Over the years I have been asked specifically about what camera equipment I take with me when traveling, which is of course quite different from my usual assortment of kit when photographing a commercial or industrial project. Having recently returned from a European adventure, I thought I would take the opportunity to combine a post about my preferred travel kit with my experiences and recommendations for a few days in the Eternal city of Rome.
Now I have to add a disclaimer right at the beginning of this article, and that is purely and simply that I absolutely love Rome… I have visited on numerous occasions over the years, and each time I leave I am always looking forward to my next return trip. Yes, it is dusty, often hot, very overcrowded with tourists during the summer months, and of course you have to work around ‘Rome time’ as far as the bureaucracy and sometimes service for tourists is concerned. However, for the photographer, particularly one who is fascinated with history, art and architecture, it is a paradise of images waiting to be captured. Naturally enough, all the opinions, recommendations and experiences are mine alone, although it should be noted that both the accommodation that we researched before our trip, and the restaurants that were subsequently recommended to us, are rather well regarded on the Tripadvisor rankings; as the expression goes, ‘your mileage may very..!’
Before leaving Australia on any overseas trip I always thoroughly check and clean my camera equipment. This may sound obvious, and although I do use my gear on a day to day basis, time spent overseas is simply too precious to waste looking for a replacement item or for a repair shop. I usually have my camera sensor cleaned just around the corner at Camera Clinic here in Collingwood, always ensuring after picking up the kit that all the settings are returned to my preferences (for example I never shoot JPEG’s, but the technicians will set the camera to JPEG to test the sensor).
Packing for a trip such as this was always going to be a compromise, particularly as it meant I would be traveling around Europe for close to two months, so it was essential that I only carried the essentials! For me that generally means I will sort out my camera gear first, and then work out how much is left for clothes.
I traveled first to London to catch up with family and friends, before heading over to Rome where I would meet up with Melinda. Consequently I took just the two camera bodies with me on the first leg, those being the Canon 5D Mk III, and the Canon 100D, since Melinda would be bringing the 5D Mk II with her, giving us 3 bodies in total. I normally use the 5D with the battery grip while working commercially, but this I removed to both save weight and in an attempt to be a little more inconspicuous.
- Canon 5D Mk III
- Canon 5D Mk II
- Canon 100D
- Canon 17mm TS-E f4 L (probably my favourite lens)
- Canon 24-70mm f2.8 L
- Canon 16-35mm f4 L
- Canon 50mm f1.2 L
- Canon 70-200mm f2.8 IS L
- Canon EF-S 24mm
- Canon EF-S 10-22mm
- Canon 580 EX II Flash
- Really Right Stuff Tripod and Ballhead (TVC-34L & BH-55)
- Cable release, spare memory cards, spare batteries
- Mac Book Air / iPad / WD Passport hard drive
- LEE filter system
While traveling I do prefer to be able to view and download my files onto a computer, and as such use a Mac Book Air which is both light and powerful; I have Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Bridge CC 2015 installed, which I use as my main digital asset management and retouching software (certainly I prefer Bridge over Lightroom, which I also have installed).
Even a cursory glance at the list above will show that I favour wide angle lenses, however I do always try to have the 70-200 with me despite the size and weight penalty. It is a stunning lens for portraits and for capturing detail shots, yielding a lovely soft, almost creamy bokeh (out of focus highlights) which add a new dimension to a gallery of travel shots.
To carry the equipment I purchased two Think Tank bags, namely the Photo Airport Essentials backpack (small), and the Photo Speed Racer V.2. Now I have to admit that I had to spend some time convincing my wife to be seen with me while I was using the Speed Racer belt pack. If memory serves the terms ‘tourist,’ ‘dork’ and ‘geek’ were mentioned; however I can confirm that once on the ground it proved to be a superb choice. Transporting the bulk of my gear, including my Mac book and tablet using the Airport Essentials as carry on luggage, I would switch to the belt pack when on location and select my preferred lens combination for the day of photography ahead. The Speed Racer allowed me to carry my standard complement of 5D Mk III body, 17mm TS-E, 24-70mm and 70-200mm on my hips, somewhat taking the burden of weight off my shoulders, although the pack does have a decent shoulder strap included which I did occasionally use in conjunction with the belt straps.
