Tuscany In Black & White

Pienza, Italy

I posted previously about having made a slideshow of color photos from our Tuscany workshop.  A personal project of mine has been to get better at seeing and photographing in Black & White.  I recently created a separate slideshow to showcase my progress toward that goal.  Link to video is below.

Thanks to Jeff Curto for his encouraging feedback and for hosting the videos until I get my own Vimeo page set up!

Video is here:

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State Archives of Siena in the Piccolomini Palace in Siena, Italy

UPDATE 9/3/18: I either didn’t spell it out well enough or people aren’t reading what I wrote, but you actually have to sign up to get emails!  The link is on the left hand side of the page if you are on a computer or at the bottom of the page if you are on a mobile device.  A comment doesn’t do it.  I didn’t think it was that hard! 😉

As I’ve mentioned previously, stopped posting my blog to Facebook.  I’ve had several people who used to follow my blog from Facebook ask me how to be notified of new posts.  Many people use Feedly, The Old Reader or some other service, but many do not or don’t know how.  I finally got around to doing something about it and have added a “GET NOTIFIED OF NEW POSTS” section to the left side menu of my blog, just below the lists of My Links and My Photo Friends.

I won’t use your email for any nefarious purposes, but if you are interested in being notified of new posts instead of remembering to check, this is another way to do it!

The Road Beckons

Tuscan countryside near La Foce, Italy

Kathy & I have been capitalizing on our newly won freedom from cubicle confinement & PTO allocation and are ready to set off on our next adventure.  Nothing as dramatic as Italy this time – a quick visit to family and friends in Ohio with a stop or two along the way.  Some time in Shenandoah National Park, down the Skyline Drive & Blue Ridge Parkway before returning home to do laundry. 😉  No telling what might happen after that!

Expect postcards and photos along the way!

Pictures of People Taking Pictures – Italy Edition

Piazza del Mercato in Siena, Italy

“Seventy-five years ago, tourism was about experience seeking. Now it’s about using photography and social media to build a personal brand. In a sense, for a lot of people, the photos you take on a trip become more important than the experience.” – New York Times

Pienza, Italy

The article mentioned above is worth a read for a number of reasons, but primarily the references to “over tourism” prevalent in many parts of the world.  I mentioned in a previous post that I had never seen so many selfie sticks – and tourists photographing themselves instead of the scenery – and this article expands on that in much more detail.

Pienza, Italy
Pienza, Italy

One of my favorite activities when traveling to interesting locations is to photograph people taking photographs.  It’s almost become too easy – like “shooting fish in a barrel” as they say.  But I try to keep it interesting and include some of the surroundings as context.  It is a bit aggravating, but since I can’t easily get the people out of the pictures I figure I might as well go with the flow.

Wedding photo session in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy
Wedding photo session in St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy

These are just a few of the photos I took of “POPTP” from our recent visit to Italy.

St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy
Touring the Doge’s Palace in Venice, Italy
St. Mark’s Square in Venice, Italy
Cruise ship arriving on the Grand Canal in Venice, Italy
Photo from somewhere in Venice, Italy
City government offices and the Tower of Mangia in Siena, Italy

Icons and Creativity

Tuscan countryside near Montalcino, Italy

When visiting a place known for being a photographic destination, it isn’t unusual for certain locations to be “famous” as sites of iconic photographs.  We all have our favorite examples.  One of them for me was the photos I made of the blurry gondolas in Venice.  While I captured the obvious shot, I also tried to find my own view, to make it my own, in a sense.

Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta in the Tuscan countryside near Vitaleta, Italy

While on our photo tour in Tuscany, several of the students asked about specific locations and whether we would be going there.  Jeff (Curto) indicated that those spots were not on the itinerary but that we would likely pass by a few of them.  Jeff was very familiar with the locations, but cautioned us that for a number of reasons – namely conditions such as weather, season or time of year – we would not be able to capture the photos those folks had in their minds and had seen on Flickr, Facebook or National Geographic.  But, photographers being photographers, they wanted to go anyway so we did.  There’s nothing wrong with photographing famous photographic subjects of course, but Jeff encouraged us to find our own unique view of the locations – under the conditions we found there – and to make the best of them.

Tuscan countryside near Montalcino, Italy
Tuscan countryside near Montalcino, Italy

Case in point is our visit to the Chapel of the Madonna di Vitaleta, which is in the Tuscan countryside near Vitaleta, Italy and is the location of the photo I posted previously and the location of the photos in this post.  It’s a spot that even I was familiar with, having found photos on a number of websites and possibly in a guidebook or two along the way.  It is a beautiful scene under just about any conditions, but at the time of our visit we faced a number of challenges.  First, being that it is a place famous for being famous, it attracts a lot of attention.  In the middle of the afternoon in June, there was no way to avoid people.  Second, it was 4:00 in the afternoon, not exactly an ideal time for photography, although the light in Tuscany was almost always ideal for some kind of photography!

