It’s always good to plan in advance if photography is one of the main focuses of your travels. But it can be difficult to hit the ground running (or photographing, so to say) when you haven’t been inspired by your destination yet.

Use this guide as your pre-trip inspiration. You’ll know exactly what photos you want to take on your next trip to Italy in no time.

ART

Anyone can photograph a famous painting or marble statue. So how do you capture masterpieces like Michelangelo’s David, Leonardo’s The Last Supper, and Botticelli’s Birth of Venus in an original way? It’s simple: look for interesting compositions. Survey the room, add other elements into the frame, or focus on the people in the scene. You can even use a slow shutter to show movement in front of the piece. This will bring new life to your images.

Also, remember to pay attention to the type of light that’s hitting the artwork. When photographing marble statues, look for hard light. Get in close and shoot at an upward angle, capturing the stark contrast of shadows on white stone. You might even catch a glimpse of the ornate ceilings, too!

ARCHITECTURE

Sometimes buildings are just as interesting as the history and artwork they contain. Remember to slow down and study the design of the buildings around you. Find an interesting perspective and try to capture the personality of the structure — this might mean getting low on the ground, photographing from across the street, or getting a bird’s-eye view from another nearby building.

Be aware of the direction the light is coming from as well. It can increase contrast, shadows, textures, and reflections that can either make or break your shot. To shoot a structure as a silhouette during sunset, position the piece of architecture between you and the sun (make sure that the flash is deactivated and the exposure is set for the sky). If the foreground is too light, darken it by setting your exposure compensation to a negative value. Night shots can be a dramatic option as well, but remember to take them when there is still some light left in the sky, as it adds tone to your backdrop and helps illuminate details.

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FOOD

Photo by Marta Bettucci.

The food in Italy tends to look almost as good as it tastes. So give your followers a spoonful of food envy.

The main thing to think about with food photography is the angle of your photos. There are typically three main angles to utilize: 0°, 45°, and 90°. Zero degrees basically means straight-on. Shooting your food (or drink) at eye level allows you to incorporate a background and make the most of the scene around you. Forty-five degrees is close to the angle you would normally view your food from. It’s a common, flattering angle, and works well if you’re trying to highlight an individual dish. You can also use this angle to get in close and capture specific colors and textures.

Ninety degrees, or flat-lay, is also very popular, but it’s harder than it looks. Getting a shot from above can be tricky and the food typically looks best if it’s in a common color palette with its surroundings. To learn more about this technique, check out our flat-lay photography guide.

SMALL TOWNS

Outside of its major cities, Italy offers villages, vistas, vineyards, and views. When visiting small Italian towns, remember to think outside the box and capture their structure, movement, and personality.

As with most locations, the best time to shoot is in the early morning or late evening so that the low sun warms the image. If you notice a spot with a photo opportunity outside of those times, return to it later to gain a more pleasing exposure. We also recommend traveling with both a wide angle lens and a “walk-around” lens, so you can experiment with different angles as you explore. When using wider lenses, be sure to include foreground in your shots to add perspective.

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ROME

Between the ruins, monuments, piazzas, and parks, Rome is a bit intimidating in terms of photography. Though it’s hard to get it wrong, here are a few tips for capturing its grandeur.

When photographing the Trevi Fountain, consider the background of your image. Take several shots from a squatting position and try to concentrate on the building behind Neptune and his nymphs. Doing so will add more complexity to your photo and eliminate unwanted elements (like the crowds of people) that would otherwise be in the shot.

When photographing The Pantheon, don’t worry about capturing it in its entirety: focus on one distinctive feature that will make an impact. Also try tilting the camera at different angles to include a few tourists in the background, and look for leading lines in the shadows of the architecture.

Last, but not least, avoid photographing the Colosseum between 11 a.m. and 3 p.m. The late afternoon is when you’ll have your best luck as the light is warm, flattering, and beautiful. And above all, take in your surroundings and look for shots that tell a story.

Photo by Tor Arne Hotvedt.

FLORENCE

In the heart of Florence stands Piazza del Duomo and its towering landmarks. But instead of trying to document everything, think about what you are trying to convey to the viewer.

