It seems like there are a few places in the world that everyone has on their travel bucket list. As photographers it seems that this is an ever-growing list, but there are some places that always seem to stay at the top. Italy and specifically Rome are at the top of this list. The way ancient and modern come together in this vibrant city seems to makes us photographers feel that, even if it has been photographed a million times before, there is something that new and exciting that we can add to put our own mark on this place.
I recently went to Rome during a month long visit to Italy and I began and ended my trip there. I spent a total of 5 full days (I don’t count the days I enter and leave as I’m too tired from traveling or busy getting to the airport) and I can honestly say that this was enough time to photograph all the things I wanted. The trick with any big city is that you need to do your research ahead of time and plan out the most important things you want to photograph along with the best times to do so. Now with any type of photography the best light is always in the early morning and late afternoon hours. However, when you are in a place as this you want to make the most of every day. That said you would want to divide the day into 3 different parts: sunrise/morning, mid-day, and sunset/blue hour.
Sunrise is my favorite time of day. The air quality and the lack of people in the way make it a great time to get out and get the shots you want. Shooting a sunrise in a city can be quite difficult as there are often buildings and other objects that can obstruct the views or different kinds of light you may desire. With this in mind you may want to approach it in 2 different ways. The first way is to just go with what you have. Shoot in parks or find unique buildings that will allow you to get great light on your subjects. I also recommend going to popular tourist destinations you may want to photograph in the morning as this will allow you to be one of the first people there are get less people in your shots. For example, the Coliseum and the Roman Forum were both fantastic places to go in the morning as we still had good light when they opened but less people around.
The other approach to sunrise is to get to high ground. Many cities have hills that overlook then or tall buildings that allow you to go and see the rest of the city skyline. Above the Piazza del Popolo there is a great terrace and park that gives a fantastic overlook to the city and is a great spot for sunrise as the light comes in and bathes the city in a light glow. I actually went to this spot twice hoping for some sunrise clouds but unfortunately I didn’t get lucky with the clouds.
The midday hours are great for photographing things that may be indoors. Not only will this give you a brake from the harsh light but it will also allow you to cool down if you are there in the intense summer heat. Rome has many museums but to be honest I don’t really love museums (though my wife does so we go to our share), however, the Vatican museum was absolutely amazing. Not only does it house world-class art (which you cannot photograph) but also there are tons of great places to photograph the amazing architecture. Additionally in the midday hours you can also play around with high contrast imagery of the area you are in.
To end up each day it’s always great to find a good spot for a nice sunset. Obviously, the Coliseum and Roman Forum offer a fantastic place to go that also offers a stunning subject. Additionally I spent a couple of days photographing different parts of Rome from the Tiber River. The river offers an easy line that you can use to lead the eye of the view from Point A to Point B and give some great light if you get a good sunset.
The true magic of a city like Rome lies in the blue hour. This little stretch of time when the sun has gone down, the city lights have turned on, and the sky is still blue and not quite dark. It is during this 10-20 minute stretch just after sunset that some of my favorite city images are made. I like to return to places previously visited during the day and get them in a whole new view. It will completely change the way you view cities from now on.
© 2014, Tony. All rights reserved.