Italy Travel and Landscape Photography
Ah Italy, I miss you already! Usually when I return from a month or more abroad I start with “It sure feels good to be back home in the islands,” but this time, I’m already missing my home away from home. This trip was a bit different than others I’ve taken, as I took my wife, but still wanted to focus on Italy travel and landscape photography.
Italy, for me, is where it all began. My first stop after college was a one-way ticket to the old country. It was a “trip of a lifetime” with one of my closest friends and fellow photographers. We spent months perusing the landscapes and cityscapes form Corleone to Como and virtually everywhere in between.
This time the trip was to be a little different. No more spending nights on park benches or in hostels. I had a pregnant wife and a little bit more budget, but many of the same places I visited before were on the list to show my wife who was experiencing mainland Europe for the first time.
As there are no direct flights from Maui to Sicily, it took us two days of traveling to reach the mediterranean island of my ancestors. When we got there, we were exhausted, but we had ambitious plans…
As a huge fan of the Godfather movies we picked up our car at the Palermo airport, plugged in our GPS and typed in “Corleone” into the nav system. I mean, come on. You can’t be a fan of the movie and not go to Corleone. Funny thing is, that town hasn’t changed at all in fifteen years since I was there last. No tourism, no hotels, a few small bars and panini shops and that’s about it. But everywhere you go, there are posters of The Godfather. Sweet. Had the obligatory gelato and cruised the town a bit before making our way south to Agrigento.
The south of Italy is full of all kinds of interesting scenery. From ancient ruins to winding cobblestone streets to rolling fields of yellow melons. Outside of the cities there are a lot of places to see some incredible views of the night sky.
I only brought two lenses on this trip, so all the shots you see here are taken with either a 24-70mm f2.8 Nikon lens or a 14-24mm Nikon lens. All images were shot in RAW format on a Nikon D800E camera body.
This wasn’t supposed to be a “photo trip”, like most of the adventures I take, but rather it was to be a family trip. One where I could spend more time with my wife enjoying and exploring but without the focus on capturing certain landscapes. That said, there were a few spots that I made it clear to her we were going to have to spend some time waiting for the right light and the perfect landscape…
My ancestors came from a small town in the hills of Sicily called Nicosia. It’s barely a blip on the map, and they’ve probably never seen a tourist before as it is so far up a windy road in the middle of the Sicilian countryside. But, of course, we had to visit and see where my people came from…
It was actually a pretty sweet little town. Not much to write home about, but there were quite a few gelaterias and pizza places. Even one with a french fry pizza (Yes, I had it. 😉 And yes, it was good).
From there, we made our way to the Eastern coast city of Taormina and off to some of the Aeolian islands from Messina. We spent a few days on the black sand beaches of the Aeolians and when we came back we made the drive up the coast to Pompeii.
What a trip it is to see the ruins of Pompeii. Even though I had visited before, it still was an amazing spectacle to see all the ancient buildings and a town destroyed by the ash of Mt. Vesuvius. One thing I didn’t notice last time, was that some of the ruins were actually being used to grow grapes for wine.
Pompeii has a lot of nooks and crannies to photograph. If you make it out that way, make sure you bring a good medium length zoom lens or a good walk around prime like a 50mm. Ideally this will be something with an ultra-wide aperture like a 2.8 or wider.
There’s a lot of people and tourists all over Italy, so setting up a shot is often very difficult. Tripods are tough to manage and there will no doubt be people walking through your shots, so sometimes getting a little more creative and opting for a bit of a zoom and exploring textures can turn out really nice.
From Pompeii, there are a lot of nice areas nearby. Naples is known for its Pizza, so make sure you get some there, it’s really good. Capri is a fantastic (but expensive) little island off the coast. Sorrento and the Amalfi Coast are also exceptional, but be EXTREMELY careful if you are planning on making that drive. Seriously, you better have insurance on your car. Don’t park anywhere and keep one foot on the brakes… I warned you…
North of Naples is Rome. Rome is a magical place and between there and Florence is the heart of art and architecture in Italy. Visiting Rome in a day is simply not possible. You need several weeks to see it right, but if you just want to hit the essentials, probably 3 days would be the minimum.
