How to Improve Your Instagram Travel Shots

*This article first appeared in Endless Vacation, September 2017.

A Pro shares ways to up your game


With 56,000 followers watching her feed, travel writer and influencer Erica Firpo(@ericafirpo) knows how to make an Instagram post pop. We asked her to share her tips—follow the advice below to help reap likes, comments and Insta-envy.

Shoot It Like You Mean It

Hold the smartphone steady and with authority, making sure to align the camera perfectly parallel with the subject. Shoot horizontally for more range in the picture plane and then double up with vertical shots for your Instagram Stories.


Timing Is Everything

Early mornings and late afternoons, also known as the “golden hours,” are some of the best times to take photos because the light is warm and soft. For uncrowded shots, get up and out at sunrise to have the sites to yourself.

Get Some Perspective

Change up the vibe with a change of place. Head to higher ground for sweeping views, or kneel closer to the floor for action shots. My favorite, high or low, is to find a vanishing point for a stylized shot.

Keep It Natural

And as much as I like to frame a gorgeous golden ratio, great photos come when you don’t force the scene. Let the natural elements play out right in front of you, and shoot away. For help on where to shoot, you can research locations in advance with Google Earth and Instagram.


Sometimes a little editing (like cropping, alignment and light and/or color correction) can upgrade a photo from nice to amazing. For Android* and iPhone,** I like Snapseed(iTunes/Android; free) for overall editing; VSCO(iTunes/Android; free) for its tilt-and-level tool (which helps with photo alignment); and A Color Story(iTunes/Android; free) for adjusting color balance. Editing rule of thumb: Be as authentic as possible.

Bonus Tip:Bring an external battery so you don’t miss out on a shot.Mophie(cases, from $60)makes cases that can extend battery life by more than 100 percent while protecting your smartphone.

Let's get empty . . . me + you and #emptylagallerianazionale

I was raised to be a museum geek.  When I was child, my mom would take us to the Philadelphia Museum of Art almost every Saturday afternoon and said it was our playground-  Sol Le Witt's On A Blue Ceiling was our sky, Cy Twombly's Fifty Days at Iliam our playfround, and Peter Paul Ruben's Prometheus Bound our babysitter.  She'd let me cut school for a morning at the Barnes (original location), and my parents would rev us up with weekends in Washington DC, (my sisters and me fighting over what order to visit all of the Smithsonians) and New York (name a museum, we were there).  If anything, we wanted to live in museums like Claudia Kincaid, so my latest obsession makes sense:

Mornings in a museum all to myself.   Or better yet, organized visits to La Galleria Nazionale with you during hours that are normally closed to the public.   You read correctly:  closed galleria, all yours, but you have to let us know--  aka the next evolution of all these Emptys in Rome and Milan Darius and I have been hosting.  All you have to do is send a message via Instagram direct message to @LaGalleriaNazionale.


12 December 2016


Wanna see what La Galleria Nazionale looks like empty?


For past  Empty projects I have hosted...

Italy's Presidential Palace and Instagram

Perhaps the one good thing Silvio Berlusconi did was put the Italy's Prime Minister role on the map as the Presidente del Consiglio dei Ministri della Repubblica Italiana, but how many of you know about the Presidente della Repubblica, aka the Prez of Italy? More likely, you 've heard of the Quirinale, that gorgeous residence and office of President Mattarella, a place that has more history, art and style than Buckingham Palace, and better dressed security. Over my life in Rome, I've only been able to snag a visit to the Quirinale once with a decisive search for a fresco by Melozzo da Forlì, and virtually meandered its gardens and halls via its virtual tours [English is narrated by a winsome Stanley Tucci and Greta Scacchi!], but it wasn't until last week that I had it all to myself IRL.  Instagram invited me and 14 Instagrammers for a walk through an #EmptyQuirinale, for a private after hours visit where we sized ourselves up with the 6 ft 2 in corrazieri (carabinieri honor guards), walked through the President's kitchen, garden and hallways, and selfied our way into history. Italian newspaper La Repubblica joined us and caught all the action in celluloid- check me at 1 minute 25 seconds.

To join in on the fun, click #EmptyQuirinale-  and for my personal perspective, here's a Steller Story.

#EmptyVatican, totally #blessed with Instagram

A photo posted by Erica Firpo (@ericafirpo) on Nov 3, 2015 at 12:26am PST

I like art.  It's pretty obvious if you happen to hear me chatter, whether face to face or on social media.  I love going to galleries, meandering museums, investigating installations-  it doesn't matter, I just need to have an art experience.  I could probably call it an addiction, which may explain why I am so adamant about being first in line at the Venice Biennale, finding art tags on Instagram or helming my own Insta-artsy project #EmptyMuseo.   Combining my love for art and the fun I can visually have on Instagram, The Professor (aka Darius) and I have been curating some great art meet ups in Italy's galleries over the past year.  The latest installation was October 26's #EmptyVatican the love child of a great coffee talk between me, Darius and the Patrons of the Arts in the Vatican Museums, an organization focused on bringing together restoration projects and donors within the walls of the museums.   Darius and I would select a group of 10 Instagrammers, including ourselves, based on interest, aesthetic, community participate, and committed desire to share Italy's cultural heritage, and let the world know about the Vatican Patrons and its free app Patrum.

