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Hidden courtyards of Italy subject of striking photo series

Bulgarian photographer Seth Vane offers new perspective on hidden spaces behind Italian streets

A courtyard in Genoa
All images by Seth Vane

Sometimes it’s as simple as looking up. “Tunnels to the sky,” a series of skyward shots of hidden courtyards across Italy, offer a unique vantage point for those looking to take in the city’s gorgeous architecture.

The photographer, Seth Vane, was actually in the middle of shooting a portrait in Milan when he decided to glance up. The Bulgarian born lensman saw the beauty in the James Turrell-like framing, and decided to seek out more spaces waiting behind the city’s bustling streets. He’d seek out similar places in Venice, Rome, and Genoa, offering a unique perspective on the riches of Italian design.

Currently based in Toronto, Vane has a varied career on photography, having shot around Europe, especially portrait and travel imagery. Curbed spoke to him about his work in Italy and his approach to exploring and documenting the unseen beauty of a new city.

A courtyard in Rome
Seth Vane

How did you get started in photography? What made you want to photograph buildings?

“I’m from Sofia, Bulgaria, and started photographing there in 2006 after I graduated from school. I worked at a news agency and gained a lot of experience for a few years covering political experiences. I won national awards in Bulgaria, as well as some European prizes. In 2010, I moved to Italy with my family, where I did a lot of freelance work, including working for architects. That exposed me to a lot of Italian cities.”

How would you explain your style?

“Observational photography. I really enjoy shooting , people and places that you can actually go and see. Many time, I’m walking by myself in cities, without GPS or smartphone maps, wandering and exploring.”

What are some of your favorite buildings and places to shoot?

“I love to go to abandoned places. Recently, I spent a lot of time chasing and finding good spots for architecture photography in Toronto, where I live now”

Seth Vane
Seth Vane

What camera and gear do you use?

“I use a Canon EOS 5D. I use a Sigma 12-24 lens for architectural stuff.”

Any advice or tricks for improving architectural photographs?

“I always look for color. I usually try to include something other than just the building. Include some person, and focus on something more than just the architect. You want people to feel like they can be there in the photo. Give them a way to better relate with the place.”

Favorite time of day to shoot outside?

“All day, to be honest. I wake up early if I’m going to shoot, especially if it’s outside in nature. There’s better light early in the morning, but there’s no particularly good time of day to capture that perfect moment.”

Any tips for shooting buildings on Instagram?

“To be honest, I just started using it a few months ago, so I’m still learning. I always try and share something about the place and the picture when I post, just to provide context for people.”

What advice do you have about getting ahead in the industry for people who want to become professional photographers?

“I’ve tried to concentrate my energy for photography on the stuff I really enjoy shooting. With technology today, we have pictures of everything. I think you need to find a focus.”

A courtyard in Milan
Seth Vane

Tell me the story behind one of your favorite photographs you've taken.

“The Milan images were an incredible experience. I lived in Genoa, on the seaside, and traveled to new towns every day. And when I got to Milan, I turned off my GPS, wanting to explore and capture the spirit of the city. The first courtyard I shot was a coincidence. I didn’t expect to see that building. Then I started looking for buildings that looked similar. I figured I would just explore the city and if I’m lucky, find some architectural beauty. Turns out, I was really lucky.”