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It was a very special treat to have my photo of the Florence Cathedral appear on the February 2014 edition of National Geographic (Hungary edition). Here’s how I got the shot.
I have a passion for Italy, and Florence will always have a special place in my heart. That’s one of the reasons that I now run photo tours in Italy along with my good friend and fellow travel photographer Elia Locardi. As luck would have it, the spectacular Basilica di Santa Maria del Fiore (pictured on the cover) is one of the stops on our tour, and rightfully so. It’s one of the most beautiful buildings in the world, and a wonderful subject for any photographer.
After leading a photo walk at a travel-blogger conference in Umbria the week before, I was spending some time with friends in Florence. The Cathedral, or Duomo as it’s called locally, is an incredible feat of design and architecture, but it isn’t always easy to get a great shot of the church, for several reasons. It’s usually got scaffolding covering some part of the building, since they have to do maintenance work on the structure on a regular basis. It’s huge, so getting it all in frame can be difficult when close up, especially considering that it’s not easy to back up and get an unobstructed view. Lastly, there are swarms of people that surround the building all day long, so the only time to get a clear shot with no people in it is at sunrise… if you're lucky.
On this trip, I was getting over a rough chest infection and an awful cough, so I didn’t get up for any sunrise shooting, but I still wanted to make sure I could get a shot of the Duomo at sunset—and I didn’t want people in the shot. The only way to do that was to rise above street level and find a good vantage point to get my shot. Rooftop terraces seemed like the ideal thing, but would I be granted access? That was to be seen.
I spent part of my day researching rooftop bars and restaurants in Florence, and wasn’t having a lot of luck finding one with the perspective I wanted. After the online research was done, I began to do the recon work, and took a few hours to see if I could get access to some of these locations. Some places were easy to get into, but didn’t have the right view; others would just not grant me access at all with camera and tripod or were completely private. One of my last stops was the Machiavelli Palace Hotel, where I talked to the front desk clerk about getting access to their rooftop. He told me that their view was okay, but if I really wanted a great view I should go to another smaller, little-known hotel only a few blocks away. I duly noted the name and address and made my way over.
Upon arrival at my target destination, I asked the clerk there if I could go take a photo of the Duomo from the roof. I handed him a business promo card that just so happened to have my previous cover photo of National Geographic on the front. He looked at it, smiled and said, “Sure.” Phew, I was in.
This was not a nice rooftop bar or restaurant, just a balcony with a couple of tables and chairs, but oh… the view! I spent the next three hours waiting for the sun to sink below the beautiful Florentine horizon line of picture-perfect buildings and watched as golden-hour light faded in to a stunning blue hour. Not a bad day at the office indeed.
The four-part process in obtaining this photograph:
It was just a few days before my birthday, and I got my present early with this photograph that would go on to appear on the cover of what may just be the most prestigious magazine on Earth.
Ken Kaminesky is a commercial travel photographer and visual storyteller. His work has been featured in numerous commercial publications, including the New York Times and multiple covers of National Geographic. He communicates his passion for travel, and for the landscapes & people he meets along the way, through his popular blog, and through yearly workshops in places as far-flung as Jordan, Italy, and Iceland.
He doesn’t usually talk about himself in the third-person.