With an air of history and buildings that house stories of days gone by, Rome has had my heart since the very first day I got lost in its cobble stoned streets. From a photographer’s perspective, the warm afternoon light that shines upon Rome’s cathedral dome’s is akin to gold and when it seeps between facades gently highlighting the cracked walls and window sills overflowing with flower pots it’s utter perfection.
This edition of Location Scout showcases my top five photography locations in Rome, how to find them and when is best to shoot there. I stand by the ‘get wonderfully lost’ art of travel however if you can wander your way to these locations around the suggested times, fingers crossed you’ll have some pretty magical lighting for your photographs.
St Peter’s Square, Vatican City
Now I’m not religious in any way but there is something that draws me toward St Peter’s Basilica every time I visit Rome. Technically it’s in another country, Vatican City, and while during the day there are too many tourists to count let alone attempt a clear photo, by night it’s a different story. Wander here after dusk and witness the glowing Basilica with hardly a sole in sight. The dimly lit street lights sprinkle light across the cobble stones which lead the way to the perfectly aligned square with towering saint statues looking down from their perch above. To get the most out of a visit, arrive before sunset to capture the light in different positions around the square as it silhouettes the statues and shapes then stay on for the calm into the evening and play around with low light techniques. You can also wander right up to the steps of the Basilica in the evening to get the full sense of might this impressive building projects…just keep an eye on the Vatican’s Swiss Guards, they’ll let you know if you’ve taken a step too far!
Getting here: I suggest walking over St Angelo Bridge then wandering down Via della Conciliazione toward St Peter’s Basilica which you’ll see sitting pretty at the end of the road.
Photo tip: Photograph at dusk and into the evening to experience the peace and quiet that falls over the square once the crowds depart. Keep your eyes open for interesting shadows, statues and reflections and be sure to wander to every corner because there’s a different view depending on where you stand.
Nestled amongst the tiny streets is the most influential building from ancient Rome, the Pantheon; a temple built between A.D 118-125 by the emperor Hadrian. Its mighty columns dominate the square it shadows and inside the architecture fascinates with a dome ceiling so intricately designed it would fit perfectly into the Rotunda if flipped upside down. The ray of light that streams through the ‘Oculus’ in the centre of the dome makes the Pantheon such a photographic gem and it’s simply magical being inside when rain falls through. Being a place of worship it’s important not to use flash photography or go crazy setting up your tripod and getting in everyone’s way. My first suggestion for visiting the Pantheon is to turn your camera off and just stare in amazement. When you do get snap happy, get your camera set to a high ISO so you can reduce any blur and capture the unique elements of the building. You may get lucky and have a choir singing in the Rotunda which creates an angelic sound as their voices echo through the room.
Getting here: Street signs in this part of the city are a little difficult to follow so simply look for the brown ‘Pantheon’ signs. Via dello Seminario will get you here or Via Giustiniani if you’re coming from Piazza Navona.
Photo tip: Look up. Capture the immense arch of the dome ceiling and the shadows the light stream produces.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj
After wandering the streets of Rome all day I was exhausted and began walking slowly back from the Roman Forum along Via del Corso. If you’ve been to Rome you’ll know Via del Corso is busy, bustling and packed with people but as I wandered along a giant doorway caught my eye and I ended up having a little sticky beak inside. What I found was so foreign to the road behind me, it was like I had opened the door and a choir sang ‘ohhhh’ as I entered. Maybe that was just in my head.
Palazzo Doria Pamphilj is home to Galleria Doria Pamhpilj which is a privately owned collection of paintings, furniture and statues dating back to the 16th century. The interiors of the palace are worth a visit themselves but unfortunately when I stumbled upon this incredible building they were just reaching closing time. That said, what made the choir sing in my head when I entered was the lush open courtyard of orange and lemon trees which is surrounded by hall ways and window shutters on all four sides. If you’re looking for a quick escape from the outside noise and need to refresh somewhere quiet, this is your spot and it’s definitely worth a photo or two!
Getting here: From the Roman Forum and Piazza Venezia walk along Via del Corso for roughly 50m and look for the orange trees through the windows.
Photo tip: Arrive earlier than 5pm so you can see inside the actual gallery! This will be top of my list when I return to Rome.
Getting completely lost in Rome is bound to happen and when it does, you’ll no doubt find yourself photographing a beautiful alley pretending it’s where you were meant to be all along. Well this happened to me when I was walking down from the Palazzo della Consulta which houses the Constitutional Court of Italy and boasts a beautiful square and views over the city. Below the staircase which leads from the court a guard standing at the entrance of a beautiful building caught my eye. Snapping away happily I was moving around to get different angles oblivious to which way I was walking I found myself standing in Vicolo Scanderbeg and it might be totally geeky but I even skipped down the road I was so content with my find! Vicolo Scanderbeg is nothing special on the tourist map, it’s just a road like any other but the building that crosses four stories above the road and colours of the facades made it pop in photographs. I was lucky enough to find a puddle in the road which allowed for a great reflection of the street too!
Getting here: Walk along Via della Dataria from Palazzo della Consulta and you’ll find Vicolo Scanderbeg on your right.
Photo tip: Use the road’s narrow features to draw the attention of in your photographs toward the height of the buildings. If you can’t find a puddle for reflections, sprinkle some water and make your own!
The River Tiber
Running alongside the ancient city, the River Tiber is crossed by numerous bridges each uniquely characterised by statues and architectural features. Beginning at St Angelo Bridge wander along the banks to Ponte Cavour photographing the running water alongside the historical monuments and man-made structures. It’s always fun to mix it up by blending trees and natural surroundings with the strength of structures like bridges and in the case of Rome, amazing icons like St Peter’s Basilica and Castel Sant’Angelo. Kayakers can make for great subjects to photograph and the varying shades of sunlight throughout the day will alter your images and create an endless backdrop for your skyline above the river below.
Getting here: The River Tiber weaves it’s way throughout Rome but get to St Angelo Bridge from Via del Banco di Santo Spirito. Then wander the footpath beside Lungotevere Tor di Nona.
Photo tip: Use the trees lining the river to frame the skyline and visit at a few different times to capture the changing light.
Below is a little map to help navigate your way between these locations but as always, feel free to make your own wonderful way there…
Hello! I’m the founder and photographer behind The Wandering Lens.
With 17+yrs experience as a professional travel and landscape photographer, all advice found on this site is from my personal experience on the road. I hope it’s useful for your own travels and would love to hear in the comments about your trips and experiences around the world.