My first visit to Rome was five years ago, and I went (with my wife, brother and his girlfriend) to led a local photo walk as part of my annual Worldwide Photo Walk. I fell in love with Rome. I knew I would like it because I love Italy so much, but I actually liked it even better than I was expecting (I expected another big city, and it is a huge city, but it's an enchanted one). When I left Rome five years ago, I felt that I had missed a lot of shooting opportunities, and I felt there was so I 'left on the table' photo wise (certainly not at mealtime), and ever since then I've always wanted to go back.

I Couldn't Pass Up This Opportunity

Earlier this year I did a workshop in Venice with my friend, KelbyOne Instructor and master of long exposure photography, Mimo Meidany, and we had such a great experience that we both wanted to do it again. I wanted to do our next one in Paris, but Mimo suggested Rome and gave me a list of reasons why Rome would be an awesome location for a workshop (one being that he speaks fluent Italian). Of course, I had always wanted to go back to Rome and get those shots I had missed the first time, and I thought maybe I could go a few days early, do some location scouting for our workshop, and well…the whole idea was too awesome to resist.

Before we knew it, we had a sold-out workshop with participants coming from all over; all meeting up in Rome with us for four days of shooting, post-processing, lots of laughing, sharing stories, and incredible meals in one of the most photogenic cities in the world.

The view from the Castel de Sant’Angelo looking back toward the city from the first level. I have to imagine this view hasn't changed a whole bunch in a thousand years or so.

A chance to shoot at St. Peter's Basilica…but with a tripod!

Well, they don't actually allow tripods, but I had something that has even been better — I had my trusty Platypod Ultra with me, and I was able to set it up anywhere I wanted — nobody said a word (including all the security guards who looked right at it) — and I was able to get sharp shots with long exposures (something that I couldn't get hand-holding from my previous trip, even at high ISOs, they just weren't ask sharp and crisp as I would have liked), and I was just tickled to bits.

There was a barrier to keep you from walking down this hallway, so I just put my Platypod right on top of the barrier — it was like they put it there for me.

But where are all the tourists?

St. Peter's is one of the most-visited places on the planet don't worry — they're coming. In fact, they're right behind me. The reason you don't see them is — I got in line there right before the doors opened first-thing in the morning. When I was doing my research, I had read online that if you're one of the first people to enter the Basilica in the morning (at 7:30 am I believe) you'll have the place to yourself for a few minutes. That's because the place is so immense that even though there were probably 150 to 200 people who got in line in front of us (a couple of the participants from the workshop came along with me that morning), they got swallowed up by the enormity of this colossus of a church — the biggest I've ever seen anywhere.

I walked in and started shooting right away.

I set up my camera with all the settings I would need; attached my ball head and Platypod, and everything was in place so when I walked in that door, I could literally scout out a good spot — set my camera down and start shooting. I did use the self-timer on my camera (to minimize camera shake), rather than a cable release, so I didn't draw any unwanted attention from the guards (I've found that if you have a Platypod and you attach a cable release, the guards suddenly go, "Hey, that's a tripod or something," and they make you stop, but with a self-timer — not a word. I was thrilled to get getting these shots. Plus, I was still testing out Canon's EOS R Mirrorless camera with the articulating screen, so I could aim my camera straight up at the ceiling, and still see what I was doing on screen, and I could compose everything and know that it was going to come out right. That experience taught me something — I never want to buy a camera without a fully articulating screen again (yes, it made that big a difference, not just here, but all week long).

I don't want to "St. Peter's you to death" here, so I'll wrap these up (below).

I started this series a few years ago, where it looks like a famous monument or building or well…pyramid was shot against a white background. I usually get this solid white sky by doing a 2-stop bracketed exposure in my camera on a gray overcast day. The 2-stop over image's sky is often solid white, nearly solid white, or close enough to make it white easily enough. Then I make the rest of the image either a straight up black and white, or a black and white with a hint of color. Here's the latest addition the series.

This is the first shot I took when I got In, shooting down low with my Platypod before the tourists poured in (just a few minutes later).

Here's a couple of behind-the-scenes shots

Here's a behind-the-scenes of my Platypod Rig in St. Peter's.
Here it is shooting St. Peter's ceiling while resting on a railing. It looks scary, but it was rock solid.

Are we going to get to shoot that staircase?

Here's that awesome spiral staircase that I've been sharing online since my first trip to Rome five years ago.

