Ciao! I’m back from 16 days in Northern Italy!


Hi folks, I’m back (well, I got back late last night) from just an amazing vacation with my family and some friends. Here’s the story:

Q. So why you didn’t you tell us you were in Italy?
A. Because my whole family, and extended family, and some of our close friends were all there with us, and my wife didn’t want me to post on the blog, what would essentially be; “We’re out of the country, all our family members are here, too. Obviously, nobody’s home—so help yourself.” So, I promised not to mention it until I got back, and well…now we’re back.

Q. Ah, so that’s why you kept having Internet problems, eh?
A. Precisely. Part of our vacation was a cruise from Genova, with stops in Portofino, Viareggio, Portovenere, Cinque Terre, and a day trip out to Lucca in Tuscany. The Internet on board was…well, I’m not sure if you could call it Internet. But I was still able to get most of my posts up, and I could get incoming email on my laptop, but couldn’t send any outgoing emails.

Q. So who posted that “Scott’s post is going to be late” comment?
A. I was able to send a text-message from my iPhone to NAPP’s Executive Director Larry Becker when I realized there was no way to get that day’s post up, and I asked Larry to post that for me. In fact, one post last week was written entirely on my iPhone, and Larry posted it for me (By the way; Larry gets up early each day, reads my posts, and fixes any typos he comes across. It’s not one of his official duties; he just does it ’cause he’s a great guy—which he truly is).

Q. How many shots did you take?
Now, it really depends on how you look at it, because it can either sound like I was pretty conservative, or I was shooting like a bandit. For example, I took a 12-megapixel camera, so I used 8-GB memory cards (which are now routinely found for less than $100 at B&H Photo). I filled less than 1/2 a card per day. That’s not that… much, right? But with 14 days of shooting, I wound up taking about 40 GB of shots (that sounds like a lot). I used 4 of Hoodman’s RAW UDMA cards (their streak of perfect performance continues), and two Lexar 8-GB 300X cards. Since this was really a vacation (and not a photo safari), I made myself not “over-shoot” because I wanted to enjoy both the time with my family, and the photography, so I shot a lot less than I normally would, had I been just “out with the boys.”

Q. So, did you do any work on this trip?
A. None! Zip. Nada. I did do the posts (a few of which I had written in advance, and I just had to “release” them), but I don’t usually think of them as work. They’re either fun that seems like work, or work that seems like fun, but it’s not just one or the other. Had I done a little better planning, I could have written all the posts in advance, but if you know me, you know I’m just not that organized.

Q. What camera gear did you take?
A. True to what I learned from carrying all my gear to Dubai on that trip (and still never having the right lens when I needed it), I essentially took one camera, and one lens; My Nikon D300, and the 18-200mm f/3.5 to 5.6 VR lens. It’s not the sharpest lens ever made, and it does sometimes vignette the edges a bit, and it’s not the fastest lens either, but I LOVED IT!!!!

Instead of constantly changing lenses, and wondering if I had the right lens on, I could just sit back, relax, and shoot. I ALWAYS had the right lens with me with that lens, and in fact, I only used the 2nd lens I brought (a small 12mm-24mm Nikon) one single time, for about 8 shots. That’s it. In fact, before I left down, I bought a little compact camera case (like the type you’d buy for a point-and-shoot), that was just big enough to hold my 12-24mm lens, and I clipped it to my belt buckle, and it was so light, I didn’t even know it was there. And at that—I only used it once.

I am absolutely thrilled I went with that one lens, and on my last day in Venice I was shooting with a friend of Joe McNally’s (Jonathan Maher of VSP Workshops), and I was telling him how much I loved having just that one lenses, and later in the day we’re shooting and I hear him say, “Aw, I don’t have the right lens.” And I looked over at him, held up my lens, and we both had a laugh. In fact, I think I probably sold one to a guy I met on a Bridge with a D300, and the stock kit lens. I took mine off and let him shoot with it, and when he was done, he was like, “When I get back, I’m buying that lens!”

Q. So, where are the pictures?
A. I shot over 2,600 photo, so I’ve narrowed things down to my favorite 1,874 (totally kidding). What I thought I would do is post a short series of photos from a different city each day this week (except for Special Guest Blog Wednesday, of course), but I didn’t want to throw up another one of those flash-based slideshows like I’ve done in the past, so I’m trying something a little more fun (well, for me anyway).

I have a limited amount of space to show images here (I can only go 440 pixels wide and keep the image displayed within the column, but then if you click on it, it can zoom up to a larger view). However, if I put 30 photos up here, it would eat up loads of space on the blog, and you’d have to scroll and scroll, so I wanted to find a way to put up more than one photo in each 440 pixel frame, and that lead me to doing either a postcard or calendar idea, and after doing a testing post with the idea, I decided I liked the “fake calendar” idea. So, that’s what I did.

