25 JULY Bright Sun, Short Days. A car journey through Italy with a camera. December 19th – January 3rd 2011/12 Near freezing temperature greeted me at Rome airport. My bags and in it my jacket in it had not arrived. I was promised that it would come next morning so it did not make sense to rush to a shop, which would be in any case shutting down by now. I was shivering in the cold but was smiling as hung around my shoulders were the two cameras I had carried with me for the trip. I was happy by my decision not to check them in. Although Italy had been long on the list of places I wanted to visit, I was visiting Italy for the first time and was very excited about the photo opportunities that it offers. Since the time I have developed this bug for photography, travel has taken up a new meaning. It’s no more about late nights, shopping or reaching various cities by flight. It is now about waking up before sunrise, walking the streets and driving through by lanes to stop at every old monument, every wrinkled face, every pretty leaf, every backlit dewdrop to take a picture. This was not a ‘photo only’ trip as I was travelling with my fourteen-year-old daughter and she, to put it mildly, is not an avid photographer yet.This is an account of my two weeks in Italy with a camera.
Realizing that many of our bed and breakfasts were in buildings without a lift and that there would be lots of walking involved, I wanted to travel light and choose very basic equipment for the trip. The gear I selected for this trip was my high quality full frame Error! Hyperlink reference not valid., 24-105mm, 14mm and my favorite low light, small camera semi compact Fuji X100, tripod with Arca ball head. (I have linked all of these to the sites I believe gives best practical reviews of them.) I had visited lovely churches and museums in various parts of the world including Prague, Switzerland and Germany but nothing prepared me for the spectacle of Rome. The Vatican and the Vatican museum itself easily take up more than a day if you are really interested in art and history. People claiming to be the best guides and having ideas to jump the queue start perusing tourists from over half a kilometer but I preferred to hire audio guide at the ticket counter. The audio guide provides the entire essential information and I could marvel at the structures at my own pace. Some quick thoughts about Italy travel: *The train and bus tickets are interchangeable which makes travel very easy. People are very friendly and always help with directions. Do not listen to the crap some people talk about Italy tourism.
For photographers especially low tourist months (November and February) are strongly recommended if you want to get artistic photos of streets without tourists. *Pick a hotel in the old city center to be close to attractions during day and restaurants at night. This applies to all of Europe. If renting a car be aware that several car rental companies have their parking lot outside the airport. This certainly slows down time taken to pick up and drop cars a bit but provides better rental rates. Traveling with both GPS and maps makes it much easier than travelling without either one of them. A few minutes spent setting up the GPS and highlighting the route of the map saves lots of stress. A simple conversation with the car rental person works well to learn local traffic rules before starting. For example all over the world the person already inside the round about gets right of way against the car entering the roundabout. But somehow this does not seem to apply in Italy. An old lady entering into a roundabout almost banged into me and to my amusement instead of apologizing waved her hand out and yelled at me in Italian before driving off. Toll payments are very convenient: take the slip at the start of the highway, feed it to the machine at end, swipe the credit card and off you go in minutes.
Brief City/Hotel experiances: Rome: Auditorum Di Mecenate which, although managed by very friendly owners, is not a place I can recommend as: It is not very centrally located, the room doors are very thin and noises from adjustment rooms are clearly heard, it is very dull with drab corridors, does not have a sign outside the building so bit difficult to find. They do try their best with breakfast but it is loaded with only sweet stuff so people like me who find it difficult to eat only sweet things in the morning will find it bit difficult. And how difficult is it to greet someone with a cup of coffee on arrival? Florence: Although pretty, it was not as awesome as I had anticipated it to be. Not sure why I feel that way. If I visit Italy again I may skip Florence. Hotel http:// www.hotelfiorita.com/ was quite centrally located with bright rooms, reception and 24 hour coffee… Parking close by for a fee. Recommend! Amelfi: A very pretty area with ocean views and restaurants, but I will skip this city if I visit Italy again, once is quite enough. We stayed at near Positano. Although the hotel has nice views, there are several negatives to it: It is NOT in Positano and about half hour away on winding roads; the parking is a good walk away from the parking lot and I personally do not like to see the manager slumped on a sofa watching TV behind the reception counter. The owners are friendly but there is lots of problems if paying by credit card. Cant recommend. Lecce: http://www.hotelinpietra.it/prenotazione/index_e.php Very well located with an efficient manager who offers to carry the luggage up the flight of stairs. Recommend for the location and parking facility. Very interesting city with lots of interesting places to drive to within 2 hours driving distance. Matira: A very interesting city. Hotel http://www.hotelinpietra.it/prenotazione/ index_e.php was lovely and highly recommended. Trulli: Very interesting city. Hotel Trulli holidays is very nice. Monies: This is what I spent over the two weeks in Euros. It is how I travelled, your needs will be different. Hotels: 1180 Car rental: 210 (purposefully took a small car for parking convenience) Fuel: 330 Tolls: 90 Meals 700
Here are some selected photos with some descriptions. All taken with Canon 5d2 except where noted.
shadow at Vatican
f5.6, 1/500s, 100 ISO 14mm
Including the sun in the composition is not always easy, but always very interesting.
