Discover the heart and soul of the Italian Riviera through the lens of photographer Alberto Bernasconi, along with a few tips of the trade.
Alberto Bernasconi knew about Camogli, a tucked-away, hidden gem town in the Italian Riviera, long before the travel bloggers and magazines started covering it. Back in the mid-aughts, when he made many of these photographs, the sun-drenched village was a local’s best-kept secret.
The artist spent languid summer days weaving through the rust and rose-colored palazzi, and people-watching on the rocky beaches. Looking through his portfolio, you can almost smell the salt air, mingling with thyme, citrus, and olive trees.
Based in Milan, Bernasconi has traversed beaches across Italy, from “the huge and perfectly organized beaches of Costa Romagnola to the small, crowded stone beaches of Liguria.”
Whether he’s traveling on assignment for a major publication or simply taking time off to visit friends and family, he often makes his way to the coast in his free time.
He’s photographed it all—pristine sandy shores, endless shallow waters, and large rocks perfect for sunbathing.
In Italy, every beach offers a glimpse into the heart and soul of the surrounding town.
“Italy has about 8,000 kilometers of coastline, and its extraordinariness lies precisely in the variety and richness of the landscape,” the photographer tells me.
“Moreover, culturally, it is very different between the north, center, south, and the islands, with very different dialects, customs, and habits. This diversity makes Italy a unique country.”
In Cefalù, Sicily, he’s looked out across the glittering turquoise waters, dotted with bathers, to see the ancient city beyond. He’s visited the small town of Fano along the Adriatic coast, which once inspired the poetry of Robert Browning.
If he’s on vacation, Bernasconi prefers vast, empty beaches where he can sit in the shade with a good book.
“A beach with sand, shade, and a crystal clear sea is hard to find but, in that case, I’ll spend my time reading, floating in the water, and then reading some more,” he explains.
On the other hand, it’s the crowded, sunny beaches that make for great street photography. While he doesn’t like the heat, these settings are perfect for watching people at rest and at play—lounging on the rocks, working on their tans, and reading the daily paper.
The Right Gear
These days, Bernasconi’s camera bag includes a Canon 5D Mark IV camera, a 24/105mm f/4 lens, a Sony RX100 III camera, and a Google Pixel 6 phone.
If he’s on assignment, he’ll bring the DSLR and the zoom lens, but the compact camera or phone is ideal for street photography, where he needs to go unnoticed.
When carrying the phone or compact camera, he doesn’t look like a professional photographer, so people feel free to be themselves and enjoy their time at the beach without reservations.
“If I want a candid image, I have to be fast,” the artist says. “Stopping and asking for permission would compromise the spontaneity of the image. It’s almost impossible to ask someone to repeat the same situation that attracted me just a few seconds before.”
Unlike his formal portraits, Bernasconi’s street photos capture those blink-and-you-miss-it moments that make the beach a magical and carefree place.
Location, Light, and POV
Often, the photographer will scout the location and choose a time and spot where he knows the light will be just right.
“Sometimes, I use the hard shadows in the afternoon for intriguing compositions. Other times, I’ll choose the long, softer shadows of morning or late afternoon,” he says.
Because drones aren’t permitted on beaches for public safety reasons, he has to get creative to find new vantage points. Sometimes that means stepping back, getting in close, or climbing to higher ground.
Camogli, for example, is known for its many hillsides and cliffs, each offering a different view of the water.
“Many times, I’ll find a place where I think something could happen—because of the light, colors, and shapes,” Bernasconi tells me. “Then, I stop and wait. Sometimes, it works. Sometimes not.”
The artist paces himself and stays hydrated throughout long, hot days on the beach, but he’s always on the lookout for moments that could become photos.
“I look for shade when possible, always have a water bottle with me, take breaks, and look for a bar, preferably on the beach so that it can become an opportunity for more photos,” he says.
In the years since he created these photographs, more people (and more photographers) have discovered Italy’s beaches, but nobody can capture their essence quite like he can.
As a local, he knows the places the tourists haven’t found yet—the secret corners of paradise dotting Italy’s thousands of kilometers of coastline.
“In some parts of Southern Italy, you’ll see families who have organized to stay the whole day at the beach, with all the comforts imaginable,” he tells me. “The smell of sunscreen mixes with the scent of fried eggplant—excellent under the hot sun.”
License this cover image via Alberto Bernasconi Images.