Photography Holiday in Montenegro – How Did it Go?

A while ago, our senior tutor Ion Paciu (also founder of Photoion Photography School), and Tatiana Zigar (our office manager), decided to begin exploring Europe with a view to find exotic places for our school of photography holidays.

Amongst many countries, back in Feb 2014, they visited Montenegro which they fell in love with (see image here from their trip); at the end of the trip they decided that Montenegro will be the first of the many planned Photoion Photography School photography holidays. They really liked Montenegro so they decided to take some of the Photography School’s students to visit this beautiful corner of the world.

Montenegro is a very beautiful Mediterranean country located around an open bay by the south side of the Adriatic Sea, and it is surrounded by exotic picturesque scenery landscape; which makes it a perfect destination for a photography holiday!

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Montenegro on the Europe’s map.

We sat down with Ion to learn about how the planning for the holiday came together, and how the trip itself went:

“- It was difficult to choose the base location, as there are so many great places to stay in Montenegro. However, our favourite place was the old town of Kotor which is situated around Kotor bay (very close to Tivat airport,) and which is kind of in the middle of Kotor Bay with easy access to most of the locations on our trip list. The Bay of Kotor (Boka in Montenegrin and Serbian languages), is located by the Adriatic Sea on the South West of Montenegro. It has the structure of a fjord about 28 km long from the Adriatic Sea to the city of Kotor, and it is surrounded by a long chain of mountains: the Orjen (on the west) and Lovćen (on the east). There is a nonstop ferryboat service connecting Tivat airport and Kotor town which shortens your trip from Herceg Novi to about 6-7 miles.

Kotor Bay is a very beautiful place, a large water area surrounded by breath-taking mountain scenery; the tallest peak is 1,749 meters high.

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Bird view across Kotor Bay in Montenegro.

The group was very diverse in terms of nationalities; with only one British passport in the group. We had a Canadian, a Spanish, an American Italian, a Russian, one from Nigeria, one from Austria, and 2 people from the Unites Emirates. The border officers in between Croatia and Montenegro were quite amused seeing so many different passports.

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Students group selfie image, including Ion and Tatiana.

We (I and Tatiana) arrived 2 days before our departure to Montenegro, and we spent 2 days in Dubrovnik in order to get properly accustomed with the refreshing Adriatic ambient. A good 2 days off from teaching gave me a little bit of time to think our trip properly. We took good rest before of the departure day, mostly spending our time along the promenade of the Babin Kuk bay, but we also took a few hours and visited the old city of Dubrovnik which is a must see if you pass by Croatia which is known as “the Adriatic’s Paradise”.

Holiday time passed by quickly, but we were happy to travel to Dubrovnik airport to pick up our fellow photography participants, some of them were already in Dubrovnik, they arrived a few days before the departure date. We greeted 4 out of 7 (the other 3 we meet lately in Kotor) and we loaded our heavy luggage in our Volkswagen people carrier. The carrier was a really nice drive, I loved it and I will look to book the same car next time.

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The Road to the Old Town of Kotor along Kotor Bay in Montenegro.

The trip to Kotor in Montenegro from the airport took about two and a half hours and it was a really great trip with many beautiful and picturesque views along the road. We choose to pick up the route along Kotor Bay trough Risan opposed to taking the ferry. It was a longer journey but it was definitely worth the time. We stopped in Risan to taste the local pastries, which were delicious; shortly after we arrived in Kotor old town where the receptionists from the Villa Duomo were waiting for us. Shortly after we met our fellow photographers and the group was complete. We checked in; the hotel was stunning with great views across the old town and everyone was really pleased with the location: the architecture, the service, and everything else seemed to be confirming that we made the best choice in terms of accommodation.

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View from our hotel room’s window.

