Photographing the Duomo – an Intern’s Experience

Caitlin Beverly Caspersen is one of the interns who worked on the project to photograph the Duomo in High Resolution. Here is her testimony.

I do not need to tell you that Florence is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. From the cobblestone streets to the terracotta roofs,  not to mention the great art masterpieces, Florence is nothing short of stunning. I chose to study abroad in Florence in January 2010; it was the second semester of my junior year at Syracuse University where I was studying photography. Michelangelo, Ghiberti, Donatello, and Brunelleschi all emerged from Florence, so I suppose I had some irrational hope that living in Florence would transform me into a great artist.

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I took advantage of Syracuse University’s internship program and was assigned an internship under faculty advisor Alick McLean, who was commissioned by Opera di Santa Maria del Fiore – that’s the people that look after the Duomo! Along with another student, our job was to document the inside of the Florentine Duomo in three dimensions as an HDR photograph. Basically this means we made an interactive Quicktime file that is perfectly lit, and when directed, shows every part of the Duomo, in every direction, from the altar.

This task did not come naturally. Despite my experience with my Nikon, shooting in 3D was a whole new ball game. Let me explain. Like most photography shoots, Crystal, the other student working with me, and I started with a tripod. The tripod was topped with a camera mount, that, like the Duomo itself, may have come from the early Renaissance. Once the camera was mounted, we could manipulate the direction of the photograph. Imagine a typical tripod and how it allows the viewer to move the camera up and down, and side to side. This mount allowed us to do that, but also to move the camera from horizontal to vertical, and then to change the angle we shot at to any degree. Thanks to this tripod we were able to shoot a 360 degree photo of the Duomo.

Each photo we took had to be bracketed, which means we took the same exact picture three times in a row with different light meterings in order to perfectly expose highlights, midtones, and shadows. in every direction. Once the photographs were all taken, we used a computer program to technologically stitch together the images (that looked like the photo reproduced above), from which we then created the interactive movie.  The photographs are so precise that the file depicts more detail than you perceive by standing in the Duomo itself.

As you can imagine, this was a tedious, time-consuming project. In the end, though, it was well worth every second. Gazing up at the dome from the altar is a sight most tourists in Florence will never see, since it’s closed off by the altar enclosure. Thanks to this internship, I documented one of Italy’s best known monuments for the Opera del Duomo in a brand new media that will permit visitors anywhere in the world to see it virtually and in greater detail than in person.

Working at this site was an excellent way to get involved with the community of Florence, push myself as a photographer, and learn just a little bit more about the history of such a great city.

Read the article about the Duomo Photo Project and see the interactive movie here.