Vatican Museum Staircase
f2.8, 1/10s, ISO 1000, 14mm Generally this stairway is full of people. On this particular day during low season, well after the museum shut down, I saw this lady going down this graphic staircase. Depth of field or camera shake was not of much concern to me on 14mm so I choose the lowest ISO where I thought I could handhold the camera supported by the railing
F4, 24-105mm @24mm, ISO 3200 1/25s The light was low, the train was approaching rapidly, a wrong setting on the camera (or for that matter full auto) would not give me the effect I was after. I wanted a sharp photo with a slight blur on the train to show its speed. I set the aperture to the widest setting and increased the ISO to the maximum on which I believe 5d2 gives a ‘nice’ photo and hoped that I could handhold the camera without a shake. The center focus point on the camera was active and to my horror it failed to lock on to the train! I quickly panned the camera a light on top, locked focus, recomposed and clicked.
F4, 1/800s, -1, ISO 100 I found the contrast of light and the contrast of two women interesting and clicked the picture. I was on ‘aperture priority’ mode and to make the blacks darker and to keep details from blowing out on the faces I reduced exposure by a stop.
Venice sky Long shutter
16, 13 sec, 100, 28mm After I had my fill of ‘normal’ 1/15s photos I decided to get adventurous and do long exposure pictures without a tripod. I took off my shoes and snugly fit the camera between them. Then stopped breathing and gently pressed the shutter and stayed motionless during the exposure duration. Of the five pictures I took, this was the only sharp one. Lesson learnt: Shoes do not substitute a tripod. I did several exposure tests and still when I viewed the RAW on the computer I realized that the long exposure burnt out the detail and color on the sky. I made a second layer for the sky, brought back the details and composited it back on. A dirty HDR job..
5.6, 1/15, 200, 32mm This incredible sky color lasted around twelve minute of less and I lucky to be at this vantage point to be able to capture it. Unfortunately I did not have my tripod with me at that time, had to support the camera at the edge of the bridge and quickly choose the above settings to get the optimum picture quality. I wanted to shoot at f8 to get maximum lens sharpness and depth of field but settled for f5.6 as did not want to shoot slower than 1/15s. My ISO was already at 200 and I did not want to raise that. I know many feel that 5d2 does not show noise even at ISO 800 but this evening was special and I wanted to go for the best IQ possible. If I had the tripod, I would have certainly been at ISO 100.. I dared to shoot at 1/15s because of the wonderful 3 stop IS built into the lens. Without that I would have certainly not gone slower than 1/125 for the fear of lens shake. I also shot this on manual exposure mode ensure that I the maximum detail on the water/sky without loosing out on all details from the building. Few test shots with the histogram overlay and I started shooting. I was glad I had been in such shooting conditions before as no amount of theory and prepare one to optimize camera settings in rapidly changing light or fast disappearing subjects. In post I increased the shadow detail a bit and cloned out a few ugly TV antennas.
F4, 1/30s, ISO 800, 80mm She waits patiently for her journey.
F11, 1/60, ISO 200, 92mm The light was interesting and I stayed a long time on this spot, moved around till what I thought was the perfect angle. For me positioning the two backlit lampshades against the black building seeming important. Invested a lot of ‘fine light’ time on this picture. It was crowded, not much interesting people, then suddenly this guy decided to walk by and made me a photo reminiscent of the old black and white movies.
Fuji. ISO 800. f2. 1/125s Italy is full of Bangladeshi immigrants making a living doing odd jobs. This photo clearly shows the high IQ of Fuji in low light.
F8, 1/200s, -1, ISO200, 105 An open-air café at Venice, early evening. I underexposed to get some detail in the road, which was burning out due to the angle of sunlight.
f5.6, -0.67, ISO 200, 1/100s, 105mm An ancient church overlooks the ocean. Amalfi coast”]
f4, 1/50s -1 EV, ISO 200, 24mm This was the view from the terrace of my B&B. It was really spectacular and this picture does not do the beauty justice. I did not want the clouds to burn out and also maintain some visibility in the church so underexposed it by a stop.
Fuji X100 ISO 800. f2. 1/125s This cyclist stopped for a moment under this lamp post before moving on. The street was lit only by these lamps. Lecce.
Fuji X100. ISO 400. f5.6 1/500. This old man adds to the beauty of the church. My point that photographers should travel in low season.
f5.6. ISO 100. 1/500s. I got lucky with the lady walking on the road. Matera.
Mother and Daughter.
f5.6. ISO 400. 1/125s. Underexposed is by half stop to get details on the road. Matera.
f8. ISO 400. 1/125s. Matera
Woman with an overcoat
8, 1/1600, 200, 105 I spotted this walking on the road as I was sipping my morning coffee in a café. She instantly caught my attention as she reminded me of a character right out of a Fellini movie. I quickly gulped the coffee, put some money on the table and ran after her. She was a fast walker; I eventually caught up and walked behind her for a bit and clicked away. In post I clipped the whites and crushed the blacks to try and achieve a graphic photo. City: Trulli. Location: Opposite town square church.
Walk on the Pier
F8, 1/80s, -.33, ISO100, 105mm I preferred a monochrome conversion of this picture as is makes the ocean look like a vast barren land.
F8, 1/40, -0.33, ISO 200, 24mm. I saw this abandoned structure while driving through an empty road on the way to Trulli from Sena. It was drizzling (few drops fell on the lens which I did not notice then, but now can see the smudges on lower right) and was very beautiful. The structure was meant to be slightly visible against the clouds and I underexposed it a bit to retain details in the clouds.