Summer Travels An Introspective Retrospective: Part 1

Travel photojournalism, for me, is capturing and communicating the experience of being in some, frankly, phenomenal locations. I try to do this in a way that not only makes people want to go there, but also to pass on a little of how it feels to indulge in experiences that are not part of our everyday lives. By pushing to get as much as I can photographically each time I find that the more I capture, the more I can remember, and the more complete the communication is upon my return. And, the more quality photography I can add to my collection too.

Cuore verde d'Italia

The first trip of the summer was to Umbria in central Italy. I quickly discovered that Umbria is the only Italian region that is land-locked. Located to the South East of Tuscany, the west of Marche and North of Rome and Lazio, and known for its vineyards and olive groves, Umbria has a rightful claim to the title of The Green Heart of Italy (Cuore verde d'Italia)

A packed itinerary meant I’d be fitting my photography goals into a schedule that ranged from white water rafting through to yoga and bokken with cycle touring and truffle hunting along the way. All interwoven with fantastic regional food, drink and hospitality. With each day starting around 8am, and ending late, the only variable I had to work with was sleep. Less sleep to be exact.

A full suite of activities and opportunities.

Our destination and base for the trip was Villa Santi Terzi. Located atop the small town of San Gemini and boasting on of the two towers that originally gave the town its name, (San Gemini – Gemini – The twins – Two things!) the villa can trace its origins all the down through the meter thick walls to original roman foundations. Umbrian landscapes were obviously on my personal photography list, as were the streets and alleyways of the town late afternoon and early morning sunlight.

Keen to get an elevated sunrise shot of San Gemini from the top of the villa, ticked off my list, I was up before dawn on day one. I’d checked The Ephemeris, laid out my kit (Tripod, Lee filters, cable release, extra layer) before going to bed. I set my alarm early, dragged myself out of bed and up the to the top of the tower with time to spare before sun rise. The sky was deep blue and clear, Umbria was laid out before me...


What I hadn’t done however, was check a topological map of the area. If I had, I’d have noticed the large hill east of San Gemini. The hill that keeps the sun from hitting the town for at least 40mins after “sunrise”. A lesson learned, and I had plenty of time to frame and filter the shot, while enjoying a beautiful sunrise perched above the town.

Lee 0.9NDGH in place, focus locked, angles tweaked to the n-th degree.
Gooood morning San Gemini!

With my new knowledge of sunrises in Umbria (!) I had found myself an extra hour of sleep, secure in the knowledge that I would still have time and light on my side before the next day's activities beagn. The extra sleep was much appreciated after a full day cycling through the incredibly green vineyards and ancient towns of the surrounding area. There may have been wine, olive oil and an amazing cooking class involved throughout the day too.

Cycling, cooking, yoga, truffles, and a glass of fizzy? Ok!

The town of San Gemini itself is stunning. Having the deserted, steep sided, raw stone alleys all to myself as the morning sunlight bounced around the narrow streets was a little bit magical, and well worth an(other) early rise. A quick breakfast then and it was back to the itinerary for the day: truffle hunting, olive oil tasting, lunch, yoga, and a quick tour of the town.

Ancient streets and winding lanes lead to hidden plazzas and squares.
Or simply stop on the edge of the town walls framing a view of the rolling hills beyond.

I mentioned the beautiful Umbrian light above, and I've talked a little about the villa too. Bringing both those elements together was probably my photographic highlight of the trip. An hour of down time before our last meal and evening activities allowed me to grab my tripod to compose still life images of the wonderfully diffused light that bounces in and around the villa as the sun moves throughout the day.

All that was then left to do was make sure I got up early for one final sunrise before heading home. Thanks to some not-so-softly coo-ing pigeons, an early start on the last day didn’t need an alarm. It did however need a bit of thought as the day dawned grey and flat, so more views across the town were out. The poor light wasn’t affecting the wildlife though, the local swifts in particular were putting on a fantastic display. As the sky brightened into a huge softbox it brought out the textures of the roofs and building, and, made things bright enough to use shutter speeds that stopped the speeding birds in flight.

To give a better impression of frenetic aeiral activity, I've comp'd birds from a selection of shots into this final image.

Travel like this is fantastic (obviously) even without the self-imposed requirements of photography. Adding the creative challenges of eeking out every photographic opportunity brings an extra dimension to each destination, and ultimately, makes it easier for me to communicate what it feels like to visit some amazing locations around the world.

Next up, three days in Provence...

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