you) and a sandwich lunch at a Spar near Lienz, we arrived to the parking lot at Rifugio Auronzo at about 3pm.

Those six hours and the lack of sleep that night left me somewhat tired, but luckily, the hike to the Dreizinnenhütte was not a tedious one. It’s a rather undemanding walk on a well maintained path with practically no elevation. So we took it easy and enjoyed the views on our way. Bliss.

I must admit, the Domomites are not a place where you go for a quiet hike. Especially the trails around the Drei Zinnen  are extremely crowded with a species I like to refer to as Turnschuchturisten in German, literally meaning sneaker-tourists. Visitors who come during the day and walk round not only in sneakers, but ballerinas, and occasionally flip-flops too. So it’s not exactly a tranquil experience. But, arrive late enough, anything after 3pm will do, and you’ll see the masses marching against you as you make your way towards the cabins.

Arrive well before sunset, check-in, settle in the bunks room that you share with 23 other people, then go back out to explore your surroundings. Get back for when dinner is served, take a seat facing the window. But just when you are ready to have some food after a long day you notice that the warm light of the sinking sun is hitting the peaks of the Drei Zinnen as crispy clouds are drawing in. Leave the fork, fetch the camera, run out to the terrace of the cabin, get too excited to even have a look at your settings and take a dozen of photos as the light changes within a blink of an eye. While you do so, you hope you captured that fabulous warm light and the contrasty shadows on the face of the rocks. You look at the images briefly, but don’t even think about checking your settings except your aperture and shutter speed, ISO is always set to 100 after all. You happily go back to finish the food that is now cold.

After an impressive three course menu, you finally roll out again to wait for the golden hour, you take a series of photos, even shoot a panorama. The clouds didn’t quite catch dramatic light, but the images seem decent enough. You’re happy again and tuck yourself into bed – sleeping bag that is – and hope the sunrise will be  better.

At 4:30am you put on your boots, pull up another pair of pants, quietly collect your bag and sneak out of the banks room to see that you don’t see anything yet. It’s not only dark but also misty. Set up the tripod nevertheless. The clouds are moving a bit, perhaps the fog will lift too. Let’s wait. Oh well, let’s peruse those images from yesterday while at it. And then the horror. Like a huge slap in the face. Like a bucket of cold water – but not one you willingly pour on your own head for a good cause. Real icy water, unexpectedly. My eyes probably bulged when I realized that all the images I took the day before were in basic JPEG. And by basic I literally mean basic on the scale of basic-normal-fine that my Nikon D5300 can do.

I was absolutely devastated. All those lovely photos. You go, birthday girl. How half-witted that was. I still can’t believe it. But, as there was nothing to do about it, life goes on. It’s unbelievable, but it really does. So I took those horribly low-quality JPEG images home and managed to pull this together.

BEFORE AND AFTER

Because I took the photos without a tripod and in the state of too much excitement, I managed to cut off the edge of the composition. Luckily, however, I also shot a panorama in portrait format. So I took the last image of that series and stitched it to the initial photo. Et voilà, this is the result.

It’s perhaps not the sharpest or the highest quality image, but it was still possible to pull out quite a lot of detail and make it look at least decent. So perhaps my initial that devastation wasn’t at all necessary. After all, I was spending my time at one of the most beautiful places in Europe. Having amazing memories is much more important than getting great images.

TECHNICAL SPECS AND GPS COORDINATES

Location: 46°38’12.8″N 12°18’38.2″E
Gear: Nikon D5300 • Sigma 17-50mm f2.8
Shot: two basic JPEG files • 16mm • F10 • 1/100 sec • ISO 100
Software:  Lightroom 6, Photoshop CC, Nik Collection Color Efex Pro 4

If you’re interested in any of the editing details, do let me know in the comments below.

HIKE AND STAY

If you’d like to hike up to the Drei Zinnen too, make sure to inform yourself about available lodgings first, as the mountain huts are usually only open from spring to autumn and wild camping is not allowed in the area (or for that matter in Italy in general). Consult this Lonely Planet discussion thread for more information. For the route check out the Bergfex website, my absolute favourite source for hiking trips.

Look forward to your comments and thoughts on how to save JPEG shots.