I found the Airport Essentials to be a decent overall solution to carrying my equipment, including the chargers, Mac Book Air and iPad, though I should just mention that it does not take a body with battery pack (unless packed flat with no lens attached), and that the shoulder straps are a little lacking in padding if planning on carrying a full load over long distances.
Both 5D’s were loaded with 128Gb memory cards (I use both a 128Gb CF and 128Gb SD simultaneously in the Mk III), meaning that I could shoot all day without concern for space. Capturing only RAW files, inevitably I would run out of space and so I downloaded each day’s files using my Mac Book Air, backed up onto a Western Digital Passport portable hard drive.
When working with the sheer volume of images that both Melinda and I were creating, the most efficient method I have found when backing up my files is to simply create a folder for each city or location, and then to have the download software create a file for each particular day.
The worst possible option is to try and download a filled 128Gb card into one location, as I have found the computer or card invariably crashes, doesn’t always copy everything across and makes searching through the images incredibly slow and tiresome.
Other essential items of equipment are perhaps fairly obvious, but worth noting. We carried 6 batteries in total for the 5D’s, with two spare chargers, spare memory cards and lens cloths. I also carry a LEE filter kit, which comprises the standard circular polariser, the big stopper 10 x ND filter, and the .6 Graduated ND. All of these filters fit snugly in the outside pockets of the Speed Racer, keeping them close at hand at all times. If a filter is not conveniently available, laziness tends to mean that I won’t use it!
Finally, one piece of kit that I regard as absolutely essential for any of my trips is a good pair of comfortable walking shoes; perhaps this is a very obvious point, but when I am going to be spending the entire day walking, I do no want to be contending with blisters or in shoes that offer no support.
I arrived in Rome on a short flight from Bristol, and due to the recent fire damage at Leonardo Da Vinci – Fiumicino airport I was redirected to the smaller secondary airport of Ciampino. This meant that instead of taking the train into the Roma Termini station as planned (it is both easy and relatively inexpensive), I instead caught a bus outside the airport to the same station. The bus was again very inexpensive (about 8 Euros return), and I simply queued up outside, purchasing my ticket in the line. It does help to have a few Euros before arriving, although I could have paid by credit card inside the terminal.
On arriving at Rome Termini station I purchased a Roma 72H, 3 day or 72 hour Metrebus ticket, which for 18 Euros provides access to trains, trams and buses. It was then a simple matter of traversing the city on one of the two metro lines to Lepanto station, which was close to our B & B accommodation for the next few days, the Attillo Regolo. Located on Via Attillo Regolo, this little place is perfectly located for exploring Rome; it is by no means 5 star luxury, but it is well priced, clean, in a superb location, and has very helpful friendly staff. On checking in I was given a map with the staff’s recommendations for local restaurants, and while sometimes this can perhaps be attributable to an ulterior motive (the absolutely dreadful restaurant in Venice recommended by our concierge at the Best Western Hotel Ala for example), on this occasion the advice was perfect; the restaurants we tried were full of locals enjoying excellent food.
The style of Pizza served in Rome may vary from that served up north in Milan, or down in Sicily, but it is no less delicious as I discovered at the Pizzeria L’Archetto di Lumax at 105 Via Germanico, just 10 minutes stroll from our hotel. All the pizza’s are simply good, and my advice here would be to stick with a pitcher of the house red as a perfect and incredibly cheap accompaniment. I have to admit that I enjoyed this place so much that I took Melinda here the next night as she arrived in Rome a day after me, and was looking for some something tasty to help with the jet lag.
