General photo and camera tips

General photo/video tips, Italy, Italy (Photo by Bill Gracey)

General tips, hints, and recommended photo and video gear

What kind of camera to bring

Photo professionals will tell you: The absolute best camera you will ever own is the one you can grab quickly to make the shot. That means if you can whip out your phone to snap that picture of nuns on a scooter, it is far better than digging around in your backpack for your expensive SLR and missing it. 

That said, unless you’re a professional or a real heavy-duty amateur, the fanciest camera you need is a basic Digital SLR (Single Lens Reflex) and the kit lens it comes with (though do look for deals that include two lenses, one wide-angle—say an 18–55mm—and a second lens for telephoto—perhaps 55–200mm). Get a lens cap with a little string to dangle it from the lens so you don’t lose it.

This should cost you no more than $700—unless you want it to. Sure, you could easily spend $5,000 on a good digital camera, but the "prosumer" models all clock in at $449 to $1,200 (largely depending on the kind of lens you spring for).

Of course, you can also get by perfectly well with a pocket point-and-shoot digital camera. These days you can get quality digital cameras that shoot 10 megapixels, remain waterproof up to 10 feet underwater, and come with all the bell-and-whistle features for well under $350.

Invest in at least a low-end pocket camera; don’t bother with a disposable camera, which take, at best, passable pictures and even then only under full, bright sunlight. The only useful disposable cameras are, if you think you’ll need one, the ones that work underwater.

Before you leave home: Know thy camera

Practice with your camera before you leave the States, especially if it’s a new one and you’re not sure how it behaves. Visit the sights of your home city, pretend you’re in TK, and snap away.

  • Get to know the camera.
  • Shoot indoors and outdoors.
  • Bracket your shots by shooting the same thing several times using different settings, with and without flash, and so on.
  • Write down carefully exactly what you did or varied in each shot so that, later, you'll know which ones worked best.

Sure, you’ll waste half a day doing all this, but it’s better to know how the camera handles with different films and in different situations before you go off and miss that perfect shot on vacation.

Don’t leave home without them: Buying batteries and memory cards

Buy all the memory cards you'll need for your digital camera in the United States. It’s cheaper, and you can be sure it hasn’t been sitting on the shelf since 2003. 

I'd suggest bringing a bare minimum of 4 gigs (gigabyte) of memory for every two days on of your trip. Myself, I routinely shoot about a gig a day (more if a festival breaks out), so I travel with enough chips to total about 8 gigs per day to be safe.


  • Make your memory cards last longer by performing imagery triage as you go, deleting extraneous images each evening—those too blurry, underexposed, or poorly framed to be worth keeping—so as to free up more room on the chip for the next day. I tend to do this at dinner table after I've ordered (and taken my notes on the restaurant) and am awaiting my food.
  • Bring several spare batteries (if you're using rechargables, you must pack these in your carry-on bag due to new TSA rules as of 2008). 
  • Use a UV filter on the lens to protect it from scratches (not a polarizing filter, which messes up more shots than it helps if you don’t use it correctly).
  • If you do have to buy photo supplies or memory cards abroad, go to a camera shop or department store. Never buy film from a souvenir stand near a tourist sight. The markup is almost criminal.
Gear & clothing links
Useful Italian phrases

Useful Italian for sightseeing

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
Where is?... Dov'é doh-VAY
...the museum il museo eel moo-ZAY-yo
...the church la chiesa lah key-YAY-zah
...the cathedral il duomo [or] la cattedrale eel DUO-mo [or] lah cah-the-DRAH-leh
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
Closed day giorno di riposo JOR-no dee ree-PO-zo
Weekdays (Mon-Sat) feriali fair-ee-YA-lee
Sunday & holidays festivi fe-STEE-vee
ticket biglietto beel-YET-toh
two adults due adulti DOO-way ah-DOOL-tee
one child un bambino oon bahm-BEE-no
one student uno studente OO-noh stu-DENT-ay
one senior un pensionato oon pen-see-yo-NAH-toh

