A popular side-trip from lake Bled, Vintgar Gorge is both an incredibly beautiful walking trail and a photographer’s delight. As you follow a series of wooden walkways and bridges through the narrow canyon, it is hard not to be astonished. In this photography guide to Vintgar Gorge, I will go over everything you need to know to get the best shots of this amazing place.
- Things to Remember When Photographing the Vintgar Gorge
- Why Vintgar Gorge Is of Interest to Photographers
- Visiting the Vintgar Gorge
- Photographing Vintgar Gorge
Things to Remember When Photographing the Vintgar Gorge
In this article, I go into great detail about all aspects of visiting the Vintgar Gorge as a photographer. There is a lot of useful information, so I invite you to read through it.
But if you are only interested in the key takeaways, here is what you need to remember if you plan on doing some photography in Vintgar Gorge.
- Plan to spend at least 2-3 hours and be ready to walk up to 6 kilometers
- The route through the gorge is unidirectional, so take the photos you want right away
- Use a single versatile lens like 24-105mm, ideally with optical stabilization
- Tripods are allowed, but use them sparingly to avoid blocking the passage for others
- Bring the polarizer filter to control the reflections
- Come early in the morning to beat the crowds and avoid harsh dynamic range conditions
- Be mindful of the shutter speed when photographing waterfalls
- Always check your photos for sharpness when shooting handheld
- Don’t miss the incredible Slap Šum waterfall viewpoint
- If someone is ruining your shot, just be patient and wait for them to pass
- Have fun and enjoy!
Why Vintgar Gorge Is of Interest to Photographers
Vintgar Gorge is an approximately 1.6-kilometer (1-mile) long canyon in short proximity to Lake Bled in Slovenia. It is a popular attraction in the area and deservedly so – the gorge is stunning.
For centuries, the Radovna River carved its way through the soft limestone creating what is now known as the Vintgar Gorge. The result is a bedazzling collection of pools, rapids, and bends enclosed by vertical walls nearly 100 meters high.
Today, a set of stairs and bridges make the gorge easy to negotiate. This allows almost anyone to admire its spectacular features from up close. And as a figurative cherry on the cake, there’s a majestic waterfall awaiting at the very end of the hike.
For photographers, Vintgar Gorge offers an almost unlimited supply of sweet compositions and striking waterscapes. In fact, it was no other than photographer Benedikt Lergetporer who first discovered it in 1891.
And all these years later, Vintgar Gorge is still a remarkably picturesque location. So if you love the great outdoors or enjoy landscape photography, you might want to put it on your list.
Visiting the Vintgar Gorge
Below is the map of the Vintgar Gorge taken from the official website. It might look confusing at the first glance, so some explanations are probably in order.
The hike begins at the parking lot P1. From there, a brown line in the north-easterly direction represents the gorge. This is the main part of the trail with the most striking landscapes.
Previously, once you reach the end of the canyon, you would turn around and retrace your steps to the parking lot. However, the hike was recently changed to a one-way route. This means you can no longer come back through the gorge. Instead, you have to do a loop via one of the two separate return routes (colored red and green on the map).
Officially, this was implemented as a COVID-19 safety measure, so it might be reverted in the future. But personally, I hope they keep it like this. There are fewer folks clogging the narrow pathways, which makes the entire experience a great deal more pleasant.
Another consequence of this decision is that the return journey has become somewhat more demanding. Both routes feature some basic hiking with an elevation gain of up to 100 meters. Nothing extreme, but for older people or those with disabilities, this might prove challenging
To enter Vintgar Gorge, you need a ticket. You can buy one right at the entrance. The price is currently € 10 for adults and €3 for kids. I honestly think that’s a little overpriced, but not much you can do about that.
Tickets can also be purchased online beforehand. This allows you to skip the queue, but you will have to specify the exact date and time of your visit.
Hiking Through the Gorge
The hike through the Vintgar Gorge is quite straightforward. Once in, there is just one way forward, so you won’t get lost.
The path is a combination of wooden walkways and bridges, with occasional stairs thrown into the mix. It is mostly even and very leisurely. All you have to do is take your time and enjoy the views.
Remember: you won’t be coming back the same way. So if you want to take a photo or stay longer at a particular location, do so. Vintgar Gorge is only 1.6 km long, so there is no need to rush it.
The landscapes are constantly changing too. The initial section is more about the rapids and little cascades. Towards the end, it is the massive walls and narrow passages that steal the show. Think Narrows in the Zion national park, except you not treading through the water here.
As a photographer, you might be tempted to use the tripod to capture that silky water motion. That, however, might prove troublesome. The pathways aren’t particularly wide, so you will quickly become everyone’s favorite guy by blocking the passage.