We met everyone in the evening before dinner to discuss the agenda and logistics, it was quite a short meeting as everyone was keen to get out and explore the many restaurants and bars around our hotel in the old town of Kotor; the choice was huge but we opted for a local cuisine restaurant which was located just by our hotel, it seemed to be a good choice; as the weather was a bit chilly the place was quite well warmed up by several orangey coloured patio heaters so we liked the place. The restaurant’s menu was dominated by local food, mainly sea food (octopus, squid, plenty of types of fish dishes), but there were plenty of chicken and pork meat specialities as well.

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The restaurant.

We loved this restaurant, not only because of the good food and relaxing atmosphere but also because of the charming manager of the restaurant (who was former Kotor Solicitor) who was very kind and treated us with great attention and many extra food specialities (she was doing that with everyone) so we came back and had dinner here every other evening. We went to bed very happy and eager to meet up in the morning.

The next day we met in the morning for breakfast which we really enjoyed so much; the food was freshly cooked (based on a choice from a very large menu) by a couple of really kind and nice ladies. Everything was delicious; there was a variety of cooked eggs (scrambled, omelette, fried eggs, etc.), cheese and Montenegro ham, an exotic fruits plate and a really nice basket of local bread and fresh crispy pastries; coffee, as always, was excellent (coffee is excellent everywhere in Montenegro and surroundings). The freshly squeezed orange juice was also a delight! The staff of the hotel was very friendly and professional, from the reception to the kitchen so, we finished the morning very satisfied.

At 1 pm, we gathered together and we loaded our gear in the car: everyone was packed with cameras, a variety of lenses, tripods, filters, etc. And we headed towards the end of the Kotor Bay by Risan village where we stopped for supplies (snacks and water). We drove further along Kotor Bay and we took the route to the top of the mountain which was located behind Risan village.

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Dramatic clouds above Kotor Bay, Montenegro.

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Flowers growing on the rocks around Kotor Bay.

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Bird view across Kotor Bay, Montenegro.

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Our people snapping around the beautiful surroundings, such a a beautiful light!

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Our people snapping around the beautiful surroundings, such a a beautiful light!

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Our people snapping around the beautiful surroundings, such a a beautiful light!

The route offers a breath-taking bird’s eye view of the Kotor Bay and Risan Village. When we left, Kotor Old Town was cloudy, but by the time we reached the highway along the mountain the sun made an appearance so we soon stopped at the first view point. We all picked up a long telephoto lens and captured several images of the bay and the church located on an artificially created island: “Our Lady of the Rocks“. The weather was great, the view impressive, and the clouds were moving quite fast so we had to stay alerted and move fast in capturing the scenes as they were developing through the fast movement of the clouds.

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‘Our Lady of Rocks’ island

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Seascape breathtaking view of seagulls flying across the water of Kotor Bay.

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View towards the exit of the bay including “Our Lady of the Rocks”.

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Seagull flying above Kotor Bay.

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“Our Lady of the Rocks” bird view (close-up) from above Kotor Bay.

We were pleased and after a while we departed to a different view point which was at a very high altitude. The road is quite narrow so I had to drive very carefully and extremely slow. We stopped as the road got very narrow, people got out, mounted their equipment, and rushed to capture the fog / mist gathering around the mountains. We soon reached the highest point in the area large enough to enable me to turn the long carrier around and we stopped there with a view to wait for the sunset. The “chasing the light” game had begun. All the cameras were mounted on tripods; compositions were set, and we began waiting for a break. While we were waiting for the sun to set at the bottom of the bay behind the mountains, we had a snack and we spent the time mostly talking about composition and capturing techniques, including best settings in landscape photography.

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The eternal game in landscape photography: waiting for the light!

One of the biggest parts about good landscape photography is the “waiting game”. While some people might become impatient and disappointed that the sun didn’t come up or didn’t move in the right place and create that perfect picture which we were all after, I am usually enjoying the time spent “waiting for the light” or “chasing the light”, it is the part that gives me the most satisfaction. While waiting, I have the time to think and admire the surroundings, clear my mind and breathe the fresh crispy mountain air. Our group was also very patient and we all had a great time waiting for the sunset, which in the end was blocked by a very thick layer of clouds, we were left with the images captured along the afternoon before the sunset.