The game plan:  The Vatican Patrons would curate an early morning away from the crowds and in non-accessible areas of the museums.  So yes, the Galleria of the Maps, Raphael Rooms, Lapidarium and Sistine Chapel were all ours.  To be clear, we abided by the rules of the Vatican Museums and did not use flash, nor take any photos or videos in the Sistine Chapel.  With just 10 photographers,  #EmptyVatican increased followers by more than 35% and brought the Vatican Museums and Vatican Patrons to the fore front of international press-  as seen and written about in  The Guardian, Condè Nast Traveler, Condè Nast Traveller India, Swide, Lonely Planet,Catholic Herald… and more

The Players:  @Aivenn, @DavidPinto_, @EricaFirpo,@Helium_Tea, @MarkoMorciano,@MatteoAcitelli, @Mattego,@MBMissMary, @Saverome,@Sherokee

Click below to see all the photos.  And give me a shout if you want to join the next #emptymuseo


Ever After #everchangingberlin



72 hours with hundreds of Instagrammers.  I visited Berlin for the first time  on June 13 for two reasons:  it was about time and and  #Everchangingberlin instameet, an incredible opportunity to meet some of my favorite international photographers who I've spied on over the years.  There were so many, I'll admit I was overwhelmed.  Mix that in with my natural tendency for shyness and I found myself taking more portraits and talking less.  For more of Berlin through my eyes- U-bahn Stories.

Here's what makes smile.

bosch neumarc
bosch neumarc

@TheRabbitProject in Wired Italia

~ this article originally appeared in Wired Italia on April 17, 2015 ~

The Rabbit Project

Il coniglio è l’animale fifone per eccellenza e tutti ogni tanto lo siamo: se vuoi farti conigliare, con una maschera è più facile mostrare quel lato al mondo

And if you go chasing rabbits, and you know you’re going to fall ~ Jefferson Airplane (Grace Slick, 1967)

Da un bel po’ di tempo, mi trovavo in piena notte, viso illuminato dal mio iPhone mentre stavo ricorrendo il bianconiglio. Alice non lo sono mai stata. Invece sono stata a caccia di un profilo di Instagram @therabbitproject che comprende solo dei ritratti di persone mascherate da coniglio. Più da lepre che da coniglio, la maschera è un po paurosa e riesce a nascondere e trasmettere personalità nello stesso momento. Infatti, ho notato quando cliccavo su e giù, che la maschera riesce a dare un aspetto nuovo ad ogni soggetto. Ma chi è questo coniglio?  Ero fissata, dovevo trovarlo e finalmente ho scovato il bianconiglio a Milano…

The Rabbit Project

Che cos’è TheRabbitProject? Di che cosa si tratta? Il progetto nasce a giugno 2014 per scherzo tra quattro amici e colleghi col pallino per i social e la fotografia: Antonio TardioMichele NicolettiGabriele Infranca e Alessandro Timpanaro – questi ultimi anche fondatori del sito, un collettivo di creativi e appassionati di cultura della comunicazione.

“Decidiamo di acquistare una maschera per un compleanno e scattiamo le prime quattro fotografie durante una pausa pranzo. Tornati in studio decidiamo subito di creare un profilo Instagram, un Tumblr e una pagina Facebook del progetto”, raccontano.

The Rabbit Project

Se dovreste descrivere la personalità del coniglio, direste che si appropria di quella della persona in maschera? O la trasforma?

“L’idea è quella di giocare con l’idea di identità sul web, sull’alter ego, sul raddoppiamento e la realtà virtuale che ci consentono di entrare in rapporto ed in rapporti nuovi con personalità diverse e con diversi aspetti della nostra personalità”.

Una personalità che quindi diventa multipla, ibrida, creativa.

“Nel progetto siamo tutti conigli, indossiamo tutti la stessa maschera, ma siamo tutti diversi, la interpretiamo le facciamo assumere espressioni differenti. Tra Pirandello e web 2.0. Un monologo a più voci. Potremmo continuare a sproloquiare per ore su tutto questo…”

The Rabbit Project

Per pura coincidenza, il primo post del Rabbit Project è il giorno del mio compleanno: taggato con #weeklyfluff, sembra che il profilo sia iniziato come un gioco. Ancora lo è? C’è un motivo, un obiettivo, uno scopo?

