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The Charm of Italy, Part 2

By February 2, 2023No Comments
Views of the lovely Amalfi Coast looking south from the summit of Mt. Solaro, Anacapri, Isle of Capri, Italy. Hallmark of the Isle of Capri, the Faraglioni Rocks jut up from the waters of the Tyrrenian Sea, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg

Views of the lovely Amalfi Coast looking south from the summit of Mt. Solaro, Anacapri, Isle of Capri, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg

Capri and Naples Bay

By Jerry Ginsberg

In part one of my recent trip to Italy, I described the photographic opportunities in and around the fascinating and unique city of Venice. In part two I head south and west, taking the high speed Frecce train to teeming Naples where I caught a hydrofoil for the fast trip through the Bay of Naples to the world-famous, scenic and very delightful Isle of Capri.

Editor’s note: Even the most avid nature photographers occasionally travel with spouses and families, go on vacations where landscapes and wildlife aren’t the primary focus. What do you do then? How do you apply nature photography techniques to urban settings? What do nature and travel photography have in common? Jerry Ginsberg, a frequent contributor on national parks, recently went to Italy. Here is part two of his three-part series describing how he approached it.

The sun-drenched rock that is the Isle of Capri juts suddenly up from the otherwise smooth surface of the Tyrranian Sea. Standing proudly alone and surrounded by the ultra-cerulean-blue waters, the jagged form of Capri is miles out to sea and worlds removed from stifling Naples.

Fast hydrofoils shuttle vacationers smoothly through the Bay of Naples, past notorious Mt. Vesuvius and deliver them to the well-worn, very touristy and somewhat underwhelming Capri harbor of Marina Grande. The small area is filled with sidewalk restaurants and signs hawking sightseeing boat rides.

A few hours of exploring this world famous island quickly reveal that there are essentially three Capris, all co-existing simultaneously.

The most visible is the crowded tourist scene with the main plazas of both of the island’s small towns, Capri and Anacapri, overrun with visitors in the countless outdoor restaurants and bars as well as crawling along down rows and rows of little shops. I’ll assume that we’re all anxious to skip that segment.

Next we have the very upscale local denizens in their magnificent and well-hidden homes lining narrow lanes that honeycomb the many steep and terraced hillsides. These are sited to maximize the stunning views of the waters below them. A myriad of high-end designer and local boutique shops are here to cater to the fashion needs of these residents. Signs proclaiming “Privato” are everywhere.

It’s been a favorite of the elite for a long time. The Roman emperor Tiberius fell in love with the island and built his favorite palace, Villa Jovis, high on a hill on the northeastern side of Capri in 24 CE.

Charming and colorful entryway on the Isle of Capri. © Jerry Ginsberg

Charming and colorful entryway on the Isle of Capri. © Jerry Ginsberg

Faraglioni Rocks

The quintessential Capri landmark. After arriving at the unmarked and easy to miss downward ramp to the right side of a small Piazzetta and overlook, head down perhaps two thirds of the way to the bottom view point. Stopping here will allow you to frame the rocks with the hillside foliage. The same short-medium zoom will be what you need; a polarizer is optional, but helpful. Late light is best for this scene.

The switchbacks on the uphill return count as your cardio workout for the day.

These unique rocks can also be photographed successfully, albeit without the foreground foliage, from a boat during the tour that circles the island. (See below.)

You won’t get sunrise, but take the earliest trip available.

Loop Hike

Not a formal loop, but a series of winding and intersecting narrow lanes will allow you to hit both the Arco Naturale and Faraglioni Rocks in a single circuit. Starting out from Piazza Umberto, the main piazza of Capri town, or the top of the funicular about three to four hours prior to official sunset should provide the best opportunity for good light on these striking landforms, at least relatively.

Mt. Salero

Rather than walking, the summit (see opening photo) is reached by a smooth chairlift ride from the center of Anacapri town and is best in late afternoon light. The small chair has no room for big backpacks. Bring just a short-medium zoom and a polarizer. Leave the tripod in your room for this one.

Walking back down the mountain is a good option.


Take the small bus from Anacapri town to Faro. (Lighthouse in both Spanish & Italian.)

This is an easy shot requiring just one flight of stairs. Dawn and early morning light are best. With any luck, the sky behind the lighthouse can be a stunner. Again, the same short-medium zoom does the trick here.

With the one ultra-wide angle exception noted above, you’ll find that something in the range of 24~70 will get you through the day. OK—that and a few espressos

Hallmark of the Isle of Capri, the Faraglioni Rocks jut up from the waters of the Tyrrenian Sea, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg

Inside the famous Blue Grotto / Gratta Azzura on the Isle of Capri, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg

Island cruise

I know, it’s really touristy. What the heck…you came all this way; might as well bite the bullet and invest perhaps an hour and a half.

Take the earliest morning time that you can get.

Buy your ticket a day in advance from any one of the zillion vendors in Marina Grande, get in the boarding line early to grab a seat on the inboard side of the boat facing the island. The L shaped corner of the bench in the stern offers a good vantage point. The trick to that is finding out if the boat’s intended course will be clockwise or counter-clockwise.

Good luck getting the correct answer to that one. It’s not an exact science.

Blue Grotto / Grotta Azzurra

This is by far the biggest draw on the island. You might or might not come home with a prize winning image, but the experience is a 100% hoot.*

Make sure to go on a really sunny day. Mid-day around solar noon offers the maximum light in the grotto – much like the slot canyons of the American Southwest.

The best light is found in a fairly small area near the grotto opening. Catch it quickly immediately after entering as soon as you can raise your head and again on the way out right before you have to duck.

This will require your very fastest lens. F/1.4 should do the trick. Perhaps contrary to intuition, not a wide angle; a 50mm can work well as will an 85mm. You will not have time to change lenses. Take just one lens and make it work for you.

