My TOP 5 Photo Tips when in Cinque Terre


Boats in the harbor at Manarola in Cinque Terre during sunrise taken by travel photographer Matt Genders

This past August, Liz and I had the incredible opportunity to travel to Cinque Terre, Italy. Prior to planning the trip, I actually knew very little about the area. I know I had seen a few photos of the region here or there but man oh man, Cinque Terre was a travel photographer’s dream. Cinque Terre is situated in the Liguria region of Italy, and consists of five small villages, each with its own unique character. The easiest way to get to Cinque Terre is by train, and we ended up taking a very reasonably priced train from Rome to La Spezia. From La Spezia, you can get on the local train to Levanto, which stops at all five villages of Cinque Terre. Liz and I stayed in the village of Vernazza, which is the fourth of the five stops on the train.

Cinque Terre is a photographer’s dream, so alongside some basic travel tips I’ve included my TOP 5 tips when photographing Cinque Terre.

Vernazza clock tower in Cinque Terre in the morning taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders

Getting Around in Cinque Terre

Once in Cinque Terre, there are a few of ways to see all of the villages. The first is by hiking between the towns, which seems to be a popular option, but was way too hot to attempt in August. Many of the days we were there it was 95+ degree heat, so if you want to hike, I would advise doing it in a different time of year. The second option is to take the local train between the villages. A one way fare to any of the towns was 4 euros, but if you plan on doing a fair amount of train riding during the day, you can get a day pass for 16 euros, which was well worth it. The third option was to take a water taxi. This option was the priciest, at 30 euros per person, however the views from the water were incredible, and we ended up seeing another little town called Portovenere, which had some of the best swimming of the trip.

View of Monterosso al Mare in Cinque Terre from the water taxi taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders

Cinque Terre Photo Tip #1

If you want some dramatic views of Cinque Terre, take the train to Manarola first thing in the morning. It is one of the only towns that is backlit, so you get a really gorgeous glow coming over the mountain. You’ll notice in the bottom left of the photos there is a little path- if you continue on that you get this incredible view, and early in the morning you have it virtually to yourself. Definitely one of the highlights of the trip for me. Also, the towns seem to be pretty sleepy before 9am, so getting up early was always fun because you can beat the crowds and get breakfast with an amazing cup of coffee.

Boats lined up in the harber in Vernazza in Cinque Terre taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders

Cinque Terre Photo Tip #2 Include vignettes

Light blue flowers in Corniglia Cinque Terre taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders Maroon flowers in Monterosso al Mare Cinque Terre against a stone wall taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders Boats lined up in the harbor of Vernazza Cinque Terre taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders

To tell the full story of a trip, I always love to include vignettes. These photos might not be incredible stand-alone images, but they do help tell a larger story of the trip, and provide an overall feel and context to the images. I loved the unique color palettes provided by the flowers, so I took a lot of time to make sure I captured them and also appreciate the beauty.

Cinque Terre Photo Tip #3 Take the water taxi

View of the five villages of Cinque Terre taken from the water taxi by landscape photographer Matt Genders

Take the water taxi first thing in the morning. Some of my favorite photos from the whole trip were taken on the water taxi. Make sure to use a high shutter speed because this boat can be choppy, but the sun coming over the hills provided the perfect light for many of these shots, and the perspective from the water is truly unique.

Cinque Terre Photo Tip #4 Pack light

A white house on the hill in Corniglia Cinque Terre taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders

Pack light, and don’t take photos in the middle of the day.

This one I learned the hard way. I love to shoot medium format film, so for a lot of the trip I carried a backpack containing my digital camera, and my Pentax 645- which in the 95+ degree heat was not a great combination. We did a ton of hiking and it ended up being so much weight that I barely wanted to take it out of the bag. I only wanted to shoot either first thing in the morning or later in the evening when the light was most favorable. My suggestion would be to just enjoy the time you have (definitely go swimming!) and don’t worry about taking any photos in the middle of the day.

Try the Limoncello

Apparently lemons are a speciality in Cinque Terre, and the region is known for the limoncello. Definitely a must try if you are there.

Cinque Terre Photo Tip #5 Shoot Vernazza at Sunset

Vernazza, Cinque Terre at sunset taken by Matt Genders Photography

This was the last photo I took in Cinque Terre. We hiked up the trail to Monterosso al Mare, and waited at this overlook until several minutes after sunset. I had brought the tripod with me, and I waited until the lights had started to come on in the town. I had already had a full day with the camera, so the battery was just about dead, but was able to get off a couple of shots before it died. I think my favorite part of taking the photo was hearing the laughter and music of people dining happily from the top of the hill.

This particular photo was shot at ISO 100, 35mm f/3.5 3.0s Nikon D750

What’s in my bag?

A few people have asked me about gear recommendations when traveling, so I’ve included a few helpful links of items that are in my bag when I travel… (all the items are links!)

Manarola Cinque Terre taken at sunrise by landscape photographer Matt Genders Photography

Nikon Z6

This camera is the ultimate travel companion. It’s ultra lightweight, and has incredible dynamic range and colors- perfect for traveling and being sure you are capturing everything.

Sigma 50mm 1.4 

This is by far my favorite lens for the Nikon Z6. I’ve owned a variety of 50mm lenses in the past, but this one is the sharpest with the best colors and bokeh.

Sigma 35mm 1.4

A great companion to have with the 50mm- slightly wider for some more environmental shots, but same great colors and bokeh. This lens is great for shooting both landscapes and portraits (I would even go as far to say that if you only have 1 lens during this trip, take the 35mm).

Lowe Pro Camera Bag

This is not the actual camera bag I use (mine is pretty old at this point and might be discontinued) but I do have something very similar. I always want to have a backpack that has storage for day-to-day items, water, food, a raincoat etc. but also has enough space in it for at least one camera body and a couple of lenses. This bag has most of that and I’ve been really satisfied with Lowe Pro bags so far. I also love a bag that doesn’t immediately scream “camera bag” and “please take my expensive equipment.”

Gitzo Tripod

I’ve made so many mistakes on tripods in the past, and this one seems to have it all. You want a sturdy, lightweight tripod that you can lug with you on multiple planes, trains, backpacks, trails etc. If it’s not lightweight it will break your back, and if it’s not sturdy, it will break your heart. Nothing can ruin an image faster than a bad tripod!

That just about does it! If you have any questions, or would like to know more information about my TOP 5 Photo tips when in Cinque Terre, send me an email or write in the comments!

Feel free to check out my prints gallery with some more photos from the trip HERE.

Monterosso al Mare Cinque Terre view from the water taxi taken by landscape photographer Matt Genders Photography