Before the workshop even started, I was getting emails from our workshop participants asking if we'd get a chance to shoot that awesome spiral staircase that I've been showing from my first trip to Rome five years ago. Well, it's tricky.

That staircase is how you leave the Vatican Museum (it's actually, the exit to the gift shop at the end of the tour. Fanciest gift-shop exit ever!). Anyway, you each have to buy an admission ticket to the museum to even get this spot, but that's not the challenging part — it's shooting it while it's not absolutely packed with tourists. But I had a plan — one I figured out on my first trip to Rome, but it's a pricey proposition. There are special tours you can buy that get you into the Vatican museum 1-hour before the public is allowed in. Once the public is allowed in, it's like Disney on its busiest day — it's a madhouse of people winding through the place like a giant conga line, so getting to shoot there without all the crowds is really something. Well, since I knew this staircase was at the end of the tour, once we got in early (on my first trip) Kalebra and I went straight to that gift shop because nobody would be leaving the museum yet (it's just opened, and not even to the public for another hour), so there would be nobody on the stairs yet. Luckily, it worked like a charm!

Well, so many folks in our class were interested in shooting this staircase that Mimo and I decided to surprise the group by buying everyone an early-admission ticket, so they could all get a chance to shoot it without the crowds. In my research I found that there's another great shot from right there — from down at the bottom of the staircase, shooting back up to where we were standing, toward the skylight. Here's that shot (below).

That's a two -for-one deal out of that one spiral staircase. It's just beautiful!
The Dome of St. Peter's at sunset, as seen from the next bridge down.

We shoot Sunrise and Sunset Every Day!

We want beautiful light, and so we all get up early every day and shoot on location, and then again at sunset, with a shoot or two in between and lots of classroom time to learn travel photography techniques and post-processing, so we want to make the most of these shoots. Mimo and I had scoped this location two days earlier, and we knew it had a great view, but for Mimo and I we had rain and a bad sky. However, when we took our class there — it was beautiful! After dinner, I got to go to my favorite restaurant in the world: Mimo é Coco. Mmmmm!

Some of the tables in the cafe near the top of Castel de Sant’Angelo have windows that make great framed views of the Vatican and St. Peter's.

A Hidden Gem: Cathedral Santa Maria Sopra Minerva

It's just steps from one of the most popular attractions in Rome, the Pantheon (literally, you could stand at the door of the church and hit it with a pebble if you have a decent arm), but because it's exterior is so austere, you might miss the magical interior with the beautiful blue ceilings and just walk right by. This was on my "must shoot" list before I ever boarded the plane, and it was even better than I hoped it would be.

That's my camera down low with my Platypod Ultra and a 14mm ultra wide angle lens.

Two more shots for my photo series, "The World on White Seamless"

I started this series where I do bracketed exposures and often the exposure that's two-stop over-exposed (especially on gray cloudy days) turns solid white. If it's even close, I push it to white, as though the monument was shot on a roll of white seamless paper in a studio (as seen below). Sometimes I go full black and white; sometimes I leave a hint of color. Just depends on the shot. Anyway, here are some shots from that series.

Here are two that I hope to add to that series:

A long exposure (to get the silk water) and the "white sky look" for my "World on White Seamless" photo series
Here's another in my series. I think this must be a bank. ;-)
Not for the "white sky" series, but a long exposure shot on a different day, on our way to an amazing cup of Italian coffee.
This unique office building courtyard is just a two-minute walk from the Trevi Fountain. You just walk in, aim up, and there's your shot.
It's the Colosseum. You've seen it to death, and much better versions than this one with a bald sky. But I have to show it. It's the law.
One morning we took the class to shoot the exterior of the Vatican. I was expecting a 50 or 60 photographers would already be there. It was just us.
I got one single shot of this fountain before they turned the lights off. I sat my Platypod on the ledge, snapped this one shot, and it was lights out.
Getting up early makes a huge difference. Not just the light, but the day before there were 1.000 tourists clogging every inch of this area. Not at 6:40 am though.

I finally got my straight-on Trevi Fountain shot

I know it's been shot to death, and I know everybody has this shot (well, maybe not the long exposure version you see here), but when I was there before, there were always tourists posing right in the center, one after the other (even though we were there at 1:30 am) on my first trip, so all my shots are from the side. I did take one side shot, and using some Photoshop magic (primarly the Lens Correction manual controls) I was able to kinda straighten on image out enough to where it looked "OK" so I guess I always wanted to get that classic straight-on done-to-death shot, so when we took the class, I snapped a couple of shots, including this long exposure shot. Where are all the tourists? If I were to tip my camera down even just 1/2" inch, you'd see 300+ of their heads.

