Prior to coming to Cinque Terre I spent three highly rewarding days photographing Rome. The travel plans were set in stone some 5 days earlier - after all advance railway tickets are significantly cheaper and hotel choice is better. However, this also appears to be the cardinal sin of photography travel planning. Initially the weather forecast for Cinque Terre area was very promising. Unfortunately, on the last evening it became apparent that significant amount of rain was due. Even worse the storm was likely to follow me to Venice two days later. So on Saturday morning after the blue hour shoot and a filling breakfast I headed to Termini station fearing for the worst. After all the rain was also meant to hit Rome that evening so effectively I really wasn't losing out on anything, but instead I could have tried to escape southwards to perhaps Naples and scout the nearby volcano Vesuvius. That is the luxury of travel by car and last minute planning. Flexibility is the king. This story is really intended as a practical advice to fellow travellers and photographers.
So there I was 6 hours later in La Spezia checking in at the hotel. As planned there was still plenty of time for the evening shoot. La Spezia is a great gateway location to Cinque Terre and the surrounding mountains that are worth attention in their own right. There is a good range of accommodation and catering available in the port city. Cinque Terre is only accessible by train from La Spezia and a single ride costs a flat fare of 4 euros. Accommodation is also available in each of the villages. This offers the opportunity to enjoy the quietness, tranquility and hopefully beautiful sunsets from a family run B&Bs on the cliff tops. Some establishments may be located only a short distance away from the station while others will require strenuous effort to reach on foot with heavy luggage!
The sky was getting dull grey and very flat but pleasingly it still wasn't raining. I knew it was likely to be a "location scouting" trip that evening. Hopefully I would get to shoot in the blue hour - cloudy skies are typically not an issue provided there is artificial city lighting to work with. I could have picked any of the five villages - all full of photographic opportunities. I had seen quite a few late night images from Manarola which helped to make the decision. Some 30 minutes later as the train pulled in to the station I heard a distant rumble. A few raindrops fell shortly. Undeterred I headed out to the coast sensing an opportunity as a well as coming to terms with inevitably getting soaked that evening; at least it was pleasantly warm for a natural Alpine shower! The storm accelerated significantly at that point but I was very lucky to find a rock formation along the path to shelter from the rain. I had reasonable view of the village. In an ideal situation I would have composed slightly differently, however the main priority was not getting camera soaked and shooting wide to maximise the chance of catching lightning bolts.
The time of sunset came and went without a single ray of golden sunlight. The blue hour followed minutes later. The lightning intensified. Soon the exposure times were measured in tens of seconds while the sky had a little bit of blue tones left. It was the best opportunity to capture a dramatic thunderstorm-lit landscape. All I had to do was persevere and keep trying. The first hit came minutes later (please see image 1). A giant fork behind the village and the cliffs lit up the sky. I didn't have to wait long for another - double - strike. The first and very powerful bolt struck in the sea outside the image frame and illuminated the cliffs in electric purple light; the second distant one ripped across the sky on the very edge of the image. It was a very special experience.
Before leaving I packed up the camera gear and smartphone into the backpack and made sure to use the dedicated rain coat to prevent any potential water damage. I obviously got drenched even over a short distance but that didn't matter at the end of the day.
Day 2 started very wet. I didn't have any sunrise plans; Cinque Terre villages are really sunset-only locations. I could instead get some needed sleep, enjoy breakfast and go to Sunday mass. The rain seemed to have stopped in the afternoon when I headed out for location scouting adventure to Vernazza. The plan was to walk back to Riomaggiore for the blue hour. The six or so kilometre beach track turned out to be a major hillside hike with some breathtaking views bookmarked for the next trip. By the time I reached Corniglia a rainstorm started. I had to get the train; there was no reasonable walking path forward anyway. In Riomaggiore the storm only worsened. Half an hour later the downpour stopped. It was possible to head out of the tunnel and make the blue hour images. The classical view of the village and from the edge of a sea cliff worked reasonably well thanks to floodlighting. I could only imagine how impressive golden sunset last light would be.
Once I was happy with the wide-angle composition I explored tighter crops using a short telephoto end of 24-70mm lens. Evening sunlight would have revealed the depth colour so much better so I really wouldn't mind to go back and do it all over again. The images are obviously very reasonable, just not how I planned it.
The main street of Riomaggiore winds and follows up the steep cliff. The views there are just as breathtaking looking back towards the sea. It is very nice to be able to photograph tall buildings from point of reasonable elevation and pleasingly the village offers such opportunities from either side.
The last image of the day was an attempt to portray the spirit of working fishing harbour, that of a fishing village. It is the true DNA of Cinque Terre. The similarity with many Cornish villages also becomes apparent. After all both are remote locations that developed with a similar way of life dictated by the sea and terrain, similar challenges but also their distinct differences and identity.
In two days I was able to produce a body of work comprising of dramatic evening thunderstorm at Manarola and blue hour Riomaggiore. I would absolutely consider coming back to shoot the stunning villages in the golden evening hour and colourful sunsets and I am sure one day I will do it.
Notably, Pisa city famous for its leaning tower is only a short distance away from La Spezia and is well worth exploring. The angle of the tower truly appears extreme as seen in the photo below; I have made my very best efforts to correct the perspective and verticals as accurately as possible. The cathedral is unfortunately undergoing renovation at the time of writing with scaffolding all around the main dome. Otherwise it would have been a perfect contender for the morning blue hour shoot.
Finally, please consider purchasing prints - your support makes it all possible and most grateful for it. 1-to-1 workshops and tutorials are available throughout the year on request; please get in touch to enquire and book. Please stay tuned for the third and the final instalment of the series from Venice.