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How I got the shot: Francesco Lastrucci on capturing serenity in Rome

While international travel was paused, the photographer was able to recapture the stillness of hazy summer months in the Eternal City. We ask him about his favourite moments during the assignment.

Published 20 Apr 2022, 06:09 BST
St Peter's Basilica looms over the bustling Via della Conciliziaone. Around 25,000 people visit the Vatican ...

St Peter's Basilica looms over the bustling Via della Conciliziaone. Around 25,000 people visit the Vatican Museums every day, though they’re mostly going for a handful of things.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

What drew you to this story?

I shot Rome for National Geographic Traveller as a cover story assignment for the November 2021 issue. I’ve been visiting the Eternal City since I was a teenager, and I’ve photographed it as an adult on multiple assignments. I grew up infatuated by Rome’s ethereal light and with its complex, multilayered identity. It’s an astounding city that never ceases to reveal something different about itself on each visit. I was eager to find out how it would reward me this time. So, when I received the call from the editors, I was thrilled.

What was the most unexpected thing you discovered while shooting?

I shot this story in two batches in August. There’s a peculiar mood in Italian towns during the peak of the local summer holiday season — everyone is on vacation and everything is put on hold for a few weeks. In the past two decades this has been lost, in part, as the crowds of visitors have grown. It means that tourist activities remain open, so there are more locals keeping busy in the city.

From when I was little, I remember the silence and stillness of the midday heat, when no one was in the street and most of the shutters on the shops were down. Yet for those who remained, it felt like the city was just there for them, like it was ‘theirs’. It was a unique feeling. For the first time in so long, with fewer crowds due to unlucky recent global events, I finally got to relive the timeless mood that accompanied my childhood summers, and I got to rediscover a city comprised of easygoing locals who slow down their city life for a few weeks.

Which is your favourite image?

I’ll select two that represent two distinct aspects of Rome. I’ve taken one from above, which to me symbolises Rome’s divinity. You can see Giardino degli Aranci, one of three classic viewpoints of Rome and perhaps my favourite. This garden, on the Aventine Hill overlooking Trastevere’s roofs and the Vatican, is where enchanted locals and visitors hang out, chat and enjoy an improvised aperitivo under the glowing light of the sunset.

A view from Giardino degli Aranci, overlooking Trastevere and the Vatican.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

The other was taken from street level, representing the unique popular culture of this vibrant city. It was shot on one of the many walks in the neighbourhood of Trastevere, which is filled with interesting characters. The interactions you’re able to observe are direct and amusing.

These were two moments when I really felt what I was photographing. I was immersed in the environment to the point where I forgot about my camera and technique, which is a precious opportunity to get rid of any filters I might have between myself and the subject.

The vibrant street life in Rome.

Photograph by Francesco Lastrucci

How have you found inspiration during the pandemic?

It was forced by circumstance, but I got to spend much more time in my own country compared with the past 10 years. I travelled back and forth to nearly every corner of Italy and I found out that focusing on my own backyard provided good practice for my work.

Sometimes you feel like you have to travel to the other side of the world to tell a story, but so many are just waiting for you. I learnt a lot from this. Moreover it has been a relief in these darker times to find so much joie de vivre on my Italian journeys.

What advice would you give someone starting out in travel photography?

I would suggest not being so obsessed with your equipment, but to focus on your vision and narrative. It might take a while to find your own voice. Photograph your surroundings, learn how to see what’s around you and re-evaluate the obvious. Your technique will grow around this. When travelling, do your research and be flexible and respectful. Wherever in the world you travel, you’ll leave a trace of trust for the photographer who visits after you.

Which places are on your wish list to visit in 2022?

It’s been useful to photograph while confined to my own country over the past two years, but I believe I’m now ready to get back into my pre-pandemic schedule. My wish list has been piling up in the meantime and it would be difficult to name all the places I’ve researched and longed for, from the Pacific to South America. I’ll likely begin with my beloved Mediterranean and some of my ongoing long-term projects, such as those in Colombia, India and the Sahara.

See the photos from Francesco's cover story shoot in the articles below.

Discover more of Francesco’s photography on his website and follow him on Instagram

Check out more behind-the-scenes stories from National Geographic Traveller photographers

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