Archive for April, 2011

San Pietro – Vatican

St. Peters Basilica San Pietro Vatican Rome Italy
Pre-dawn at St. Peter’s Basilica Vatican Rome Italy

Canon 5d mkII EF70-200 at 120m ISO 100 f11 2.5 sec

Rome, Italy

Evading the law isn’t something that I would ever advocate.  As a law-abiding person, I feel it’s very much my responsibility to live within the rules of the land that I’m in.  But sometimes, just sometimes, breaking the rules can be a good thing.  Even necessary, if not a little fun.

The rules within the huge Piazza San Pietro (immediately in front of St. Peter’s Cathedral) are pretty clear – no tripod use allowed.  I know the arguments for this and realize that a bunch of tripods on a crowded day (when is it not crowded?) would be a danger.

But what about at sunrise?  I’ve been to the Piazza 8 or 10 times before sunrise – most of the time I’m the only one there.  That is except for the 4 or 5 uniformed Carabinieri that prowl the piazza.  I use the term ‘prowl’ rather loosely.

The Carabinieri don’t want to overstress themselves – they would rather stand on street corners in groups of 3 or 4, looking grand in their spiffy Armani uniforms and telling stories to each other.  What is it with the polizia in Rome?

I plan my strategy; the first few shots will have to be from the left side of the Piazza.  This is for several reasons; they’ve just finished cleaning the fountain on that side, the
rising sunlight first hits this area, and the Carabinieri have set up their post on the far RIGHT side.

Just as the rising sun transforms the ancient marble into fiery colors I begin to shoot with my tripod mounted camera – making sure to take every shot I can think of.  I’m guessing
that it will be over with rather soon.  Somewhere between my 3rd and 4th setup I notice
the uniforms beginning to move – they’ve spotted me.

They’re still a couple hundred yards away – and not moving fast.  I’m able to hide behind the fountain.  I get a couple more shots in before peering around the side of the fountain to see where my ‘trackers’ are headed.

Two of the Carabinieri are headed right towards me – nuts.  I wanted to get one shot from closer to the center of the Piazza, but that takes me right towards the oncoming tripod cops.  I move quickly towards them, compose shoot, move compose shoot… and then it ended.

The younger cop waved his finger at me, pointed to my tripod and said ‘no, no, no.’  I gave a heartfelt ‘mi dispiace,’ acting like a sorry but ignorant tourist, tucked my collapsed
tripod under my arm and headed off toward the back of the Piazza.

The Carabinieri have now moved all the way to the left side of the Piazza and I found myself all alone on the right side…  Time for some last quick shots!

By now the sun is high enough in the sky to illuminate all of St. Peters Basilica along with a large percentage of the huge columns on either side of the grand piazza.  It truly is a
beautiful scene in front of me.  I think I’ve been able to capture it – now where’s that cappuccino?


St. Peters Basilica Piazza San Pietro Vatican Rome Italy
First light of dawn on St. Peter’s Basilica, Vatican Rome Italy
Canon 5d mkII EF 24-105 at 45mm ISO 100 f16 1/15 sec

Bring the Right Gear

Doges Palace Piazza San Marco Venice Italy

Pre-dawn at the Doge's Palace in Venice Italy

It’s 4:40am – the shrill squawk of the alarm clock has just sent shivers down my spine.  Two thoughts come to mind – ‘holy cow – it’s early’ and ‘where’s the coffee.’
Neither thought gets answered very well.   It’s pitch black in this tiny space that someone calls a hotel room.  I fumble around for my clothes and my gear, all the while trying to be quiet enough to let my wife continue sleeping.  I’m a little jealous.

I gingerly open and close the hotel room door, make my way down a flight of stairs to the hotel exit and then I’m out into the fresh morning air.  But I can’t shake that unsettled feeling that I’m forgetting something.  I have my tripod, my small day-pack filled with extra lenses, filters, batteries and memory cards.  I have my favorite trekking shoes on.  Everything’s here…

I walk on toward my selected spot feeling the anticipation of the first day of shooting.  This is going to be a good one – I can feel it.  As I get close to my destination I reach for my camera to start the process that I’ve become so familiar with – oh crap, now I know what I forgot – no camera!

I’m hustling to be in place for a sunrise shoot in beautiful Venice, I have everything I need – everything except my camera.  It’s back in the hotel room along with my beautiful, sleeping wife.  No worries.  Feeling a little sheepish I run back to the hotel, up the flight of stairs and quietly sneak into my room where a friendly mumble greets me.  I mention that I forgot something, grab my camera – trying to look not quite as dumb as I felt, and head back out for some shots.

I have about a quarter of a mile to walk through totally deserted streets.  These streets are so narrow that I can practically touch buildings on both sides at the same time.  With every step I’m reminded of why I love Venice so much – it’s a magical place – so unique and beautiful. It feels like I’ve stepped onto a movie set or opera stage.

I round the corner to Piazza San Marco and come to a stop.  The scene before me is breath-taking.  It is absolutely silent.  The sky behind the basilica is just starting to lighten to a deep royal-blue.  The yellowish lanterns and lamps glow and fill the piazza with rich warm colors, shadows and textures.  I absolutely love this part of my job.

