The stories behind the images

The stories behind the images
chairs, rome

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

a quieter side of venice

The story behind the image:
This image was taken early-morning in Venice, outside Caffe Florian (Italy's oldest cafe, first opened in 1720).
When I first went to Italy almost 20 years ago, I took so many photos of all the famous monuments and locations - I just couldn't get enough. Now, I find it is the small things that appeal to me. I get such pleasure shooting the quieter side of such well-known places.
The challenge with these more intimate images is ensuring they still have some way of identifying the location. Otherwise you run the risk of "oh, where was that taken?" - every travel photographer's nightmare!
With this image there were a number of elements I wanted to include - first, the leading lines and patterns (these appealed to my eye); second, the reflection of Piazza San Marco/St Mark's Square in the door (for location identification); third, the curtains on the pillars, the cafe stools and some of the lush cafe interior (to identify the subject); fourth, a person (for interest). I composed the image and then waited for the person to come along.
I feel this image was relatively successful in identifying it was taken in Venice. Perhaps the reflection is too subtle? Maybe for someone who had not been to Venice before - they may not recognise the tell-tale chairs and pigeons and background architecture as Piazza San Marco...
Of course I could have included more elements of the cafe to identify it as Caffe Florian, however my image wasn't about the Florian, it was about a cafe in Venice at Piazza San Marco (whichever cafe that may have been). And more than just that, it was about capturing what we would know or imagine to be a typically busy location in its quieter times.

These more subtle and intimate images are difficult to capture, however when done well they give us an insight into a location that we may not have seen before which makes them unique and unusual.

Are there lessons to learn here? Yes. When composing your image, make sure you include an element of location even if it is just a hint... a fellow photographer reminded me recently about the power of mystery. Not every image needs to hit you over the head with a sledgehammer.
However, if your image has to fit a brief (whether that be for a competition or for editorial purposes) you may need more than a hint.

Alternatively, you can caption your work, to remove any doubt as to location. Or create a diptych - on one side show a more "postcard" type image of the location, on the other side show the more intimate image.

Happy Shooting from Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

Monday, October 8, 2012

places left in brisbane photography workshops this weekend


As guest tutor for Bluedog Photography Workshops and Tours, I am running two workshops this weekend. There are still a couple of places in each:

When: Saturday 13th October, 12.30-6.30pm
Where: Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Cost: $275 (inc comprehensive notes)

When: Sunday 14th October, 9.30am-3.30pm
Where: Bluedog Studios, Mt Tamborine
Cost: $275 (inc comprehensive notes)

For more information email Danielle or Sheryn at

For information on all Bluedog courses:

I hope you can join us.
Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

travel and street photography - brisbane camera group presentation


Lisa is presenting at the Brisbane Camera Group next Monday, and will be showcasing images from Italy - as well as sharing tips and techniques for travel and street photography.

When: Monday 15th October, 7.30pm
Where: Brisbane Camera Group, 102 McDonald St, Albion
Who: all welcome

For more information:

We look forward to seeing you there.

Happy Shooting from Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

may 2013 photography tour

May 2013 Photography Tour

This is a two-week small-group photography tour, departing Rome Monday 6th May 2013 and finishing in Siena Monday 20th May 2013.

Destinations Rome, Amalfi Coast, Tuscany.

Venice extension from 20-25th May 2013.

For a detailed itinerary email Dianne and Lisa -

We hope you can join us on tour in 2013!

Friday, August 31, 2012

a personal favourite

The story behind the image:

It's Friday and I felt like sharing an image that is a personal favourite taken in Rome - it breaks many of the "rules" of photography (I could list them all but would run out of space!) but it works for me.

Remember that not all of your travel images need to be postcard-perfect. Your images need to tell a story, and sometimes the only person they may tell the story to is you. And that is ok. In this image I love the chairs, but I also wonder what or who the flowers are for...