I used Apple’s iPhoto’s built-in Calendar maker, but rather than hitting the “Buy” button and actually getting it printed; I just took a screen capture of it, and then tore off the bottom edge in Photoshop, so you mostly see the top of what a calendar would be like if I had really printed it.

Q. How much have you done to these photos?
A. Sadly—not much. In fact, I wouldn’t say any of them are “finished.” These are pretty much just processed minimally in Lightroom 1.4, but I think three of the individual photos spent just a couple of minutes in Photoshop removing something distracting or fixing a problem Lightroom couldn’t do. I just didn’t have the time yet to really work the photos, so most are “right out of the camera.”

Q. What was your thought process when shooting in Italy?
A. I wanted to not just shoot what my wife calls “Artsy shots” because then I wouldn’t have many family shots (what traditionally happens is, I come home from a trip, and I’ve got so many close-ups of buildings, and a tight shot of an interesting texture, etc., that you can’t really tell where I’ve been. It could be Houston. It could be Polynesia). So, I resigned myself to take way more “family-like vacation shots” and I enjoyed that quite a bit, even though they’re not for the blog.

What I did decide to do was cover Italy as if I had been sent there by a travel magazine (like Travel & Leisure, or Cond© Nast, etc.). So, on the first day I sat and thought to myself, “What is Italy famous for?” My first thought was; it’s food and wine, so I made it a point to shoot lots of the food, wine, and outdoor cafes, kitchens, anything to do with their amazing food and love of great food and wine.

Then, I thought of Fashion, so I wanted to shoot both people, their clothes, their styles, their sunglasses, their stores, their store windows, etc. Of course, I thought of their amazing architecture, inspiring cathedrals, and sweeping piazzas. I thought of their music, of art, and its warm people—-these are the things I would shoot, and while I would keep my eye open for things not on my list, certainly I would cover all of these with great prejudice. I would also included “intentionally touristy things” like Gondolas in Venice, and people sitting at outdoor cafes, and pigeons in the square, etc.

Since I was on vacation, I didn’t have any special access, so I had to shoot this on even ground, with every other of the bazillion DSLR shooters that were seemingly everywhere! (Especially in Venice, where I have never seen more DSLRs. I don’t know who the Nikon rep in Italy is, but man are they doing their job!). I also saw more women shoot big DSLR rigs in one place than I ever have before. This definitely makes things tougher, because had I actually been there with a magazine, I would have weaseled my way into a big kitchen, into a farm house, into a football match, into the opera, and a dozen other places that would have given me opportunities to come away with some unique shots, but the challenge of not having access made it all the more fun, despite the fact that for 2/3 of the trip I was battling a cold, which depending on the day was either a “call in sick” cold or just “put it on the back burner” type of cold that’s just annoying as anything.

The one thing the cold did do was keep me from getting up at dawn for some of those Venice morning shoots I was hoping to get, but right now, as I write this, (and still have this cold), I feel like I did the right thing. However, once it finally goes away, I know I’m going to kick myself big time, and think, “Aw come on, I wasn’t that sick!” Such is the life of a photographer, eh?

Q. What was the most challenging thing about shooting in Italy?
A. It’s a blessing and a curse. It’s such a target rich environment, that each quaint Italian fishing village looks more lovely than the last. Everywhere you turn, there’s another shot—another charming narrow alleyway, and another old woman looking out of her tattered 3rd story window, near a clothesline of brightly colored clothes, against the charming pastel textures of the old buildings in the tiny village.

After a while, you’ve shot so much of that stuff, that you actually start to get sick of it. You can only shoot the clich© “tiny brightly colored rowboat in the still water” shot so many times. So, that was the biggest challenge; not shooting the obvious stuff to death (and I shot plenty of it—you just can’t help it). One day, I told my brother, “I swear, I don’t care how charming the old lady looking out the quaint window with clothesline nearby is—-I am NOT shooting her!” My brother spent the next three days pointing those shots out.

I did shoot a number of panos, many handheld on the deck of a moving boat, and I’m still astonished at what a great job CS3 does of stitching them into one seamless image.

So, that’s my story. I hope you enjoy some of the photos I’ll be posting this week. I did have just an amazingly wonderful trip—-probably my best trip ever! I didn’t work a lick, I had some wonderful food, played with the kids, laughed, coughed, hugged, ran in the rain, watched Cartoon Network in Italian, and really cherished the time with my family and friends, while surrounded by some of the most beautiful scenery in the world. Life just doesn’t get much better than that.

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