Return to Riomaggiore


I’m just back from a vacation trip to Italy. It was just my wife and myself, in part celebrating our 25th wedding anniversary coming up in October. It was a chance to use some of the many, many frequent flyer miles that I’ve accumulated in the last few years. I had the chance to spend many hours in a somewhat concentrated fashion making photographs.

We had the opportunity to reconnect with a special place that we had not seen in nearly 20 years: Riomaggiore, a village in Italy that has provided the basis for many images that my wife has in her paintings. In a way, I was there as her photographer, to document the visual so that she would have new references for new paintings.

Riomaggiore is in Liguria, on the Mediteranean coast that is the continuation of the French Riveria. In the west there is the developed “Italian Riveria”, but as one moves east, past Genoa toward La Spezia, the coast is less developed. Just before La Spezia lie five towns which until after WWII were only approachable by boat. A rail line and then a highway opened them up after the war, but they remained much as they were. Known as the “Cinque Terre”, they have been a favorite of artists and poets. At the sea, now cut off from the rest of the village by the rail line is the small harbor.

At the Airport


When I travel on business, I’m always hesitant to sit in the airport and capture images. Somehow, on vacation with my wife as cover, I felt much less inhibited about snapping away.

We drove from Baltimore to the Philadelphia Airport. The new International Terminal has nice big windows overlooking the exterior and the sky was filled with clouds. I continue to rely mostly on my 24mm f2.8 lens with the D80. As a 36mm equivalent, it’s a very flexible field of view that can be wide as here or close up, provide detail. I traveled with the 24mm on the camera, my 50mm and 12-24mm f4 DX wrapped in the backpack. No telephoto on this trip.

Since this is vacation photography, there’s an important documentary aspect, so I’ve shot many scenics and location images that reflect a more “straight” photography style than my personal work. I’m sure there will be a few personal keepers in the collection.

There are so many images that it would be impossible for me to work through them using my fine print workflow. I’ve decided to work within Aperture until I’ve digested most of the images. I’ll then circle back and reprocess the best through my current workflow, which is Capture One for RAW conversion and the Photoshop CS3 for overall and local contrast/brightness changes.



My morning routine while in Riomaggiore was to walk down from our apartment which was at the very top of the village down to the bar which was near its foot. The light would be breaking over the top of the hills above the village, creating dramatic light as here.

This is the central street of Riomaggiore. There’s really just one other road around the top of the village. This street is really a pedestrian walk as it is gated above; only delivery trucks and official vehicles have access to the lower village.


p> The regular pavers toward the left mark the newest portion of the road which is built over the stream that used to run down the center. Until sometime in the 1950s there was a series of bridges over the stream that allowed one to move from one side to the other. Now the water runs through a conduit under the street. At intervals along its length there are grates through which you can peer down and see the rushing water.

Using Warming Filters with a DSLR


This is the classic view of Riomaggiore from the beginning of the path to the next town, the “Via del Amore”. Of course at noon on a sunny day, it doesn’t really look like this. The sky should be blown out and the colors should be without contrast.

Capturing pictures during travel is always a problem. While you can always get up early and shoot in the morning light and then sleep until dinner time for the evening light, do you really want to keep the camera put away when out looking at the sights?

To capture the midday images, I stacked a polarizing filter and a warming filter on the D80. While you’ll read all about warming filters in articles and books from the film era, many believe that they have lost their utility for digital since white balance can be controlled so easily after the fact in camera or in post-processing. I think that what they’re ignoring is that we need every chance to match the dynamic range of the scene to the desired image so that it can be captured within the sensitivity range of the digital sensor. On a bright day, the combination of the polarizer to kill reflections and the warming filter to let the weaker red-oranges come through really helps the contrast in the scene.

Interestingly, the camera, if it relies on a through the lens light balance like the D80 will adjust the image back if set to auto white balance, pushing the image to the blue and removing the warming effect. It needs to be added back judiciously to get the right look.

The Post Hid from the Light


A late afternoon lit photograph near the Turin train station.

As I’ve worked through these Italian images, I’ve gained a little more insight into the relationship between my photographs of walls and streets and my photographs of objects of concern. All of the urban or nature fragment photographs are exercises in capturing form, composition and, generally, color. Since the image is composed from the objects at hand, I can generally create photographs wherever I happen to be at the time.

When I’m travelling and capturing a place, the subject is more important, but the formal approach to form and color is just the same as my more banal studies.

It’s an interesting tension in that the formal compositions have little interest from subject matter- they could be captured anywhere, but the travel photographs tend to be dominated more by the scene and the subject interest.

I hope that there’s an underlying united vision.

The Garden As Shrine

DSC_3517This is one of the images that I captured in Italy using the Nikon12-24mm DX lens. While I’m generally quite happy to shoot with the 24mmand 50mm primes, relying mostly on the 24mm. However I had been usingthe 24mm with my film Nikon (an N80) and I thought that I ought to beprepared with a true wide angle option. For the D80 the only realisticchoice is Nikon’s 12-24mm DX zoom, a digital only lense that provides anequivalent field of view to 18-36 on 35mm film. Since I had no filters for it, I really was limited to the early morningand late afternoon light. ┬áSo at this point I see it as a special purpose lens, needed for the right situation since it’s so large and for now doesn’t correspond to how I see. The 24mm is faster and matches how I see the small views that I most often encounter.This was a site that I returned to several times during our stay. For some reason it has the feeling of a shrine, being elevated above theroad and being dominated by the central structure. As we were leaving Italy, I realized that photographing these smallpersonal gardens would be a worthwhile project. The use of foundmaterial fits with my photographic vision as does the small view thatthe garden creates. In Italy, and perhaps elsewhere, this way of lifeis becoming less common with the industrialization and globalization ofour food.

Can’t Fake the Light


It took me way too many big view captures to come up with this one. Iwas in a learning, exploratory mode, but I was generally more worriedabout capture the sky and the atmosphere. I should have been lookingmore at how the light was illuminating objects given how clear the skywas.In retrospect, I probably spent too much time capturing big views ratherthan documenting the village street, it’s connecting stairs and it’sgardens. I have some pretty good examples, but these images are a muchsmaller proportion of the captures.

It Was Buried Under the Leaves Near the Creek


A break from the Italian photos. I had a few film rolls from the winterkicking around and I finally had them developed. I got out the scannerand decided to simply scan the full rolls at high resolution. It takesabout an hour per roll, feeding the negatives on strip of four at a timethrough the Minolta Scan Dual III. I could speed up the process with abetter scanner like the Nikon CoolScan 5000 and ensuring that thenegatives are cut into strips of 6 to fill the negative carrier on theScan Dual.Why? I love the look of the Leica and, here, Tri-X. I like shooting withthe rangefinder, using the exposure lessons I’ve learned with the D80 tocapture images with the simpler center weighted meter in the M6.With the camera loaded with black and white film, it takes a while tothink more graphically knowing contrast will come from shading only, notcolors. Having shot so many color images over the past 6 months andpushed the saturation and contrast in them, my eye tends to be attractedto color contrast. I believe that I can use black and white to becomemore sensitive to shape in compositions, filtering out the colordistractions.Why film at all? I’ve decided that the M8 is just a bit version 1.0 forme to sink US$5000 into it. That’s a lot of film and developing. I havethe Nikon for digital work, so I’ll keep the M6 for these tonalexperiments and perhaps on occasion as a compact travel kit, shootingcolor slide film.