My wife, Sara, and I were approaching our 20th anniversary and we wanted to do something special. We decided to visit Italy, a country I had never traveled to and one that she always wanted to see.
Once we settled on a destination, her first words were: “You are not going to take those big cameras of yours.” I thought about that for a while and decided to buy a point-and-shoot for the trip. While this pleased Sara, it scared me.
You see, I’ve been a professional photographer for 20 years. My cameras are extensions of my creativity. I take my equipment wherever I go. My professional DSLRs (digital single lens reflex cameras) do not have a noticeable lag time. My lenses allow me to photograph things that are far away as well as up close. I even have a macro lens in case I am smitten by the tiniest of subjects.
The point-and-shoot I bought has no digital zoom, no interchangeable lens. It doesn’t shoot video. However, I found that I could still control the depth of field, the speed of the shutter, and set the white balance. In other words, I still had some control. And the photos I produced with this contraption rivaled those from my professional gear.
When we arrived in Venice, instead of enjoying the city, all I could think of was trying to document our travels with the little camera. It took me about three days of tinkering and fine tuning to make it act like an extension of my eye.
One morning we took a boat to the must-see Murano glass factory. I looked through my fixed 36mm lens and saw the beautiful shadows cast by the early light. That’s when I took control. I put the camera in manual mode, exposed for the highlights just like I do with professional cameras, and voila! I shot photos in the style of my professional ones.
After Venice, we made our way to Cinque Terre, the five colorful villages along the Ligurian coast. While hiking between Manarola and Corniglia, I had another epiphany: I was no longer weighed down by my big DSLRs. Finally, in Florence, I began to relax and let the city enthrall me. I don’t even remember photographing the details of the carved scenes on the Gates of Paradise at the Baptistry in front of the east-facing doors of the duomo.
We then traveled to the walled-in city of Cortona in the heart of Tuscany. The way the light hits the landscape makes this area a photographer’s dream. As we approached a cemetery just outside the walls, the sun was setting and the waning light grew glossier, perfect for photography.
I paid close attention to the sun’s rays bathing the tombstones in golden hues, engrossed by the way the metal shined off the crosses. When the light was almost gone, I trained my camera on a large statue of a crucified Christ; I liked how it contrasted with the artificial light illuminating from the inside the cemetery chapel. I forgot about my gear’s limitations. Instead, all I remember is capturing the image and the crisp quiet click of the shutter.
In Rome I looked for iconic images of the ancient city. At sunset, the Colosseum, with its pure architectural beauty and powerful lines, was the kind of sight that remains etched in your mind. Now, finally, I knew I had the tool to capture that memory.