“È iniziato tutto per gioco, un po’ ancora lo è e lo sarà per sempre. Non abbiamo un obiettivo preciso, ma stiamo vagliando qualche opportunità per dare anche un volto più commerciale al progetto”.

Su Instagram ho visto maschere di unicorni, volpi, orsi… Come mai avete scelto un coniglio? È un mascotte di

“No, non è una mascotte, è più un modo di essere, il coniglio è per eccellenza l’animale fifone, e tutti ogni tanto (o spesso) lo siamo. Abbiamo sentito il bisogno di mostrarlo al mondo quel lato, anche se coperto da una maschera”.

L’abbiamo visto a Milano, Venezia, Messina…. Il rabbit ha mai viaggiato fuori dall’Italia?

“Abbiamo uno scatto realizzato a Rio de Janeiro, ma di sicuro ci piacerebbe vederlo in pianta stabile in America: lo immaginiamo scattato a Dumbo a NYC, sulle spiagge di Los Angeles, o con Elvis a Las Vegas”.

The Rabbit Project

Oltre ad un Instameet, come si può fare parte del progetto?

“Basta contattarci singolarmente o via mail. A Milano e in Sicilia è più facile, ma noi viaggiamo spesso e in valigia ce lo portiamo sempre”.

My idea of fun: Rome's GNAM #emptymuseo


For those of you who haven't figured it out yet, my idea of fun is meandering the hallways and exhibition spaces of a museum.  Any museum will do, though I tend to have a penchant for those with monumental paintings, colorful walls or anything Twombly.

Since Instagram hit the scene, I've had a lot fun "visiting" museums, galleries, art fairs and spaces thanks to hashtags like #artwatchers and #emptymet which let me spy on what you are sizing up.   And I get the opportunity to share the spaces and places I love through my own gallery.  Over the past few years, I've been passionately obsessed with Rome's Galleria Nazionale di Arte Moderna, aka GNAM-- a modern and contemporary national art gallery that is made up of Italy's very best, from the Unification to the present, plus some non-Italians that you know and love.  And it has everything I love--  enormous 19th century paintings, Futurists-a-go-go, Pistoletto, Clemente, Twombly, Duchamp,  a hall made up of broken mirrors and temporary shows.

Thanks to the support of the Italian Ministry of Culture, I joined some friends for a morning of #emptymuseo, cìoe, a visitor-free walk through GNAM in December-- it was an opportunity to capture the museum as we love it.   And I want to do more. If you have a museum you want to walk through, let me know. I'll happily meet up.

December 2014: Matteo Giannini  @mattego, Darius Arya @SaveRome, Livia Hengel @Helium_Tea, Ivan Corrodori @Aivenn


Sala del Mito
Sala del Mito
matteo specchio
matteo specchio

Colosseum for Days

This piece originally appeared in Huffington Post on Thursday, July 31st, 2014.

Close the doors, you don't live in the Colosseum...

When I was a little girl, my parents would take us to the Colosseum with much the same vibe as when I take my daughter to the local park. We'd be set free to jump, climb and play, but instead of padded pavement and over-engineered climbing devices, we had cats, columns, rocks, scratches and scrapes while my father and mother took photos and talked about gladiator battles.

That was my Rome. Open, wild and free, until years later when I returned to the Eternal City and had to pay an entry fee to walk inside my personal playground. I was confused. This arena, our arena, was built for the people of Rome, so why should we have to pay to enter? The fact that the nearly double millennia monument was crumbling in front of me didn't faze me at all. Fast forward a decade or so, and I have a whole new perspective.

Day or night, covered or not, the Colosseum, by definition, is awesome. It was built to be the biggest, baddest and best for an 80 AD debut, and in the nearly 2000 years following, it still stands 50 meters proud, resisting centuries of successive sackings, lootings, wars, earthquakes, pollution and more -- a physical testament to the resilient nature of Rome. But it was dirty, falling and apart and in dire need of some help.

In 2013, the Italian Ministry of Culture and Tourism launched a massive clean-up campaign that some have called the biggest scrub down in Italy, thanks to a 38 million dollar public/private sponsorship with luxury leather goods company Tod's. The three-phase project has covered up sections of the monument for months, with 2016 as a targeted end date.

Too bad they are still doing construction though...

Yeah, it's a bummer to arrive in Rome, only to discover that Maximumus' arena is partially wrapped in scaffolding with hoses hanging down, a kind of half-baked Christo project. But it is also beautiful to watch the Colosseum's transformation -- whether on site or through the eyes of anyone who has ever stepped foot in Rome.

Enter a smartphone and a hashtag.

For the past six months, Darius Arya (disclosure: he put a ring on it) started tagging all his Colosseum photos #Colosseumfordays on Instagram and began to encourage anyone who has ever shot a photo of the monument to do the same. Why? According to Arya, #Colosseumfordays celebrates the epic and eternal personality of the monument and documents the restoration process of the Colosseum via visitor experience and opinion.