1/2-inch below the bottom of his frame are the heads of 300+ tourists…and their iPhones. And worse yet, their iPads.

Our Editorial Fashion Shoot

Mimo and I are always working to come up fun new things for our workshop participants to shoot, and we came up with the idea of doing a classic old Italian movie-style shoot, on location in Rome with a model on a classic old Vespa. We found a great old Vespa, a perfect little alleyway to shoot in (along with the surrounding area), and Mimo found a wonderful (and incredibly patient) Model/Actress in Rome who had the perfect outfit, poses, and attitude — Maria Celeste Sellitto and the class absolutely loved her (she was incredibly nice) but she had such great poses, and she made the whole experience so much fun for the class (follow her on Instagram: @mariacelestesellitto. I took a few shots while explaining how to work with a subject on location, and so here's a few (below).

Some of my students got a much better shot than this that morning. That little puddle was all we needed to get that Mimo-like reflection.

If there's a beautiful library, we'll need to shoot it

And of course, this is Rome, and there was. We got special permission to bring the class for a short shoot in Bibliteca Angelica — a beautiful old multi-story library. While we only could get a few minutes there because of our size (there was 14 of us altogether, and people were studying in the library, so it was a bit of a commotion), it was really a treat that we got to do it at all. Plus, once we got back outside… we were in Rome, and it was time for an absolutely delicious lunch.

A few more shots from around town

That's some Roman stuff right there.

Some Behind-The-Scenes Shots From The Workshop

iPhone pano of us shooting at dawn at the Colosseum
Another iPhone pano - this one of us shooting at the Forum ruins

A special parting shot

See that guy in the middle below? That's Willey. Every workshop needs a guy like Willey — everywhere he goes he engages everybody; he's up for whatever, he loves life, loves photography, he's gregarious, brash, funny, and keeps everybody smiling and laughing. So, we're wrapping up our shoot with the model, and Willey spots these two Italian women sitting on a nearby park bench, and of course, Willey heads right over and starts up a conversation. It's important to note that Willey speaks not a word of Italian, but soon not only are the ladies laughing and posing for shots with Willey, their friends are coming over now, too and joining them on the bench, and we all go over in a line of 13 of us shooting Willey interacting with these women, then our model Maria runs over to get in the shot, and well…I had to grab a photo, and I'm so glad I did.

Willey was with us at our Venice workshop last year, too and he is just a hoot! This world could use a few more Willies.

Willey and some new friends on the streets of Rome.

The Best Part of Any Workshop Should Be…

…making new friends. Like Willey. And Vito, Miles, Teresa, Bill, Carlos, Mark, Bob, David, Bryan, Jarle, and Richard. We were once again blessed with a fun, awesome, hilarious, hard-working, ready to learn, ready to laugh, and ready for anything group. My favorite part of these workshops is getting to meet and spend time with some really cool people, sharing in something we all love, and learning and laughing and experiencing an amazing new place together. I love that this photo of "Willey and the gals" captures what it's all about all in one frame. Even though I was just a witness to this hilarious chaos, I will remember it always.

I'm also blessed to get to work with a someone like Mimo Meidany on these workshops. He teaches the workshop with me, gives a lot of personal care and attention to everybody, and is such a joy to work with from start to finish. Everybody loves Mimo (heck I love Mimo), and I'm proud to call him my friend.

I can't wait until next time, Mimo. To what fabulous city will it lead us? :)

Thanks for letting me share my trip with you…

and a few of my favorite images and moments from the trip. I love Rome. I hope I can be there again, and I hope you can join me there, too.

Ciao, ciao!


Camera Info: Canon EOS R Full-Frame Mirrorless with a 14mm lens, a 16-35mm f/4, and a 70-200mm f/2.8, a Platypod tripod base with a BH-40 Really Right Stuff ballhead, and a Haida 10-stop ND Filter. Lexar memory cards, and a Black Rapid Classic camera strap. All carried around in a Think Tank Photo Turnstyle 10 Slingbag.

Created By
Scott Kelby


copyright 2018 Scott Kelby

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