© Frank Exss

Photography on the Malerweg Trail

Actually, the Malerweg Trail (Painters’ Trail) in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains could just as well be named “Photographers’ Trail” in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains.  It is a land of plenty for photographers as they find such an incredible variety of fabulous motifs in quick succession. Summits rising above a sea of mist, crippled pines at cliff sides, rivulets in wildly romantic gorges: what fascinates painters is attractive to photographers as well.

Herman Krone 1853

Bastei bridge, Historical teaching museum for photography, chart 6

© Hermann-Krone-Sammlung, IAPP, TU Dresden

Hermann Krone 1853

Bastei bridge, Historical teaching museum for photography, chart 5

© Hermann-Krone-Sammlung, IAPP, TU Dresden

Painting with Light

Mighty table mountains at sunset, grass-green moss-covered rocks, lonely rock pinnacles in front of breathtaking panoramic sights: The picturesque weathered rock world is an infinite storehouse of spectacular motifs.

Photography in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains has a long tradition. The first photo of the area is almost as old as photography itself! It was taken in 1853 by the Dresden pioneer of photography Hermann Krone at Bastei Rock, one of the most popular trip destinations of Saxon Switzerland. A commemorative plaque reminds us of it at this very place.

There have been tremendous changes since he took his images under great efforts around 170 years ago. Nobody has to pull a handcart loaded with a heavy wooden camera through the woods today.  What is needed to take photos nowadays fits in your backpack or – for simpler needs - even in your back pocket.

What has remained is the fascination of the Elbe Sandstone Mountains as a motif and the photographer’s challenge to use a trained eye and creativity to find just the right picture out of the immense variety of options. No camera, regardless how expensive, nor any software either, can relieve you of that challenge, and that is in fact what is so fascinating about landscape photography.

Photographers make abundant use of this. Hundreds of thousands of Instagram pictures are shown under #saechsischeschweiz and tens of thousands under #malerweg. And every year, new illustrated books and photo calendars featuring Saxon Switzerland are published.

The best photo spots along the Malerweg Trail

… are of course those you discover for yourself. We put together a very small selection here for you:

Course of the Wesenitz stream

Many photographers share a passion for the fascination of water. Small brooks provide particularly exciting options for unique photos. The picturesque course of the Wesenitz stream in Liebethaler Grund Gorge might be the beginning of your Malerweg trail photo series. You will be most successful here with a tripod, a low ISO value and a long exposure time.


Malerweg Stage 1

Moss covered rock gate

Even in winter the green of the moss in the narrow cool rocky gorges glows as a photo motif. Uttewalder Grund Gorge with its mysterious gate of rocks, old gnarled trees, ferns and lichen is a feast for any photographer’s eye not just with regard to the details but also to its overall impression. Interesting ways that light falls provide special effects here at midday or in the cold season.


Malerweg Stage 1

Bastei Bridge – a must-have

The Bastei Rock is not only the most traditional of all photo spots in Saxon Switzerland but its multiple look-out points allow for the most diverse settings. Apart from that, the stone bridge situated just underneath Bastei Rock is a grand photo itself. Great photos of it can be taken in particular in the morning hours from the Ferdinandstein viewing point

Malerweg Stage 2

Wild “Bärengarten“ (Bear Garden)

Polenztal Gorge itself with its infinite abundance of motifs for photographers is a feast for the eye. The Malerweg Trail only briefly crosses this canyon-like valley before continuing uphill on Schindergraben Gorge (Knackers Ditch) to Hohnstein. Here you come across the Bärengarten (Bear Garden) below the castle. In the 17th century, game was kept here for the prince electors’ hunting pleasures. The remains of the old walls of the game reserve are popular motifs among photographers.

Malerweg Stage 2

Panoramic view from Brand Mountain

The view from Brand Mountain is said to be the second best of all Saxon Switzerland. We must admit that this breathtaking perspective can hardly be captured in a photo. Here is a tip: to the left of the Brand Mountain Cabin, a small path leads to another look-out point which makes a good motif with some climbing rocks in the foreground. This photo spot is recommendable, particularly in the morning when the mist lifts from the surrounding woods.

Malerweg Stage 3

Waitzdorf Panoramas

Right behind the National Park village of Waitzdorf, romantic views open up to the gentle countryside here. Particularly in the afternoon hours in autumn or spring, a shot not just of the landscape, but even of something as simple as a bench you happen to come across can be worthwhile. Occasionally you may be lucky enough to capture some clouds of fog or a beautiful evening mood.

Malerweg Stage 3

Fascinating Mount Adamsberg

In the end of the third stage, a short and easy detour to Mount Adamsberg is worth the effort. The scenery here feels like a fantasy film and makes every photographer’s heart beat faster. Especially in the springtime, the much varied shades of green and yellow outshine each other. The panoramic photo view from here crowned by Königstein Fortress and Lilienstein Mountain is best taken in the afternoon hours and later. After a summer rain, the view to Schrammsteine Rocks and Falkenstein Mountain might make up special photos, too.

