Florence in Focus: Getting the Perfect Shot

Giotto, the Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages would recognize this view from San Miniato. Debra Smith photos.
Giotto, the Italian painter and architect from Florence during the Late Middle Ages would recognize this view from San Miniato. Debra Smith photos.

Where and When to Take Your Best Shots in Florence, Italy

By Debra Smith

If you come to Florence to see the world’s best art and architecture, chances are you’re going to want to capture some great images of your own to take home with you. Luckily much of Florence still retains the same beauty it had during the Renaissance. Here are some tips on when and where to create your own masterpieces.

Nebo gets us off on the right foot on our walking tour of Florence.
Nebo gets us off on the right foot on our walking tour of Florence.

The Most Popular Shepherd in the World

The first stop for most visitors to Florence is usually the Galleria dell’ Accademia, home to Michelangelo’s famous statue of David. The 14-foot tall marble sculpture of the shepherd boy who killed Goliath was sculpted from 1501 to 1504 when Michelangelo was just 26 years old.

It is enshrined under a skylight built specifically to highlight his mastery of rendering detailed musculature and fine details, like David’s piercing gaze, in stone. The statue graced the Piazza della Signoria in front of Florence’s City Hall until 1873, when it was moved indoors to protect it from the elements.

For the best photos of the original David, buy the earliest timed ticket that you can from the Accademia’s official website and head directly to the statue.

A View from a Hill

A copy of the David has taken the place of the original in the Piazza della Signoria and there is also another copy in bronze that stands on the hilltop of San Miniato at the Piazzale Michelangelo.

The Piazzale Michelangelo, with its commanding view of Florence, is a pleasant half-hour walk from the Piazza della Signoria, across the Ponte Vecchio to the south bank of the Arno River.

Shoppers battle it out on the famous Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Debra Smith photos.
Shoppers battle it out on the famous Ponte Vecchio in Florence. Debra Smith photos.

Take the Via por Santa Maria across the Ponte Vecchio (Old Bridge), past the mix of upscale boutiques and souvenir shops. You’ll find them packed with shoppers, day and night.

Rebuilt several times on its Roman foundations, this medieval bridge was originally used by the town butchers, who dumped their scraps in the river and sold their wares in tiny shops that lined the bridge.

The Famous Ponte Vecchio

They were evicted by order of Cosimo I de’ Medici in 1565 when he built the Vasari Corridor above them to connect his two palaces, the Palazzo Vecchio and the Pitti. Since then they have been occupied by less odorous goldsmith, jewelry and souvenir shops.

Come early or jostle for a spot on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence.
Come early or jostle for a spot on the Ponte Vecchio.

This is the only bridge in Florence that remained intact after the Second World War.

Stop here for a photo of the multiple arches of the Vasari Corridor along the Arno, and again in the middle of the bridge for a shot that’s as perfectly framed as a Renaissance painting.

Once you’ve crossed the river, take the steep set of stairs up the hill to the Piazalle Michelangelo. The Rose Garden is a pleasant place to take a breather.

When you reach the top, you’ll find a huge terrace with panoramic views of the city, a set of bleachers on the hillside and crowds of people enjoying an evening gelato.

As always, the best advice is to get there early, especially well before “the golden hour” near sunset, always the best time for a picture. From this vantage point, you’ll be able to see the red rooftops of Florence, the egg-shaped dome of the Duomo (Florence’s Cathedral of Santa Maria del Fiore) and Giotto’s bell tower.

Take the secret Duomo Tour in Florence!

It’s the perfect spot to capture the glittering Arno as it flows under Florence’s many bridges, including the Ponte Vecchio. And, of course, the bronze copy of David is waiting for his close-up surrounded by copies of Michelangelo’s four allegories from the Medici Chapel of San Lorenzo.

An Easter Parade – Florentine Style

Dante the great poet of Florence
Dante the great poet of Florence.

Each year on Easter Sunday, the citizens of Florence and thousands of visitors gather in the Piazza del Duomo to greet a procession of men and women dressed in colorful costumes representing the medieval guilds of the city.

They accompany an ancient two-story wooden cart packed with fireworks. At precisely 11:00 a.m. as the bells ring out from Giotto’s bell tower and the choir sings the Gloria, a mechanical dove “flies” down to ignite the explosive display.

The origin of this tradition is lost in time, but the Scoppio del Carro, or Explosion of the Cart, is said to be linked to a soldier who brought three flints from the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem back to Florence during the Crusades.

While the crowd is gathering in the piazza, smart photographers will head the other way, back to the Piazza della Republica. That’s where you’ll find a perfect view of the parade, and the cart, which is pulled by a team of white oxen garlanded with spring flowers. Once the fireworks begin, the Piazza del Duomo fills up with smoke, making it difficult to get a good shot.

Walk this Way

A day without gelato from Gelateria Royale is like a day without Italy’s sunshine.

If you like to learn more about Florence while snapping your way across the city, join a walking tour from a reputable company like Walks of Italy, who offer a “welcome to Florence” stroll at sunset that’s perfect for capturing deep afternoon shadows and rosy skies.

My guide was local artist Nebo, and he had a wealth of information about the founding of the city in 59 BC; the Romanesque, geometric design of Florence’s cathedral; and the importance of the city as a trading center for wool, silk, leather and money lending.

He told us about local dining specialties, the first and fourth stomachs of a cow, tripe and lampredotto, respectively; how chestnuts (Castagna) were used for voting, which is why we “cast” a vote; and where to find the best gelato and trattorias.

All the while he was pointing out medieval towers and statues of famous Florentines like Machiavelli and Dante, the first travel writer, with plenty of stops for photographs.

The 2.5-hour walk flew by and we landed in a lovely little trattoria for apertivos (a drink and small plates) to whet our appetites before dinner, just in time to take one last picture.

Debra Smith lives in Calgary, Canada with her husband and her cat who acts like a dog. Follow her adventures on Instagram @where.to.lady

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