Wednesday, Jan. 28, 2009

Ponte Sant'Angelo

While on holiday in Rome, American photographer Michael Christopher Brown got TIME's call to go to work. His assignment: capture the vibrancy and beauty of the ancient capital without lapsing into cliché. His first stop was the Sant'Angelo bridge over the Tiber River, to shoot Rome's fleeting, warm morning light. He overexposed this shot slightly, allowing the bright daylight to glisten off the face of the bridge.

Vatican City

Brown's second stop was St. Peter's Square, where, every Wednesday morning at 11 a.m., the Pope welcomes a general audience. Lines form early, so Brown advises arriving two hours ahead of time. Before going in, he lingered on the Square's perimeter, above, and found long, dramatic shadows created by the morning light.

The Pope

Before the Pope's audience began, Brown overheard a tour guide say the best place to get a glimpse of the Holy Father is near the corner to the right of the Basilica's Dome. There, the Pontiff makes his entrance to St. Peter's Square in the Popemobile. Brown got close enough to shoot this image of Pope Benedict, along with this car and the hands of the faithful, with a 23 mm wide-angle lens.

Vatican Walls

Using a wide-angle lens, Brown made the Vatican's monumental walls dwarf a pair of Italian police. The imposing walls recall the Vatican's history as a city-state unto itself, separated politically from Italy and the greater city of Rome.


To capture the city's most recognizable icon — and its biggest cliché — Brown used the reflective surface of a bus window to add fresh layers to his image. The juxtaposition also depicts the way the city seamlessly mixes the old and the new.

Coliseum, Interior

Brown found that these small children gave a grand sense of scale to the Coliseum's 2,000-year-old columns. If you shoot here in the late afternoon, you can pick up details in the shadowy areas between the walls, without blowing out the sky or the distant face of the building.


Another good juxtaposition: the high architecture of the Coliseum's arches clashes with the souvenir salesman's kitschy offerings. Brown squatted down low, and aimed his lens upward — a good technique that often adds appeal to an otherwise dull scene — so that the blue sky shining through the arches continues the pattern formed by the blue souvenir plates on the table underneath.

Louis Vuitton Store

While strolling the glamorous Via del Corso shopping street, Brown grabbed this shot of the Louis Vuitton store through the front window. "It was so modern," he says, "so emblematic of high fashion."

Chiesa della Santissima Trinita

Faith clashes with fashion in this photo taken from the Via dei Condotti. Brown has cleverly composed this image so that the church, its pews and an indoor scaffold form a geometric grid that sets off the old woman visitor against the fashion model in the reflected advertisement.

Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini

Museo Atelier Canova Tadolini (150 A/B Via Del Babuino), a museum-in-a-restaurant, is one of the greatest tourist bargains in the city. For three euros, a visitor gets a cappuccino, a plate of cookies and a chance to study the plaster casts used by master sculptors Antonio Canova and Giulio Tadolini. While standing on a mezzanine, Brown focused on a man and his espresso. When a waiter stuck his hands into the lower right portion of the frame, the composition was complete. A shutter speed of 1/60 second froze the scene.

Trevi Fountain

Completed in 1762, the area surrounding the famed Trevi Fountain is nearly always packed, thanks in no small part to its association with such iconic films as Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita. Brown says the best time to come here is in the early evening, when the bluish evening light mixes with the fountain and street lights and the romance of the city emerges in full force, as couples stroll through the square and take their cocktails at the nearby cafés.

Trevi Fountain Square

Directional light from a streetlamp near the fountain throws cinematic light on a woman with flowers. By setting his ISO at 1,000, Brown is able to get an exposure of f1.4 at 1/250 second, which allows him to bathe his central subject in light, yet maintain some detail in the sculpture in the background.


The tiny streets and many bars of this district south of the Vatican make it one of Brown's favorite neighborhoods. On the night of his TIME assignment, he came across this restaurant worker as he cleaned up, around midnight. Brown has pushed the ISO to 1,600 to get an exposure, but details remain crisp. The soft light from a street lamp cloaks the scene in pastel hues.