Travel photography: Rome 2019

May 11, 2019


Before we start looking at some images I'd like to share something I found interesting. As you may know I enjoy to take pictures all around the world and I like to geo-tag those images. That I do for various purposes - as a reminder of where I have been (like those maps with pins in them), to have the possibility to recreate a specific shot at a later time (maybe with better equipment or skill) or also to be able to quickly filter images for certain locations.

To do this efficiently I'm not using one of those bulky and expensive GPS modules that can be attached to the flash hotshoe of the camera but a GPS device that almost everyone carries at all times - a smartphone. By simply synchronizing the camera clock precisely to the phone time and then geo-tracking with an appropriate app, one is able to add exact GPS coordinates to all images in post processing.

Additionally I wrote a little piece of software that will combine a number of separate GPS-tracks (I usually record one track per day) to a single large track that includes all the locations visited during the entire trip. This not only streamlines the tagging process since you can apply coordinates to all images with one click, it also looks cool.

A graphic account of all the paths I took while exploring Rome.

I just wanted to share this image because I think it is very neat and also useful to have your entire trip on record like this.


Due to the geographic vicinity to my home (Austria and Italy are neighboring states) I have visited Italy many times in the past. There is already a short article about Venice on this website and also one about my extensive trip from Naples via the Amalfi coast down to sunny Puglia that I did a couple of years ago. But especially the northern regions I have visited extensively albeit before I was into photography. A special gem is Tuscany with its capital Florence, where I have been when I was just starting to take pictures more seriously but in hindsight those are not actually good (admittedly I did think I was pretty good at the time).

Where I had never been however, was Italy's capital city - it's economical and cultural center and one of the historically most important cities in the world - Rome. It was about time to make up for this shortcoming and so I took my time - nine complete days for a thorough photographic exploration.

While that does seem like a long time for just one place, there is a large difference in just visiting to see some sights and visiting to take proper pictures. Often it is necessary to visit the same spot multiple times for better conditions; additionally the appropriate times for photography are the early morning and the late afternoon. In light of this you'll probably find your time dwindling from seemingly several days to just a few hours.

Photography in Rome

As one of the oldest continuously occupied sites in Europe, Rome is home to countless historical treasures.

View from one of the seven hills the city was founded upon. Visible is the dome of Saint Peter's Basilica.
The Castel Sant'Angelo, originally emperor Hadrian's Mausoleum was massively changed to fit the needs of the clerical elite in the middle ages.
The same can be said about the Ponte Sant'Angelo that was built in the year 134 and adorned with ten angel statues during the late sixteen hundreds.
The iconic view from the bridge to the castle. If you don't want hordes of tourists on your image you'll have to be there in the very early morning (top), otherwise a way to incorporate them into the image must be found (bottom). A long exposure with good tripod placement does the trick.
Saint Peter's Basilica as the main entrance point to the Vatican city is one of the most important and famous sights of the city.
I visited this spot a few times to get the best conditions and was finally rewarded with a nice sunset.
Last chance for a picture in the late blue hour.

Saint Peter's Basilica is the largest church in the world and the most renowned work of Renaissance architecture. It replaced the Old St. Peter's Basilica from the 4th century that was built on the supposed burial site of Saint Peter. It took 120 years to construct.

The interior is of vast dimensions, lavishly decorated with marble, reliefs, architectural sculpture and gilding.
Ceiling detail of the narthex at the entrance to the basilica.
The Piazza del Popolo (square of the people) used to be the main entrance point into Rome from the north.
Even more famous is the Piazza di Spagna with the Spanish Steps. The fountain in the foreground is the Fontana della Barcaccia.
Speaking of fountains, the Fontana di Trevi is one of the most famous Roman landmarks.
The Galleria Borghese is an art gallery that houses a considerable number of classical paintings and sculptures.
Sculptures in the Villa Borghese gardens.
The Quartiere Coppedè is a very quiet and less frequented neighborhood of the city. Its stunning architecture makes it well worth a visit.
The entrance is formed by the Arco dei Palazzi degli Ambasciatori.
Another iconic view presents itself through the Keyhole of the Knights of Malta. It is a quite challenging spot to take a photo for several reasons. Many want to take a peek and a picture through the tiny (about a 2cm diameter) keyhole and to not keep the very long line behind you waiting the time is very limited and you need to get it right after just a few tries.