Equipment and settings:
Camera - Canon EOS 5D

Settings - f8, 1/100s, ISO 400, auto white balance, neutral picture style, shot in RAW
Lens - Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM LENS
Focal length: 43mm

Happy Shooting from Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

Thursday, August 16, 2012

photographing la madonna

The story behind the images:

If there is one thing that unites all Italians, north to south, it is their love of la Madonna (the mother of Christ). Statues, chapels, tabernacles, altars devoted to la Madonna can be found everywhere. Likewise, framed pictures or simple cards, large and small, are ubiquitous.

This tabernacle above was tucked away on a stairwell in Positano on the way to my hotel. When I first came around the corner and saw her, it was love at first sight... perhaps it was my heightened sense of mortality (if you have ever stayed "up the hill" in Positano you will know how it feels to walk up ALL THOSE STAIRS!); or perhaps it was the play of light, shadow, illumination and colour that got me; or perhaps it was the serenity and beauty of la Madonna, even with her chipped nose and hands... whatever it was, I was officially smitten.

When photographing la Madonna remember these shrines are of religious significance and are maintained by the locals whose house, restuarant, shop, boat, bar she protects and should be treated with respect. I have seen photographers re-arrange flowers and pictures and other items that may be placed around la Madonna in order to improve the composition of the image. I do not feel that this is appropriate and would walk away and look for an alternative image. Trust me, you will have no problems finding another Madonna to photograph. 

Here she is in Rome, high up above a restaurant in Campo dei Fiori:

In fact, in Rome, you should walk around looking up - she is normally found above the streets on building corners and facades. As I spend more time in Rome than any other Italian city I think I may embark on a new personal project - photographing the Maddonas of Rome. I'll keep you posted.

Here she is again in Rome:

A technical point when photographing la Madonna if she is above you - you will need to tilt the camera and the moment you do that you will get converging lines/distortion. You will need to allow plenty of room around your subject to enable you to straighten her later in post-production.

Here she is a courtyard in Venice:

Whilst not la Madonna (I believe this is Saint Catherine), this is a beautiful alter overlooking the peaceful ancient Roman Baths in Bagno Vignoni, Tuscany (I imagine she is behind the grate to protect her from overzealous admirers): 

Irrespective of your religious beliefs, the deep affection and love the Italians have for la Madonna (and in fact all their saints) can't help but touch you. I think the appeal of la Madonna for me photographically is the variety of representations of her - every Madonna is unique and has her own special beauty and significance.

Equipment and settings used in top image:
Camera - Canon EOS 5D
Settings - f2.8, 1/160s, ISO 1000, auto white balance, neutral picture style, shot in RAW
Lens - Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM LENS
Focal length: 51mm

Camera - Canon EOS 5D
Settings - f2.8, 1/80s, ISO 1000, auto white balance, neutral picture style, shot in RAW
Lens - Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM LENS
Focal length: 48mm

Happy Shooting from Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

Friday, July 27, 2012

two different perspectives of venice

The story behind the images:

Dianne and I were standing almost next to each other on the Grand Canal in Venice. We were looking at the same scene - but we captured two entirely different images.

When I looked at the scene I decided I wanted to capture the vertical lines of the mooring poles and the woman (I saw her as a line also) and I shot at a low angle to include the solid shape of the path. So, this image for me was shape and line - with the woman, her arm parallel to the mooring poles, as a point of interest.

Dianne was interested in the gondolier working on his gondola. Dianne physically went much closer into the scene and framed her shot around him. (You can see this gondolier in my image, at the very right-hand edge of the image.) Dianne saw a story unfolding in front of her - the end of the day for a Venetian gondolier.

Not only did we shoot entirely different parts of this scene, we then used our post-production software - Photoshop and Nik Software - for vastly different final images.

My image is quite soft and muted, which is how I felt when shooting this scene. The evening sky was soft, I felt relaxed and quite removed from the scene. I was an observer.

Dianne's image is vibrant and energetic - its colours are strong - we can see that the gondolier is still working, tying up his gondola. We get a sense of the movement of the water. We are actively "in" this scene. I think Dianne even ended up speaking with the gondolier. The woman in my scene simply wandered off, completely unaware she had been an element of my image.

