How to Get the Best Photos of Rome - Advice from a Local

8:50 PM Life in Between 0 Comments


July 6, 2016

It's all about the light. 

Pietro, my charming Airbnb host, was scanning a map of Rome and giving me expert advice on how to experience the city "the right way."

"There is a certain way to see it," he smiled. "Romait changes with the light. Some places are better in the morning, while others you want to see at sunset. Your eyes will be opened to an entirely different city, depending on when you look at it. I can show you how to get the best photos."

I went on to tell him all of the places that I wanted to visit during my stay in The Eternal City. He would quickly interrupt me after every site I mentioned, divulging more insider info for gathering worthy photos. Carefully, I wrote copious notes in my journal and made plans to see Italy as I was told. He assured me that I would be able to capture the best photos by knowing how the light affects certain sights.

"So, St. Peter's Square in the morning and the Roman Forum at sunset?" I asked as I walked to the balcony to gaze at the basilica in the distance.

"Yes, that should be good," he gestured to the plate of hot pizza and supplì on the dining table. "Enjoy the food. I will leave you now to get your rest."

MORNING: Visit St. Peter's Basilica.

We rushed down the empty streets of Rome on a race with the sunrise to see St. Peter's Basilica. The city was still asleep, and we were one of the only groups headed to the square. Our running came to a halt as we stepped into the column-encircled Vatican City. Before us, a giant obelisk acted like a sundial, politely telling us that we were almost late. The line to get into the basilica had already started forming.

Below me, the ground began to change colors. We had reached the front of the line, only proceeded by a few loyal nuns who were attending Friday morning mass. The statues that lined the tall columns and walkways watched me as I inched closer to entrance. One by one, each saint's silhouette was framed by the golden morning sunlight until their faces became visible. We were able to get into the basilica before the crowds arrived. I wandered the grounds without any pushing and shoving to get a great picture.

Being in the nearly empty cathedral brought tears to my eyes. As I stood before the tomb of St. Peter, a haunting sound seeped from the ground below me. I could hear morning prayers being sung to Peter, praising him in all his glory. There was no one around me but the worn effigy of the saint himself. His foot was missing toes, which was the consequence of countless pilgrims touching and kissing it in hopes of blessings. It was an unscheduled and welcomed moment alone with God.

If you plan on going inside St. Peter's Basilica, do as Pietro told me. Wake up early for your own spectacular sunrise and unforgettable experience.

AFTERNOON: Explore the Pantheon.

The second spot on Pietro's list was the Pantheon, a famous temple located in Piazza della Rotonda. The Pantheon translates to mean "temple of every god," and has been in existence since around 126 AD. When the sun is high in the sky, it shines directly into the building's concrete domeacting as a spotlight for the precious assets tucked inside.

The interior of the dome was meant to represent an arched vault to the heavens. The light inside moves around as a reverse sundial. In the middle of the day, the room was filled with natural lightinggreat for photos.

This is one of the only sights in Rome that you don't need an advance ticket for. The line is always moving, and tourists can come and go as they please. As I moved closer to the center of the room, I noticed that the floor was slightly curved. Another visitor informed me that it acts as a natural drainage system when it rains. Around the edge of the Pantheon, Roman government and history was honored with carefully placed displays. It's all wonderfully lit for your photographing pleasure.

SUNSET: Wander the Roman Forum.

"The Forum looks its best at sunset." That's what Pietro had told me. What used to be a buzzing metropolis of Roman government and business has been reduced to beautiful ruins, and I was about to uncover its stories.

A place that once thrived with power and influence was nothing but a memory, and that struck a nerve for me. It had left a legacyone that echoed with the far-off cries of Julius Cesar and Marc Antony. It was Roman life as it once was, and as it would never be again.

I could see why he suggested sunset, it was perfect for photography. Each layer of historyyears, decades, centurieswas softly unveiled by the late afternoon light. Shadows were cast from one ruin to the next, revealing the sites depth and poetic desperation.

NIGHT: See St. Peter's Square or the Spanish Steps.

When a Roman day comes to an end, there are still plenty of places to see and explore. Pietro suggested a night walk through St. Peter's Square or the Spanish Steps. Both of these places are magnificent under a starry sky, and will allow you to take some artistic and inspired photos.

Because my Airbnb was closer to the square, I opted to visit it on my way back. It was still fairly busy with people at 10 p.m. The fountain was glowing from far away and the statues that watched over the cathedral each had their own light to guide weary travelers home. The warm light spilled from window to window on the cathedral, making it the perfect moment to capture.

Follow the light. 

Next time you head to Rome, remember to harmonize your photos with the ever-changing light. Be present in the moment and take Pietro's advice: "Don't just look at Rome. You have to feel it."

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