Besides, the wooden planks vibrate whenever somebody passes by. That will ruin the sharpness of your shot anyway. So my advice is to stick to areas where you can step away from the path on the solid rock. There aren’t many, so keep an eye out.
Other than that, lens stabilization has gotten ridiculously good these days. On my Sony, I was able to pull off sharp photos even at 1/8 seconds, handheld. This is generally sufficient to make the waterfalls look good in the image.
The Return Hike
Once you complete the journey through Vintgar Gorge, there are two separate routes that will lead you to where you started.
The northern one, marked with red color on the map, is the shorter but steeper of the two. At a 2.8 km distance, it features an elevation gain of 162 vertical meters. A minor nuisance for an experienced hiker, but quite a feat for someone less used to it.
The southern route (marked in green) is longer but less demanding. It also includes an uphill section, but the altitude difference is just 110 meters.
Whichever one you choose, be prepared to do some basic hiking. Alternatively, you can walk to the Blejska Dobrava settlement just north and catch a taxi. Expect to pay € 7 for a ride back to the P1 or € 8 to Bled.
You can find detailed descriptions of both return routes on the Vintgar Gorge official website. It contains the maps and elevation profiles for both the red trail and the green trail.
If you have time, I recommend the southern route through the St. Katherine Church. That’s the one we chose and we really enjoyed it. The path isn’t overly difficult and as a bonus, you get some beautiful views of the Slovenian countryside and Bled castle far in the distance.
Getting to Vintgar Gorge
Vintgar Gorge is just a few kilometers away from Lake Bled, so there is a variety of options to reach it. Here are the most common.
By car. Having a car makes things easy, as the drive from Bled only lasts 10 minutes. There are two parking lots directly next to the gorge (P1 and P2), with further places available higher up the road.
Although parking costs € 5, during the peak summer season, it fills up fast, so you might want to be there early. Or, you can always catch a taxi from Bled which will only cost a couple of euros more.
By bus. The regular bus from the Bled main station is by far the cheapest option. You can check the timetable and prices online. There are also dedicated shuttle buses that will get you there and back for somewhere between € 8-10 per person.
By train. If you are staying on the western side of Lake Bled, a train from Bled Jezero station to Podhom will only take four minutes. Then, it is another 20 minutes on foot from there.
By foot. You can also just walk the entire distance to Vintgar Gorge. That will require around 45-50 minutes, so definitely not the quickest alternative, but it’s there should you want it.
Photographing Vintgar Gorge
With the logistics taken care of, let us now dive deep into the topic of how to photograph the Vintgar Gorge. It may be quite a challenging location for several reasons, so to make your life simpler, here are a few tips and tricks you might find useful.
When to Photograph Vintgar Gorge
The best time for photography in the Vintgar Gorge is early in the morning, for a couple of reasons.
First, there will be fewer people present, so you won’t have to wait forever for them to leave the frame. Likewise, you can set up the tripod where you wouldn’t normally be able to due to traffic. And of course, fewer visitors means fewer vibrations of the wooden plans below your feet.
Secondly, the conditions are generally more favorable. The light is soft, and those early hours are your best chance to catch some morning mist in the gorge.
Lastly, you won’t need to worry about the dynamic range issues that emerge closer to midday. When the sun is high above the head, the stark difference between the areas of light and shadow really makes the gorge hard to photograph.
If morning is difficult, try coming later in the day, shortly before Vintgar gorge closes. You won’t see much mist, but at least this will help mitigate the other two problems.
If possible, avoid the peak months of July and August when Vintgar Gorge becomes a buzzing anthill full of tourists. I visited in September, and things were much more quiet and peaceful already.
In fact, autumn comes with the added benefit of foliage turning yellow and red. And because of the increased frequency of rains, the waterfalls will be more impressive than in summer.
Best Weather for Photography
As for the weather, you can photograph Vintgar Gorge both on sunny and rainy days. But if I had to pick, I would probably vote for the dry and clear conditions. Although these come with their own set of challenges, I also like the opportunities they provide.
When there is light and shadow, you can use them to your advantage to emphasize what you consider more interesting or important in the shot. It is also easier to capture vivid, saturated images with a bit of a warm and bright mood to them.
On an overcast day, the landscape is more evenly lit. The benefit is that you don’t have to worry too much about excessive contrast or overexposing parts of the photo.
On the other hand, the composition becomes significantly more important. You can no longer hide things in the shadows and need to ensure your images don’t contain too much clutter in the first place.
In short, there are opportunities no matter the conditions. It is up to you to uncover and use them.
Prominent Photo Locations
Well, truth be told, there aren’t many prominent photo locations in Vintgar Gorge. It is more about the little gems hidden along the path than iconic vistas.
