#1079. Photographing Italian Magic

By Pascal Ollier | Travel Photography

Jan 09

I do not remember when I fell in love with Italy, as it goes back such a long, long time ago. Wherever I go there, granted for short visits, I seem to come across beautiful places, good food and friendly people.

Sony A7 III with Loxia 25

A number of years ago, we found a sweet spot to spend some time during the summer, in Tuscany. This year, we decided to go back after a break of a few years.

The straight line which spans between Pisa and Florence is full of amazing places to visit. Pisa is of course famous for its leaning tower.

Sony A7 III with CV 21

If you travel inland on that straight, you will stop in Lucca, charming city inside a spectacular moat.

Sony A7 III with CV 21

When we took a stroll inside the city, I stopped at the San Cristoforo church, where an interesting exhibition called “Dinner for two” by an American artist called Rachel Lee Hovnanian was displayed.

Sony A7 III with CV 12

Traveling East, you now arrive in Florence, with all its magic.

Sony A7 III with CV 12

Santa Maria del Fiore cathedral is the highlight of the city, with its rich adornments.

Sony A7 III with CV 12

The minute details, wherever you look, are unfailingly impressive.


Its Duomo by Brunelleschi is, for me, one of the world’s wonders. Designed in 1436, it features a double cupola. It must have been an engineering ordeal.

This means that if you wish to go all the way to the top, you will have to wiggle your way through between the two. What a piece of art. Its sheer size, colors, all contribute to make a lasting impression.

Whether you look at it from up close or far away, in broad daylight or at night time, it is nothing short of spectacular.

Sony A7 III with CV 50

On this trip, however, we got the strong message that this year is like no other. Italy is on the forefront among countries suffering from Covid 19, and my visit unfortunately confirms it.

Most foreign visitors did not show up.

Sony A7 III with Loxia 25

And people are suffering greatly from it.

Italy always stands for flair and chic.

Sony A7 III with CV 21
Sony A7 III with CV 21

Yet, in current times, the situation is much more difficult.

There were few European visitors, and most American or Asian tourists (especially Chinese) did not come. For locals, the impact is huge. Luxury hotels and shops, as a for example, remained closed for the Summer season after having closed down during the confinement period, promising to, possibly, reopen in the fall, when Florentines should be back from the seaside.

Fiat 500 Giardinera. Sony A7 III with Loxia 25

Yet, for the photographer in me, it was also a great opportunity. The city has so much to offer, especially at night.

Sony A7 III with Loxia 25

But Florence needs our support to keep the magic alive. More generally, we need to take our survival in our own hands. Governments, with few exceptions, have, in my opinion, shown little ability to anticipate in the first place and to manage the pandemic thereafter.

Sony A7 III with Loxia 25

We must go out and rekindle the economy. Jewels, such as Florence, need us, visitors, to come and spend time (and money) there, as soon as it becomes possible to do so again.

Sony A7 III with CV 12

Otherwise, we will dig our own grave, and all that beauty will suffer even more.

Sony A7 III with Loxia 25

We must not let Florence’s lights go off. I’ll be back!

Sony A7 III with Loxia 25

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  • PaulB says:


    These are wonderful images of our favorite city in Italy, though the lack of throngs of people in your daytime images is a bit shocking.

    In September of 2012, we visited Florence for the first time, staying in a rooftop hotel in the shadow of the Duomo. During the day the city was overwhelmed with people from cruise ships bused in for the day. Nights were calm and peaceful in comparison. We really enjoyed the evenings and met the nicest people from all over the world.

    We promised ourselves that we would go back as part of our next Italian adventure. We will go back, we just need to get the current situation beaten into submission.

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you Paul ! While being an opportunity, the emptiness was very disturbing. Numerous hotels, shops were closed. My picture of Santa Croce Basilica, taken at four PM, with its front pavement totally void, illustrates this point in a glaring way in my opinion.
      We will be back.

      • PaulB says:

        We loved the area around the Santa Croce Basilica, the best gelato in Florence is a block or two away.


        • Pascal Ollier says:

          Paul, you are probably referring to Vivoli, via isola delle stinche. That ice cream alone is worth the trip, not a simple detour. Their lampone, raspberry, is simply to die for, out of this world. As Pascal J. would probably say, the Hassy of ice creams ;-).

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    Pascal Jappy, how COULD you keep this treasury from us all, for months on end!

    And Pascal Ollier, thank you so much for sharing these images and these thoughts.

