Tag Archives: Acquarossa

The Photo of the Year – Star Trails Over Puglia


Rather than run another round of voting, I’ve opted to tally up the votes and declare the above shot my picture of the year. In a minute, I’ll tell the story behind the photo, but here are the results of the top 10 shots:

  1. Star Trails Over Puglia, Casalini (Puglia), Italy – 6 votes
  2. Green Fields of Chianti and Passing Storm, Badesse (Tuscany), Italy – 5 votes
  3. Paul Luellig + Lorene Parrish – 5 votes
  4. Vendor at Campo dei Fiori Market, Rome (Lazio), Italy – 4 votes
  5. Tractor in Front of Kate’s Seafood, Brewster (Cape Cod), Massachusetts – 4 votes
  6. Santa Maria Assunta and Galli Islands, Positano (Campania), Italy – 3 votes
  7. Lone Cypress and Blazing Fog at Dawn, Chianti (Tuscany), Italy – 3 votes
  8. Sangiovese Vines at Dawn, Chianti (Tuscany), Italy – 3 votes
  9. Ciabatta Frutti Rossi (strawberry turnovers), Assisi (Umbria), Italy – 3 votes
  10. (5 tied for 10th) Butcher in Assisi, Italy; Sitting in Wildflowers, Crested Butte, Colorado; Blooming Daisies in Positano, Italy; Hand Passing Through Lupine, Crested Butte, Colorado; Carousel and Space Needle, Seattle, Washington – 2 votes (each)

So in the end, what does all of this mean? Well, I’m not quite sure. Possibly nothing at all. But I’m a sucker for lists, Best Ofs and I’m inherently nostalgic, so this was fun. Plus, I’m just happy to have a clear winner. Thanks to all who voted.

Now, on to the story of the winning image. First, it was taken at Acquarossa, a small inn that we discovered in the “heel of the boot,” Puglia, Italy. For a geographical reference, here is where it’s located.

I was just trying to locate its address online, and it’s so off the beaten path that Google — that bastion of all data in the world — didn’t even register the road they’re on.

We absolutely loved this place. We discovered it on this great European hotel website called Secret Places, and from the looks of that landing page photo, we knew we wanted to go there. In fact, this inn was the reason we even had interest in Puglia, and once we started reading about the area, we opted to include it in our journey.

Here is the interior of our trullo. We had roughly 750 square feet to spread out, which was pretty remarkable given the fact that this was the cheapest place we stayed the whole three weeks we were in Italy.


This part of Puglia — the Valle d’Itri — is covered with trullo, a traditional white conical hut that dots the farms and towns of the area. In fact, nearly the entire city of Alberobello is trulli, but that’s another story for another day.

Many of the following photos are Hailey’s because she did such a great job documenting things. Here is an image of the neighbor’s place being constructed. It was fascinating to watch the trulli being built. They layer the rough stones into a cone and then sand them down. I can’t imagine how tedious the sanding must be.

Many of the trulli are used as agriturismos, farms that have been converted into inns, often times to keep the farm running and economically viable. The owners of Acquarossa are a couple in their mid-thirties — Angela and Lucca — who didn’t strike me as farmers, but more like two city types who opted to live out in the country and maybe make a buck or two at the innkeeping thing. They were very hospitable, the breakfasts were great, and they gave us all the space we could ever want. In fact, this place is in the running for Top Place to Spend Three Months Writing a Book…along with La Casa Grande in Arcos de la Frontera. Again, that’s another story for another time.

Anyway, on to how I took the shot. It was very deliberate. A few days before we departed Denver, I made a last-second purchase for my Canon 40D — a cable release (aka a bulb). This small device plugs into the side of the camera and allows you to take long exposures without jarring the camera on a tripod and blurring the image. Furthermore, you can lock the shutter open, a setting labeled on the camera as bulb. I had this thought in my head: finally, I have a digital camera capable of taking night shots without noise. I wanted to see what it was capable of by trying to get a star trail shot, a twenty minute to multiple hour exposure which captures the rotation of the Earth.

I also figured that Puglia would be my best chance to capture this type of image since light pollution in urban areas renders it nearly impossible. From the moment we arrived at Acquarossa, I set about scouting a spot at the inn to capture star trails with the profile of trulli in the foreground.

