you climb the Apennines you see whole villages spread
out beneath you. We used a polarizing filter to enhance
the blue of the sky.
Photos © 1998, Mike Matzkin, All Rights Reserved
Italy has to be one of the
greatest places I know for a photo vacation. It is virtually impossible
to take a really bad photograph there.
The light, even in the middle of the day, is something special. You'll
find yourself shooting even on those rare days when it rains. Take as
much film as you can manage. I rarely use flash when I travel, so I
usually carry ISO 100 print film or Kodachrome 64 for shooting during
the day and ISO 400 print and slide film for photographing late in the
day or in the evening. Also, for me some things just work better in
black and white--especially landscapes and people images. I don't
have any rules that say shoot color or black and white. It happens.
So I always have a roll or two of ISO 400 black and white in my bag.
I keep equipment fairly simple when I travel--two 35mm camera bodies,
and I shoot most of my images with a 28-70mm zoom. I do take other lenses--a
35-135mm zoom and a 24mm f/2.8 wide angle. In poor daylight or available
light, I depend on a 50mm f/1.4 to bail me out of tough exposure situations.
My cameras let me rewind in mid roll when I suddenly need a different
speed film with some of the leader sticking out of the cartridge. It's
a lifesaver when I have only one camera body. I mark the number of exposures
with a magic marker and when it goes back in the camera I add one more
frame for insurance.
can be rainy in the spring, but a gondola ride (which can
be expensive) has great image making possibilities. If nothing
else, the gondolier makes a great subject.
Italy is steeped in time. You
walk streets whose buildings may be hundreds of years old and whose stones
are bathed in soft sunlight. You shoot because the scene is something
you want to keep forever. It might be the people congregating on the Spanish
Steps in Rome or the courtyard of a medieval palace turned into a museum
in a small city in the mountains. Walk the streets of Florence and you'll
see image after image. Some of them will be familiar, but you bring your
own point of view to every photograph. You'll certainly photograph
the Ponte Vecchio in soft, late afternoon light, the people along the
Arno River, and dozens of other subjects. Cross the Ponte Vecchio and
wander the streets away from usual tourist places.
Smaller villages, especially in the mountains, offer a chance to create
unique images since they may see very few tourists. It may be a prejudiced
personal opinion but I think Italians are among the warmest, friendliest,
most outgoing people in the world, so that photographing people presents
few of the problems you find in other countries.
The culture of Italy's major cities is mind-boggling. The museums
have so much great art that it is frustrating. You know you will never
have enough time to see it all. I have been to museums in Venice where
paintings are literally displayed from floor to ceiling and in alcoves
where light barely penetrates.
most places when it rains you put the cameras away, but
Venice's Piazza San Marco offers great color and interesting
images even in wet weather. Image was shot on Kodachrome
64. A 50mm f/1.4 lens at around f/4.5 helped, too. Even
relatively slow films work much of the time.
Speaking of Venice, simply
sitting at a table in an outdoor cafe on the Piazza San Marco is a great
way to shoot people pictures. Just sit there and watch. There are times
when I set the camera with a wide angle focal length on the table and
aimed at the general area in front of me. When I see an image I press
the shutter release. People feed pigeons, gossip, flirt, and youngsters
play. Tired of the tourist centers? The side canals have their own special
light. Just wander around, letting the images find you. You may even get
lost, but finding your way back to your hotel in Venice never seems to
be a problem.
You might also journey into the Apennines and discover a world of small
villages that transport you back to medieval times.
My most recent trip to Italy involved a bike tour that started in Fano
on the Adriatic coast, a place off the usual tourist itinerary. It's
a seaside resort frequented mostly by Italians. Fall is a great time to
be there. The season is over but there are still people vacationing. It
may be because of a very special feeling in the air that you find only
on the Italian seaside. People walk, ride bicycles, and eat. Eating may
be one of the most important things you do in Italy. I am convinced that
it is impossible to find a bad meal anywhere in this country.
Grand Canal is impressive but it's the side canals
and away from the tourist areas that may be most interesting
from an image making point of view.
Getting to Fano is relatively
easy to reach even without a car. We took the train from Rome and arrived
in about three hours. Be sure to know when your station is coming up well
in advance and get to the door. You may have to take the offensive in
getting off since the train doesn't stop very long and people are
in a hurry to board. Our first night there we hunted around for a place
to have dinner and chose the dining room at the Hotel Grace by chance.
