Chicago Food and Travel Photographer

I've Come a Long Way

When I look as my journey as a photographer I occasionally reflect on my work from years ago and sometimes I’m thrilled with it and other times I see how far I’ve come. I think we are all on a journey of some sort in our life. I’m a big proponent of the constant improvement philosophy. I find myself trying new methods to shoot and edit my images. Many times I fail but the constant struggle for improvement is what helps us get better as people and in our craft. I recently listened to a podcast in which a scientist said that the struggle is what produces the most important and nutrient rich portion of the plants we eat. I feel that this is similar for us as humans as well. Although the struggle is not easy, it is important for us to evolve and grow. I think it is this perspective while not easy, that helps us make it through to the other side and grow.

The image below is one of my portfolio shots from Riomaggiore in Cinque Terre Italy. At the time I shot this and edited it I was at a certain stage of my progression as a photographer. But after nearly 5 years of growing and learning I was able to revisit this image and make what I consider to be a drastic improvement. This growth has me appreciating the daily struggle to learn and grow throughout the years.

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Cinque Terre

One of my favorite stops along my recent trip to Europe was Cinque Terre, Italy. We flew from Paris to Pisa, then took the train to the town of Riomaggiore, Cinque Terre. When we arrived at the station the owner of our B&B rental, Lorenza, was there to greet us with her miniature car. We drove up a hill for about five minutes to get to the house, winding through a road so narrow there were no more than 6 inches on each side between the car and two buildings! After settling in, Lorenza brought us ice cold Italian beers and potato chips. My wife and I enjoyed our snack on the balcony while listening to the ocean and taking in all the sights. We then ventured out to explore Riomaggiore: there was one Main Street with maybe 10 shops and 6 restaurants. The town is quaint, quiet and beautiful, with colorful buildings set on cliffs along the Mediterranean. 

Riomaggiore from our balcony. 

Our second day in Cinque Terre is when the real adventure began. The area is known for hiking trails that connect the "cinque terre", or five villages. Although two of the hikes were closed due to recent landslides, we were able to hike the two most difficult hikes. Our first hike started from Corniglia, which is up high on cliffs, a few hundred stairs up from the train station. The stairs were worth the trek: Corniglia is a beautiful town, also overlooking the ocean with picturesque, winding roads through beautiful buildings. We walked through the town and visited the local church, which was unexpectedly ornate with beautiful, old architecture. For lunch we got a focaccia pomodoro sandwich with tomato, mozzarella and basil - a perfect treat to fuel us for our first hike from Corniglia to Vernazza.

The 90 minute hike from Corniglia to Vernazza is the second most difficult in the area. It started through the streets of Corniglia then wound through nearby lush vineyards. The hikes up and down hills offered breathtaking views of the town. About half way through the hike, Corniglia disappeared and we found ourselves immersed in the mountainside facing the Mediterranean. The trail led us several hundred feet up, then back down the mountain towards Vernazza. As we approached the town we were struck with an impressive view of the town jutting out into the water.

Vernazza looking North from the hiking trail. 

Italian flag decorations in the town. 

After a pasta lunch at a cafe along the water, I took a few photos of the town but the sun was too bright, so I scouted locations for later. We hopped back on the local train and headed to Monterosso to explore a bit more.

We stepped off the train to the largest of the towns, Monterosso, famous for its beautiful beaches. We explored the main strip of hotels and restaurants, and enjoyed an excellent dinner at Via Venti: gnocchi with crab, seafood risotto, and a local white wine from a Cinque Terre vineyard. After dinner we went back to Riomaggiore to capture shots at sunset. 


On day 3 we took the first morning train to take photos of Vernazza at sunrise. The town was so peaceful with no tourists and few locals around. As the sun rises from behind the mountain, I was able to get great light for shots of the village just after sunrise. We enjoyed a quick Italian breakfast of champions: ham, cheese and tomato calzone and a chocolate pastry, then headed out to start our next hike from Vernazza to Monterosso.

I'd seen pictures of this trail online and knew I wanted to hike it early to grab a photo for my portfolio. As we wound our way up into the hill I saw the shot. We were looking directly down into the bay with Vernazza in perfect sight. The composition was amazing and the light was perfect. I love the organic view of the coastline without tons of people in the shot.

We continued on the winding trail up and down several paths through the mountain along steep cliffs and a few waterfalls. The views were amazing but this hike was a lot more nerve racking than our first. A few sections of the trail were no more than 2 feet wide with a 10 foot drop off. We finally got to the final stretch on our way into Monterosso: about 300 steps straight down a hill. The hike was exhausting but a great experience. The rewards for an almost 2 hour hike were the gorgeous view of Monterosso in the distance, an amazing lunch of lemon marinated anchovies and salmon salad by the water, and a relaxing afternoon on the beach. Instead of taking the train back to our house in Riomaggiore we took the local boat which stopped along each of the five villages. The evening weather was great for a boat ride and the photographs were even better. I was able to get some of the shots I was waiting to take of each village. I ended the day with a few more sunset photos from Riomaggiore followed by another delicious dinner of local seafood, pasta and wine. 

Our last full day in Cinque Terre was the first overcast day and the temperature dropped to the mid 60's. We decided to explore the towns of Manarola and Riomaggiore. Manarola is similar to Riomaggiore with a main street and a town square, but with more shops and restaurants. We walked down by the water for a breathtaking view, then took a path just north of the Main Street that led along the mountain. The view back into the city was breathtaking. We explored the town's cemetery and church, then wound through a maze of tiny streets and ended up near the rows of vineyards in the middle of town at a lookout point with a beautiful ocean view.

We made it back to Riomaggiore for lunch at our favorite restaurant, Il Grottino where we again indulged in the lemon marinated anchovies, shrimp gnocchi, our favorite seafood spaghetti and of course a bottle of local wine. After lunch we visited the town church and the castle at the top of the village. The clouds hovered over the top of the mountain and made for a beautiful sight. On our way home we visited local shops and bought dinner to eat on our balcony: fresh tomatoes, prosciutto, cheese, fresh-baked focaccia and Italian beer - a great feast to celebrate the end of our trip to Cinque Terre.

We definitely fell in love with Cinque Terre and can't wait to go back. Each town has a unique charm and serene vibe. I would highly recommend anyone visiting if they have the chance.