Basic phrases in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) pro-nun-see-YAY-shun
thank you grazie GRAT-tzee-yay
please per favore pair fa-VOHR-ray
yes si see
no no no
Do you speak English? Parla Inglese? PAR-la een-GLAY-zay
I don't understand Non capisco non ka-PEESK-koh
I'm sorry Mi dispiace mee dees-pee-YAT-chay
How much is it? Quanto costa? KWAN-toh COST-ah
That's too much É troppo ay TROH-po
Good day Buon giorno bwohn JOUR-noh
Good evening Buona sera BWOH-nah SAIR-rah
Good night Buona notte BWOH-nah NOTE-tay
Goodbye Arrivederci ah-ree-vah-DAIR-chee
Excuse me (to get attention) Scusi SKOO-zee
Excuse me (to get past someone) Permesso pair-MEH-so
Where is? Dov'é doh-VAY
...the bathroom il bagno eel BHAN-yoh
...train station la ferroviaria lah fair-o-vee-YAR-ree-yah
to the right à destra ah DEH-strah
to the left à sinistra ah see-NEEST-trah
straight ahead avanti [or] diritto ah-VAHN-tee [or] dee-REE-toh
information informazione in-for-ma-tzee-OH-nay

Days, months, and other calendar items in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
When is it open? Quando é aperto? KWAN-doh ay ah-PAIR-toh
When does it close? Quando si chiude? KWAN-doh see key-YOU-day
At what time... a che ora a kay O-rah
Yesterday ieri ee-YAIR-ee
Today oggi OH-jee
Tomorrow domani doh-MAHN-nee
Day after tomorrow dopo domani DOH-poh doh-MAHN-nee
a day un giorno oon je-YOR-no
Monday Lunedí loo-nay-DEE
Tuesday Martedí mar-tay-DEE
Wednesday Mercoledí mair-coh-lay-DEE
Thursday Giovedí jo-vay-DEE
Friday Venerdí ven-nair-DEE
Saturday Sabato SAH-baa-toh
Sunday Domenica doh-MEN-nee-ka
Mon-Sat Feriali fair-ee-YAHL-ee
Sun & holidays Festivi feh-STEE-vee
Daily Giornaliere joor-nahl-ee-YAIR-eh
a month una mese oon-ah MAY-zay
January gennaio jen-NAI-yo
February febbraio feh-BRI-yo
March marzo MAR-tzoh
April aprile ah-PREEL-ay
May maggio MAH-jee-oh
June giugno JEW-nyoh
July luglio LOO-lyoh
August agosto ah-GO-sto
September settembre set-TEM-bray
October ottobre oh-TOE-bray
November novembre no-VEM-bray
December dicembre de-CHEM-bray

Numbers in Italian

English (inglese) Italian (italiano) Pro-nun-cee-YAY-shun
1 uno OO-no
2 due DOO-way
3 tre tray
4 quattro KWAH-troh
5 cinque CHEEN-kway
6 sei say
7 sette SET-tay
8 otto OH-toh
9 nove NO-vay
10 dieci dee-YAY-chee
11 undici OON-dee-chee
12 dodici DOH-dee-chee
13 tredici TRAY-dee-chee
14 quattordici kwa-TOR-dee-chee
15 quindici KWEEN-dee-chee
16 sedici SAY-dee-chee
17 diciasette dee-chee-ya-SET-tay
18 diciotto dee-CHO-toh
19 diciannove dee-chee-ya-NO-vay
20 venti VENT-tee
21* vent'uno* vent-OO-no
22* venti due* VENT-tee DOO-way
23* venti tre* VENT-tee TRAY
30 trenta TRAYN-tah
40 quaranta kwa-RAHN-tah
50 cinquanta cheen-KWAN-tah
60 sessanta say-SAHN-tah
70 settanta seh-TAHN-tah
80 ottanta oh-TAHN-tah
90 novanta no-VAHN-tah
100 cento CHEN-toh
1,000 mille MEEL-lay
5,000 cinque milla CHEEN-kway MEEL-lah
10,000 dieci milla dee-YAY-chee MEEL-lah

* You can use this formula for all Italian ten-place numbers—so 31 is trent'uno, 32 is trenta due, 33 is trenta tre, etc. Note that—like uno (one), otto (eight) also starts with a vowel—all "-8" numbers are also abbreviated (vent'otto, trent'otto, etc.).