    The first great love affair of my life was an Italian, and when she left me, to return to her home in the north east of Italy, I followed her there to make sure she would be OK. Spent several months with her. Then drifted down to Rome, before flying home.

    I never managed to see Lucca – wonderful place! – but Florence was one place I could not miss out on.

    And I love these photos.

    I am a bit old fashioned – much (most?) of the time I correct my verticals. It stems from how I was taught art. The first line on the paper is a vertical – to define what follows next. It is wedged in my head. It’s how I think, how I relate. It’s also – funnily enough – a way to achieving a certain originality in style, by pushing it.

    But then every now and again, I relent, and force my verticals to converge.

    And you’ve taken the opposite approach here. Upending me. Making me see converging verticals as I’ve never seen them before! Fabulous composition! Fabulous photos!

    BTW, I adore the shot of the bicycle. “Only in Italy . . . .”

    The night shots, too. For me, no selection of photos of a city or a village is complete, without available light night shots. Funnily enough, I woke early and resumed some post-processing. Of a batch of photos in Prague, last year – all taken late in the evening, which was a decision inspired by some kind of delusional belief that the streets wouldn’t be flooded with tourists – but they were still out, in droves. So I had your night shots in front of me, centre stage – with the west end of Old Town Square on my EIZO, to your left – and an accumulation of shots already processed, peaking past you on my right. Night shots from all over, from one end of my desk to the other.

    My heart is in France, the home of my father’s family. But I adore Italy – after my first trip, I came away thinking “you could live here for a thousand years, and never see even ten per cent of it – there’s simply so much of it – jammed in, everywhere you go, everywhere you look!”

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank your for all these kind words, Jean-Pierre. We were lucky given the circumstances. Many Florence dwellers had gone out of town because it gets baking hot in the summer thus there are numerous people who spend time by the sea, and tourists as said did not show up.
      On post processing, I now possess the number 21 release of Capture One and it has got yet better. Significantly faster and more ergonomic. Remember I am not a pro or fan of post production. Just a useful if ungainly task.
      Pascal J. willing, I will shortly propose another Italian paper. Different setting but awe inspiring as well. Take care.

  • jean pierre guaron says:

    PS – I forgot, Pascal – the Italians love cars – I think they imagine that cars were invented purely for them, for their personal pleasure! You can see it, in your images – no matter whether it’s a Ferrari or a baby Fiat, it’s looked after – probably better than the kids (they can look after themselves).

    And sadly, yes, COVID has wrecked things for the moment. But it will end. And Italy will still be there, when it’s over.

    I’m pinning my faith in the vaccines that are appearing all over the place. Right now, for much of the world, things are very grim. But there will BE a “tomorrow”. Just as we’ve found one with the Plague, with ‘flu, with polio, with SAARS, with E-Boli.

  • Nancee Rostad says:

    Lovely images of Florence, Pascal! As Paul mentioned, Florence is also my favorite city in Italy – the art, the food, the architecture, delicious one and all. As a photographer, you were lucky to find it so free of tourists. Although, that was tragic for the city and its citizens. We can only hope that during 2021 we will begin to see the light at the end of the tunnel and that a normalcy will again be reached. However, our new normal will most likely be quite different in many ways. Thank you for sharing your post.

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Dear Nancee, I am humbled by your compliments. Thank you! Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the future.

  • Dallas says:

    Hi Pascal, love your images of Florence the third last is a gem. Love your use of the 12. I do agree cities can’t allowed to die due to covid. Take care.

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you Dallas. I do like this lens, and am even toying with something more radical… as far as the third picture from last, black and white of the Uffizi at night, it is also my favorite. Stay safe.

  • Ian Varkevisser says:

    What better time than now to enjoy the stunning art and architecture in the absence of hoards of crowds. That little red and black Fiat – so stylish and impractical – so Italian.

  • philberphoto says:

    How could one not agree with you about Florence when your images are so beautiful, so eloquent, so Florentine? From the glorious architecture to the painted sculptures that are mere cars in other countries. Yes, it is all under siege right now, but -keep the faith!- Florence has seen much worse over the years, and survived. Because survival in style and against all odds, that is also quintessentially Florentine, and, more generally, Italian. My faves, among many, are the dinner table (when is Don Giovanni coming?), the Uffizi, and the 500, of course! Bravo, bravissimo!

    • Pascal Ollier says:

      Thank you Philippe for these kind words. I hope not only Florence survives, but that we do too ;-). Fingers crossed. Take care.

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