In the Cinque Terre region of Italy there are these five coastal villages; not too long ago they were only accessible by boat. Cinque Terre means “five lands” in Italian, and the region received this name because it was very much like five separate land-locked islands with five separate villages separated by very rugged terrain and sea. It is now a UNESCO World Heritage site.
While many people have heard of Cinque Terre, very few have heard the name of the village of Manarola, one of those five “lands,” the one depicted in this photograph.
I had been aware of Manarola for quite some time. Because of my Italian heritage, it was on my list of places to visit even before I was a photographer. But becoming a photographer caused this village to move from my “places I’d like to see” list, to my “places I must see as soon as possible” list.
Like Nothing You’ve Ever Seen Before
When you look at the photo above you will realize this an iconic (and idyllic) scene. The villagers paint their houses in a rainbow of colors so individuals could easily pick out their own home from a distance while at sea. Although many of the villagers still make their living on and from the sea, as you can imagine, tourism has been added to their sources of income.
When I arrived I expected to be greeted by dozens, perhaps hundreds, of “hungry” photographers (read my earlier Yosemite post). Much to my delight, that didn’t happen. There were tourists taking the occasional snap, but the first morning I was there, as I got up before sunrise (leaving my wife and son to sleep) to trudge down the long series of staircases to the outcropping where I could take this photo (Cinque Terre could be more aptly named “Mille Scale” or “a thousand staircases”), I was greeted by a photographer’s paradise.
When I got to the outlook (with my friend and guide Paolo), absolutely nobody was there. No teeming busloads of tourists, no platoons of photographers tripping over themselves to get the perfect composition, no squadrons of selfie-snappers leaning over the rail for the best narcissistic image, nothing! This was anti-Yosemite! Not only was it stunningly beautiful, here was the solitude I was hoping for.
Making the image was perhaps the most fun I’ve ever had in photography. I could set up, move around, take my time, change lens filters, go for a longer exposure to get the water effect I wanted, move again, try different exposures, try different compositions, whatever I needed to get my shot.
It’s been almost three years since I made that image and I’ve never had the kind of time and conditions I had on that morning in Italy. And the image remains one of my most popular.
Golfers keep going because the game teases them into believing that their next game might be their best. In some ways, photography does the same thing. As I go around and find places to shoot, I’m always hoping I’m “that close” to another Manarola.
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