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Waiting for the light!

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Chasing the light!

Around 7-8 pm, we decided drive back and return to our base in Kotor as the sunset was covered fully by clouds and it was getting dark. We got back to the old town of Kotor and went to our favourite restaurant for dinner. Again, we were really pleased to be served with freshly stone baked pitta bread accompanied by delicious garlic infused olive oil, a variety of local cheeses, meats, and seafood. We also ordered the same local house white wine which was really nice. After dinner it was time to prepare for the next day’s adventure. We had quite a complex day planned, so everyone was very excited. We turned into bed and all slept like babies while the lights from the Fortifications of Kotor Town went on!

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Lights coming from the fortifications of Kotor Town – picture taken from the hotel room’s window.

The next day we met around 4 pm with a view to drive to one of the Lovcen mountain’s best viewpoints which offers a spectacular view across the Kotor Bay. We started our journey; again, driving very slow as the road is very old and very narrow and quite abrupt. The bird’s eye view from the road’s viewpoints is phenomenal, and the journey was very exciting and adrenaline filled.

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Driving towards top of Lovcen mountain, Kotor Bay.

The agenda of this trip was: afternoon landscape photography planning to catch the sunset, then magic time city scape light from high point followed by evening / night starry night photography. This time everything went as exactly planned. The view point we were after was just perfect for our large group (it is an enclosed round stoned area), and offers a spectacular view beginning with the old town of Kotor and finishing with the last mountain peak near Herceg Novi city which is about 35 miles away.

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View across Kotor Bay.

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Sun was high and strong and the water is reflecting the light exactly in the right direction: into our lenses.

There is also plenty of vegetation around, some great shaped trees and conifers, which gave a great variety of subjects for everyone’s eye. While driving up, suddenly the clouds layer descended rapidly and we found ourselves with our “heads in the clouds”, literally. We drove back, about half mile, and stopped exactly by the edge of the clouds. The sun was exactly opposite our direction and hitting the sea reflecting amazing light in our lenses. There were lots of scenes and subjects to capture in this area. The clouds were moving so fast so again we had to move around quickly and snap our cameras rapidly to cope with the  fast changing environment.

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Cloudy sky above the mountains.

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Heads in the clouds!

We were very pleased with what we got, and by the time the clouds were above our heads, we headed back to the viewpoint for the sunset. We parked the car safely and once again setup our base, carried all the equipment, and got ready for the sunset.

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The whole area was in the clouds, fantastic!

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Getting ready for the sunset.

While we waited we had a quick snacks and some refreshments, and by the time we had finished them, the colour of the sun had changed to slightly orange and it was time! You could hear so many clicks of the cameras that I began feeling guilty for noise pollution! Ha, joking, I was very happy to see everyone clicking around the amazing sunset which was fantastic. Once again, the Lovcen Mountain didn’t let us down!

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That’s me snapping around.

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The sunset at its best!

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A view from behind the view point.

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Our people catching the sunset.

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The sun is getting low faster than you can realise. We had to move very fast and make the most of light!

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The sun is almost gone here.

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 The “after light” silence! Superb, this was my favourite moment in fact! I love the dim diffused light and colours.

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A misty view across the mountains opposite the sunset.

Whilst the sun set behind the mountains, the lights of the cities around the bay were on! After a short break we were ready to capture the city lights from an altitude of 1,400 meters. It was getting cold so I gave a couple of my spare bike gloves to some of the group members to help keep them warm. As the sun was moving quite fast towards the outer side of the planet, the lights of the city lights were getting stronger. We setup the tripods and we snapped some really great images of the bay city lights, including the last trace of the sunset in the background.

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The city lights were on across the bay in every village, see the cruise moored in the harbour of Kotor Town.

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A mysterious and tranquil view of the bay and the city lights.

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A close up of the Kotor city lights from 1,400 meters altitude.