Tuscan countryside near Montalcino, Italy. The sign says “Vietato Calpestare – Coltura In Alto” or “Forbidden to Walk – Farming in Progress”

I worked to try and come up with a couple of views that I felt would reflect my own take on the scene.  By taking the wide-angle approach I minimized the appearance of people and took advantage of the great sky and the surrounding landscape.  I also looked around for other scenes that were not as iconic but photo-worthy themselves.  I think I came up with a few good shots, including one of some actual people!  On the distance shots I could have cloned out most of the bodies, but to me that was part of the scene and I decided to leave them in.  Plus, the scenes looking elsewhere didn’t have any people in them!  If at some point I decide to make a “fine art” print I may take a few more liberties.

Tuscan countryside near Montalcino, Italy

We Visited the Vatican (But Didn’t See the Pope)

Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City

The highlight of our visit to Rome was two separate sessions in Vatican City.  The first, a daytime visit to the grounds of the Piazza San Pietro and St. Peter’s Basilica, was followed by an exclusive evening visit to the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel.

From Wikipedia: Designed principally by Donato Bramante, Michelangelo, Carlo Maderno and Gian Lorenzo Bernini, St. Peter’s is the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture and the largest church in the world. While it is neither the mother church of the Catholic Church nor the cathedral of the Diocese of Rome, St. Peter’s is regarded as one of the holiest Catholic shrines. It has been described as “holding a unique position in the Christian world” and as “the greatest of all churches of Christendom.”

St. Peter’s Basilica
St. Peter’s Basilica

Needless to say, St. Peter’s Basilica is an incredible place and one of the best-known churches in the world.  On top of that it contains a priceless collection of art & sculpture.  To be able to spend time in that space, admiring the architecture and the art, was truly awe-inspiring.  I took a lot of photos there, but they only capture the visual essence of the place, but not the spiritual feeling one gets just by being there.  I’m not a religious person, but I was inspired by the beauty and sheer magnificence of the place.

Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City
Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City
Piazza San Pietro, Vatican City
Swiss Guard in Vatican City
Swiss Guard in Vatican City
Swiss Guard in Vatican City

Outside of St. Peter’s, the grounds of the Piazza San Pietro, the statues and various buildings were quite a sight.  I’m guessing that Vatican City is likely one of the most secure locations in the world, likely even more so than the White House, but although the security was visible it was not intrusive.  The Swiss Guards appear to be ceremonial, but I got the impression that they would quickly become much more than guys in colorful uniforms if push came to shove.  There were a few Carabinieri and other police and military security personnel visible but mostly in inconspicuous locations.  I took a few photos but didn’t want to push my luck with guys carrying machine guns!

Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum
Vatican Museum

Tauck, the company that operated our tour, has a special arrangement with the Vatican to provide after-hours access to the Sistine Chapel.  For most tourists, a visit to ‘Cappella Sistina’ involves a trudge down a long, hot hallway with 10,000 of their closest friends, only be quickly herded through the chapel, with talking and photography forbidden.  Our group met up with two other Tauck groups and were escorted by our guides (and Vatican security) through the halls and numerous galleries of the Vatican Museum and ultimately into the Sistine Chapel proper, where we stayed for over 30 minutes, simply to observe and stand in awe of that place.  Our guides were able to narrate, and describe in detail, many of the pieces we observed in the museum, then provide a comprehensive explanation of both the ceiling and the walls of the Sistine Chapel.  We were still not permitted to take photographs, but there was nothing I could take that would come close to capturing the essence of the place.  After completing our visit, we were treated to a buffet dinner with wine on the grounds of the Vatican.  It was a simply indescribable experience!

Spiral staircase at the exit from the Vatican Museum
Spiral staircase at the exit from the Vatican Museum

Tree Family

“Tree Family” at a parking area near Linville Falls on the Blue Ridge Parkway

Kathy & I recently made a day trip up to the Blue Ridge Parkway.  We had hoped to get in a little hiking, but the weather turned out to be uncooperative.  We did manage to spend a little time between rain showers just sitting at a parking spot along the Linville River.  While we were there I spotted this grouping of birch trees that I thought would make a nice still life.  It looked like a family photo to me, so that’s where I came up with the title.

Photographs and stuff!