Malerweg Stage 3

Rugged cliffs

Schrammsteine Rocks are a particular highlight on the fourth stage of the Malerweg Trail. Rock pinnacles towering to the sky look like huge drip castles lining up in a long row. You are spoilt for choice here when it comes to finding great picture spots. No matter the time of the day or the season, spectacular photos can be taken in staccato pace here. On weekends and holidays, the small viewing platform can get quite crowded.

Malerweg Stage 4

Carola's View

Not only for the purpose of taking photos is a detour to Carola’s Cliff worth the effort. The tremendous view of Falkenstein Mountain and Schrammsteine Rocks from here is worth each bit on your memory card. Photographers from near and far love the place and literally pilgrimage there for sunset in particular. You may be lucky enough to capture some clouds of mist floating about after a short summer rain shower.

Malerweg Stage 4

Kuhstall (Cow Stable) Rock Cave with Himmelsleiter (Stairs to Heaven)

The former Wildenstein Rock Fort makes any photo adventurer’s heart race. The names of the various spots there, such as Kuhstall (Cow Stable), Himmelsleiter (Stairs to Heaven) or Schneiderloch (Schneider Hole) sound promising and indeed they are – at any time of the day and in any season. However, autumn has the extra foliage colour bonus.

Malerweg Stage 4

Vista through Kleinstein Rock Cave

Perspectives through rock arches and caves provide particular charming motifs in Saxon Switzerland. The second largest of them after famous Kuhstall (Cow Stable) Rock Cave is located in Kirnitzschtal Valley; it is called Kleinsteinhöhle (Kleinstein Rock Cave). A short branch-off from Malerweg Trail’s fifth stage leads to this photo spot. During the climb to the viewing point above the cave you should have your camera ready.



Malerweg Stage 5

Elbe Valley view from Kipphorn Cliff

Not many places along the Malerweg Trail offer such a great view over the Elbe Valley as the Kipphorn Cliff look-out. It is a 15 minutes detour to get there. The breath-taking panoramic view is just spectacular particularly at sunset. There are also wonderful perspectives from here to Bohemian Switzerland and to the table mountains situated on the other side of the Elbe River.

Malerweg Stage 5

A good option also in winter

Classic sunrise and sunset photos can be taken from Papststein Mountain.  Various viewing points and the mountain in itself are good locations for this purpose. But winter twilight hours provide exciting photo occasions as well, for instance by focusing the historic inn or the big decorative Christmas star.

Malerweg Stage 6

Gohrisch Mountain

Gohrisch is a table mountain in the “Reich der Steine – Realm of Stones” so called because this region has a high concentration flat-top mountains and in German, their names usually end in –“stein” (stone). Six of these distinctly shaped mountains stand tightly together to form a spectacular panoramic scene. This makes Gohrisch Mountain one of the most popular photo spots in Saxon Switzerland. And options are so plenty here for perspectives and motifs taken by telephoto lenses or wide angle or whatever you prefer.

Malerweg Stage 6

Pfaffenstein Mountain

Pfaffenstein Mountain is said to be like Saxon Switzerland in a nutshell.  Moss-covered narrow gorges, caves, ruins, rock-cut basins, a look-out tower, bizarre rock needles but also  wonderful vistas and - last but not least – a historic mountain inn. So there are hardly any limits for your adventure in chasing after the best photo motifs here.

Malerweg Stage 7

Königstein Fortress

Königstein Fortress is a distinct landmark in the Elbe Sandstone Mountains and is quite an obvious photo motif. But also on the table mountain itself there are quite some good photo shooting positions for your favourite picture. Friedrichsburg Pavilion or the Hungerturm (Hunger Tower) are quite picturesque motifs. When looking out to the surrounding landscape, Lilienstein Mountain is very conspicuous and will definitely come into your focus. It is just a matter of the weather if it is the river valley or the river mist that serves as a decorative backdrop for your picture.

Malerweg Stage 7

Table Mountains all over

Rauenstein Mountain is situated directly at the starting point of the last Malerweg Trail stage. The long stretched table mountain provides charming views in all directions, to the Bastei Rocks including the Bastei Bridge, to Lilienstein Mountain, in good visibility even to the Ore Mountains. This spot is specially predestined for sunrise photos. One more reason to start particularly early in the morning on a Malerweg Trail hike.

Malerweg Stage 8

Historic city centre

The town of Pirna with its historic city centre provides an abundance of architectural perspectives. Marienkirche Church in its late Gothic style, Sonnenstein Castle, the museum of local history in a former Dominican Monastery and the market square – a lot in the town of Pirna looks just as it was painted by Court Painter Bernardo Bellotto, also known as Canaletto. Discover details such as the Devil’s Oriel, fountains or old portals with seat niches. Another recommendation is the view of Pirna from the opposite bank of the Elbe River.

Malerweg Stage 8

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