How I did it:
- 200mm of (full frame) focal length for proper framing
- a small f/9 aperture: I figured it would be best to cut off the outer part of the lens that is blocked by the keyhole anyways
- lens housing touches the door
- manual focus at infinity: AF won't work reliably due to the very small effective aperture
- expose for the highlights via Partial metering (literally the first time I needed this feature in seven years of owning this camera)
The good news: composition is forced and therefore not an issue

Panoramic view on the Isola Tiberina that nowadays houses a hospital.
The Piazza Navona with the Fontana del Moro in the foreground.
The Altare della Patria is regarded as the national symbol of Italy and commemorates the unification of the country in the second half of the 19th Century.
The Piazza del Campidoglio with the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius.

Ancient Rome

The best part about Rome is in my opinion the still tangible spirit of the ancient Roman empire, embodied through the amazing buildings and ruins existing to this day.

Remainders of the Roman Forum. In the background the Altare della Patria.
View along the Via dei Fori Imperiali that was constructed in the 1930s on Mussolini's order. The Colosseum is visible in the background.
A few foundation walls and solitary pillars is all that remains from the once proud forum.
The Arch of Septimius Severus commemorates the Roman victory over the Parthian Empire in 199.

By far the most important sight and the symbol of Rome since almost 2000 years is the Amphitheatrum Flavium, better known under its modern name Colosseum. The largest amphitheatre ever to be built was capable of holding upwards of 50,000 spectators. Gladiatorial contests, animal hunts, executions and sea-battles in the flooded arena were just some of the events that took place for the entertainment of the Roman people.

Nowadays much of the southern façade of the building has collapsed and the seats of the auditorium are factually nonexistent. Nevertheless the structure is an exceptional testimony to the architectural mastery of the ancient Romans.

View of the still intact northern face.
The building is comprised of three stories of superimposed arcades surmounted by a podium on which stands a tall attic. It reaches a total height of 48 meters. The arcs used to be adorned with statues probably honoring divinities and other figures from Classical mythology.
The transition to the collapse is reinforced with triangular brick wedges that are modern additions, having been constructed in the early 19th century.

I believe this to be my best image of the Flavium. As it happens so often this was just an additional spot that I chose to shoot because I was on location anyways. I hadn't intended this to be one of the really good images. The early morning light shining through the arcades in combination with the reflection creates a surprisingly compelling atmosphere. When I arrived, about six or seven photographers were already there. Interestingly none of the others realized that the (only available) puddle was a key compositional element, so the best spot a little to the side of the central axis was still available - luckily for me.
Views into the arena.
The Pantheon is probably the best-preserved of all Ancient Roman buildings due to the fact that is has been in use continuously since its construction in the beginning of the second century.
The interior is covered by a dome with an inner diameter of 43 meters - the largest free standing dome for a period of over 1700 years.
The central oculus provides lighting to the building.

My thoughts on the state of modern Rome

Rome is without a doubt one of the most impressive and culturally most important cities of the world. During my stay I could however never really shake the thought that this was thanks due to the people that lived there hundreds and thousands of years ago. Modern Romans seem to be adding little value to this historical place. Many public services that are nowadays taken for granted in European Capital cities are performing at a basic capacity at best or occasionally not at all at worst.

The constantly unpunctual but overcrowded public transportation is one example. Even worse is the city's trash management. In no place I have ever been I had to spend so much time picking up trash before taking a picture and cloning out the remaining litter during post processing. Seriously, removing junk with the repair tool in those photos took about as much time as all other post processing steps combined.

The site of my Colosseum panorama from before. This is not an especially dirty spot for Roman conditions. Trash can be found literally everywhere and in stunning amounts.

This is only my personal opinion and I'm probably seeing this to harshly but the current state of the city is unworthy of its unrivaled historical legacy and significance. I feel like if the ancient Romans could be magically brought back to life and put in charge, that city would look different entirely.

Thanks for reading!

Back to top