Photographing Firenze

One of my favorite cities to photograph is Florence, Italy, known locally as Firenze.  The city is a living museum with gorgeous architecture, incredible artistic history, and the food, oh my god the food.

A balcony view of the Duomo down Via de Proconsolo, Florence, Italy (Jason Schlosberg)

The last time we ventured to Firenze, we stayed at a wonderful bed and breakfast, La Residenza del Proconsolo, which includes charming high-ceiling rooms, sometimes with canopy beds, and breakfasts of pastries and cappuccino brought to your door.

We particularly loved the soft, warm, buttery croissants made with what might have been orange zest.  More importantly for the photographer, it included a wrought iron balcony overlooking the Duomo, a huge domed church in the middle of the city.

In a single day, Firenze affords incredible photographic opportunities, all within walking distance.  Here is a suggested phototrek itinerary.

The Duomo at twilight, Florence, Italy (Jason Schlosberg)

If you have the good fortune at staying at the same B&B, wake up and start taking photographs at sunrise of the Duomo from your balcony.  Be careful not to wake up your travel partner.  You can either then go back to bed and rest a little before breakfast is brought to your room or venture out to the Duomo square to capture architectural photography during the morning light.  Walking at this time around the massive domed church before the crowds begin may provide you with great uninterrupted access to this gorgeous marble spectacle against a backdrop of deep blue golden hour sky.

After breakfast, climb the 463 steps to the Duomo’s top to capture grand red-roofed vistas under the Tuscan hills.  Although the doors open at 10am, you might want to get there early to avoid the long lines that form quickly. Once you lose your breath climbing the narrow, stone stairway to the top, the views will take your breath away once again.  Try to resist the temptation to use your wide angle lens.  While you may feel compelled to simultaneously capture all that is before you, the result may be to busy to mentally process.  Use your telephoto lens to gain visual compression between far and distant objects.  Also, find a focal point to draw your audience’s eye in from the cacophony of red roofs.

Red rooftops and the Basilica di Santa Croce, a view from the top of the Duomo, Florence, Italy (Jason Schlosberg)

The Basilica di Santa Croce to the southeast and the turquoise-topped Great Synogogue of Florence to the east are my favorite subjects.  Include only part of the sky and only if it provides a dramatic addition; otherwise, just crop it out and zoom in on the land.

Don’t forget to capture the vaulted expanse of the church inside.  Wide angle lenses may work better here, but trying to capture the entire room may prove fruitless.  Perhaps find a foreground object, such as a model or some candles, to provide some perspective, interest, and depth.  The lighting can be tricky, so you may want to consider using a tripod.  A high ISO may also help so that you can capture the shadows without blowing out the stained glass windows.  The church is usually crowded with tourists, so either try to artfully incorporate the throngs into the image–perhaps with a slow shutter speed to get an interesting blur–or be patient and try to shoot in the small windows of time where nobody may be in your frame.

Tea light prayer candles, Duomo, Florence, Italy (Jason Schlosberg)One of Florence’s temptations is to photograph its paintings and statues.  While you may want to do this for your own personal travel journal, don’t expect to create great works of art.  The art is already in the subject and without a ladder to get a different perspective, your shots will probably come out flat and clichéd.

During the day, go shopping and museum-hopping, where you can enjoy Firenze’s commerce and avoid the harsh light of the mid-day sun.  Take the short trek to the Mercato Centrale to photograph the vendors and their goods and customers under the challenge of indoor lighting.  Open your aperture as much as possible and slow down your shutter speed to around 1/60.  Punch up your ISO to 400 to 800.  Adjust as necessary per your light meter.

And most importantly, make sure your white balance is set to fluorescent or incandescent lighting, as appropriate.  If you are shooting RAW, this can be done in post processing.

Rainbow of scarves, San Lorenzo Market, Florence, Italy (Jason Schlosberg)If you use a flash, be sure to avoid competing lighting types.  While a flash emits a pretty, white light, incandescent light comes out yellow, tungsten light is orange, and fluorescent light is an ugly green.  Determine the room’s lighting and pop onto the flash head an appropriate colored gel, which is simply a piece of transparent colored plastic that you can get in almost any photo store.

If the lighting cooperates with overcast skies, go outside and photograph the market surrounding the Basilica de San Lorenzo, where vendors in stalls sell everything from leather purses to scarves.  Also, pop in to see the various other stores around Florence selling antiques and pottery.

Sunset over the Arno River, a view from the Piazzele Michelangelo, Florence, Italy (Jason Schlosberg)During sunset, head across the Arno to the Piazzele Michaelangelo, which provides majestic views of various bridges and the architecture of Florence.  With the sun setting, the city lights on fire.  While this may be a popular photo locale, consider walking further into neighborhoods away from the Arno to get a higher vantage point.  Stay awhile.  The light can change dramatically between oranges and peaches to purples and blues.  If you are staying more than one night in Firenze (which you should!) go back to the same spot on different nights.  I guarantee the colors will be different.

And don’t forget to eat while you are there.  Our favorite restaurant is Trattoria Sostanza, a small, white-walled restaurant found along the narrow Via Porcellana, a few blocks off the Arno’s east bank.  Its Bistecca alla Fiorentina is by far the most tender, juicy, flavorful piece of beef I’ve ever laid my tongue on.  From the local chianina breed of cow, and considered the crown jewel of Florentine cuisine, this steak is cooked near raw with just a smidge of cracked pepper and salt over oak or olive wood coals.  I was equally enthralled when I reached over and tasted my wife’s Pollo in Burro (chicken in butter).  For a more full description of our culinary experience, visit my wife’s travel blog.  If you bring your camera to dinner, photograph your untouched plates from a low angle, using suitable background objects such as wine or bread, with a macro lens.  Now put away your camera to enjoy your meal.  Your mouth, and your travel partner, will appreciate it.

2 Responses to “Photographing Firenze”

  1. Paul says:

    Great guide; will be sure to use it when I visit someday.

  2. tasha g says:

    fantastic advice, now i understand negative space and these images are beautiful, nice work, i hope one day i could be a photographer at your standard!

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