Besides, your experience will be different from mine. The season, the weather, recent rains – all of these have a noticeable impact on how Vintgar Gorge looks.
However, I include this section because there is one particular location that is often overlooked. The Šum waterfall (Slap Šum in Slovenian, translated as “Noisy Waterfall”) is the largest waterfall in the entire gorge and one of its main highlights.
Yet many people don’t ever get to see it. Slap Šum is actually situated outside the fenced-off area that you buy the ticket for. In fact, at the end of the hike, you end up on the bridge above the waterfall, from where it cannot be seen.
Adding to the confusion, there is a smaller waterfall right before the exit which is often mistaken for Slap Šum. But that is not it!
To find the real Slap Šum, here is what you need to do. When you exit the gorge, you will notice the signs for the two return hikes on your left and right. Ignore those for now and instead continue forward.
A nondescript path will lead you down a set of stairs and to another bridge. Cross that bridge and immediately turn left to discover the best viewpoint for Slap Šum.
It is a cool little spot with plenty of room to put out the tripod without disturbing anyone. So you can try as many compositions as you fancy without being stressed or hurried. And because it is outside the paid section of Vintgar Gorge, you can always come back here for another attempt.
Shutter Speed Is Crucial
A key aspect of photographing waterscapes is choosing the right shutter speed. In this regard, Vintgar Gorge is no exception. You will encounter waterfalls of various shapes and sizes and to get good photos, you need to keep an eye on your settings.
Why is it so important? Because we want the water in our shots to look silky-smooth. This instantly makes the photos more appealing and seem more professional, while emphasizing the movement.
The effect is achieved by slowing down the shutter speed. The trouble is that you don’t want to lower it too much either. Then you lose contrast and structure in the water, to the point that highlights appear over-exposed (even if they aren’t).
The trick is to keep the shutter speed somewhere in the middle. There is no magic value that works in every situation because it depends on the intensity of the stream. You just have to experiment and try out a few numbers to settle on the one fitting the location.
But as a rule, somewhere between ⅛ and 0.5 seconds usually works really well. I normally start at around ⅙ and then adjust accordingly.
To illustrate, the photo below was taken with a 3.2 seconds exposure. Compare it with the one above taken at the same location but at ⅙ seconds. Both have smooth water, but in the lower image, the highlights appear completely washed out.
Essential Photography Gear
When it comes to gear, the best equipment is always the one you have with you. That said, here is what you might consider bringing to Vintgar Gorge.
In the lens department, I recommend a single versatile travel lens, such as 24-105mm. It has a great reach that allows capturing a vast variety of landscapes. Swapping glass on the narrow walkways of Vintgar Gorge is quite a hassle, let alone risky. So pick a lens that you can stick to.
Ideally, it is also a lens that features optical stabilization. This will allow you to use slower shutter speeds even where a tripod is impossible or impractical to set up. Just be sure to check your images for sharpness whenever you shoot handheld.
As for a tripod, it is both a necessity and a nuisance. As mentioned earlier, there just aren’t many great places to set it up without blocking the passage. Therefore, you mostly just lug it around.
But where you can actually use it, it makes quite a difference, so I still recommend bringing it. Šum waterfall is one such location, but there are others as well. Alternatively, you could try a Gorillapod as a lightweight substitute although it is hardly an ideal solution either.
Finally, a polarizing filter is a must in a location like this. You will have a ton of disturbing reflections to deal with, not only in the water but also on the wet rocks around. A polarizer gives you the ability to tone them down a bit which is very handy.
Vintgar Gorge is a fantastic place to visit and photograph. If you are staying near Lake Bled, I absolutely recommend devoting half a day to witness it with your own eyes. Yes, the entry price is a bit on the expensive side, but I still think it is worth paying.
I immensely enjoyed the time I spent in the gorge and am certain that you would too. Bring your camera and have fun – there are countless compositions to play around with.
I wholeheartedly hope that this photography guide to Vintgar Gorge answered all your questions and gave you the necessary information to create outstanding photos. If so, please share it with your friends and help spread the word.
And while you’re at it, check out the other articles we have. If you are into traveling and photography, you’ll find tons of practical tips on the various locations around Slovenia and the world. Here are just a few to consider:
- A Land of Wonders: 10 Great Reasons to Travel to Slovenia
- Hiking the Julian Alps: 7 Best Trails Near Lake Bled and Bohinj
- Top Of Mount Vogel: A Perfect Day Hike in the Julian Alps
- One day itinerary for landscape photography in Southern Bavaria
- Top 7 locations for landscape photography on Tenerife
- Best Landscape Photography Locations in Patagonia
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