City Trip Italy - Part I: Rome

Ever since the start of the global pandemic, so much has changed in the world and unfortunately so has travel photography. Roy Poots and I originally planned quite the landscape adventure (I will keep the destination to myself for now). However, last minute changes in Covid travel restrictions meant we had to alter our plans and therefore we decided to change our destination to Italy. In this series of blogs I will take you through some of Italy’s most famous and beautiful cities. First stop: Rome!

Rome: 72 Hours in the Eternal City

For the first part of our journey, we had booked a 3 night stay in Rome, which meant we got to shoot 3 sunrises and 3 sunsets. For me personally, it was not the first time visiting Rome (the last time was actually during my Gymnasium school trip), but it was a first for photography.

While planning for our trip, Roy Poots and I decided to shoot some of Rome’s most classic and iconic locations. I'll now be taking you through them one by one.

Be sure to subscribe to Roy’s Youtube channel for his vlogs (in Dutch) to see some behind the scenes footage.


The Vatican

During our first night in Rome, we decided to head out to the Vatican, which was only a 10-minute walk away from our Airbnb. When we arrived at Vatican Square, we were surprised to learn there weren’t that many people present, which made shooting blue hour quite the nice experience.

After shooting Vatican Square, we decided to return to our apartment. On our way back though, we were still able to capture some more shots from the Via della Conciliazione, which provides excellent view of the St. Peter’s Basilica.


Fontana di Trevi

The Trevi Fountain is the biggest, most scenic and most famous among the fountains of Rome, attracting hundreds of thousand of tourist each year. If you want to shoot this location without any people in frame, you definitely need to have an early morning start. We visited this location 1 hour before sunrise (around 5.30 am).


Piazza di Spagna

Only a short walk from the Trevi Fountain, you will find yourself at another famous landmark of the Eternal City: the Spanish Steps. We managed to get there right at the end of blue hour, just in time for sunrise. At the center of the square is the Barcaccia fountain, which was built to commemorate the Tiber flood of 1598.

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Ponte Sant’Angelo

This location was only 200 metres away from the Airbnb we were staying at. No wonder we got to shoot this location twice, once during sunset and once during  the very early blue hour before we headed out to the Trevi Fountain. This famous marble-faced bridge is almost 2000 years old and crosses the River Tiber at the feet of the Castel Sant' Angelo. The lights of the city at night highlight the beauty of this simple but elegant bridge of five arches.


St Pieter’s view

Since this location was also very close to our apartment, we decided to visit this location twice during sunset. This spot on the Ponte Umberto has a spectacular and iconic view over the Tiber River and the St. Peter’s Basilica. When photographing this location, expect to be surrounded by a small crowd of tourist and a handful of other photographers. But don’t worry, most people will leave once the sun has set and you’ll have this spot mostly to yourself.


Piazza Venezia

On our way to shoot the Forum Romanum viewpoint, we decided to stop over at the Piazza Venezia to shoot some blue hour shots towards the Altare della Patria.

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Piazza del Campidoglio

Before heading to the Forum Romanum viewpoint, we actually had another planned stop. This time we had just a little time to spare in order shoot this square on Capitoline Hill during blue hour.


Forum Romanum

Once the center of Rome (and perhaps the ancient world), the Forum Romanum nowadays is a collection of impressive ruins. The Forum is only accessible outside to the golden hours, however you can reach this overlook all day long. It offers an excellent view that extends all the way to the Colosseum in the background.

When Roy and I scouted this photo location the day before our sunrise shoot, we were quite disappointed to learn large parts of the Forum are currently under renovation. Nonetheless, we persisted in our plans and ended up capturing some nice Golden Hour shots. 


Colosseo

The Colosseum is perhaps Rome’s most famous tourist location. This oval amphitheatre is situated in the centre of the city and attracts hundreds of thousand of tourists each year. Roy and I decided to shoot is iconic location on our final morning in Rome. On location you'll actually find it quite difficult to capture the colossal Colosseum in a single photograph and you’ll definitely need a wide angle lens (first shot). Another option is to get a bit of distance from the ancient and the Colle Oppio is just to place to do so, providing a lovely view of the Colosseum’s northeast side (second shot).


Top 9 tips for Citytrip Photography

1) Preparation is key!  This is probably a no-brainer, but plan your citytrip well. Take your time to make a list of your favorite locations. As a general rule, make a list of 1-2 spots for each sunrise andsunset. This will not only give you general guidance during your trip, but also provide you with a backup plan if things don’t work out the way you planned them (see tip 3). Be sure to also (virtually) scout the locations in advance using tools like Google Maps/Streetview, Photopills, etc.

2) Stick to the plan!  Visiting a new city can get overwhelming quite fast. New photographic opportunities will present themselves in rapid succession and it is easy to get distracted. Don’t forget your initial plans usually are best, since you have had more time to think about and scout compositions in advance.

3) When plans don’t always work out…. Having a solid planning is a great way to get started with your citytrip. However, things may not always work out the way you hope. Sometimes a location isn’t quite what you hoped for, for instance due to construction works. This can be very disappointing, but don’t get frustrated. It’s okay to let go of your initial plans once in a while and adapt to the situation. Sometimes your back-up locations might offer even nicer images than you originally thought.

4) Book your stay in the city center.  At first glance this might seem more expensive, but you’d be surprised how many affordable hotels and Airbnb’s there are right in the heart of Rome. Staying in the city center means you’re always close to the action and you’ll save a lot of unnecessary travel time and fees for public transport. Another bonus is having easier access to a place to rest in between shoots. Which brings me to my next top-tip:

5) Rest, rest, rest!  Shooting successive sunrises and sunsets can be very intensive due to the early and late hours, so be sure to rest in between shoots. Returning to your accomodation after your sunrise shoot, provides you with an excellent opportunity to rest for a few hours. This might seem like a waste of time, but after a little powernap you’ll feel refreshed and still have plenty of time in the early afternoon to do a little sightseeing and/or scout the city before your next sunset shoot.

6) Make use of electric bikes or scooters.  Though most of the photogenic locations in Rome are within walking distance, carrying a heavy camera bag and tripod will get you exhausted more easily. Fortunately, Rome has multiple providers of electric scooters and bikes. Most services such as Lime offer a 24-hour pass which will cost you around 14 euro’s. Using the scooters/bikes will not only save you a lot of energy, but also make it easier to switch between locations during your shoot or scout other locations.

7) Be patient!  Cities tend to be crowded (even during covid-times) and it can get quite frustrating when you’re all set up for a shot and tourist walks into frame. Just remember you’re not the only one who has travelled hundreds or even thousands of miles to visit the city. Be aware uour tripod and camera will attract the interest of tourists as they usually want a glimpse of what you're seeing.

8) Avoid the crowds!  Shooting Rome’s most classic landmarks inevitably means being surrounded by a crowd of tourist. Try to save the busiest locations such as the Colosseum and Trevi Fountain for your early morning shoots. If you want to photograph these locations without being disturbed, it means you’ll have to sacrifice some sleep for it ;)

9) Enjoy your surroundings!  My final and probably most important tip, besides shooting some epic images, also allow yourself to enjoy the experience . When photographing sunrise/sunsets things tend to get hectic quite fast. Be sure not to forget to enjoy your surroundings. Scouting locations when the best of the light is gone, actually provides you with the perfect opportunity to relax. You actually start to notice new things.

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