(Be aware that your feelings when you're photographing often dictate what you photograph - and that's fine unless you are shooting to a brief, or you need a specific image. You then need to be able to separate your feelings and really see all the elements and possible points of interest of a scene and capture the most appropriate for the brief.)

Any lessons here?

We would encourage you when next travelling to not just shoot what appeals to you, but maybe give yourself some exercises to broaden your vision. This is what we do on tour - it might be an exercise in looking for and capturing line or colour, or perhaps it's an exercise in telling a story in a particular town... stretching yourself like this helps you improve your photographic vision.

Better photographic vision means you can look at a scene in front of you and see multiple photographic opportunities.

Equipment and settings used in Lisa's image:
Camera - Canon EOS 5D
Settings - f7.1, 1/30s, ISO 400, auto white balance, neutral picture style, shot in RAW
Lens - Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM LENS
Focal length: 24mm

Equipment and settings used in Dianne's image:
Camera - Canon EOS 7D
Settings - f3.2, 1/160s, ISO 1000, manual white balance, shot in jpeg
Lens - Canon EF-S 17/55mm f2.8 IS USM LENS
Focal length: 20mm

Happy Shooting from Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

Thursday, April 5, 2012

live webinar - tour information sessions online


Reserve your seat now:


Find out everything you need to know about our small-group, boutique photography tours to some of the most beautiful parts of Italy.

See images to inspire you from Rome, the Amalfi Coast, Tuscany and Venice... and ask as many questions as you like in this live 45 minute information webinar.

By tuning in you will also be eligible for our special webinar-only discount. We hope you can join us!

Time Zone Conversions:
10AM AEST - 10am Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne - 8am Perth - 12pm Auckland - 8pm New York - 5pm - Los Angeles

8PM AEST - 8pm Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne - 6pm Perth - 11am London, Rome - 12pm Berlin - 1pm Istanbul

We hope you can join us.
Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

how to photograph people

The story behind the image:

Almost everyone who joins us on tour wants to learn techniques to photograph people. Capturing people is such an important part of travel photography, so let's look at some images taken in Italy on our tours and get the discussion started...

It's one of the questions we get asked most on tour - how do I photograph people?

The answer is very simple. It depends on what story you are telling.

There are three generally identified types of portraits (for the purpose of this blog we will use the term "portrait" to refer to any type of image that contains people).

Candid portraits (aka "fly on the wall") - the subject is not engaged directly with the camera; the subject may or may not be aware that you are photographing them. In instances where the subject is not aware of your presence, these type of portraits probably fit equally into the street photography / social documentary genres.

Environmental portraits - the subject is captured in his/her/their environment or background.

Formal portraits - the subject is engaged with the camera and is the only focus of the image, with little or no background.
Most of us have a preference for the type of people shots we take, however when you're travelling you will need to be able to capture all three types of portraiture as circumstances (and your story) dictate.

The image above is one of my personal favourites. It was taken on a reconnaissance visit to Sicily, in a bar (cafe) in Ragusa. I was inside the bar having a refreshing granita and taking a rest from the heat outside. Daily life was unfolding in front of me, and this was a moment I enjoyed capturing.  

Given our definitions of portraits, it's quite easy to see that this is a candid portrait. I didn't hide my camera, however I did not engage with the people in the bar. Had I spoken with the gentleman reading his newspaper, or the grandfather and child at the bar, the image would not have told the story I wanted. It would have lost its "slice of life" content.

Each photographer must make their own decisions about candid portraits. I have heard a number of respected photographers viciously attack the candid portrait (where the subject is unaware of the photographer) as being akin to stealing a subject's soul. I have also read a number of superb essays on the value of candid images in documenting time and place in history - think Cartier-Bresson and his amazing images of Scanno.

My personal moral standing is this: if I keep my camera visible and I treat people with respect in my capture of them, then I feel perfectly comfortable with candid portraits irrespective of whether the subject is aware of my presence or not. Remember, this is my personal moral code. You will need to think through and identify your own.