After dinner I wandered down to Pont St’Angelo with the intention of shooting a few dusk shots of the bridge and surrounding views. Although I had a tripod in my luggage, I decided not to bring it with me on this occasion as I know from experience that any attempt to use one in St Peter’s square usually results in unwanted official attention since they are banned. This simply means that it is necessary to use nearby posts, columns or railings as support for the camera; I am not averse to raising the ISO on camera to achieve a shutter speed that can be handheld, indeed sometimes it is unavoidable, however I do prefer to have as clean and noise free a file as possible, particularly with my dusk or night shots. Also, I rather enjoy the light streaks that result from longer exposures, giving as they do that sense of life and motion to an image.
After meeting Melinda at Rome Termini station and before heading to the Vatican Museum, we naturally needed a decent lunch and so headed to the other local cafe that had been recommended to us called Il Sorpasso at 31 Via Properzio. Once again we had some seriously good food; simple yet delicious salads and breads washed down with an espresso.
What to see in Rome in 3 days…
…is of course purely subjective, and our choices were limited as much by time as by the crowds and the stifling heat. We had planned on visiting the Capitoline Museum for example, but simply ran out of time as everything we did visit required a more sedate pace under the sun, as well as a degree of patience navigating through fellow tourists.
The first afternoon together in Rome, Melinda and I had pre-booked tickets to the Vatican Museum for 2.00pm using http://www.tickitaly.com; in my opinion this is essential unless you enjoy queues. Upon entering the Museum (you do not need to join the huge queue to do this), the counter for collecting these tickets is clearly marked ahead and slightly to the left. From this point the exploration begins and with so many treasures on display the memory card continues to fill. I found that I used the 17mm quite extensively, particularly as the ceilings and wall artwork are both expansive and breathtakingly beautiful. Be sure to capture the Bramante staircase on the way out of the museum…
If I had to offer one piece of advice regarding a visit to St Peter’s it would simply be ‘get there early’. Actually this is good advice for visiting any of the main attractions in Rome; even at 7.30 am there was a short queue, but it did move very quickly and of course meant that once inside there were far fewer other tourists than would have been the case within a few hours. As with all the religious tourist attractions, modest attire is required at all times; for Melinda the easiest solution was to carry a very thin scarf in her bag and wrap that around her bare arms when entering. ‘Short’ shorts and miniskirts are of course prohibited inside.
During the summer months on clear days, the light striking the fascia in the morning is quite sublime, and once inside the finger like shafts filtering through the windows serve to highlight a new sculpture or artwork with each passing moment.
Once again I would recommend reading about the history of St Peter’s prior to visiting, as it is a fascinating building containing a treasure trove of amazing artwork and sculpture. Certainly the short time I spent inside passed all too quickly, and as is usually the case I could always find one more image, one more angle, that had to be captured before I could leave. As with all the images and locations featured in this post, I have Gigabytes more yet to work my way through.
After St Peter’s we headed towards Piazza Navona, stopping at a small cafe called Food On Foot for a takeaway coffee and panini which we enjoyed while gazing at the Fontana Del Moro in the southern end of the square. Once again the best advice here is to arrive early, more to be able to enjoy the square and it’s fountains before all of the ubiquitous souvenir stalls have installed their unsightly carts than to beat the crowds. The recent trend we noticed at every major site visited was the ‘levitating fakir’ street performance artist, who would appear to be floating above the pavement while of course seated on a small hidden platform, his hand clutching a pole that ran to the ground. Fun the first time perhaps, and I do appreciate that life can be tough for those trying to make a living, but as with the constant offer of ‘selfie stick??’ (which has reached plague like proportions), it does wear thin after a while.
