It’s not everyday that we plan for dramatic travel photos, but taking the trip of a lifetime we promised ourselves to add little drama in our photos wherever we go. The Roman Colosseum was the perfect opportunity.

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When we post those dramatic photos we often receive a lot of questions about Dannie’s clothing, or how we got a photo with no people at a popular location, or how lucky we were that the light or the weather was just right. But in all honesty, we put a lot of work in our photos. It’s the kind of work we enjoy, but perhaps something that most tourists on vacation wouldn’t want to deal with.

Rome was the busiest city we have photographed – even more so than Paris or Venice. But with a little bit of homework and determination, we were able to obtain the kind of dramatic travel photo we wanted for our one month visit. Since we were staying near the colosseum, and it’s the most iconic landmark, we decided that it would be the best place for us to create our central image of the eternal city.

We usually break our biggest shoots into two sessions:

The first is scouting day, where we get to sleep in, relax, and take in the scenery and the culture. On these days I often don’t even take any photos of Dannie or Lisa – I’m only looking for the best angles and guessing how the scene will look early in the morning or late in the evening when we come back to avoid the crowds. The photos I take of the scenery also help us to pick the right outfits for Dannie and Lisa when we do return.

Read Our Post About the Importance of Scouting for Travel Photography

For our colosseum shot we decided on an angle from the upper balcony on the western end of the colosseum, with Dannie and Lisa posing on the platform below. Since they would appear small in the shot, we decided on a bright red dress to help them stand out against the nearly monochromatic stone. It was an ambitious concept, especially because we had to beat the crowds and we had to go to different locations. But most of the dramatic shots we’d seen of the colosseum were all done outside, so it seemed like a fun little challenge.

About a week after our scouting trip, we picked a morning with a good forecast for beautiful skies, and we showed up nice and early to be the first ones in (and it was a good thing too since a line started forming behind us almost right away).

After the gate opened Dannie and I headed for our separate positions. She stayed on the lower level and ran toward the platform with Lisa (picture her running in that dress) while I ran up to my perch, having already chosen the correct lens and calibrated my camera for the light. However the path I was planning to take was blocked by a new exhibit that had been installed after our scouting trip(picture me sprinting back and forth like a loony toon, looking for another door). This was just another reminder that things can change and we need to make sure that when we scout ask questions about future exhibits and plan alternate routes accordingly.

Even with all of our preparation, a couple of tourists found their way into our shot, which meant more work for Dannie in photoshop later on. Even though I often get most of the credit for the photos we post, since I was the one holding the camera, Dannie actually works a lot harder than I do. Not only does she spend a long time editing the images, she also poses with a toddler who often doesn’t want to cooperate, and often in front of other people who tend to stare at her because they can’t see me up in my perch and they don’t understand what she’s doing.

We put a lot of time and effort into our images that casual travelers probably don’t think about. But a lot of things that are really rewarding are hard work. Mountain climbers work hard, but their reward is a view that the feint of heart will never see. Our reward is to see the completion of a concept we had in our mind and then see it come to life. It’s what we came to the city to get, and it’s exactly the souvenir we wanted. And the great thing about slow travel is that we can afford to spend two mornings taking one photo, then collapse in our apartment and enjoy a home cooked meal together. Dannie jokes about how long she was waiting down at the colosseum before I got in position, and I say I couldn’t find the elevator. And every time we look at the photos we take, we get to enjoy the memories of doing what we love.