This image below is an obvious environmental portrait. In this image, the skipper is shown in his natural environment. A head-and-shoulders portrait would not have told the same story. He also looks incredibly comfortable and relaxed. That is the beauty of environmental portraits - your subjects are likely to be in their comfort zone, so less self-conscious.

Most environmental portraits lend themselves to wide-angle lenses to ensure the background can be included as part of the story. This image was taken at a focal length of 35mm.

This images below are  formal portraits, in the sense that the subject is engaged with the camera. He is the entire content of both images, the background / environment is minimal.

I feel that these are the most challenging types of portraits in travel photography. It is difficult for formal portraits to stand alone and tell a story without some sense of context - particularly in a country such as Italy where there is no clothing or even facial features that specifically identifies a subject as being a local Italian. BUT these portraits are often the most rewarding to take, and they will add to the depth of your story.

Often when you ask someone if you can take their photo, they will pose the way they expect you would want them to - a cheesy or forced smile. I will take that image, chat some more and then ask them to pose in a specific manner. In the images below, the gentleman posed with his cigarette, then he smoked it while we chatted, and then I asked him if I could take another shot. I asked him just to look directly into the camera. The second shot is the one I was after.

I enjoyed chatting with this man, he was a real character.

A few tips for people photography:
  • before you even turn the camera on, be aware of any cultural or religious reasons that may prohibit or restrict photography
  • know how to use your camera and what shot you want before approaching someone to take their photo - it enables you to work quickly, ensuring the subject doesn't become too self-conscious
  • don't be afraid to approach people - for every no there will be a yes... but...
  • be polite and respectful, and treat your subjects the way you would like to be treated and photographed
  • if you intend to sell (or enter into public competitions) the images you are taking, consider getting your subject to sign a model release form of some sort - in this risk-minimising, litigious world anything could happen
People photography can be very challenging yet rewarding, and portraits will add to the stories you are telling about the places you visit.

Equipment and settings used in top image:
Camera - Canon EOS 5D
Settings - f4, 1/80s, ISO 1600, auto white balance, neutral picture style, shot in RAW
Lens - Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L USM LENS
Focal length: 57mm

Happy Shooting from Lisa and Dianne at Capture Italy

Thursday, January 26, 2012

images on an angle - aka "but it's not straight!"

What is your reaction to this image (taken in Ragusa Ibla, Sicily)?

Does this image appeal to you? Or does the angle of the image bother you?

A tilted image can cause strong reactions in people viewing that image.

Having spent many years assuming these reactions were simply a matter of each individual's artistic and personal tastes, during the course of some professional development last year I read a fascinating book - Perception and Imaging, Richard D Zakia - which finally gave me an alternative reason: "Field Dependency".

Quoting from the book:

"Field-dependent persons will feel uncomfortable when something within their visual fields is tilted. The tilt creates a visual tension, a feeling of imbalance. I [the author] am such a person. If I am sitting in a room with a tilted picture on a wall, I either get up and straighten it or look away to avoid my feeling of imbalance."

Field dependency was first researched by Herman Witkin in the 1960's. Witkin built a tilting-room/tilting-chair apparatus - the person in the room is put into a non-upright position and then has to adjust their position by either tilting the room or the chair. Those that tilted the room (their visual field) were termed field dependent. Those that tilted the chair (their gravitational field) were termed field independent.

Perhaps you prefer this image:

We, as photographers, can consciously use the concept of field dependency to create an impact with our images. Looking for some visual tension, or want to stimulate a sense of disequilibrium? Consider turning your camera on an angle...

To find our more about field dependency and the visual process of seeing, our Australian readers can get a copy of Richard D. Zakia's book from Les Harden at Highcove Educational and Photographic Supplies. Click here for the Highcove Facebook Page. Les has an amazing collection of photography books - and if he doesn't have it in stock, he will get it in for you.

Equipment and settings used:
Camera - Canon EOS 7D
Settings - f/5, 1/400s, ISO 200, manual white balance, shot in jpeg
Lens - Canon F-S 17-55mm lens
Focal length: 35mm

Happy Shooting, from Dianne and Lisa at Capture Italy.