Leaving Piazza Navona it is but a short walk to probably my favourite building in Rome, the Pantheon, and to me at least it is absolutely essential viewing for the visitor. There is plenty of freely available information regarding it’s construction and history which is certainly worth investigating, but really I can just recommend entering the wonderful space somewhat dominated by the ceiling and perfect oculus, relax and breathe in the history. Once again, a wide angle lens is going to justify it’s purchase in this incredible space…
The streets and piazza’s surrounding the Pantheon are all worth investigating, with countless scenes to photograph. We headed to the Trevi Fountain, sadly to find that it was completely covered in scaffolding and undergoing renovation, doubtless meaning a return visit to Rome at some unspecified date. Walking towards the Spanish Steps we arrived to find our photographic efforts were again thwarted by the renovators, and so we continued on Via Del Babuino to Piazza Del Popolo, the perfect place to stop and indulge in some people watching, before heading back towards our accommodation. At the time of our visit the Piazza was hosting a music event on a large stage, consequently our photographic options were somewhat limited, but I was at least able to capture the two beautiful churches of Santa Maria in Montesanto (left) and Santa Maria dei Miracoli (right) at the entrance to the piazza.
The first stop on our last full day in Rome was the very symbol of Rome itself, the Colosseum; once again we pre-booked tickets for the visit at 9.00am via Tickitaly, and proceeded to join the huge queue to retrieve them. At this point true ‘Roman efficiency’ took over, as the crowds all jostled together in the barely controlled chaos. The lack of signage, combined with the question everyone in my queue had to be asking ‘why did we pre-book this only to have to stand in a huge queue?’ added a comical touch to the proceedings. When we finally made our way through the scrum and reached the entrance turnstile, I was somewhat astounded to be told that we were too early by 2 minutes to enter. Considering the virtual riot and packed crowd behind us, and that there was simply nowhere to stand and wait, I politely questioned the attendant’s sanity. Thankfully common sense prevailed and we were admitted! Once inside, possibly the best advice I would offer would be to look for the light, and try and avoid photographing directly into the sun since a silhouette will most likely be the end result. Combining a wide angle lens with the sun at your back will yield the best possible results, although for the middle image below I knew that I would only really be able to do justice to the space by capturing it as a multi image panorama.
Adjacent to the Colosseum is the Forum, which again should be on every visitors list. More time spent queuing to be sure, but certainly worth it. There is so much to see here, the buildings and ruins so rich in history, that I would recommend at least taking a guide book, or familiarizing yourself with the layout and buildings before arriving.
A morning at the Colosseum followed by a visit to the Forum certainly builds an appetite, and so we decided to seek some refreshment in what has been described as Rome’s favourite neighbourhood, Trastevere, which is situated on the west bank of the Tiber, south of Vatican City. The charming narrow cobbled streets are flanked by character laden houses, with many good restaurants and pubs attracting tourists and locals alike. This is the area that has long attracted artists and the famous; both Ennio Morricone, the film score composer, and Sergio Leone, film director particularly famous for the spaghetti western genre, attended the same school in the neighbourhood.
Having read some decent reviews, we sought out a little trattoria called ‘Ta Deo’ in Trastevere for lunch, which certainly proved to be a good choice for two weary and hungry tourists. One thing to note is that throughout Italy you will always have a cover charge added to the bill, ostensibly as a service charge, however it is also meant to cover the bread that is brought with every meal. Just be aware that if you are obviously a tourist and do not speak any Italian, then in some restaurants you will not be offered any bread, although the charge will of course still be there. While we in this instance did not need any more bread, it was very obvious who among the patrons was a local, and who was a tourist like us. Perhaps just a small gripe (the food was excellent), but somehow it just seemed somewhat petty and unnecessary…
After lunch we headed back to the Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, or as it is known by the locals ‘the Typewriter’. While this reasonably modern building is certainly interesting, I really was more keen to visit and photograph the adjacent Trajan’s Column. The 35 metre column was completed in AD 113, and is justifiably famous for it’s sculpted relief artistically depicting the story of the Emperor Trajan’s campaign and subsequent victory over the Dacians.
And so ended our all too brief two and a half day ( three days for me ) visit to Rome; the next day saw us picking up our rental car to begin touring, however I still eagerly anticipate my next visit to this most amazing of capitol cities. Time to start planning…
All of the images in this post are naturally copyrighted, and I would please ask that be respected. All apart from three of the photographs above are not visible on my website, although a great deal more Italy and travel images can be seen at www.michaelevansphotographer.com