*Definitely not for anyone prone to motion sickness or those with significant mobility challenges.

Ancient excavated ruins of the Pompeii Forum destroyed by eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D. Pompeii, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg

On to the ruins of Pompeii !!

The affluent Roman city of Pompeii was suddenly buried under a layer of ash when Mt. Vesuvius blew its top in 79 C.E. Since this occurred somewhat prior to the 20th century invention of the seismometer, the folks of ill-fated Pompeii failed badly to grasp the magnitude of the event as it befell them.

It was only in the mid-eighteenth century that the very existence of the buried city became known. Since the people of Pompeii were caught unawares, they were quickly buried alive under the cataclysmic flow of lava, ash and debris up to fifty feet deep. Most succumbed to the intense heat as Vesuvius vented that heat from the magma below.

As they decomposed and the lava hardened, what remained are the empty spaces left by their bodies.

Nineteenth century archeologists came up with the bright idea of filling these empty pockets with liquid plaster that made molds of the last moments of the lives of the eruption’s victims. It is these molds that have given us actual 3D casts of their final agonies.

It is a haunting way of confronting mortality.

Besides these somewhat macabre exhibits, Pompeii is filled with a couple of square miles of the now stabilized and preserved ruins of what was two millennia ago one of the notable thriving and sophisticated commercial cities of antiquity. It is these structures with a good deal of their mosaic floors, artwork and magnificent columns intact that fascinates us and makes for some interesting travel photography.

The same advice holds true here…get out very, very early!

Unfortunately, the entry gates don’t open until 9:00, so you’ll have a limited time before the light becomes too harsh for the best conditions. Make the most of it. Once inside, hotfoot it toward the Forum (Foro). Once you’ve covered that mighty space with its many imposing relics, head for some of the more popular spots close by. Prime among these are the House of the Fawn and the Stabia baths.

Conversely the last light of day on some of these structures can be magical. If you can handle the uneven stones underfoot for the entire day, you may be well rewarded.

Along with our appreciation for the sweet light of golden hour and the contrasts between light and shadow, we can also apply many of the same techniques we use for landscapes to more urban settings, even if they are two thousand years old. Leading lines, shapes, and curves; pleasing color contrasts, negative space and prominent foregrounds to give dimensionality. You’d be surprised how many things we do in landscape shots work just as well in travel photography.

Excavated ruins of the Stabiane Baths in Pompeii; destroyed by the sudden eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, Pompeii, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg

Excavated ruins of the Stabiane Baths in Pompeii; destroyed by the sudden eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE, Pompeii, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg


The little cousin to Pompeii, Herculaneum lies directly below Vesuvius and was buried under a flood of mud and debris by the same 79 CE eruption that overcame Pompeii.

Since most of ancient Herculaneum sits beneath modern day city of Erculano, only about 20% of it has been uncovered by archeologists. While the ruins of Pompeii seem vast and exploring them all can be a bit daunting, seeing all of Herculaneum can be done in just a half day. But don’t sell it short. This compact area is just packed with magnificent and surprisingly well preserved homes, baths and other sites.

It makes an easy side excursion from Pompeii, Sorrento or Naples.

Mt. Vesuvius

The culprit in these stories of death and destruction, the enigmatic Vesuvius volcano, still looms threateningly over the entire Naples area.

It last erupted as recently as 1944. As anyone serious about volcanism knows that while seismic activity can be an indicator of an imminent or future eruption, no one can predict with certainty when a volcano will blow or how bad it might get.

The flanks of presently inactive** Vesuvius are solidly packed with uncounted homes and lodgings. Just as the residents of ancient Pompeii and Herculaneum blissfully ignored or were ignorant of the potential dangers of living in the shadow of such an enormous volcano, today’s neighbors go blissfully about their business without giving the monster a thought.

Let’s hope for the best.

**  In what is most likely my very imperfect understanding, at least two hundred years must go by since the most recent eruption before a volcano can be declared to be dormant. Two hundred years in geologic time is much less than a single heartbeat to us puny humans.

Amalfi Coast

Known the world over for its charm and beauty, this stretch of Italy’s shoreline overlooking the Tyrrhenian Sea and the Gulf of Salerno exhibits two characteristics that by far outweigh all others.

  • The twisting hillside road that knits the towns of the region together is both a marvel of engineering and a torturously serpentine heart-stopping drive.
  • Copious wealth is apparent in the innumerable mansions that cover the impossibly steep and rocky limestone cliffs.
  • Try to take in the very charming towns of Positano, Amalfi and Ravello.

While the scenery filled with towering cliffs and blue seas is stunningly gorgeous and the views from the many homes of the rich and famous are magnificent, the photography along the coast is confined largely to travel brochure and postcard subjects, unless you go away from the coastal road and take one of the many hiking trails up into the hills. These trails can be very steep, go up or down hundreds of steps, and have very narrow sections with sheer drop offs. Of these, the Path of the Gods, Sentiero Degli Dei, is the most well-known.

Next stop – the eternal city – Rome!

The charming village of Ravello sits high above the scenic Amalfi Coast, Italy. © Jerry Ginsberg

Jerry Ginsberg is a multi-award winning and widely published photographer whose landscape, Nature and travel images have graced the covers and pages of hundreds of books, magazines and travel catalogs. He is the only person to have photographed each and every one of America’s 63 National Parks with medium format cameras.

Jerry has been awarded Artist Residencies in several National Parks across America and has appeared on ABC TV discussing our national parks. His works have been exhibited from coast to coast and have received numerous awards. Jerry’s photographic archive spans virtually all of both North and South America along with large chunks of Europe and the mid-East.

More of Ginsberg’s images are on display at