By the time we finished with the city lights the sky was completely clear. Venus, the queen of the starry night, made its appearance; everyone was pleased and the timing was perfect, we were ready for the next round.

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Stars above Kotor Bay, such a beautiful view!

Soon the sky got very busy so we turned our cameras away from the bay and pointed them towards the mountains where the sky was much darker. We set the cameras for this task and started a new round of clicks. At this time, the period in between the 2 shutter clicks got longer, we were capturing the stars at a shutter speed of 30 seconds.

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On the other side of the mountain Lovcen the stars were much stronger, under Venus’ domination.

We also started “painting with light”, we used 2 available torches and this was great fun as well.

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Painting with light and stars! 

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Painting with light and stars!

When we decided that we had enough images we packed our equipment (which proved to be challenging in the darkness) and we drove back to the Kotor town. The journey down the hill was exciting and offered many angles of the Kotor bay city lights.

We got back safe and sound, and, as usual, headed to our favourite restaurant for late night dinner. The cold dry white local wine, accompanied by the seafood and pleasant ambience, did a great job once again. We ended up probably snoring like bears after a long exciting, and challenging day, but no one complained about the big noisy bells from the nearby church which offer the exact time from 7 am to about I think 11 pm.

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The catholic church in the old town of Kotor.

Next day was reserved to portrait photography and it was the warmest day of the week. After breakfast we went around Kotor old town looking for places with a view to capture portraits on location, this time our colleague Tatiana was the major player of the day: she gladly accepted to pose for the participants.

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Students capturing photographs of Tatiana.

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A portrait of Tatiana.

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Students capturing photographs of Tatiana.

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Portrait of Tatiana

It was a really warm day with a sunny clear sky, so after a while we stopped for refreshments and lunch. We headed back in between the walls and we finished not only with some great portrait images but also with some great cats images (the cats are everywhere, it is hardly possible to snap a shot without a cat in it – I am joking but honestly, there are cats all over the place in Montenegro and particularly in the old town of Kotor.)

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Kotor old town cats.

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Close up of a Kotor kitty.

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Cats all over the place.

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The doggies are not absent of course.

Another day passed by, obviously not without sampling the delicatessen of the nearby favourite restaurant where the manager, rewarded us with many new specialities as loyal returning customers. Honestly, she was really kind to us and she offered us so many things for free to eat and drink, unusual and business efficient in the same time. During the dinner, I sneaked trough the cobbled narrow roads of the old town and I snapped a few low light images. The cats did not miss this opportunity to show up in my images as well.

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Water pump running at night, old town of Kotor, Montenegro.

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The old town of Kotor is extremely beautiful and colourful.

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The old town of Kotor is extremely beautiful and colourful.

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Colourful streets of the old town of Kotor.

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Colourful streets of the old town of Kotor.

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Restaurant around our hotel.

We spent the last day checking and selecting our best images, making slight adjustments, and deciding on final composition. It was the Easter Sunday which is one of the most important celebrations in Montenegro and particularly the old town of Kotor. The bells of the churches made a lot of noise in different combinations, and lots of people gathered around  in the town square for the Easter celebration. Once again, the hospitality of the hotel overwhelmed us, as we were given complimentary painted Easter eggs and wine along with the usual morning breakfast. Such a pleasant surprise, thank you very much Villa Duomo for all the threats and surprises you had for us.

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Easter eggs from the hotel.

We closed the day as usual; gathering for dinner and planning our departure back to London.

I don’t know about the others (you could probably hear them thinking: I could spend another few days or even a week around – and many of them actually did stay longer), but I really missed London and I couldn’t wait to get back home. By the time I finished this article, we were actually just about to land on the Gatwick airport’s runaway.”

Thanks for visiting our blog and reading this article, we hope you enjoyed reading it and we hope to see you on our next photography holiday. We are still debating the location, but one of the 2 favourite locations is Transylvania, the most beautiful part of Romania.

If you have an idea for our next location please let us know.

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Best wishes,

Photoion Team

Photography Holiday in Montenegro-Kotor