A hashtag gallery is simply a collection of themed photographs. In Arya's eyes, #colosseumfordays in an opportunity to create a multi-dimensional experience of the Colosseum's transformation, a goal that Arya says "is important for cultural heritage in Italy and else where". Yes, any photo- selfies, jumpstagrams, wedding photos, panoramas -- from any moment, tagged with #colosseumfordays. Looks like my playground's gone virtual.




Rome and the Worldwide Instameet

This past weekend, we [me and the Professor] had an instameet.

Wha? Ma che ci fai con un "instameet"???

An instameet. I.e. a group of people getting together at a decided location to take photos and then post them on Instagram in an excited, obsessive frenzy, with hashtags accompaniment.  I know, I know. Neither of us are the first people that come to mind with the words "group" and  "organization" [Flashback: insouciant birthday partying, resistant airplane ticket buying, writing habits that often do not include eating or cleaning for days].  But obsessive frenzy? Yeah, I'm that girl. I like passion, I like passionate people and I like how Instagram foments that passion.

Over the past several months, we've had six instameets with a few different hashtags: #instameettheromans in Historic Rome, #eurwalk, a walk around the Fascist era architecture of EUR neighborhood, #colosseumfordays, all about the Colosseum (a tag I hope keeps going for centuries) and #walkroma, the consistent and underlying tag of these walks plus our Ostiense and Ostia Antica instameets and this past weekend's walk at Ponte della Musica in zona Flaminia.  And we've consistently had a great group of people [artists, photographers, journalists, interior designers, students, rocket scientists, pro athletes, diplomats, government lobbyists, mind readers] who have come from all over (Lazio and then some) to walk around and photograph the Eternal City ~ who wouldn't want to?  And on a side note, I'm also a late night "silent participant" of many others instameets, like Hong Kong, Sidney, Venice Beach and London, when insomnia is fuelled by a steep fall down the hashtag rabbit hole, especially the #WWMI8 (Instagram's tag for all instameets that happened this weekend).

I'd like to say that our instameets are a non-stop discussion on photography and its techniques, plus showing off a little cultural heritage, but really they are all about making friends, making jokes and confirming that all roads lead to Rome.  Inevitably, someone discovers that they are  tangentially related to someone else.  In my case, someone a) knows one of my cousins b) has dated/could potentially date one of my cousins c) works/worked with one of my cousins d) has never met any of my cousins  but somehow randomly knows one of my old and forgotten friends from wherever.  Yes, the Rome instameet is a yenta, a matchmaker, a nonna and a nosey neighbor.

If you'd like to be kept up-to-date on our Instameets, enjoy the gallery below (a sampling of this past weekend's #walkroma at the Ponte della Musica and Stadio dei Marmi), send me an email and/or keep your eye on our Rome Instameets here.  For a who's who of our #WalkRoma participants in Instagram's 8th Worldwide Instameet, peruse the photo below (and the foot shot above) and click on it. I've tagged everybody who came with an Instagram profile.  Thank you again, you guys are really great-- can't wait to see you for the next instameet!


Meditation in the palm of my hand

Photo by Cappiello via Instagram

The other day, my younger sister asked me about Instagram. More specifically, she asked me why I felt the urge to post photos (low res, unplanned and primarily for my pleasure only) that the Man-- at the time of said questioning-- may or may not feel like taking advantage of. I laughed and told her that much like our long ago afternoons of yoga and cigarettes, Instagram is my meditation so who cares.

"Meditation in the palm of my hands" may have been my exact phrase, stated slightly condescendingly as only an older sister can.  But it's true, hand-eye coordination has been the only way I've ever been able to slow down the mind and just relax.  This is just the first time I've done it with my phone.  Part visual game, part thrill seeking, I love losing myself in photos.  And when I'm in the deepest throws of insomnia, I've taken to traveling the world on a magic carpet of hashtags-- which answers another question I was also asked "will I write a follow up to Traveling via Instagram"?  Here's the six month skinny:

Instagram has so many great photographers and photographs on a variety of levels, themes and perspectives, that I am either recycling, reviewing or discovering.  I constantly change my mind on who I love, like and follow, like a 15 year old watching the varsity soccer team for the first time.  True, I'll always have a crush on the photos of @SamHorine and @Cucinadigitale, who bring New York and Rome to my phone on a silver platter, but there's always room for more.

Tags:  #typography #artwatchers #bicichic #jumpstagram #puglife

Users: cappiello,  shaynabatyatomwhite_, Gummytingallimcbutterlegojacker (and anyone else creating sets with Lego figurines), swerved, and unique_lapin. And oh yeah, my kid sister, Itinerantme, so I can keep tabs on her as she meanders around Southeast Asia.

PS. Instagram provides a lovely Suggested Users List with an ever updated rotation of  favorites.