I spend an hour or so creating photos, working angles – looking for ways to convey the beauty before me onto the digital sensor in my camera.  To me, that’s the difficult part; how do you accurately capture the feelings of “being there?”  I don’t think you truly can, but you can come close – I’ve seen it happen.

As the sky brightens I know that I need to make my way to the spot I’ve selected for sunrise.  Once there, I mount the lens on the camera, the camera on the tripod and re-check all the settings.  I’ve done this thousands of times before, but I still make a habit of reviewing all the camera settings.  The scene is framed, I’m ready, and now I wait.

I am still moved by the first moment of dawn as that brilliant ray of sunlight blasts the scene in front of me with an intense warm glow.  A scene that just moments before was grayish blue is now suddenly brilliant – full of color, golden, yellow, orange, red hues – all contrasting beautifully against a blue sky.  With the excitement of a 5-year old at Christmas I begin filling my memory cards with shot after shot.

This is what I came to capture.  It doesn’t always work the way you planned it, but when it does… it’s sure rewarding.

Just don’t forget your camera!

Grand Canal Santa Maria Della Salute Venice Italy

Dawn on the Grand Canal with Santa Maria della Salute, Venice Italy



A Tripod To Die For

Positano Amalfi Italy Twilight

Twilight over Positano along the Amalfi coast, Italy


The importance of my tripod hit home with me one day last spring.  About 75% of my shots are taken with a tripod.   Using small apertures, with low light, filters, and low ISO requires a very still camera.  Some of my exposure lengths reach into the minutes.  Hand-holding these shots is not an option.  I always have my tripod with me.

The trip from Rome to Positano Italy can be enjoyable I’m sure. Whether traveling down a narrow, windy, coastline road, or cruising through the fertile countryside, there are lots of beautiful things to see and experience.  This particular trip, however, my wife and I were traveling on public transportation.  This involved a high-speed train from Rome to Naples, connecting to a slow local train to Sorrento, and picking up a local bus for the remaining few miles to Positano.  This can be a frantic trip, but once aboard the final bus we were feeling pretty secure.

About halfway through the hour-long bus ride, we asked a kind gentleman near us if he knew what bus stop we needed to get off at in order to reach our hotel.  We knew of at least two stops in town – there may have been more.  But with all our luggage and the incredibly hilly nature (think vertical cliffs) of Positano we didn’t want to miss our stop.

The kind man said to get off at Chiesa Nova (New Church) stop.  To which another man nearby replied “no – you need Cristoforo Colombo stop.”  The ensuing argument between these two Italian men was magnificent, impressive – and highly entertaining.

In the mean time, we were nearing Chiesa Nova.  With no resolution in sight between our two ‘travel guides’ we made a snap decision to get off at the stop.  We grabbed all our luggage as fast as we could and jumped out the door – escaping the chaotic drama inside the bus.

Within seconds of landing on the roadside I realized that my tripod was still stuffed in the overhead compartment on the bus – not a good feeling.  The bus was now about 100 yards away and moving rapidly down the incredibly tight, windy road that goes through the middle of Positano.  While I was thinking ‘what number do you call for lost items,’ my wife was yelling ‘run’ – as in run Forrest run.  So I did.

I took off as fast as I could go, running through the middle of this gorgeous, hillside village chasing a bus that was getting smaller and smaller all the time.  It looked like a scene from a movie, except the star was looking pretty miserable about now.

About 3/4 mile into my run I heard a car pull up behind me.  I had been passed by a dozen cars already with drivers shaking their heads wondering why this crazy American had to be out exercising in the middle of the road right now, but this car didn’t pass me.  Instead I heard the horn beeping.  The ancient Fiats that most people drive on these roads have horns with a wonderful Roadrunner quality to them.  I couldn’t help but feel a little like the stupid Coyote about to get plowed over.

It turns out to be an equally ancient woman driving a lot like Mario Andretti.  She pulls up beside me with the passenger door open and motions at me to get in.  It seemed like the best option at the moment – I jumped in.

I don’t know who this woman was and don’t have a clue where she was from or what she was doing in Positano that day.  All I know was that she had figured out the situation some how and was weaving in and out through cars, people, animals, getting closer to the bus than I ever could have by running.

The woman’s daughter (I think daughter) was in the back seat on her cell phone excitedly talking to someone.  The bus had stopped – it looked like a bit of a traffic jam and we were stuck about 15 cars behind.  I jumped out of the car, yelled a heartfelt ‘Grazie Mille’ to the lady and run up to the bus and pounded on the door.

The startled driver opened the door for me – he might have recognized me from earlier.  I grabbed my tripod from the overhead bin and ran out the door.  Suddenly the traffic jam disappeared and I waved at my lovely Fiat driver as she sped off down the coast.  It was then that I realized the traffic jam must have been created by friends of the daughter to hold up traffic long enough for me to reach the bus.  Only in Italy…

Since the purpose of this trip was photography – specifically, capturing compelling images that would sell and bring a profit, reclaiming my tripod was vital – nearly at any cost.

The 2-mile walk back to my wife at the bus stop was significantly less eventful.  Chiesa Nova proved to be the correct stop to get off at, and our stay in Positano was worth the hassle.   Next time, however, I will avoid the mid-day run through town by making sure I have all my gear with me.

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