St. Peter’s Basilica is in Vatican City, which is actually its own country inside Rome. Complete with their own Swiss Guard soldiers, St. Pete’s is mandatory. As you walk in, there’s a very good chance you may literally get weak knees and fall to the ground.
I can say that from experience. It happened to me the first time I went there. It is so mind-blowingly beautiful that its easy to imagine this must be just like the house God sleeps in. Bernini’s altar, cast in bronze is straight ahead, while Michelangelo’s Pieta is off to the right. Both are magnificent and probably the best works by each artist.
Visiting St. Peter’s requires a good amount of time, and we spent several hours going through the massive church and even walking around the duomo at the top of the building. As we were amongst the last groups up there, we were able to catch the light of the setting sun before we went down, making for some really interesting shots of the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica.
From Rome, we stayed in Tuscany for about 10 days. We actually ended up renting a villa just outside of Lucca where we cooked fresh pasta daily and drank wine like it was water (well, Caroline didn’t, she’s pregnant, but the rest of us did). Yes, the rest of us, which consisted of Caroline’s parents and my parents. We all met up at this villa in the hills outside of Lucca. It was an incredible place, 10 bedrooms, pool, and endless vineyard views. I could’ve spent much more time in that place!
While in Tuscany, we also stayed a few nights in Florence which is also essential for the first time visitor to Italy. This literally is the epicenter of the Renaissance so for those who appreciate art, this is the place to be. All the museums, architecture and churches are absolutely fantastic. However, one place I have to make a note of is the Boboli Gardens.
Years ago I remember these gardens as this oasis of sorts, just outside of Florence with well manicured lawns and beautiful fauna. Well, for 10 Euros per person you can go in and check it out, but don’t. It hasn’t been maintained and it is an absolute joke. Probably the single most disappointing part of our entire trip. Don’t waste your time here.
Of course, a trip to Italy can never be complete without visiting Venice. If you’ve been there you may feel very strongly one way or another with regards to this city in the sea, but I’m telling you, it is always worth visiting Venice. It may be among the most crowded, touristy cities in all of Italy, but if you just take a slight detour and get a little lost on some of the back streets, you will find the city time and tourism have forgotten.
You’ll see uncrowded canals and restaurants and find locals doing all the things they do in their daily lives. It’s easy to find your way back to the crowds when you need to, but do you actually need to? Maybe to visit St. Mark’s but that’s it. The gondolas are a tourist trap too, so beware. They look all romantic on TV but the gondoliers basically take tourists around the block and charge them about $100 for the trip. Oh, and they will expect a tip. Take a look at all the schmuks in this photo of gondolas in the Venetian canals.
The beauty of some of the little villages around the Italian Riviera is magnificent. The towns of the Cinque Terra, are amazing, but beware the trains getting to them… It is nearly impossible to drive to some of these towns as you’ll never find parking, so the train is the main artery running into the villages. The amount of people that are crammed onto these trains is absolutely staggering. You will literally be unable to move at all and fully understand the old cliche “packed in like sardines.” That said though, the towns are incredible. Hold on to ALL your camera gear. There are many pick pockets on the train. I’ve seen them in action, and they’re pretty good.
Northern Italy and Southern Italy are very much different places. In the North (Rome and up) its easy to get by without speaking Italian. Everything is touristy, and the locals are a little less friendly for the most part. The relics, the art and the architecture are second to none, and are definitely worth seeing. If you’re going to be photographing the north, make sure you have a fast lens and a good zoom.
Southern Italy is a lot more laid back and rural. There aren’t nearly as many historically important things to see or do, and its a very good idea to be able to speak at least a rudimentary amount of Italian. Especially if you travel South of Naples. If you are going to make your way to Sicily you need to be able to speak in complete sentences, and keep your ears open as the dialect is much different.
If you do head South, take a wide angle lens with you. There are a lot more landscape opportunities and some truly gorgeous scenery. Don’t forget a tripod too, you will likely find a lot of places to pull that out. Italy is a true pleasure to visit and photograph.
Click on the images below to see some of my favorite photos from an awesome trip to Italy. Thanks for reading, have an awesome day!
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