The roof seemed most ideal. I wanted to avoid lights, which could drown out the stars pretty quickly, and from the angle of the roof, I could get close enough to the trulli roof to get the texture of the stonework. In the end, that’s the remarkable thing about these huts — their stonework. Up close, it becomes readily apparent that these buildings are made by hand, something that adds a little extra magic to the landscape.

I scouted this shortly after we did some much needed lauundry in the sink.

Heck, the roof was even a great place to dry the laundry.

Anyhow, I had two nights to get it right, so I wasn’t worried too much. We headed out for dinner in Ostuni, a nearby city on a hill with a view down to the distant Adriatic Sea, and came back after dark. What I quickly discovered is that I didn’t have many takes to get the shot. For one, the exposure was 19 minutes at f/11 (with noise reduction meaning an additional 19 minutes of processing before you can take your next shot). All of this quickly drained my battery. Plus, I wasn’t willing to stay up all night. The shot at the top of this post took 45 minutes from set up to the moment it appeared on the LCD panel. Fortunately, I got it right on take No. 1.

The next night, I tried three more exposures, each a little shorter in length (and therefore, shorter star trails). These ones didn’t turn out nearly as well, but I’ll share them anyway. With this first one, there was just not enough light on the foreground, and the angle is not as interesting as the top image.

And on this last one, balancing the light and dark was extremely difficult, especially without strobes or continuous lights (which I wasn’t about to lug around Italy). Nonetheless, it was windy that night, and I love the way the tree looks as its tossed about in the wind.

So that’s the story behind the photo of the year. For more on our travels through Puglia, Basilicata and Southern Italy, visit my travel portfolio and click on Matera to Ostuni.

Thanks for voting, for reading the blog and here’s to a great 2009. Two more posts coming in the near future: Christmas and the new Colorado Official State Vacation Guide, which has a six-page story of mine — my first editorial/photo assignment.


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The Best of Italy – Part 2

(As always, click on each photo for a larger view.)

The night after the ass-kicking thunderstorm in Sorrento, I ate the most beautiful piece of pork fat…. Just look at that glistening, artery-clogging goodness:

This is the mystical, spook-filled cave city of Matera in Basilicata. Settled by Neolithic man, Materans lived in caves (and abject squalor) until the 1960s when all citizens of the sassi — or ravines — were forcefully evacuated by the Italian government. There are over 100 cave churches — decorated with haunting Byzantine frescoes — and the sky swirls with swifts and falcons. Our hotel was burrowed into a cave and our breathing at night as we slept condensed and soaked all of our clothes. All of this is set on the edge of a canyon, and it rained much of the time we were there. It was probably the most intense experience of the trip. When you have so many layered stories echoing around a place — some utterly difficult to digest — you can’t help but feel hyper-alert to all of the sights around you.

That is until you eat that blessed blob of pork fat pictured above.

Next, off to Puglia:

After the eerie wonder of Matera, the Valle d’Itria of Puglia was like a fabric softener commercial: bright, fresh, green and I half expected to see Snuggles dancing among the orchards. We stayed here: Acquarossa. I will return and write a novel there…just because it looks like the kind of place to stow away from the world and do just that.

The shot on the left was taken from their roof. It’s a 22-minute exposure and my first experiment with star trails.

Then we flew to Rome, stayed in Ciampino with my cousin Nick, his wife Guilia and son Lorenzo, and toured the Eternal City by day. The ultramod couple on the right had just attended a rally for Silvio Berlusconi, a man who even the Bush Administration referred to as “despised by many but respected by some for his bella figura [beautiful image].” (Then again, Bush also called him “amigo”). We saw Silvio speak, and while I was too far away to look into his eyes and get a sense for his soul ala Vladamir Putin, I got the idea that the fake-baked, pearly-white grinned septogenarian with no wrinkles was full of shit.

Still, this super sexy couple driving in their super sexy car with their enormous Silvio flag and that ubercool disinterested/activist way about them….thank you. You even make indifference to corruption look hot. This shot made Rome for me.

Part 3 will come later this week.

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