After you’ve taken the well-known shots of Florence’s landmarks, get creative and look for unique angles on the buildings, bridges, and statues around the city. Turn your camera toward the cafés and gelaterias that line the squares, use your fellow travelers to show the immense size of the Cathedral, or simply capture the hustle and bustle of this popular city. No matter what you choose to photograph, experiment with different camera settings, get low to the ground, and look for unique ways to frame your subject. Oh, and keep an eye out for unique street art tucked around every corner! To read more about photographing Florence in particular, check out our Instagrammer’s Guide.

Venice

This legendary Italian city in the Adriatic Sea was built on over 100 tiny islands set in a lagoon. Forget driving! Locals and visitors get around via the city’s watery canals, using long, canoe-like boats called gondolas. Photograph the canals in early morning or early evening light, when the water reflects the pastel colors of the sky. Snap a photo of your gondolier, and utilize long-exposure shots to capture the ever-present motion of the boats in the canals.

After you’ve gotten your sea legs, look to Venice’s most beautiful sites, including St. Mark’s Basilica, Doge’s Palace, and Piazza San Marco, where you’ll certainly want a wide angle lens to capture the splendor of the architecture and the buzz of activity.

Photo by Aneesh Kothari.

Coastal towns

Sorrento, Portofino, Positano, Amalfi, Vernazza, Praiano … the list of charming, photogenic towns that scale the cliffs of Italy’s coast could seemingly go on forever. Capture the pastel-colored facades of the houses and villas in the early morning light, but be sure to photograph during the evening, too, when the lights from the windows will make the hillsides look dreamy.

Get creative and capture the scale of these towns — the steepness of the cliffs, the tightly packed neighborhoods, and the crystal blue waters below. Experiment with perspective and photograph from a nearby boat or hillside lookout, the beach below, or with a drone!

Photo by Mikki Kuipers.
Photo by Elisa Maruca.
Photo by David Pinto.
Photo by Marco Criscuolo.

Cathedrals

The cathedrals of Italy are some of the most stunning in the world. Find them in Florence, Rome, Milan, Siena, Parma, and countless other cities around the country. Often, their exteriors are just as stunning as their interiors. Remember to bring a wide angle lens to capture them from afar.

Enter, but be respectful of ongoing services and restrictions on photography. Bring a zoom lens to highlight the intricate details and sculptures that make these cathedrals beautiful. But before entering, be sure to adjust your camera settings to capture details in low light!  

Photo by Piero Marasca.
Photo by David Pinto.

Colorful buildings

Italy isn’t all terra cotta brick: some cities and coastal towns boast buildings of every hue. Photograph them against the blue of the sky or the sea to make the colors pop.Snap a shot of the colorful buildings hugging the cliffs of the coast.

Photograph during the early morning or the evening to minimize the harsh shadows that can result from midday light. And, if you can find them, snap a shot of the brightly colored buildings that seem out of place in a monotone neighborhood — color is a great way to add personality to your images!

Famous landmarks

Photo by Gabriele Colzi.

The Trevi Fountain, the Spanish Steps, the Duomo, Michelangelo’s David — we’re sure that if you’ve planned a trip to Italy, you’ve made a long photo checklist. Get the traditional shots first, but then try to photograph these famous landmarks from different perspectives.

Photograph from above or below to evoke a different point of view. Try to photograph with different lenses, zooming in on small details that often go unnoticed or capturing the entire scene with a wide angle lens. Use a long exposure to show how many travelers visit these sites every day. And grab your camera at night, if possible, when the landmarks are lit by spotlight. Be inventive with your photography and your shots of Italy’s most famous landmarks will stand out as unique!

Everyday life

So much about Italy is reflected in the everyday life of its residents. Get up early to photograph grandparents on their morning walks, vendors laying out their wares in the marketplace, people going to and from early church services, and the vast number getting their caffeine fix for the day.

Stroll the streets and photograph scenes — but always ask permission for portraits. Head to the piazzas and the cafés for idyllic shots of life in Italy, or use a wide angle with a long exposure to capture the flow of traffic (foot and otherwise) throughout the day.

Photo by Roberto Povero.
Photo by Shannon Hammond.

Header image by Lucabrando Sanfilippo.

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