While seafood in Fano is outstanding, try the pasta with truffles at the
Hotel Grace. The pasta is brought to the table and the truffles ceremoniously
scraped on to the pasta. Truffles may be as important as gold in Europe.
They have a culture all their own that involves a sometimes clandestine
market and a taste that defies description.
We photographed around the beach area the next morning, but finally spent
a few hours in the hills behind the city and photographed landscapes in
the light just before and just after sunset. While the magic hour is no
secret, in Italy it is something very special and may not last very long.
The sunset is magnificent but in October it ends quickly. As soon as you
react to a scene, shoot. A tripod is a good idea so that you can use slow
shutter speeds and small apertures for good depth of field.
Sandra, the proprietor of Sandra's Cafe, may make
the best sandwiches in Italy or maybe the world. Stop off,
plan on picnicking in the first Piazza you come to, photograph
people, and mangia benissimo.
We rode out of Fano the next
morning heading for Urbino, an old city with roots in medieval Italy.
You pass miles and miles of farms, tiny villages, and magnificent cypress
trees. The landscapes, even in early afternoon sunlight, are fantastic.
It's pretentious to advise shooting only early in the morning or
late in the afternoon. It's rare when you travel that the image
and the right light happen at the same time. A polarizing filter is a
good idea. The polarizer helps cut reflections and enhances the blue in
the sky. You might want to try a warming filter--an 81A for example to
add depth to the color. The vista from the high point of the road as you
approach Urbino is breathtaking, but actually getting to Urbino involves
an uphill climb. Don't miss the Palazzo Ducale, which has great
views of the town. Through the windows of the Palazzo, you can see a wonderful,
col-umned courtyard and beautiful medieval art treasures. Take the guided
tour or do it on your own. The view from the main piazza--Piazza Della
Republica--is not to be missed.
We stopped off at the Bar Sandra, in the town of Furlo, because we heard
that it was the best sandwich shop in Italy. Actually, Sandra herself
may be a living legend. Her sandwiches are indeed magnificent and just
the thing for a picnic. If you find her, try the prosciuto and provolone.
We photographed the young woman who assists her and who has a face out
of a Renaissance painting. This is all a way of saying that finding images
in Italy takes no planning at all. We dropped in at a local bar in a small
village on the way to Gubio and found a group of men playing cards. They
were not at all self-conscious about being photographed. In fact, you
can casually photograph people in the Piazza in towns like Cagli and spend
a whole day at it. Actually, things get pretty quiet in the afternoon.
The shops and restaurants are closed. Best time for people shooting is
in the late morning or evening. If you do plan to be in a town like Cagli
after 1pm plan on picnicking in the Piazza or you may go hungry.
stopped at a bar in a small village late in the afternoon
and found these men in their daily card game. With ISO 100
color film in the camera we used a wall to steady the camera
for slow exposure.
On the road from Fabriano to
Gubio is one of the world's most unique grottos. You aren't
allowed to photograph in the Grotto Di Frassani, but it's one of
the most important geological sites in Italy and worth visiting. Shining
white and pink stalagmites and stalactites in fantastic shapes make it
an experience. From a photographic point of view you'll be surrounded
by the Apennines, one of the most magnificent mountain ranges in the world.
You may be sorry you didn't carry a larger format camera. Next trip
I plan on taking an old twin lens Rolleiflex that still produces great
You might want to visit Gubbio not far from Assisi. Take the chairlift
for a great view of the town. There's a Roman amphitheater on the
way out of Gubbio.
Spanish steps in Rome are a great place to photograph people
anytime of the day.
Every small town and village
has its photographic potential, but if you plan to go to Assisi it might
be a good idea to stay in Spello. Hilltop hotels are away from the usual
tourist crowds and close enough to Assisi to make it an easy trip by cab.
No matter how much time I spend in small villages and out of the way places
I find myself drawn back to the cities. Wander around Rome, Florence,
Venice, or Naples and you will find new, unexpected images. No matter
how you visit Italy or where you go, you'll come back with a tremendous
number of wonderful images. The trick is not to think too much but to
let your emotions direct your camera.